The Meanderthals

Random road ramblings from Utah

Random road ramblings on a rest day in Torrey, Utah.

Rest day? Seems kind of an oxymoron for two meanderthals who spend their waking hours taking in the sights, sounds and fabric of this great nation, but the snow and winds buffeting the pass from Torrey to Bryce Canyon convinced us to hunker down in our comfortable room at the Chuckwagon Inn for an extra night. An idle brain thinks all sorts of thoughts, and here are a few notions that dawn on me as April 1 winds down:

National Parks: thumbs up

What a gift are our national parks. Most people I know view bitching about taxes as a great source of free recreation, but a tour of some of the parks we’ve encountered along the way serve as a valid reminder of our hard-earned tax dollars paying us back bigtime. Mesa Verde, Glen Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon, National Monument/Natural Bridges are among the pit stops we’ve made where access was easy, the wonders of nature protected and preserved, and the facilities clean and well organized.

Interesting side-tidbit: late 19th century women played important and conspicuous roles in the formation of many national parks we’ve visited, and the efforts of a group of local women who’d campaigned vigorously to preserve the pre-Columbian cave dwellings at Mesa Verde led to President Theodore Roosevelt’s signing of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which in turn led to the creation of the Mesa Verde National Park. Another woman – wealthy Massachusetts socialite Mary Tileston Hemenway – gave money and time to preserve a part of the park now named in her honor, even though she never physically visited the place.

Interesting notion: benevolence without strings attached.

Anyway, here’s a “hat’s off” to our government for having the restraint, commitment and vision to preserve the incredible natural beauty of our land.

The love of the people

I’m not really sure what I’d expected to encounter as we wound our way across the country, striking up conversations and trying to get a sense of how people live from region to region, state to state, but I have to say how impressed I’ve been with the warmth, openness and friendliness we’ve found. Most people seem eager to connect, and as interested in what we’re up to as they are in opening sharing what their lives are about.

Today we ate a late lunch at a sub shop in Richdale, and upon sitting down saw that the restaurant was holding a fundraiser for a local man who’s facing a $6,000 deductible so he can have a life-saving liver transplant. The woman who owned the restaurant told us that local people don’t eat out much and that most of her business comes from transients. Made me wonder how much they could expect to raise for the poor guy, so we left having made a donation and feeling invigorated by helping out a bit.

We chatted with the owner and a delightful 6-year-old girl named Harley, and got a glimpse into the closely connected universe of the Utah highlands, where everyone knows everybody else, seems to genuinely care, and understands the importance of looking after one another. Lessons to be learned.

The weather

Back East it’s snowstorms and, these days, ridiculous rain. Nor’easters, high tides, and the sultry heat of summer.

Here it’s 40-degree temperature shifts, snow squalls in the mountains clearly visible from the sun-splashed plains below. Flashfloods in the countless canyons where even a half-inch of rain, having nowhere else to go, can turn a dry creekbed into a raging torrent in an instant.

The sights

Natural bridges, carved from sandstone by glacial pressure at first then the seasonable flash floods more recently, are within short hikes from most roads and parks. They are incredible…hundreds of feet long and high, and eroding daily from the relentless winds, snow and rain.

There are the plains, the red rock mesas, canyon after canyon, and the herds of open range cattle. Occasionally, there’s a herd or two of bison, sheep and goats. And tons of sagebrush, sand and rock.

The pace

I haven’t seen anything resembling a four-lane highway in days, but these open, straight stretches are all posted at 65mph. Seems as though people love to drive fast to get their destinations so they can take it slow. I had a brief conversation about the day’s expected weather with a local guy mutually in search of coffee this morning that left me wondering how long it would take to have a substantial conversation with the guy.

Driving seems to be the only thing they do fast out here, and that’s a good thing. Conversations, order taking and food delivery in restaurants has a casual, relaxed feel to it, and everyone seems more than willing to take a few minutes to chat.

It’s infectious, and it leaves one feeling that these folks have clearly figured out that time spent with each other is the correct and best priority.

Tomorrow it’s on to Bryce and Zion, to strap on the hiking boots and breathe some of the desert air.

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