The boom of thunder woke me just after 2 AM. Lightning flashed, followed by the patter of rain. Through the trees, I could see the dome tent of my neighbors lit up from within like a nightlight. The rumble of thunder rocked the van. The storm took a half hour break, and then came back for another round. Everything settled down about 3:20, and I was abut to go back to sleep when PLORK, a drop of water fell on my head. Where’d that come from? A light shone through one of the windows; the Moon had broken out from behind the clouds. I watched someone with a flashlight cross through the campground and go into the lit-up dome tent. At some point, I fell back asleep… 
I woke just before sunrise. I’d given up trying to tell time on the Rez. It was Friday, August 23rd. Even with the storm, I figured I got about 7 hours of sleep. Outside, everything was wet, including the camp chair I forgot to pack up. Water spilled out when I tipped it over. At the restroom, I poured water over my head to wash my hair. An older gentleman came in to shave. He said there were wild dogs wandering the campground, looking for handouts. That was why the trashcans were all set up in racks, 2 feet off the ground. I got out the stove and cooked up some ramen noodles for breakfast. When I packed up the van, I put the wet chair up on top of the water jugs to dry out. I had a long way to go that day.
I headed out just before 8:30. I stopped at the Shell station for gas, because, of course, it was cheaper than the Chevron station. The convenience store had a Laundromat. Most of the washers were full. It was a cool, brisk morning. Lots of people were out along the highways walking to work. Dogs played in a fenced yard. It was a brisk morning. My original plan was to take Highway 191 north from Chinle to Highway 160 and head west, but then I discovered I could save 40 miles by taking Indian Route 59 west to Kayenta. Highway 191 was good asphalt, with no shoulders. I passed small, family farms, many with hogons, new and ancient. Red cliffs followed the road as I went north. I found a Fleetwood Mac song on the radio.
It was right after 9 AM when I turned west onto IR 59. It was 51 miles to Kayenta. The road climbed up onto a lonely mesa. The early morning Sun cast deep shadows among the red rocks. A white mule grazed beside the road. The road took me up onto a high plain following a striped ridge. I drove between two free range cows grazing along the highway. The radio offered lots of Christian and/or country-western stations. I turned it off. At Mile Marker 18, the road dropped down off the mesa, then pulled into a short maze of buttes before coming out onto a grey plain. The road took a steep climb through some deep cuts in the cliffs into a pretty country of rich colors. Cloud shadows played across the ridge. At Chilbento, a car was nose-to-nose with an SUV, as if giving it a jump. The van scared a pair of black carrion birds off their roadkill breakfast. The road came to a T at Church Rock, and I turned west on Highway 160. I breezed through Kayenta just before 10 AM. There was an exhibit on Navajo Code Talkers at the Burger King. The road took a long, slow uphill grade out of town. I passed some more free range cows grazing beside the road. Seven miles out of Kayenta I topped 6,000 feet elevation, then dropped down into a long, wide valley.
Down the road, I stopped at the Black Mesa Shopping Center, near the turnoff for Navajo National Monument. Ever since that morning, I’d been hearing a ringing sound, but didn’t know where it was coming from. I figured something in the stuff I’d packed on the roof was banging together. Satori was a little low on oil, so I put in a quart and let it cool down a little while I went inside. The grocery store was clean, well-lit, and had an assortment of canned goods. A sign at the register told patrons that were rude, intoxicated or unruly to “please bless another place of business with your presence.” A can of Campbell’s soup cost $2.39. I got a Dr. Pepper.
Thirteen miles down the road, I turned north on Highway 98. I was on the Naat’tsis’aan Navajo Mountain Scenic Road. I’d been this way before. I figured I’d be in Page by noon. Up ahead, traffic stopped for construction. It looked like the project was to turn the road into a 4-lane highway. I turned off the engine and waited for the pilot car to take traffic through. I didn’t have to wait long. The high desert was full of life; hearty plant growth was everywhere. It was 11:18 when the road topped 6,687 feet elevation. My ears popped. The rock outcroppings along the highway were stunning. A sign beside the road read “In Beauty We Walk.” I passed the power plant and the turn for Antelope Canyon, which I’d visited years before. Coming over a rise, I got to see the Vermillion Cliffs, a stunning work of nature. It was shortly after noon when I drove through Page. I went past the high school and took a wrong turn somewhere, but still ended up on the right end of town. I crossed the Glen Canyon Dam and got a glimpse of Lake Powell. There were not as many RVs for sale beside the road as there were last time I passed through.
The wind really picked up on the north end of the river. Clouds were moving in. It was 12:44 Oklahoma time when I crossed the border into Utah. It was 64 miles to Kanab, and about four hours to Cathedral Gorge. The landscape was very rugged. I figured out what the ringing sound was: the little license plate on my bicycle was coming loose. I pulled over at a historical marker commemorating the Pahreah ghost town. A movie set was built over the remains of a ghost town about 4 miles from the highway, and several western movies had been filmed there over the years. The marker also commemorated the Old Spanish Trail, which ran nearby. I removed the plate and took a few minutes to eat a bite of lunch. Ahead, steep grades led me past maroon cliffs and ruddy red mountains. The sky was overcast, with patches of blue here and there.
