The next morning, I actually thought about retracing my miles (about 160) back to Pinetop. I really wanted to see Gene and JoAdda. especially in an ambience other than Carefree. Then it occurred to me that in my frustration of the night before, I had neglected to get their phone number in Pinetop. I made one more call to Carefree, but there was no answer. To heck with it. I figured the stars were not quite lined up. It was time to hit the road…north to Utah.
U.S. 89 took me through the desolation of the Navajo Indian Reservation where families subsisted in small shanties. It was quite depressing to see the Native Americans living in such squalor. And there I was, cruising along in sublime comfort, listening to classical music on a Sunday afternoon from a station in Sho Low. It was an eerie contrast of settings. For added entertainment, I would fantasize scenes from silent movies that would be enhanced by the appropriate background score, like Pauline being tied to the railroad tracks as a Chopin crescendo came to a climax. It was pure self-indulgence, and I was loving every minute of it. I came to a split in the highway and recalled a Yogi Berra quote: “If you come to a fork in the road, pick it up.” I took Alt 89 across the Colorado River where you can see the incipience of the Grand Canyon, just an inconsequential gorge at that point. I couldn’t help but be in awe at God’s magnificence.
The stretch of Alt 89 was not a road for the fainthearted. It was rough and narrow (no shoulders) with a constant stream of weekenders coming in the opposite direction. I climbed up to scenic overlook where I could seemingly see half of Arizona. The tortuous drive had made the view all that more worthwhile. I continued on upward through the Kaibab National Forest where I noticed a bunch of great places to pull off for the night. My altimeter read 8,000 feet which made it even more enticing. There was one problem: it was only 2 o’clock which scotched any idea to stop for the night. I stopped at Jabob Lake with the appropriate appellation of the Gateway to the North Rim. I was remembering one beautiful night years ago that I spent near the edge of the Grand Canyon. A huge tour bus pulled in and a group of geriatrics disembarked to use the facilities. I got a kick out of watching them waddle around in their outlandish touristy outfits until I had had enough of that folderol.
I had my sights set on a rest area on I-15 about thirty miles north of St. George. But knowing it was in a valley and not that far from the 100 degree-plus temperatures of Las Vegas, I started having second thoughts. I took another look at my Atlas, and out popped the obvious alternative – the high road through Dixie National Forest in southwest Utah. I was recalling this same route I had taken on my memorable winter odyssey in February of 2001 and had almost taken this “high road” when I saw an admonishing sign at the base reading: “10,000 Foot Summit Ahead. 8 % Grade. 18-Wheelers Not Allowed.” In the dead of winter, I was not ready to get snowbound at 9 or 10 thousand feet. Now, in late August, it would look, I hoped, like Heaven’s Gate.
I continued north to Fredonia and into Utah to Kanab where I merged with the main U.S. 89. I passed the junction to Zion N. P. and said to myself, “No way, Jose. Not today.” I was gradually climbing (the altimeter read above 7,000 feet) through some beautiful countryside when I saw a man walking the road with all he owned on his back. What a lonely sight! Gosh, it made me thankful for all I had. At Long Valley Jet, I turned west onto UT 14, my “highway to the sky” with its ominous sign posted at a spacious turn-around for the tractor-trailer rigs. About ten miles up, I pulled off at the Duck Creek Camp Ground next to a small lake. The elevation was 8,500 feet. It was perfect. Before sundown, I did some off-road biking around the lake. I was able to listen to some long-distance ballgame on the portable. It was getting about as dark as dark could get when a partial moon came up, lighting up the white bark on the aspens. I was in heaven, and I had found my Avalon without GPS … just good memory and map reading, the old-fashion way. I thanked The Lord for a safe day’s trip.
The climb to the summit the next day was surprisingly easy, like a walk in the park. The grade was nowhere near 8 per cent. I wondered what was the big deal about no semis being allowed. I soon found out why. It was the descent that was steep and full of hairpin turns! I noticed an inordinate number of dehydrated evergreens. The extreme drought in the West was taking its toll. If this kept up, I was afraid the entire western United States would become a Sahara Desert. I stopped at a scenic overlook where I could see part of Zion N.P. in the distance. All the way down the tortuous downgrade I could see why the 18-wheelers were banned. There wasn’t even enough room for those runaway truck ramps you see on I-70. When I got to Cedar City, I was surprised to notice that the elevation was about 5,000 feet. I thought, “Maybe that rest area just down the interstate would have been cool enough for a night’s sleep after all. But then, I wouldn’t have traded a moment for that beautiful night up at Duck Creek.” Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.
It was west on UT 56 to Nevada where I stopped under a shade tree in the small burg of Panaca. All of a sudden a swarm of teenagers emptied out of the highschool down the street and made a beeline for the grocery next door. Within minutes, here they all came out with Slurpy cups and bags of Tostitos. I thought, “What is this? Don’t they serve a healthy lunch at their school?” I waited until the maddening crowd had left, then went in to get my own munchies – some Thompson Seedless Grapes. The produce department was a meager lot with nary a one grape. What a bummer! I couldn’t help but comment to the lady proprietor, “This must be a madhouse during the school year. Guess it’s kinda dull during the summer.” She replied, “We like the quiet in the summer.”
I merged with U.S. 93, one of the great old north-south highways on which one can drive from Phoenix to the Canadian border. I stopped at a grocery in Caliente which had two mainline tracks running through it. They didn’t have any grapes either. I settled for a grapefruit. I asked the check-out lady, “Say, are grapes out of season here in Nevada?” “No, we should have some in tomorrow,” she replied. I said, facetiously, “Well, maybe I’ll just hang out here and watch the trains roll through.” She came back with, “You’re welcome to do that. They come through all the time from LA to the East.” I went outside and dissected the grapefruit into munchable slices. One has to make do.