Today is the fifth day since I left home, and after a fearsome amount of driving, I’ve made it to Utah!
This is my favorite state, and it seems, in my opinion, to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been as well. The fiery red dirt is speckled with juniper scrublands, rocks are chopped into cliffs, all under the stark blue sky. The desert sun usually shines mercilessly overhead, unless a spring rainstorm comes, in which case the sky will stay a deep, cloudy blue all day to contrast the bright red dirt.
This part of Utah I’m in is very interesting; it’s where the Colorado Plateau itself ends, and falls away to the desert of Arizona. The Cedar Mesa sits there mysteriously edging the great plains, like the earth has split and a chunk of it has risen 1000 feet higher. Then the desert beyond Ceder Mesa is studded with monolithic, sandstone forms. Rocks stand alone, huge, bold and red, towering on their own randomly throughout the area. This area is called Valley of the Gods, and a little further south is Monument Valley.
I had to drive a “secret route” to end up here. Why should I take the interstate across the entire country? Sure it saves time but you miss basically everything. I took the interstate until Kansas, then went my own way…
I said goodbye to my family in the evening, and left after dark. I grabbed a coffee and started the drive. I had a long way to go, seeing as how I was in Massachusetts and driving to Alaska, via California… That’s about as far as you can go. So, I was excited for it.
Before I knew it I was driving through Hartford, Connecticut, in the night. The lighted city had no traffic and the place was peaceful. I was glad to start this drive with an all-night marathon, and I pressed on into Pennsylvania.
At some point the rain began. I passed Scranton, and didn’t have much more strength left. I found a good highway rest stop, and had driven successfully until 3AM.
I woke up to the rain at 8AM and kept driving. It rained hard all day, the windshield wipers were furiously moving. My bed in the back eventually would get wet, even though I’ve tried so hard to fix these leaks…
Pennsylvania was mountainous and peaceful, a retreat of a place lost between the cities of the east coast and the cities of the Midwest. Pennsylvania is enormous, and deep in those simple mountains society doesn’t really reach. The towns are small, farming communities, and I saw horse and buggies riding along through the Amish country.
Then I was in a higher volume of traffic in Ohio. The rain was just as fierce, the cars steaming with white spray all around them. The climate had changed from Pennsylvania like hitting a wall. I left the grey and snow dusted cold of that countryside, to find a much milder, warm rain over Ohio. The trees started showing green buds and baby leaves, a big change from the east where winter still held its grip.
I took a nap, feeling extremely burnt out, probably from drinking so much coffee and hardly sleeping. Then I went and visited my friend Eve. We had grown up together since pre-school, and she lives in Columbus, Ohio, these days. It was very nice to finally see where she has been living, I met her boyfriend and her dogs and fish, as well as her plants.
It was dark by the time I left, I successfully avoided rush hour, and I skirted through the capital city in good time. It wasn’t too much further down the highway before I needed sleep.
I woke up at 3AM, which is when I wanted to start driving. I took to the road, fresh coffee in hand, full tank of gas, and just cruised. Before I knew it I was in Indianapolis and leaving that dump behind. Then I drove all the way across Illinois and literally didn’t realize it- thinking I was in Indiana the whole time! I must honestly say this is my least favorite part of the country.
Now it was midday, and I found myself stuck in stopped traffic behind an accident in St. Louis. Then eventually, I drove across Missouri.
I stopped somewhere in the Ozarks and had a refreshing nap, the weather today was finally warm and dry! Glad I passed all that rain when I did, it turned to snow back in New England. Not here in Missouri, here it was springtime and the trees along the highway had erupted in purple flowers.
Then I was in Kansas City, and finally thrilled to be in Kansas. Now I made it through the cities of the east, goodbye society! Pretty soon I can get off this interstate and hide away in the mountains and desert. That night I saw more rain, and I camped in a rest stop.
I woke up to a nightmare at 3AM, where I was being chased by mobsters, crashed my truck in an explosion of fire and broken glass that I escaped like a ninja, and finally the dream ended with me being stabbed in the leg and that woke me right up!
Figured I’d just start driving, however, not too long into the drive and I felt horrible. I kept hallucinating bridges appearing in the road, then when a real bridge would come along I’d exclaim, “Ahh a real one!”
I decided I better fall back asleep. I slept for an hour or so in the driver’s seat. The problem was all this coffee I was drinking and it was impossible to actually get any rest. I hope I never live that life of the trucker, it looks awful.
I still felt very bad, driving through the sunrise over Kansas. I hadn’t eaten hardly at all since leaving home, just a couple pieces of pizza, some veggies I cooked, and apples. Also some almonds and beef jerky but I basically was sustaining myself almost entirely on coffee. Well that had to stop, I quit the coffee.
I bought myself among other things, steak, onions and corn at the grocery store which would make a fantastic meal for me when I finally did get to a nice rest stop on the Colorado border. I was traveling the back highways now, headed south and west. I slept for a few hours.
I still felt really lousy on the road again, as though the sleeping hadn’t even helped. Like I could use some coffee! No! I treated myself to ice cream instead which did actually help me feel better.
Then I was on the lonely highway.
Colorado highway 10, going from nowhere, to basically nowhere. I loved it, I didn’t see one single car in an hour. And considering it was the hour between 5 and 6PM, I guess this is their rush hour! I truly had found a secret back way into the mountains.
