I woke at 5:30 the next morning, Wednesday, September 5th . The sky was just getting light in the east. In the night, I got some neighbors: the dark SUV I’d heard pull up, two semi trucks, and a white car parked nose-to-nose with Satori. There was still plenty of room in the huge parking lot. I was surprised to see Kevin still working inside the store. I got a Dr. Pepper and a Mounds bar for breakfast. When I came back, the SUV was gone, and there was a girl in the white car running the engine. There was a chilly breeze out. I put on blue jeans and dug out my hoodie. Getting dressed, I saw some sleeping bags out in the brush. A guy was waiting for the girl in the car to return. I figured they were traveling, decided to stop and camp out, and she was trying to warm up in the car. (I suspect the whole camping out thing was the guy’s idea.)
I still felt clean, so I skipped a morning shower and pulled out of the Border Inn a little after 6 AM. (I was still on playa time.) The Sun was just coming over the mountains as I headed down that amazingly straight road, and it came up blazing. Far off, I could see the profile of distant Notch Peak. It was 12 miles before I got any kind of curve. I drove into the mountains, the Confusion Range. The road turned down some deep ravines, and the bright morning Sun kept appearing suddenly and mercilessly. When I take pictures, I like to play around with light and shadow, but light and shadow were playing around with me that morning.
I emerged in the green Tule Valley, and then climbed into the House Range. An RV sat parked at the turnoff for Blind Valley. It was right at 7 AM when I came over the crest of the hills, and the land ahead gleamed brightly in the sunlight. It was Sevier Lake, a dry endorheic lake bed, a relic of the ancient Pleistocene Lake Bonneville. Under the morning Sun, it shimmered with the ghosts of waters past. The glare improved as I drove along, and the Sun rose higher in the sky.
A half hour later, the outline of trees appeared far ahead, and I soon arrived in Delta, Utah. At the 7/11, I got $30 worth of gas. It was 6 cents cheaper than the Sinclair station a block away. A brown haired girl named Maisa waited on me. Delta’s city park impressed me the only other time I came through town, and it was still pretty. Green lawns and wide streets made it seem very friendly. It was 70 degrees out. I took time to call home. I passed irrigation canals on my way out of town. Highway 50 turns south towards Holden east of Delta. It was 66 miles to Salina.

I passed an F350 pulling an RV and an ATV. The road turned north at Holton, and then merged with Interstate 15. The wind really picked up. I munched on my bag of trail mix, which was still good. Coming over a hill, the town of Scipio spread out across the floor of a green valley. That’s where I got off the interstate to follow Highway 50. Chevron stations consistently had the highest prices of any gas station I’d seen that trip. Outside of town, it was 27 miles to Salina. I was surprised to see a handful of cattle grazing beside the road near mile marker 134. They had circumvented a cattleguard and broken through a hole in the fence. I stopped to get a picture of wild geese resting in a marshy field.

There were some gorgeous red cliffs near the Sevier County line. The highway was busy with lots of trucks; I didn’t take it personally when they passed me. It was 9:19 when I got to Salina City, 159 miles from the Border Inn. It was 75 degrees out. I passed the Butch Cassidy Campground, which looked comfortable, with lots of trees. I pulled over at the Subway near the interstate and got a footlong sandwich. I figured I could save half and eat it later. I checked my email. Wild Childe and friends were stranded in Wyoming after an accident that totaled the truck pulling the trailer they’d used for the CORE project. One person was in the hospital! Satori didn’t need oil just yet, but I bought a quart at the garage next door. A grey cat slinked around the parking lot.

Pulling onto Interstate 70, a sign warned it was 110 miles to the next services. I turned east just before 10 AM, facing a tough headwind. It was a pretty day, and the landscape alongside the highway was very colorful. I wanted to stop and take pictures, but I knew I’d never get anywhere that day if I did that. I needed to put some miles behind me. The land was gorgeous and rugged. At Exit 73, there was… nothing, much like Exit 86. The exits were for the big ranches way off in the distance and had no services. Exit 91 pointed towards Capitol Reef National Park. The sign said there was gas, and it was technically right, but the station was 27 miles away to the north.

I got the CD player working and put on some music. The interstate went through deep cuts in the earth and canyons of red rock. At mile marker 112, the steep grade slowed me down to 45 MPH. The road danced around massive pillars of stone as it climbed to Ghost Rock (7,270 feet). I stopped at the next rest area for a pit stop. Native Americans sold handmade goods under a sign that said “No Vending.” 

