Saturday, November 20, 2004

Test Driving a New Radiator

For Veteran's Day, I commemorated the brave Men and Women of our armed forces with the time-honored tradition of driving 90 mph across the great states of Idaho and Utah. The memory of their sacrifices stirred my spirit and helped me avoid speed traps and blow past lesser drivers. Uh, it was more a spiritual tribute than anything else. So began another infamously stupid road trip.

Actually, rewind. On Tuesday night last week I discovered that my radiator had completely drained of coolant. Having already planned a four-day weekend I wasn't gonna let this minor hiccup stop me. The next morning I got a new one installed for $400 and left work that afternoon for a seven hour drive across Oregon to spend the night at the Idaho border. It was a bit rash to press my new radiator like that but I figured it was the best way to test the workmanship of the mechanics at Kendall Honda. Thank Christ they passed muster. Anyway I took lots of bad pics and posted them on filebox. If anyone knows of a quick, easy way to shrink the size of a batch of jpegs, I'd love to hear it. Until then you'll have to suffer the extra second or so it takes to view my bigguns on filebox.

Wednesday night - A seven hour drive across Oregon ended in a motel in lovely Ontario on the state line with Idaho. This was noteworthy for the seediness of the motel and for my final shower for the duration of the trip.
Thursday and Thursday night - Destination: the campground in Arches National Park, outside of Moab, Utah in the southeasternish corner of the state. The nine hour drive that day from Ontario to Moab was pretty cool with snow showers, rain showers, wind, brilliant sunshine, kickass desert scenery, and 75 mph speed limits. Oregon, being a communist state, has 65 mph speed limits even on the most desolate stretches of interstate. Which is bullshit. But I digress.
Friday and Friday night - It rained overnight. If you've ever been in this part of the country, you'd understand what a significant event that is. I got up early to make the 45 minute hike up to Delicate Arch (featured on most Utah license plates). This is normally a pretty busy hike even on the hottest days in the summer; that morning no one was attempting it. I managed to spend close to an hour all alone at one the greatest natural landmarks in the world and watched low clouds curl over cliffs and filter through the fins in the park. That's pretty cool to see in a place normally drenched with sunshine. I cruised into Moab for breffest, then took a circuitous route to Capitol Reef NP. Same story: rain and fog, though I didn't spend long there. The drive up over the shoulder of Boulder Mountain was made interesting by the continuing snow storm. The Honda handled it was aplomb. I drove by my old haunts at Bryce Canyon NP but it was dark and I didn't stop until the campground at Zion. It rained again that night.
Satuday and Saturday night - I got up early again and took a short, classic hike to one of my favorite spots in Zion. Again, no one was there. Kickass. The play of rain, snow, and sunshine over the canyons was pretty cool. I changed my plans slightly and took a backwards loop out of Zion for a quick stop at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, then on to the scenic dirt road route into Arizona and back into Utah. The Burger King and Albertson's at Cedar City wailed their irresistible siren call and I picked up my mandatory fast food and case-and-a-half of Cutthroat Pale Ale. On the way back south along I-15 I made a stop at the Kolob Canyons unit of Zion NP. It's much less visited but easily as dramatic. I hated to leave as the weather changed and changed again, but I had another destination: Death Valley. I-15 heads straight into Las Vegas so I rolled through town on my way to the eastern approaches of the park. As an aside, I'll never understand the appeal of Vegas. It's a shitty, desperate, dirty town. It'd be the equivalent of south New Jersey if it didn't have the casinos. Anyway I drove up past the Nevada Test Range (home of Groom Lake, aka Area 51) and finally, after nightfall, headed into California and Death Valley. The most obvious campgrounds were filled with bus-sized RVs so I scoured the map and found a non-RV campground sitting far out of the way. After much more driving in the pitch black I found it and passed out under the Milky Way.
Sunday - The pre-dawn twilight woke me and showed that I'd chosen ... wisely. I was in a small mountain canyon at 4000 feet in the Panamint Range that opened and widened into a steep uphill basin. I packed up, drove up-basin, and pulled over when the road turned to gravel. I leaned against the Honda and munched on a peanut butter sandwich as pink clouds curled over Telescope Peak above me and the snow-capped wall of the Sierra Nevadas caught the first pinks and purples of the day. The low-angle morning sunlight dramatized the landscape in a way most people never see, and I'd stumbled upon it purely by chance. I turned around and headed down the same road, catching all that I'd missed the night before. I could've spent more time exploring the valley and the mountains around it, but was time to head home. As luck had it, the most direct route back was up the backside of the Sierra Nevadas through Owens Valley, a basin marking the western edge of the Great Basin and the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevadas. It's filled with dry lake beds and surrounded by walls of mountains stretching up to 14,000+ feet. Eventually this led into other basins which passed me along to Reno and points further north, out of the Sierras and into the Cascades, past Mts. Lassen and Shasta, up I-5 and into Eugene at 8:15. I'd promised my neighbor I'd be home at 8:00 for barbecue, but the absence of Grillmaster Waan forced them to turn to other, lesser food items. Which was okay, because I was fucking hosed at that point.

So there. The mileage count was 2877. There are some other good pics on filebox that I didn't bother to link to. Check them out.