Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Road to Moab

We completed a scenic road-walk from Bryce Canyon to Tropic, seeking the next place to stay along our journey back to Moab. On the outskirts of town, we met Pastor Rob, who took the time to stop and chat with us about the Bible. He's lived 4 years in Tropic with his wife and children, ever since the founding of Bryce Canyon Bible Church. He invited us to attend a service anytime.

After scoping out the town for other inns, we walked over to America's Best Value to inquire about their rooms. Ali allowed us to look at a room before we came to a decision. It was very clean and had everything we needed, but we sought a lower price. We tried to negotiate with Ali, but she couldn't go down in price. When she learned that we were heading to Kodachrome next, she told us about Grand Staircase Inn. Located in Cannonville, this hotel is much closer to the state park. Ali allowed us to call them first to check their availability. There were a few vacancies, so we decided that we would hitch to Cannonville. Ali said that she would love to give us a ride there if she wasn't working.

Once we reached the other edge of town, Kevin pulled his truck over for us and cheerfully offered to take us to Grand Staircase Inn. Serendipitously he used to work there and has known the owner, Carlen, for his whole life. When we arrived at the inn/convenience store, Kevin walked in with us and introduced us to the man who took over his job. Kevin stayed to make sure that we were taken care of before he left.

We checked into a spacious, high-ceiling room with two king-size beds. The place was spotless, cleaner than any motel that Freebird has seen over his years of travelling. One of the workers stuck a pizza in the oven for us, and we took it back to our room for dinner.

In the morning we went back down for breakfast and renewed the reservation for another night. We were planning on returning to Cannonville after a day-hike around Kodachrome State Park. Carlen offered to give us ride there, which was very generous because this was far out of his way. We insisted on trying to hitch first. If that didn't work out, we would accept Carlen's offer.

Jesse and Haruna checked into a room across the hall from us and were about to go rock-climbing in the area. They had no idea yet how to get to the destination they had in mind, but they offered to take us to Kodachrome while we tried to find it on the maps. We weren't able to help them, but they did figure it out later. It turns out that they did drive us out of their way. As they left us at Kodachrome, Jesse said that they would pick us up later if they didn't find us in our room. That was very touching to hear. Many of the people that we met in Tropic and Cannonville really reached out to us, being classic examples of the Good Samaritan.

Bryce Canyon in the distance.

Petroglyphs outside a cave.

Ballerina Spire.

For Michele.

Entering Cool Cave, which spirals inwards.

The sun was setting and it was time to attempt to get back to Cannonville. We returned to the road and hitched. At first only two cars passed by, afraid to pick us up. Here we were in the middle of the desert, just wanting to get back to town. And so we began to walk in the direction of Cannonville while waiting for anyone to stop. A local man who was going the other way slowed down and checked to see if we were okay. He offered a ride on his return trip if we hadn't found one by then. 

Finally some men from Phoenix picked us up, and we quickly saw why we needed to meet them. They were out for a camping trip away from their wives and families, but it was too windy and cold for them to set up their tents. So instead, they were in the midst of a search for a motel. We recommended to them Grand Staircase Inn for its cleanliness, spaciousness, and for being the most affordable in the whole area. They were convinced and chose to stay.

Stephen, Kevin's cousin, heated up a pizza in the oven for us. We returned to our room to have dinner and settle in for the night. Haruna and Jesse returned later and were happy that we made it back.

Upon checking out the next morning, we had no idea where we were to go next. Stephen recommended that we go to the Cannonville Visitor Center to get some recommendations. Meanwhile, he gave me some free coffee. A dog came over to the inn, and so we shared our water with him. I sat with him for awhile until he wandered back home to one of the neighbors.

A replica of a Southern Paiute khan, which served as summer housing, as seen at the Cannonville Visitor Center.
Jean, who was working that day at the visitor center, suggested a few places for us to go next along our route back to Moab. After leaving Kodachrome, we had no more plans and were open to just about anything. Jean highly recommended that we hike part of Escalante River and then visit Calf Creek Falls. She showed us pictures of these places, and they were breathtaking. And so it was decided that we would hitch to Escalante, stay the night there, and then hike up-canyon the next day.

