Like many of you, I’ve spent much of my adult life thinking how great it would be to make a cross country car journey; paying lip service to the idea but never quite thinking it would happen. Now, I’ve made the trip twice in a nine month period – from the East Coast to California with Rachel and back again (joined this time by her husband and my son Jesse) arriving in Chapel Hill where they live a week later. I wrote about the first leg back in September and in spirit of the late Charles Kuralt (himself a North Carolinian), here is The Road Back.
If you make no other trip to a National Park, do take in Yosemite. I was stunned by the Grand Canyon going out, but absolutely blown away by Yosemite. We also landed there at the very best time of the year when the winter snows were well into melt and the water comes rushing down mountains in pencil thin (though obviously much thicker)falls in every direction flowing into torrential rapids of the streams below. The difference between The Canyon and Yosemite is that the roads running up and down through the latter bring you up close and personal – you can get soaked by the rushing falls and literally bend over and touch the fast running streams. The only downside to this early season wonder is that the main cut through road was still impassable and we had to backtrack four hours to resume our drive east.
I’ve never been to Las Vegas before or now (not accidental) but Nevada, where so many go to gamble, is above everything else a place of beauty. We drove off I-80 up into the mountains still snow covered where we again encountered melt and, while no where as dramatic as Yosemite, fast moving streams. Back on the Interstate we headed toward Salt Lake. It’s a long stretch and if you ever drive it make sure to fill the tank, you won’t find many service stations along the way. We have all crossed a lot of state lines in our time and, aside from the “you are leaving” or “welcome to” signs it usually takes some time (if ever) to notice any appreciable difference between where you’ve been and where you are. Not so the cross on I-80 from Nevada to Utah. Within an instant the terrain changes dramatically and you are engulfed by a wide expanse of whiteness (crystallized salt) on either side of the road. If you had any doubt that you were headed toward the Great Salt Lake, it is quickly and decisively dispelled. Aside from passing by the massive Mormon Temple, we didn’t spend much time in the city – this was largely and purposefully a countryside trip. We did, however, have one of the best Mexican meals ever (Jesse had eaten in this seemingly unpretentious eatery after giving a lecture at the University some months back). Very hot, very spectacular Mole.
Utah is a place of unbelievable beauty. Having limited time, we had to be selective, but were not disappointed with our choices. After staying overnight in Green River, we drove into The Arches some 30 minutes away. This is a huge National Park with miles of road that take you to countless rock mountain formations characterized by arch like spaces that cutting through, some above ground and others through which you can easily walk. It was a hot day and at considerable altitude even being in what I thought was excellent shape going up a modest hill made me feel much like a couch potato unused to exerting even the slightest physical effort. It was probably the first time I didn’t feel that the AARP membership card tucked in my wallet was out of place. We drove down the road from there (a very long road) to yet another National Park, Canyon Lands. This place claims to be an accessible Grand Canyon, and perhaps more beautiful. Being very height sensitive (a gross understatement), I certainly found it much less foreboding and very beautiful indeed though in a totally different way than the Grand whose very scale is so overwhelming and unforgettable.
As if we hadn’t seen enough, we headed further east toward Denver and up to Boulder for the night. In the early morning we drove north into the Rockies (which if you haven’t experienced them are very rocky). This is totally different terrain than Yosemite or the Utah hills, but no less breathtaking. Again rushing streams enhanced by melt off though at an earlier seasonal stage than what we had seen before. We didn’t have time for a walk through but the drive through yet another National Park gave us a very good sense of the place. From there we headed south toward Amarillo and I-40 the route Rachel and I had taken out and about which I wrote last September.
This is a magnificent country with great open spaces and a National Park System which reminds one that there were conservation-minded leaders who held sway in our historic past. I haven’t been to Alaska (yet), but can tell you without seeing the place that even contemplating violating a National Park to drill for oil is an unpatriotic act by definition. This of course brings me to the talk of the day: oil. We thought gasoline was expensive in September; it’s significantly more so now. Of course, once again the cheapest pump price was in Texas; though only a tad lower than in adjoining states. It does make you wonder why a gallon of Exxon Regular can be $2.46 in Amarillo and well over 3 bucks in the New York area. I know that the taxes are different and perhaps it takes a little longer to get from source to point of use, but give me a break. It would seem that the geo-political conditions affecting oil prices are the same every where. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge my fellow-citizens out West the lower prices, but I do feel more than uneasy about the spectacular profiteering of the oil barons.
The bottom line of this round trip? It is great to get away, see the country and find respite, albeit for a brief moment, from the sorry political and social state of our world and county.