The trip to Bryce was long and when we finally got there and settled in we learned that much of the park that we came to see was closed due to damage from high winds the day before. Trees were down and crews were working. Luckily, the main attraction, Bryce Canyon itself, was accessible and as spectacular as expected. We were hoping to hike down some of the trails but arrived too late to start the first day and decided to wait until the next. We were told that the thing you simply must do is be at one of the highest lookouts at sunrise so that you can see the lighting effects on the hoodoos, the distinctive rock formations found there. So despite not being early risers, except for my wife, we stumbled out of bed and arrived on time at the lookout before sunrise. One other photographer was already set up and awaiting the sun. Did I mention that it was 16 degrees? And windy? The boys tried to hold out as best as they could but eventually gave up just as the sun rose over the horizon. I had brought my GoPro camera and had decided that a time-lapse sequence was a must to capture the experience. I have been cold before, but standing there on the cliff edge, essentially not moving, was overrated at best. By the time I got back to the car, my hands were in pain despite my ski gloves. Soon the sun had warmed the area bit and we had a chance to walk around quickly before heading back for breakfast.
The cold weather had turned us off of any trail hikes in the canyon and we decided to get an early start on our trip to Moab. The trip was to be another several hundred miles through some amazing terrain unlike anything that we are used to in the east – sometimes snow covered and sometimes resembling where you might expect to find Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner, the environment is stunning. At times, the road follows a flat landscape edged on both sides by enormous mountain ridges. Along the way we notice a small sign indicating a rest area with a view, so we stopped. This was Devil’s Canyon and in my opinion its signage does not do it justice. It is well worth a more than a quick look.
As we neared Moab, the landscape changed once again. The rock formations were now distinctly reddish, steep and impressive. Our lodging for the next few days was the amazing Red Cliff Lodge, which is found on a narrow, winding road that straddles the Colorado River and is flanked on both sides by scenic buttes. My 9 year old son drew a representation of our arrival route later that day. The lodge itself is beautiful and somehow both modern and rustic at the same time and features a horse corral, Western film museum and the Castle Creek Winery. Once the boys saw the horses in the center of the lodges landscape and the bungalows radiating around it, they wanted me to take detailed photos so that they could reconstruct it in Minecraft. I told them that this would be very difficult as Minecraft is not so good with curves and circles. We’ll see what they come up with.
The boys were as impressed as my wife and I with the landscape and repeatedly equated it to exotic landscapes in games that we have played. The connection to Red Dead Redemption with its Tex/Mex environs, for example, is not surprising. Borderlands and Forza Horizon also were mentioned. That day and the next were spent exploring Arches National Park and the town of Moab. Arches is a stunning and enormous place full of impressive geological formations of various types. I can only offer a few of the hundred or so photos that we took there to attempt to illustrate its grandeur.
The town of Moab reminded me of New Hope, Pennsylvania with sand. Artsy and new age, but replace the Harley Davidsons with ATVs and inject more outdoor sports. The boys, always on the lookout for souvenirs scoured the local stores and found some tiny rubber animals that they had to have. These became fixtures in some photos that we took in much the same way that a cardboard circle with a face drawn on it was in last year’s trip to San Francisco. This circle was known as “Epic Face” and was a central figure in many photos from that trip.
The next morning at breakfast we overheard one of the waitresses speaking to another customer and recommending a drive not far from the lodge that promised impressive views of the terrain outside of the park. We headed out in the Yukon to find the road. I am not sure that the one that we ultimately took was the one that was recommended to the older couple sitting at the next table, at least I hope that it wasn’t. I doubt that they would have made it back alive. The path that we took was called La Sal Mountain Loop Road and on its own, this is a steep and winding road with no guardrails, despite drop-offs that would mean certain death. (In fact, I found this to be the norm in Utah. In New Jersey, we put up Jersey barriers at the edge of a three foot drop, but in Utah they must laugh at our overly safety conscious ways.) La Sal Mountain Loop Road is a challenge in the enormous Yukon any day, but the morning that we went the clouds descended on the mountain and just when the road got the narrowest, visibility dropped to about twenty feet. Did mention no guardrails? Usually I am a very confident driver, but I must admit that I slowed to a crawl and took it very easy. Adding to the whole experience was the music that my wife had selected from my iPod, from Brian Eno’s Ambient series, Ambient 1: Music for Airports and Ambient 4: On Land. It added the perfect otherworldly audio expression to the visuals that we were experiencing.
Eventually, we found our way back down the mountain and into the center of town. We had a delicious lunch at the Ekleticafe, which we heartily recommend and then headed back to Arches to hike some of the areas that we had missed the first day.