By request, Jean played a short documentary for us about the geology of Grand Staircase-Escalante. It was rather interesting to see how the landscape developed over time and to learn about all the layers of rock. And moreover, within the film, we spotted a pleasant, familiar face. Tim, who works at the Grand County Library in Moab, was interviewed!

Back at Grand Staircase Inn, we were permitted to use their guest computer to look up motels in Escalante. Stephen gave me another free cup of coffee. Three bikers from Canada and Nebraska, who were heading to Bryce, showed up at the convenience store. They were sitting on a bench outside in shorts, while we were wearing nearly all of our clothes to stay warm! We cautioned them that it would be very cold and windy on the ridge at Bryce, though clearly that didn't matter to them.

Now with knowledge of the motels to check upon arrival in Escalante, we left the inn and hitched just across the street along Highway 12. A couple from Wisconsin, who were staying in Boulder, Utah, picked us up. They were visiting the west for a short period of time and wanted to hear our advice about which parts of Bryce and Zion to visit. They brought us to Escalante Outfitters, one of the first places that we would check. They were very hesitant to leave us, concerned about us finding a place to stay. We assured them that things would work out, and so they returned to their room in Boulder.

A dog sunning in front of Escalante Outfitters.

At Escalante Outfitters we inquired about their cabin rentals. They allowed us to inspect the room, and we decided that it just wasn't for us. We returned the key to them and walked up the street to some other nearby motels to ask about their rates.

After some searching we checked into a room at Circle D. As advised by Robert at the front desk, we chose to walk down the street to Nemo's. They were closed for some cleaning, so instead we strolled into Griffin Grocery to buy dinner while resupplying for our next excursion up-canyon. A woman at the store, who confirmed with us that they didn't sell any already-prepared food, personally walked across the street to the gas station to ask for us what they serve.

Sunrise as seen from our room.

The next day we checked out of Circle D and walked to the other end of town to reach the Escalante River trailhead.

The historic Boulder Mail trail stretches from Escalante to Boulder and is still accessible to hikers.

A cave where we decided to camp for the night.

Pictographs on the cave walls.

Drying my shoes and socks, after plunging in the river on our hike.

Freebird was getting a little shutter-crazy, and I got fed up with him for taking so many pictures of me. I guess that's what I get for having taken so many pictures of him during our whole journey! When I tried to seek revenge, he buried himself in his sleeping bag. 

It had been a difficult hike for me so far, getting my feet wet while crossing the Escalante River multiple times. That was an uncomfortable situation with the cold weather. No longer were we going to finish this trail; rather, we head back to Escalante after one more night in the cave. Freebird chose to hike a few more miles while I stayed behind in the cave, drawing and napping in my sleeping bag.

Awhile after Freebird left, it started to rain. Thankfully we had already collected wood for another fire to dry him off!

The next day we walked back out and realized that we hadn't gone as far as we thought. We never hike for the miles though, just for the experience. Escalante River was enjoyable, but we decided that it was getting to be too cold for us. Now we were really done with the backpacking leg of our journey. Escalante River would be our last time to camp outdoors along the way back to Moab.

We frightened a flock of about 20 turkeys as we left the canyon.

While we were in the cave, the higher elevations received a dusting of snow.

From the edge of Escalante, we tried to hitch at the gas station for hours. It was so windy that we had to hide behind a rock and jump out whenever a car was passing by. That might have been a bit intimidating to the drivers!

Finally we gave up and walked back into town. After Ray signed us onto the computers at the library for the 2 hours that they were open, we went back to Griffin Grocery to resupply.

We dreaded returning to a motel in Escalante, but nonetheless we were thinking of checking into Circle D again. As we picked through the sparse produce section, a resident named Gary showed us how the locals do their shopping here. He led us into the cooler, where the freshest produce was usually located, to look around. Gary donned a Hawaiian shirt and shorts and definitely stood out from the other locals. Aside from that, there certainly seemed to be something unique about him. He felt a special kinship with us, and within thirty seconds of talking to him about Hawaii, he invited us to stay at his place for the night. We accepted, finished up our shopping, then climbed into his truck.

Gary brought us to his guest/shaman room, where we would be sleeping. It is decorated with mainly with images and relics from American Indian and Hawaiian traditions. Also interspersed throughout are dragonflies, a loving reminder of his wife who passed on a few years ago. We took showers as Gary began a fire in the wood-burning stove and prepared a dinner for us of organic, local food from Boulder. He prefers to shop there, where a wider, healthier selection of food is available. 