It was 35 miles to Green River. Past Exit 131, where there was nothing, a Highway Patrolman pulled in front of me to pull over a silver car. Sharp curves and steep grades started about five miles later. Signs warned trucks to check their brakes. The downhill grades were steep, and I passed two different runaway truck ramps—one of which ran straight into a canyon wall. The towering canyon walls, steep, plunging highway and high speeds made for a harrowing drive until I emerged out the east side of Mother Nature’s fortress, the San Rafael Reef. The scary ride was made even more tense because I happened to be playing the music of a fight scene from the “Captain America: the First Avenger” soundtrack. I made a mental note to play Dean Martin or Perry Como songs the next time I’m on a road that’s trying to kill me.

It was just before noon playa time when I arrived in Green River. A quarter hour later, I got off the interstate and turned south on Highway 191. The landscape turned very colorful. Thirty miles past the interstate, a bike trail appeared next to the highway. I passed the turnoff for Arches National Park, and I was soon in Moab, Utah. The outskirts of town had several RV parks, many with special rates for backpackers. One had a hot tub. It seemed like a very bicycle-friendly town. Moab had a music festival, an antique car show every year, a half marathon in March and an “other half” marathon in October. Traffic got heavy as I went downtown. Every business was booming, every parking lot full of cars. There were bookstores, trading posts, motels; I don’t think I saw one empty storefront on the main drag.

I stopped at the Walker’s gas station and got $30 worth of gas. Heading out of town, I was pleased to see the Lazy Lizard Hostel was still in business. It was 50 miles to Monticello. I passed Wilson Arch, which I had thought was called Williams Arch all this time. It was a pleasant drive. The road was a good 2-lane asphalt, with minimal shoulders.

I made it to Monticello (“Home of the Hideout”) just after 2. (My times might be screwed up from here on.) It had a nice city park with a very respectful veteran’s memorial. That was where I turned east on Highway 491 towards Cortez, 59 miles away. 

I calculated I had about 5 hours to sunset. My intention was to go to Chaco Canyon and spend the night there, then explore in the morning. It didn’t look like I would make it by dark—and then I realized the Visitor’s Center would close a long time before sunset. What would I do if I went all that way and there were no spaces left in the campground? It looked like Farmington would be my best chance at finding a place to go to ground for the night. 

I crossed over into Colorado, having driven the width of Utah. At Dove Creek I passed the Lonesome Dove Bar. Ute Mountain loomed ahead as I drove over pleasant rolling hills. I had thought about stopping at the Lowry Ruins, but I never saw the turnoff, unless it was the same as the turn for Hovenweep National Monument. (It wasn’t.) A mile of the highway was adopted by the Dobie Brothers Fan Club.
I got to Cortez about an hour after leaving Moab. I needed to look up a place to stay for the night, so down the highway I pulled over at the Ute Mountain Travel Center. After searching online with my smartphone, the prospects seemed bleak. One RV park I called said they only rent spaces by the month. Another place had no showers or bathrooms. There was a place in Kirtland, down the road from Shiprock, that sounded interesting, but I couldn’t find any info on it. I decided to head for Shiprock and trust to providence that I would find someplace for the night.

I crossed the border into New Mexico at 4:18, 5:18 local time. I’d been on the road for 10 hours. I was in the Navajo Nation, and the spiky profile of Shiprock came into view ahead. I was listening to Four Corners Public Radio. When I got to Highway 64, I turned east and started looking for some place to camp for the night. The highway was very wide all the way to Farmington. I was tired and hungry and stressed-out, and somewhere down 64 I decided the heck with it—I would get a motel room. Once I got to Farmington, I drove around, and finally settled on an old place called the Economy Inn, right on Main Street. For $45, I got a room with AC, a TV, fridge, microwave, a shower… and it was “near the bus station.” I took a hot shower, ate the other half of my Subway sandwich, and tried to relax. I’d driven 506 miles that day, and I was beat. I called home, and the Missus thought getting a motel room was a good idea. I tried to catch up on my writing. The Weather Channel said it was going to be 93 on Thursday, and partly cloudy—no chance of rain. It looked like I was finally going to make it to Chaco Canyon. I wondered about an electrical outlet high on the wall, close to the ceiling. I watched a little TV, and then went to bed. It was neat to sleep in a real bed again for the first time in over two weeks. 

Prologue  Aug. 22  Aug. 23  Aug. 24  Aug. 25 
Sunday  Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday  Monday 
Sept. 4  Sept. 5  Sept. 6  Sept. 7 & Epilogue
Original material (c)opyright 2012 by Tim Frayser
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LINKS: Notch Peak San Rafael Reef Sevier Lake 
Last updated: September, 2012