Day 3: I woke Sunday morning, August 29th, about 8 AM local time. I took a shower, packed up, and went to check out of my room, but there was nobody at the front desk. I just left my key. The hostel was clean, comfortable, and I got a good night's sleep. Not bad for $22.  For future reference, the entrance to the Lazy Lizard Hostel was exactly at Mile Marker 124, between the feed store and the storage lot.

For the third day of my journey, I filled up Satori at the Maverik gas station in Moab. I wondered if their radio ads had the officer from "Top Gun" yelling "Mav-riiiiik!" They should. I crossed the Colorado River, which was a wide, lazy creek just outside of Moab. It was like the Colorado River figured it didn't have to be impressive-- it didn't have anything to prove to anybody. I drove outside of town and found the entrance to Arches National Park. My Park Pass just kept paying for itself as it got me in. I stopped at the visitor's center and got some stuff in the gift shop. Outside, I noticed the road into the park wound up the side of a mountain, but after Mesa Verde high, steep roads didn't scare me. Much.

The landscape of Arches National Park was unearthly and surreal. Rocks and mountains molded into bizarre shapes and contortions. My first stop was the Park Avenue Viewpoint, a narrow valley with tall cliffs on either side that give the impression of looking down a street of skyscrapers. I took pictures of the magnificent stones, but I was sure the pictures wouldn't do justice to the place. Down the road, I stopped at Balanced Rock. It's bigger than it looks, towering 128 feet above the path. A middle-aged couple was behind me on the path. The wife was concerned that the lighting would be bad for pictures, since it was so early in the morning. I pointed out that the path led around to the east side, where she should be able to get a good shot. The husband asked me if I was a professional photographer. I said no; I've been paid for pictures before, but I wasn't a professional photographer. "You ought to be," he said. I continued on, amazed at the incredible scenery.

I turned off towards the Delicate Arch Viewpoint, and stopped at the remains of the Wolfe Ranch. In the restroom there, I changed into shorts and filled up my canteen for the hike up to Delicate Arch. I was glad I did. The hike started out easy, with a wide, gravel path, then went up a sharp slope. Beyond a couple of gullies, the trail led about a quarter mile up a steep slope of sheer rock. Climbers call it slickrock. It wasn't long before I was sucking air, but something kept me going. I had to get to the top. It was a beautiful day, with not a cloud in the sky. I passed a man with a walking stick on his way back down the rockface. I asked him how it was, and he said, "The walk is worth it." It'd better be, I thought, gasping for air. The pamphlets say it's a three-mile hike there and back... but I found out if you get lost, it's more like a four mile trip... Yeah, I got lost. The trail was pretty well-defined, marked with little piles of rocks, but somehow I lost track of the trail. The footprints in the dust between the rocks disappeared. I looked around, gasping for breath, and didn't see any other hikers or any little piles of rocks anywhere. Still, I wasn't worried. Delicate Arch was at the top, right? All I had to do was keep going uphill, and I'd eventually get there, right?

Uh, no. What happened was I ended up on a bluff overlooking Delicate Arch– the un-photogenic side of Delicate Arch. As soon as I caught my breath, I tried to backtrack, angling across to where I thought the trail would be. Just when I thought I was on the right track, a deep chasm would loom in front of me. It was stupid to get lost like that. If I'd fallen into a crevace, it might have been weeks before anybody found me. I was really happy when I finally saw some other hikers. The trail goes through some rocks, and then follows a narrow path cut into the side of a mountain. That path was the first shade of the whole hike, and it felt very nice. I passed a small arch cut out of the mountain above the trail; I joked with the other hikers that "Delicate Arch looked a lot bigger from below." Finally, I rounded a corner, and there it was. What an awesome sight! Some folks climbed around the steep ledge right over to the arch itself, but most were satisfied with the close-range view. There were a lot of German tourists on the ledge with me. There was a woman from Germany there with her husband, who was from France. They got into a conversation with the woman behind me, and when they found out she was from Texas, they excitedly asked, "Oh! Do you know Lance Armstrong?" They were delighted when she said she did (although she later confessed to me that she didn't– but she couldn't bear disappointing the couple). Among the accomplishments of my climb to Delicate Arch was the personal confirmation of my own independence. I was my own person. I didn't need anybody else to make my life interesting. I made my own adventures. No one had any power over me.
 