We listened intently that night as Gary told us about his spiritual journey, leaving behind his upbringing in the Church of Latter-Day Saints. This man, who is a descendant of the original homesteaders of Escalante, made a huge step in leaving the church and faced much opposition. Now he's a shining beacon for those who dare to be different, who refuse to conform to the mainstream society about them. He told us of his blog, in which he later wrote a post about our visit.

The next morning as we ate a home-cooked breakfast courtesy of Gary, he suggested taking us to Lower Calf Creek Falls, the very place we were going to visit had we continued our trek up the river.

Along the way we stopped at an outlook over the scenic Highway 12 and read that it was built years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps. According to at least one source, this is the second most scenic highway in the world. I don't understand things can be ranked according to their beauty, which is so subjective. But anyhow, I agree that the views along this route are incredible.

Another outlook along the highway.

Escalante River in the foreground, where we would've hiked out of the canyon.

Shortly we pulled into the parking lot at the Lower Calf Creek Falls trailhead. Gary had already hiked here several and probably countless times, and so chose to stay behind. He told us not to hurry back and waited in his truck until we would return... 4 hours later!

Reaching the end of the trail at Lower Calf Creek Falls...

Along the way back we had met a group of people from Boulder, and one of the people told us of an organic restaurant in their town called Hell's Backbone Grill. We reunited with Gary at the trailhead, and Freebird asked him if he would allow him to treat him to dinner there. Gary pondered over it, smiled, and then took a left onto 12 toward Boulder.

At Hell's Backbone we ran into a few workers that Gary knows. They treated us to free soup and desserts, completing our 5-star dinner experience. We talked again for hours, sharing with each other about our spiritual paths and travelling adventures. Gary too had gotten the privilege of venturing outside of Escalante over the years to experience how other people live and to open himself to other perspectives. After saying farewell to his friends, we drove back to Escalante, looking out the windows at the street lights dotting the horizon. We parked in his driveway and settled down for another night of rest in the shaman room.

After Gary prepared another scrumptious breakfast for us, showed us his Native American medicine wheel outside, and introduced us to his free-range chickens, we left his place and returned to the highway to see if we could catch a ride out of Escalante.

A girl chatting with the crossing guard after riding circles around him, probably waiting for a friend to get out of school.

It was 3 hours that we stood along the road, watching several cars pass us 10 or more times! We wondered why so many people in Escalante would peculiarly drive in circles all day. Anyhow, it seems that we just about became a permanent fixture in this black hole. On their millionth time driving past, people would laugh or wave at us with recognition, cheering us on. 

Few people were leaving town in the off-season; not many tourists were passing through this days. We received a few offers, but none could take us as far as we wanted to go. Two people offered us rides to Boulder; we turned these down not only because of the higher elevation, but also because we were told that there was only one motel in town that was expensive. Another person proposed to take us 10 miles up the road, which definitely wasn't far enough. 

We also received many offers for places to stay the night, more so than in any other town along our journey. For one, Gary had welcomed us back to his house if things fell through. His friend, Sid, also welcomed us to his place. If it wasn't for having to work the next day, Sid told us that he would've gladly taken us all the way to Moab. And then there was another man who drove past several times in a company car for a satellite company, who was willing to let us sleep on his couch though he has 4 kids. He told us that he would check on us again when he got off of work.

All three of these invites sounded wonderful, but then there was also a fourth that sounded more appealing. Bob and Karen drove past, made a U-turn on the highway, and pulled up right next to us. Bob rolled down his window. "It's a bad idea to hitch this late because you'll get stranded in Boulder, where it's much colder than here. You can think about it, but you're welcome to stay in our guest room tonight and then hitch out early in the morning tomorrow." Bob and Karen had an errand to run but would return to take us home with them if we were interested. Karen came back later to check on us... twice. The second time, we got in the car with her and their dog Jane and went to their house.

From the moment we walked in their door, I was amazed with how much art was in the house. Everything was decorated, including the toilet paper holders and sink basins. It seemed as if nothing was left untouched by artwork.

Karen led us up the stairs to the guest room and invited us to join them for a spaghetti dinner later. The guest room has a door leading out to the back porch, from where you can climb onto some red rocks. We scrambled to the very top and looked out in all directions.