It is hard to do justice to the distinct natural beauty of Arches National Park with words. The scale of stone formations is enormous and the seeming playfulness of some of the configurations is fantastic. It is no less impressive when you understand the science behind how these forms came to be. There are so many different examples, each more impressive than the next. I found it hard to limit the number of photos from the park. The whole trip just reinforced my impression how beautiful and varied the landscape of the United States is and how important it is to put the controller or mouse down every once in a while and get out and experience it in person. There simply is no substitute.
Sorry that I have been a little quiet lately. I was on vacation with my family in Utah. I had never been and it was time that my boys learned how to ski. Allow me to share with some of the highlights of the week.
My wife planned the trip and did a fantastic job. We had three main destinations; Snowbird, Bryce Canyon and Moab. Being a Jersey boy, the distances between these locations seemed enormous, but things are relative (especially when the speed limits are as high as 85 MPH) and although this trip was about the destinations, much of the trip was the journey getting there. There being five of us and having considerable luggage for the various climates that we would be visiting, the trip would call for a large vehicle. Our rental did not disappoint. We upgraded to a 2013 GMC Yukon XL. For those of you not familiar with it, in its Chevy guise, it is called the Suburban. It might as well be called the suburbia. I will not compare it to my Subaru STI which sits several stores lower that this beast SUV, but I am accustomed to sitting fairly high in our Honda Odyssey and was surprised to be looking down on minivans that we passed.
The truck is also large on the inside, although apparently no vehicle is large enough to prevent my boys from annoying, hitting and just messing with one another. Choruses of complaints such as “he’s taking another picture of the back of my head” were heard often. But let’s start at the beginning. We skied at Snowbird for three days. The weather was great, sunny most of the time except when it snowed. We got a few inches of fresh powder which was desperately needed, especially on the bottom runs. All three boys had two days of ski school and all three took to it very well. By the end, we went on a few real runs on the main mountain. A good time was had by nearly all. My wife was not fully confident and took a lesson as well leaving me on the first day to hit the slopes alone. It was my first time in more than ten years. I am happy to report that you do not forget and I fully enjoyed the incredibly beautiful mountains as well as the modern ski gear.
When we all met up the boys were excited about skiing and commented that the mountain was just like the skiing/snowboarding game that we played a few years back, “Amped 3“. This was top be another recurring theme on the trip. As one of my favorite Laurie Anderson lyrics goes, “Paradise is exactly where you are right now, only much, much better.” We all relate to what we know and my boys really know games. Après ski was excellent as it always is, with my wife and I enjoying a relaxing drink and the boys cuddling up with iPads and their current favorite games. These days the list includes Pocket God, Subway Surfers, CSR Racing and Roblox. They all also dove even deeper into The Simpsons game Tapped Out, of which I am also a devotee. My Springfield has gotten rave reviews from neighborhoods kids who say things like “We play that game too. But our town is nowhere near THAT big.” How could a father be more proud? My sons are 9 and 11 years old and this is proving to be an interesting age. They are one foot in innocence and the other starting to move towards teenage interests. Their choices in games follow this as well. They still enjoy plush but now exhibit interests of a more mature nature. On one of the nights after skiing we all watched the end of “For A Few Dollars More“. I am a huge fan of that series of films and have shown them to the boys before, so their interest was not a surprise, but the next night, my oldest son watched “Lawrence of Arabia” with me. For those of you not familiar with it or who haven’t seen it recently, the film is over three and a half hours long and includes an overture at the beginning and an intermission midway. I am not sure how much of the film he truly understood and frankly, I am not sure that I understand a good part of the second half myself. But the film held his attention and not only during the epic battle scenes that help make this film a classic.
Having had a chance to experience a real mountain and the skiing atmosphere including dips in the heated pools and Jacuzzi while it snowed, it was soon time to move on. We removed several inches of snow and ice from our family truckster and headed down the mountain.
As I mentioned before, the distances between our destinations were large, especially by our standards. My friends from Texas always pointed out that a drive of several hours was a regular occurrence and, back in the day, typically required a six-pack to be drank over the trip (which you could apparently purchase at any gas station). How some things change. Needless to say, drinking and driving was not part of our equation, so we amused ourselves the modern and electronic way. When we got on the first highway, our GPS indicated that the next turn was in 200 miles. So we listened to podcasts of WNYC’s “Here’s the Thing” with Alec Baldwin (highly recommended, surprisingly the kids are riveted to it) and discussed ideas for new games. My eldest was especially good at this, coming up with many interesting ideas. I told them of a new concept that a friend and I had discussed based on an old Dada era parlor game. We riffed on this for an hour or two. Hopefully, more on this soon as we develop the concept further.
More from our trip in the next post, Road Trip (Pt 2: Bryce and Moab)