After a short rest, I started back down the trail. I passed a guy with a shirt tied over his head for shade, changing the lens on his camera. He said he was touring all the national parks of Utah by motorcycle, and Arches was the last on his list. Going back down from Delicate Arch, I had time to stop and admire the beautiful scenery. I'd been too busy trying to breathe on my way up. I met a family on their way up the immense slickrock. The youngest child was crying, insisting on being carried, and in someplace like a mall or a supermarket –someplace flat– that might've been appropriate... but the parent balked at having to carry a perfectly healthy child while he was gasping at every step. I fell in behind a couple who were visiting from Salt Lake City. They had only decided to visit the park the day before. They had been living in Kansas, but recently moved to Utah. Arches was only a few hours away from home for them, and they were delighted so many neat national parks were within driving distance. We parted just before arriving at the parking lot.

The inside of the van was roasting from the sunlight, and I rolled down all the windows to air it out. Despite the hike, I felt pretty good, and my legs weren't wobbly at all. I continued on through the park, across the Salt Valley Wash and past Fiery Furnace. When I stopped to take a picture of Skyline Arch, I passed a Japanese couple trying to get a good picture. When I drove back past there about 20 minutes later, they were still there, still trying to get a good shot. I backtracked past Balanced Rock and went over to the Windows Section. I took the short hike to the North and South Windows, but found Turret Arch to be the most bizarre and  interesting. I probably spent way too much time in the park, but there was just so much to see. There was a busload of Japanese tourists there. I even had to wait for their bus to get out of the way before I could leave.

I kept hearing a funny noise from underneath my car. It sounded like I was dragging something, or like a piece of paper stuck underneath was flapping in the wind, but I could never find a cause. With so much left unseen, I reluctantly left Arches National Park and headed north on Highway 191. At 2:19 Oklahoma time, I got to Interstate 70, and headed west through Utah. I must have driven hundreds of miles before I saw another building, much less the next town. There weren't even any billboards on the highway. It didn't seem real that there could be that much space between towns. There was an occasional exit on the interstate, but the exit signs read "Ranch Road– No Services." There were no towns at those exits, no services, just backroads to the huge rural ranches scattered across the state. Central Utah has a whole lot of nothing but pretty views. I saw some lovely purple mountains off to the north. A long, high grade about Mile Marker 139 turned into rolling hills. Mesas appeared, and then I saw some dramatic white cliffs. I crossed a big bridge over Eagle Canyon. There were ripples in the sides of the rocks, like the scoring details in an Edward Gorey scratchboard. After a long climb, the road descended into a deep valley of red vistas. I had gone from purple to white to red mountains. There were some fierce winds down the road, and nothing but country/western stations on the radio. The road took me through Fishlake National Forest. Majestic, wooded mountainsides rose all around me.

At Salina, I got off the interstate and switched over to Highway 50. There was a monument at the exit, commemorating the outbreak of the Black Hawk War. It read, "Elijah Ward & Janos Anderson killed in this canyon." The two-lane Highway 50 took me into a wide, green valley as Satori clicked over 118,000 miles. Pastures and crops spread out on either side of the highway. A group of motorcyclists passed me (not bikers, because these guys had helmets on). Down the road, I connected with Interstate 15 for several miles, until Exit 178, which put me back on a two-lane road in the middle of one, big honkin' plain. Golden grasslands spread out in all directions. A sign said it was 178 miles to Ely; another announced I was approaching the Great Basin National Park ahead. At just after 6 PM (Oklahoma time), I made it to Delta, Utah. While planning my trip, I had seriously considered spending the night there before making the long trek across Nevada, but I couldn't find any motels registered online. Once I got there, I figured I should've just trusted my instincts and winged it. There were lots of inexpensive places to stay in town. I could have easily crashed there for the night. It was a pretty town, with wide streets and lush, green park in the middle of town. I got about a third of a tank of gas, which was a good idea. Just outside of Delta was the little hamlet of Hinkley. The last gas station in town had a sign: "Next Services 83 Miles." They weren't kidding, either. I was on Highway 50, "the loneliest road in America," and civilization soon disappeared behind me.