A huge portion of Colorado sits on the pancake flat, Great Plains of the Midwest. Then the Rocky Mountains finally show up like a wall. Always a victory to see this on any long road trip, where the mountains meet the plains. Now I enter the west!
I watched them come on that lonely highway for a long way, then the mountains were all around me. The ground became snow covered again. It wasn’t long before I turned off onto a dirt road and drove up into the hills. I needed to use my four wheel drive, and wound up camping pulled off to the side of the deserted road for lack of a better spot.
It snowed on me pretty hard that night, and I stood outside anyway and cooked my eggs in it for dinner.
The morning there was stormy and frighteningly beautiful. All day was cold. At a rest stop I cooked the rest of my steak and enjoyed the frosty air.
I had to drive over a huge mountain pass in a storm. The road wasn’t plowed and I had to drive through a few inches of snow. Good thing I have my four wheel drive! I had to stop and take a stroll down a trail in the woods at some point, through the blowing snow. I felt much better today than I had yesterday.
Soon I was in Pagosa Spring and out of the storm, then I was in Durango.
I left Durango for an even more remote highway, taking me through the southwest corner of Colorado near Mesa Verde National Park. I hadn’t planned to actually go into the park… but when I got there… it looked so cool! I couldn’t miss it!
So I paid the 15 dollars and drove the mountain road all the way up the enormous mesa. I wanted to take a hike… But found that I was in for a very long drive instead. It snowed heavily on me again up in the park, and I was too hungry to do anything else but stand in the snow and cook myself some rice. Although I found I could sit in the bed of the truck, and still operate the stove from there.
I got a little angry with myself, always seems to happen when I go in the national parks- when will I learn! And I did get to see some amazing cliff dwellings… (So I guess it was worth it). Then I laid down and went to sleep, it had to happen.
I woke up and drove the rest of the way across Colorado in the rain. The last of the Rocky Mountains and mesas gave way to the bleak desert, punctuated with unearthly rock formations. I passed Four Corners, and now was in Arizona or New Mexico, right next to Utah.
The sky was deep ashen grey, somber and cold over the desert, the rain coming down in buckets. I guess this is what April is like in America. It was gorgeous, but rainy. I slept that night in some random spot on a dirt road in the Navajo reservation…
That brings us to today! I was hoping to take a mental health day today, but it didn’t really work out. I started the morning by driving, an activity I was hoping to avoid. The scenery was beyond fantastic, the mountains and mesas in the distance were shimmering white with fresh snow, and the dirt before them was red. Rocks and cliffs were beside the road at times, and striped with wildly colorful sediment.
I was soon in Utah, I didn’t have to drive too far fortunately. In the town of Mexican Hat I turned north. That brought me to a most fantastic part of the road called the Moki Dugway. The Cedar Mesa sits boldly against the plains, and the road climbs up it in an unbelievable way.
On top of the Cedar Mesa in a juniper forest and I could see a snow white mountain standing on its own. Sacred Navajo Mountain; this mesa feels like a special spot to view it from. Another snowy range, the LaSals out in the distance. I turned on a dirt road called Cigarette Springs and drove deep into the wilderness.
I got to the oddly named Cigarette Springs, and decided to camp out there. My mental health day would now begin! By taking a hike! But it was already noon. I had been rushing all morning to get here, and driving, and those were two things I didn’t want today.
No matter now, I took off into the forest. There was no trail. I didn’t quite realize that, but decided I could deal with it. I hiked cross country following my internal compass, and after a really long way through the trackless juniper woods, I came suddenly upon a huge canyon.
The gaping mouth of this canyon opened up before me, a shocking salmon red hue. Beyond it stood the snowy LaSal Mountains. I had read about this hike in a book… I was now supposed to climb down this canyon? How could that be possible???
I walked a long way across the rim, and then plunged down. I took it slowly, trying to find the safest way… trying to build cairns and remember the way I came so I could get back. I was looking to find some ancient Anasazi cliff dwelling ruins at the bottom!
I had the book with me which had a map… I tried to follow the terrible map… I thought I had come down the right part of the canyon, and was proud of myself for successfully climbing into this thing! …And then I hiked extremely far through the bottom of the canyon. I found no cliff dwellings! At some point it was getting late and I should have given up much sooner but I am determined! I was not relaxing like I was supposed to.
I hiked back but became extremely lost when climbing up and out of the canyon. I took a totally wrong way, and then became cliffed-out by huge boulders. The slickrock is very good for climbing here… I grabbed the surface of the boulders and powerfully scaled them. Maybe it was kind of stupid, but I found the safest possible ways… One last pitch and I stood abruptly back on top of Cedar Mesa in the juniper forest. I threw my arms in the air and let out a loud victory cry!
Then I proceeded to get horribly lost in the woods and stress myself out. It had basically been the opposite of a mental health day. Somehow, using that internal compass, I walked out of the woods right back at my truck. I knew I had to cross the road at some point, but to pop out in the correct spot seriously was either divine providence or dumb luck.
So I relaxed in the strong sun. Mind you it was very cold and windy all day. Very harsh!!! Like Utah. But I have the fantastic luxury of this truck to live in, with lots of blankets and pillows. It was so quiet and devoid of any human activity. I fell asleep. I was hungry, but figured I’d sleep for an hour.
Well at sunset I couldn’t get up. My one hour nap turned into about 8 hours… Finally woke up around midnight and cooked my food in the freezing air outside. Life here may be a little rough sometimes but at least I am totally free! Wouldn’t have it any other way.