After some showers we went downstairs to talk with Karen and Bob as Karen prepared the dinner. We learned quickly that they and Freebird share a common connection - New Zealand. Freebird has hiked the length of the country via the Te Araroa, and Bob and Karen have a house there. We talked and laughed with them late into the night over some glasses of wine. 

The next morning, as Karen had expressed interest, she looked through my sketchbook. She bought an original drawing for a friend of theirs. With the help of Karen, along with a recent Etsy print purchase by our friend Mary of Sweet Home, Oregon, I now had enough money to afford a plane ticket back to Indiana in December.

Bob and Karen gave us a ride back to the same gas station on the edge of town, continuing their generosity by leaving us with a box full of granola bars. Again we waited for hours, wondering if we would ever escape this town. But fortunately from the start, the deputy sheriff, Jared, said that he could take us to Boulder once he was finished with some business. As we waited for Jared, we saw Sid and his dog Willis one more time. Then Dave and Brian, who were heading into Escalante, said that they could pick us up on their way out. People continued to check on us all day - and it really took us all day to get out of there.

Jared was the first to return. He requested permission to transport us to the edge of his jurisdiction, in Boulder. Permission was granted and we were off. Though Escalante had been such an incredible experience, with so many people opening their homes to us, it was a relief to know that we weren't trapped there forever. We rode freely from the back of a sheriff's vehicle up the winding Highway 12. As Jared dropped us off in Boulder, he said that we could ask the sheriff of that county to take us further if nothing else worked.

We stopped at Boulder Mountain Lodge, next door to the restaurant where we had eaten with Gary a few nights before. We weren't wanting to pay more than $100 for a room. Mary informed us to our surprise that there was a cheaper option down the road called Circle Cliffs Motel. Kandice, as we were told, runs this place and trustingly leaves the keys out for guests to pick one of three rooms for themselves. She keeps busy with many other responsibilities and can't always be there. Mary let us call Kandice, who told us that she was away but that we could pay her whenever, even in the morning when we would check out.

Before settling into a room at Circle Cliffs, we walked down the road to Hills & Hollows Mini Mart to complete our supply of food for the rest of the trip to Moab.

At Hills & Hollows we met Donna, who has lived in Boulder since '86. She was with the group that we saw at Lower Calf Creek Falls the other day. They joined forces that day as a last resort to pray for the creek and the life it supports. Despite all of the protests against it, the BLM was about to poison the water to kill an invasive fish that they had introduced to the creek in the first place.

We ventured over to Circle Cliffs Motel, and as directed, we found the keys. We went from room to room, inspecting each to see which was the best choice for us. We picked what was behind door #3 and made ourselves at home. We had declined the largest room, but it had a toaster that we were interested in using for breakfast. So when Kandice returned, Freebird found her to ask if we could borrow it. As he returned to the room with the toaster, a beautiful, orange cat followed him into the room. There was a no-pet policy, but we knew that Kandice would appreciate us taking care of her cat on such a frigid night. The temperatures dropped into the teens.

We fed Nala some turkey and butter, and she stayed with us the whole night.

Once it was daylight, Nala asked to be let out. Not much later she came back with 7 other cats!

We fed all of them as much as we could. As we packed up to leave, they persisted in their quest for food, climbing over and under everything and tipping over the trashcan repeatedly.

A rare cat that never grew past his kitten size.

We checked out a half hour late, and Kandice didn't even mind. Nor did she care that we let the cats into our room. Kandice and her husband are very relaxed and need to be so because they stay busy with their other jobs. They love the area so much that they are willing to work as much as needed to stay there. Between the two of them, they hold five jobs.

Jango sat at our feet the whole time we talked with Kandice. She invited us in to visit longer, but we had to keep hitching. We thanked her for everything and continued on down the road to find the best pull-out for a vehicle. Jango followed us a little ways, wanting us to stay.

We waited beside the Anasazi State Park Museum parking lot. At this point I had grown accustomed to our hitching experiences in Escalante and braced myself for potentially having similar results again. However, this time things happened differently. Within only 5 minutes, Randy picked us up. And this time we wouldn't be sucked back into Boulder or get stranded in the next town, Torrey, as I had imagined. Soon we learned that Randy would be taking us all the way to Moab.