Just after 2 PM, I arrived in Kanab, “A Western Classic.” I stopped at the BLM Visitor Center and looked through their exhibits on geology and archaeology. I got a phone call from somebody at human resources: they wanted me to come in for an interview. Um, I said, I'm in Utah, in the middle of a journey… could we set it up for after Labor Day? He said they couldn’t wait that long, and suggested a phone interview. I remembered how impossible it was to get cell service on the playa, and said I’d call him back. I was afraid something like that would come up while I was on the road. It made me sick to think Burning Man could cost me a possible job. Kanab had a very busy downtown district. The local RV park was completely full. I stopped at a gas station and topped off the tank. I had a long way to go the next day.
I turned north out of town towards ominous clouds. Wooded hills of the Dixie National Forest rose all around me. I passed the exit for Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, but I knew I wouldn’t get any good pictures with an overcast sky. Right before 3 PM, I turned west onto Highway 14 at Mt. Carmel Junction. Right away, it seemed like I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Signs warned of steep grades ahead. Snow tires were required from November to March. On top of everything else, it started to rain. Steep grades slowed me down to 35, then 30 MPH. Locals stuck behind me were frustrated at not being able to pass. Edges of the narrow, tight road plunged off into oblivion. I passed campgrounds full of campers. Scary, twisty roads offered brief glimpses of breathtaking mountain passes, but I was too busy trying to not die to dare take a peek. I could see black lava rocks scattered among the trees. It was a strange sight to see Navajo Lake appear through a break in the forest. The road leveled out. Sheep grazed in a field. Another sign warned of avalanches. The highway started back down out of the mountains, through tight turns and more steep grades.
It was a quarter after 4 when I finally pulled into Cedar City, Utah. I had to pull over and sit for a few minutes. It was as scary a highway as I’d ever been on. I got out my cellphone and called the human resources office. I told the guy if we scheduled a phone interview, I would find some way to be in a place where I could get cell service. We agreed on Tuesday afternoon at 3 PM Central Time. I was giggling all the way out of town. You gotta have hope!

I drove west; it was 41 miles to Enterprise. The highway set out in a straight, 2-lane asphalt line across a wide plain, but steep grades rose to meet me. Mountains loomed at all sides. It was right before 5 PM when I went through Newcastle, surrounded by corn fields and pasture land. Huge irrigation machines lined the road, some at work watering the crops. Beryl Junction was where I passed the turnoff for Enterprise. No one else was on the road in any direction. At 5:32 I crossed the border into Nevada, and Highway 56 became Highway 319, with no shoulders. I drove into some dry hills. An hour after leaving Cedar City, I finally met another car headed eastward. I passed a dirt road that may have been the exit point for my adventure after visiting Mountain Meadows.
At Panaca, the road came to a T and I stopped at a convenience store. High school kids joked with each other as they put gas in their cars. A short distance up the road was Cathedral Gorge State Park. I took some pictures of the unique rock formations, then found the campground.

I was filling out the fee envelope when the park ranger arrived. She showed me where the showers were, and said, “Just pick any empty spot. They’re mostly empty.” I found a site almost next door to the restrooms. The low afternoon Sun was very bright as I set up the propane stove and cooked myself some supper. Each campsite had a high pole with a hook on the top—for hanging up your food out of bear reach? A lizard skittered past my foot as I ate. A rabbit ran in front of the ranger car when it cruised by. The campground was about half full. It was wonderfully peaceful, and very quiet, except for the occasional sound of a distant car way over on the highway. When I went to take a shower, I realized I’d left my shampoo behind again! It wasn’t even funny anymore. There was plenty of hot water, and I got as clean as I could. The Sun fell behind some clouds. A pleasant breeze blew through the campground. A guy rode by on a bicycle. A family of four settled in as a colorful RV (red on one side, green on the other) backed into a campsite. I relaxed and enjoyed the peace, the quiet, the simple pleasure of sitting in the shade with no deadlines or agendas. Burning Man wasn’t simple, that was for sure. It was planning, scheduling, sacrifice and work. Simply attending the event was like a very tough, unpaid job. 
I drove 412 miles that day. So far, I’d only taken 200 pictures with the digital camera. I figured I’d have plenty left for the playa and the road home. It started getting chilly as soon as the Sun went down. A bunny rabbit hopped across the road. I passed a meeting of several rabbits on my way to the bathrooms. 
Clouds rose and fell in the fading light. I heard crickets out in the brush, but no mosquitoes or flies. To the northwest, a thunderhead crawled over the horizon, the last rays of the Sun turning its stormy heart a rosy red, its ragged crown a frothy gold. Lightning flashed from within as the cloud turned dark and moved off to the east. Before I knew it, it was 9:30. I figured I’d better get some sleep. 
Prologue  Aug. 21  Aug. 22  Aug. 23  Aug. 24 
Sunday  Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday  Monday 
Sept. 3  Sept. 4  Sept. 5  Sept. 6 & Epilogue
 BurningClam.Com        Original material (c)opyright 2013 by Tim Frayser 
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LINKS: Cathedral Gorge State Park    Vermillion Cliffs   Pahreah Ghost Town  
Last updated: September, 2013