03 August 2008

Cruising the American West

OK, so I feel like I should sort of apologize to you, readers, for the Yucca post. I have toyed with the idea of removing it, but Qwanty convinced me that, at the very least, it is a good reminder to us of our big night out in Tempe.

Sadly, that night kicked both of our asses, so the next day we took her lovely daughter out school clothes shopping in the afternoon, and then school supply shopping in the evening. And then we came back and lounged around while Qwanty's Brain Scientist made (and served) us a wonderful dinner. At some point, while we were in the car, Qwanty's daughter said, very somberly from the back of the minivan, "Mom. Can I ask you a question?" Qwanty said, "Of course, what's on your mind?" And then, in all seriousness, the daughter asked, "Why would anyone name their child Gaylord?" Qwanty almost drove off the road, and it took us about 5 minutes to calm down enough to even BEGIN to deal with the question.

Saturday Qwanty, the BS and the three kids went to a cabin in northern Arizona that belongs to the BS's father. I sort of followed slowly. It was great. Quiet, in the middle of the forest, and much, much cooler than it was in Phoenix. I sat on the porch with Qwanty and the BS and we talked and drank lots of wine (I did an unusually good job picking a couple of bottles) and enjoyed the cool air and a short lightening storm.

When I found out that I was only about 2 hours from the Grand Canyon, I figured that I should go. After all, it might be a while until I will have the chance again. It is not particularly fun to go to something like that on one's own, particularly on a Sunday in the middle of the summer. There are so many groups, and families, and I was uncomfortably aware of how weird it was to be there by myself. On the other hand, it was sort of nice to get to have the experience on my my terms--

Which, as it turned out, were standing on the edge and getting amazingly dizzy and thinking obsessively about falling. And then moving really fast to get away from the edge.

The drive around to the north rim is long, and not very attractive, so I didn't make great time getting out of there. It took about 4 hours to drive through the Navajo reservation, which was utterly desolate, and depressing. I was relieved to get to the Utah border (! Yes, I did, really, just say relieved.) The first town in Utah on 89 is a place called Kanab, which is one of the cutest towns I've ever seen. The kind of town that makes you want to fall in love with small-town life. The movie theatre is only open a couple of nights a week. I wanted to stay there, but it wasn't nearly far enough north, or late enough, for me to stop. Plus, I think it would have turned into my equivalent of Calypso's island. (OK, for a second I need to stop and enjoy the pleasure that comes from this analogy, which, taken to its logical conclusion, suggests that the Chalet is Circe's island, and Portland is Ithaca. Oh, and I am "cunning". That's lovely.)

OK, so anyway, I drove through many small towns (nothing more than a collection of 3 or 4 buildings and a couple of houses. For example, in one of these towns there was only a gas station--not open--a store selling "Utah rocks" and another that advertised "tools and CHAINSAWS" (emphasis in the original). I didn't dawdle.

That night I slept in a place called Beaver, Utah. Take my word. You never need go there. And then then next day I drove 1100 miles. This was folly. I stopped in Provo, to see where Larry and Dave went to college. And I wanted to see the Temple in Salt Lake, but the drivers on 15 were so scary, and the Temple so far away, and all the streets numbered (no street names!) and I decided to stay on the road instead.

I went by a town called Sulfurdale, which seems like a particularly badly-named town. I didn't stop there--the name didn't recommend it.

I did stop in Boise. Now, in general Idaho gets a pretty bad rap. And it mostly deserves it. It's a pretty ugly state. But Boise is surprisingly delightful. Although surrounded by really arid land, they seem to have done admirable irrigation in the city itself. It is really green and pretty, and the downtown area is surrounded by cute neighborhoods that look like what you would picture mid-American small town residential areas to look like--wide streets and tree-lined sidewalks. Small houses with beautifully manicured lawns and front porches. I was very taken with it.

I got food and a new book on CD there--I had finished both that I brought along (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, which I mostly hated. I kept thinking "I can write better than this jackass. I just haven't ever met Bruce Weber or Alan Ginsberg." And then Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu. This one I liked a lot, particularly since I was listening to it. It may have been a more irritating read.). For the rest of the trip I bought Twilight, the first book in the series by Stephenie Meyer. I know a couple of people (I will leave your identities obscured, because I'm not sure you want this public knowledge) who are very into this series, and with the excitement surrounding the release of the most recent book, I wanted to know what all the buzz was about. It's not good literature. But I understand the appeal.

Leaving Boise, I experienced one of the most harrowing drives I can remember ever taking--from Ontario, OR to Burns. It was dark, twisty, showering bugs, and remote. About 30 miles outside of Burns, we (my fellow westward travelers and myself) were stopped, and then escorted by pilot car over 20 miles of gravel and construction at 35 miles an hour. By this time, my nerves were shot, and I kept thinking that I just wanted to pull over and cry for awhile.

And, although I was only 2 (!) hours from the comfort of the chalet, I decided to sleep in Burns instead. This was, I believe, the safest decision I could have made.

And now I'm at the chalet, soaking up the quiet and getting rested before returning to Portland. And that is lovely. Lovely. Lovely. It's been raining here this morning, but it is starting to clear up nicely, and soon I'll go for a run and I'll be able to smell wet ground and pine.

The American West is vast. The topography is varied. It is an amazing place. Nikki was recently telling me that someone she knows has never been farther west than Austin, and we were talking about what a strange thing that is. And I was saying that no one can really understand America, or being an American, without having experienced the West. For those of you who have traveled through it, you know what I mean. For those of you who have not, you can't, really, until you do it yourselves.


KRD said...

This really should be dated August 6th. I began it on the 3rd.

Laura is actually reading your blog... said...


i feel like i shouldn't have to be telling you this, but there are way too many quotation marks in the middle of this post. i almost quit reading. the particularly odd one is "cunning." i mean, even I know enough history to know that putting that in quotes is dirty.

PS. i love how MUCH you loved that manicured little middle-America town. Yikes. If you move there, I PROMISE PROMISE that Kara and I will buy the house next door and make egregious fine art on the front lawn. Consider it done.

KRD said...

I have fixed the quotation marks--I think that they are just now around the things that they are supposed to be around. The funny thing is that you are dead wrong about "cunning." I am quoting. Homer. I'm not taking the quotation marks from around that word.

Carmen said...

Good because "cunning" made me laugh. That whole "moment" you took was priceless.

I have those weird visions of falling at the edge of cliffs too! I also see myself accidentally driving off cliffs a lot. Morbid and strange, but now I know I’m not alone! I usually read good blogs from the last post forward, yours is going to take a while to get through, but it will provide me with hours and hours of entertainment. (Yes I am telling you that you have a good blog, and now not so subtly)