Driving up into the snow-covered mountains, I saw my first big-horn sheep on the side of the road. We rose in elevation and paused at an outlook from atop Boulder Mountain.

The Henrys in the distance.

Even farther away, we could see the La Sals on the other side of Moab.

Randy, a photographer from Austin, Texas, was enjoying a vacation around Utah. He was going through a rough time and really enjoyed our company. We loved being around him from the start and enjoyed his sense of humor. We stopped at multiple locations with him to take pictures. He was stopping at Capitol Reef National Park next and invited us along.

Randy was thinking of camping in the park that night but decided against it because of the below-freezing forecast that night. Instead we all chose to stay at a motel in Hanksville. And rather than hiking around Capitol Reef, we drove along its roads instead, stepping out of the truck at times to snap a few pictures.

Fruita Barn.

Fremont River.

Gifford Homestead.

Petroglyphs off of Highway 24.

Behunin Cabin.
After leaving Capitol Reef, we continued to enjoy the variety of desert landscapes about us as we drove on to Hanksville...

We reserved neighboring rooms at Whispering Sands Motel and decided to rest awhile before meeting up again for dinner. When Freebird was in the shower, I heard a very loud noise coming from the parking lot. Finally it occurred to me what it was. I opened the door to find that a helicopter had just landed in the parking lot. A man ran into the office and then raced back to move it farther away. Because of being too lazy to park the helicopter at a distance in the first place, a motel window and a car were damaged by airborne debris.

We knocked on Randy's door and started to head over to the restaurant with him. One of the men who arrived in the helicopter, labeled, "Utah Department of Public Safety," was walking up the stairs. We asked him what they were doing in the area, and by the look on his face, we could tell that he was hiding something. According to him, they were counting and monitoring big horn sheep. Right...
We checked Randy's truck before we left, and thankfully nothing of his was damaged.

We drove over to Stan's Burger Shack for dinner. The food and the milkshakes were delicious. We enjoyed the camaraderie that evening, telling jokes and making plans for the following day to drive into Moab. Randy let me use his cell phone to call my brother to make sure that he or his fiance could pick me up at O'Hare in a few weeks, before buying the plane ticket.

As we woke up the next morning, packed up, and got ready to meet Randy for breakfast, we watched the helicopter take off.

Randy knocked on our door this time, and we walked across the street to Blondie's for breakfast. We stopped at Hollow Mountain first to see the convenience store that was built into the rock.

Next we walked over to Blondie's. The woman who took our order at the counter had multi-colored hair and was nowhere near to being blonde, so we asked her for a discount. That didn't work, though I suppose it was worth a try. But the food was rather tasty and again we had a great time talking and joking with each other.

Whispering Sands Motel with the Henrys in the background.

After breakfast we climbed into Randy's truck and drove for Moab. He was heading for Mesa Verde next, but was willing to take us out of his way to see our friends again. It was so exciting to be finally returning to Moab after a 4 1/2 month excursion around the west. Filled with gratitude for everything that has happened during this time, I restlessly anticipated returning to the community of Moab.

We drove past the gates of Arches National Park and stopped at Matrimony Spring to fill up our water, which is always a must. Then we drove on into Moab, passing more familiar sights as we made our way down Main Street.

Contrary to the rest of southern Utah, Moab was still bustling with tourists. We made our way through the crowded streets and pulled up right in front of Pete's house. Phil was outside, working on his van, and welcomed us back.

We turned to Randy and thanked him for taking us all of this way. It was quite a pleasure to join him for a 2-day hitch, full of fun moments that I'll never forget. We could sense that he was wary about parting ways with us, but we knew that he would be fine and would have a great time at Mesa Verde. And soon he would be returning to Texas to be with his family. As he drove away we caught up with Phil, and he informed us that Pete was there but was taking a nap.

We quietly walked in the door with some dumpster food and sat down at the table to eat. Pete came upstairs after waking up and was groggy. He was shocked to see us sitting in the kitchen. "Holy shit," was all he could say at first, with his characteristic goofy smile that I love so much. He gave us hugs and welcomed us back. After months of walking and hitching around the west, learning so much, and growing up, we had come back full circle to where it all began.

11.14-19. Drawn along Escalante River and in Hanksville, Utah.

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