The land and the sky seemed to swallow me up as I traveled west down that barren stretch of highway. Maps show a whole lot of nothing between Delta and the Nevada border. About Mile Marker 58, I passed a great, white dry lake at the base of a big, flat valley. The road stretched along that lake bed for 12 miles. The road was the same as in those old postcards of a lonesome highway going off in a straight line, all the way to the horizon. Highway 50 went in straight lines for almost 200 miles. There were miles of freshly-paved asphalt that had a gritty gleam in the fading sunlight. Large sections of open range were on either side of the road. It was deceiving; sections of open range were right next to fenced areas, but the fenceline was usually about 50 yards from the road, so it was hard to tell. It occurred to me that driving through an open range at night was an extremely bad idea. In the daytime, you could see a wandering cow in the road 20 miles away, but at night you might not see one until you were right on top of it. From what I'd heard, hitting a cow felt just like hitting a brick wall, but with more meat.

A sign told me I was passing over Death Canyon. A jackrabbit bounded across the road, taking three and four foot leaps at each stride. At 7:49 (Oklahoma time), I crossed the border into Nevada. Sure enough, just over the border and 83 miles past that last chance gas station in Hinkley, there was a Phillips 66 station. I was also in the Pacific Time Zone, which made it 5:49 local time. Once I got to Nevada, the road got a lot more curvy, and the landscape got a lot greener. I was still an hour from Ely. I climbed a long grade to the Sacramento Pass, topping out at 7,154 feet, and when I came over the crest I saw something I will never forget as long as I live. The setting sun shone it's light on the vast expanse of the Spring Valley, a green, verdant panorama going off all the way to opposite horizons. Rich, fertile land beckoned to me. I felt like Moses viewing the Promised Land. The road descended into the valley, then turned and followed the length. I had the highway all to myself. Ahead, I saw something round in the road. Just as I got up on it, it turned and looked at me! It was a snake, curled up in a little coil. The wheels of the van passed on either side of it. In my rear-view mirror, I saw the snake squirm in my wake. I think it hissed at me. He was probably mad at me interrupting his evening constitutional– his after-rat slither. I crossed the floor of the valley. It was hard to take my eyes off it, it was so beautiful.

More curves appeared in the road as I climbed into the Humbolt National Forest and down into the Steptoe Valley. I passed a state prison, and signs on the road warned drivers to not pick up hitchhikers. Right after that was a sign designating a wildlife viewing area. Oh look, it's a red-crested convict!  At 7 PM local time, I pulled into the town of Ely. I thought it might be hard to find the Motel 6, but the sign was just about the tallest in town. It felt good to not be driving. The sun painted one last canvas of bright red across the clouds before disappearing in the west. I settled down in my room... but not for long. I was able to park right next to my room, so after darkness fell I brought the water jugs over to my room and filled them up in the bathroom. From the shower, again. I called home. After loading up the water jugs, I took a hot shower and settled down for the evening. It had been a long day.
 
The unphotogenic side of Delicate Arch (the where-the-heck-am-I view)
The hike up to Delicate Arch. The dots at the top of the ridge are people. 
That's more like it...
Turret Arch
Me, in dorky shorts, at North and South Arches
San Rafael Reef, on Utah Interstate 70
Highway 50, headed west through Utah. The road was like this for miles and miles
An occasional hill, a curve every now and then, but always long stretches of lonely road
Satori (and me) enter Navada
A welcome sight at the end of the day


  Prologue -- Day 1 -- Day 2 -- Day 3 -- Day 4 -- Day 5 -- Day 6 -- Day 7 -- Day 8 -- Day 9 -- Day 10 -- Day 11 -- Day 12 -- Day 13 -- Day 14 -- Epilogue
 
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All original content (c)opyright 2004 by Tim Frayser