Just Deserts (Part 5 of n)

12 04 2014

It’s tax season! And we all know what that means, right? Yup… find any excuse possible to avoid knuckling down and getting on with it.

I just spent a couple of hours in the garden (way harder than just getting on with the tax forms, but logic is not a factor here). The mower fired into life at the second pull – a minor miracle all in itself.

I take what might be called a minimalist approach to my garden. Three mows a year on average. Once when the daffodils I planted in the lawn have finished flowering (they’ve been annoyingly coming up “blind” for the last few years just to spite me); once towards the end of the spring rains because the grass frustratingly seems to like that, and insists on growing – and therefore needing to be cut; and finally once towards the autumn because then it looks reasonable over winter. Our summers are largely dry, and by accepting an “au naturel” yellow/brown lawn, I avoid it growing and therefore needing cutting. If anyone asks, I say it’s a water conservation measure. We’re metered, so it’s not entirely untrue.

Now the back lawn is cut though (the daffodils, though blind, are not yet over in the front lawn), I need a new excuse to avoid my taxes. So – I thought I’d tell you a bit about our next desert adventure. There’s a bit of a side-story regarding “the van”, but I’ll save that until another post.

The day after we had our minds blown by Antelope Canyon, we left Page en route for Moab, Utah. This caused no end of amusement with time. We’d moved from Pacific (Nevada) to Mountain (Arizona) time… but Arizona doesn’t “do” daylight saying, so we hadn’t actually changed the clocks. As we moved North to Utah though, we would advance the hour necessary to be in Mountain Time because Utah was much more conventional. But there was a twist… we were heading first to Monument Valley, which is a Navajo region and spans the AZ/UT border, and collectively does recognise daylight saving. As in “Hey – have we met? Aren’t you daylight saving?” The entrance road to the valley is in Utah, but the road heads SE back into Arizona… or would except it’s Navajo land. So – although the visitor centre is in Arizona, it’s Navajo land, so has the same time as Utah because of daylight saving. Following?

The day began with an unusual shower though. I’m no stranger to business travel. I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica. Stayed in all manner of hotels. Never though, in my entire life, have I ever encountered a shower with TWO heads. The reason defies me. Perhaps Janus was a frequent visitor in earlier times…

Breakfast was noteworthy too. I ambled into the buffet area to gather my usual holiday fare of scrambled eggs and dubious meat. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a child dropping something from her plate. She moved to pick it up, and her mother yelped, telling her it was dirty now, and to leave it alone. The girl was nearer 14 than 3. As I moved closer I saw it was in fact an individual pack of tomato ketchup – still sealed. As I considered my own immune system to be capable of handling the situation I stooped and threw it in the nearby waste bin. I was then given what is referred to in North America as “stink eye” by the aforementioned mother.

It was another bright but crisp morning. 7°C as reported by out trusty steed’s temperature gauge. As we headed east, back towards Antelope Canyon, I remembered to take a photo of the thee chimneys of the NGS. This had been mysteriously marked on the map with just those three letters, but turned out to be a coal-fired power station – the Navajo Generating Station. Built originally in the 1970s it has been regularly upgraded to maintain the highest levels of air quality. Having been brought up in Yorkshire, I was well used to seeing the grey discharge from coal-fired power stations such as Ferrybridge. This was nothing like it, with what appeared to be pure steam being discharged and quickly dissipating into the otherwise crystal clear skies. The only puzzle was why it was needed… so close to the hydro dam at Page.

The road to Monument Valley – literally straddling the Utah border – was unbelievably quiet, and we were there by noon. The visitor centre is raised above the valley, and the initial view is just jaw-dropping. We felt the need for a nice cup of tea before we embarked on the adventure “proper”, so went into the centre. I was a bit disappointed by all the usual tat being sold. To me it actually devalued rather than celebrated the rich Navajo culture. I was however surprised when I asked for tea. I was asked whether I wanted “regular” or “Navajo” tea. Having been given the opportunity, I didn’t hesitate to ask for the Navajo version. It was not unpleasant. More of a minty/herby taste. Refreshing for sure. Turns out it’s actually made from greenthread leaves, found locally. Nothing else added.

From the car-park you can see some of the “classic” buttes of Monument Valley – The Mittens are instantly recognisable for example, as is Merrick’s Butte – an almost cubic formation. After a lengthy debate and some analysis of the types of cars entering the valley (and the condition of the ones exiting), we decided we’d take our very unremarkable Ford Focus on the 17 mile dusty track through the valley. Very glad we did – it was spectacular. No doubt it would have been more comfortable – and potential safer – in our own Honda Pilot, but that was a few thousand kilometres north in BC at the time! Mrs E was driving and managed to avoid the worst of the potholes and mini-cliffs along the dirt road. We didn’t bottom out once, and the sump is as good as the day we picked up the car. It’s fair to say though that it was a little dustier when we returned it to Budget a few days later…

We were armed with the free map of the valley which unfortunately only named the more imposing features. Some of them had names that were definitely a stretch. Camel Butte for example was a definite “squint at it just right…” example, whereas “Elephant Butte” was a little more aptly named. We probably spent about 4 hours there altogether. The time flew!

Once we were back on our way to Moab, we passed Mexican Hat which is a small town straddling a deep gorge. It’s named after a balancing rock that does in fact look not unlike a sombrero. We were a few days into our desert trip now, but no less in awe of the continual changes in the landscape. A constantly changing palette of yellows and reds met our eyes both in soils and rock. As we got north to Monticello, we passed Church Rock which looked like nothing so much as a blancmange. I was so intent on getting a decent shot of it as we sailed past on the road that I completely missed the fact that on the west side of the road was Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument – a site of incredible petroglyphs.

We were definitely getting weary as we came into Moab – our destination for the night. We knew nothing about the place, and entering from the South we all initially had the definite impression it was “sketchy”. A long drawn out line of semi-industrial units, car repair shops and less than salubrious motels. We were crossing our fingers that our home for the next couple of nights would not be nearby. Luckily it was actually right through town and on the northern side. Downtown Moab is actually quite reasonable, but you could tell it depended almost entirely on the transient climbers, kayakers, mountain bikers and assorted other thrill seekers. This also explained why the rooms were disproportionately expensive compared to our other stays. Once settled in, we headed into town to forage. I couldn’t help but snigger at “Eddie McStiff’s” which reminded me of a bar my eldest daughter sometimes frequents in Toronto – Philthy McNasty’s.

In the end, we settled on Twisted Sistas’ Cafe where we were well fed and enjoyed a very pleasant evening before turning in… ready for the jewel in the crown. The last desert experience of the trip.

To be continued…






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