Tuesday, August 26

As soon as I was able to get my act together and out of my hotel room Tuesday morning, I headed directly to Arches National Park in southeastern Utah. Arches is your classic Utah rock park - completely gorgeous, with all sorts of fascinating and spectacular formations to ooh and aah over. The geology of this particular area has promoted the formation of a high number of balanced rocks and arches that are formed as layers of rock wash away over the eons. The water that has sculpted these amazing formations by dissolving away the softer rock (better to get rid of Soft Rock - it's excruciating) is also responsible for their being ephemeral - the formations are in fact in progress and change continually. Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, one of the park's most popular and photographed arches, Wall Arch, tumbled down without witness. We sometimes get the gift of seeing something evolve tangibly, when the whole process has taken millions of years.

I drove all around the park admiring the strange geology. For me, as with most people I would imagine, nature has a way of putting things immediately into an enormous perspective. It's hard not to get the vastness of the universe when you stand in a place so old and so large. I spent a happy afternoon drinking great long draughts of different flavors of infinity.

And as is often the case with one of my adventures, the day would hold two completely different takes on eternity - one fashioned by the cosmos, the other by a humble man with a big idea. After completing the long and lovely drive out of Arches and back onto the highway, I passed through Moab (didn't need to rent a raft or buy climbing shoes) and careened anticipatorily toward the next stop on my itinerary: Hole N'' the Rock!

Aside from a horrific display of grossly incorrect punctuation, the Hole N'' the Rock is a rarified opportunity to visit a time capsule carved out of rock, filled with bad taxidermy and portraits of Jesus and FDR. A fellow by the name of Albert Christensen and his wife Gladys spent a number of years carving a 14 room mansion out of the side of a sheer cliff face south of Moab. In the early 50s, they hosted a huge influx of new residents brought in by the local discovery of Uranium by operating a diner in one of the larger chambers of the Hole. The classic 50s seafoam green kitchen is iconic in every way, except for the rough cave walls that serve as the backdrop (also painted a pleasant seafoam green).

Albert and Gladys worked on their dwelling until 1957 when Albert succumbed to a second heart attack. Gladys continued on bravely, however, living in the Hole and operating the diner for another 17 years. She fixed up one of the rooms for her own, began sleeping there and using it to display part of the huge doll collection she had amassed. All of the home's original furnishings and objets d'art are still lovingly displayed, precisely placed with the aid of old pictures from the spot's heyday in the 50s. Albert's attempts at amateur taxidermy also grace the interior. A pet horse sprawls awkwardly, held aloft by an unseen support because every bit of your attention is riveted instead on his garish red glistening tongue. Albert's beloved pet, Harry the Donkey, stands silent witness in the corner by the window. He smiles despite his Frankenstein's monster visage. Can you imagine being immortalized with pompom fringe? That Harry must have been a good sport.

The most glorious thing about Albert and Gladys accomplishment is that they left it to share with us, bad stitches on the donkey's nose, fake fur flowers, multiple Jesuses and all. The carefully preserved interior is so charmingly personal. What I got, much more than experiencing awe at an immense hole in a rock, was a strong sense of Albert and Gladys - and man is that a tricky thing to convey of you ask me. You see, I've been thinking a lot about identity lately. When we struggle with what will happen after we die, it's mostly about losing (or keeping) our identity. Albert and Gladys left us this detailed pointer to their identity and thus have preserved it for the time being. And maybe that's all we can do, whether we build the Taj Mahal or the Hole N'' the Rock. Albert and Gladys did a wonderful job with their legacy. I got a huge buzz off being in their orbit.

I had just barely made in time for the very last tour of the day, so I wasn't able to goof around after my tour. I did manage to snap a picture of this awesome metal sculpture that was parked in the parking lot before I drove out of the gate that was being held open for me by a handsome attendant.

I sped off to my next destination so I'd be sure to reach it with plenty of daylight left, maybe just as the sun was setting if I was lucky. I was headed to a place called Newspaper Rock, the site of a rock face that contains one of the largest accumulations of petroglyphs anywhere in the world. Historians think the drawings span two millenia and have no idea why this one area received such a high concentration of markings. There are hundreds and hundreds of pictures carved in the rock, even a few relatively contemporary markings - one I spotted was dated 1906 and another 1954! The need to leave a mark seems to be universal and timeless. Some of the glyphs are a bit unsettling. I found the one pictured at right to be pretty damn menacing, actually. I wouldn't want that thing running around in my neighborhood, eating sheep and babies!

I didn't stay at Newspaper Rock long. I think it was the ancient petroglyph equivalent of grocery store check out line tabloid overload. There was so much to absorb visually that I became overwhelmed. It wasn't even close to sunset, and the spot didn't maximize the beauty of the setting sun anyway, so I decided to move on toward Cortez, Colorado where I planned to spend the night.

The sunset began to fall just as I passed over the border from Utah to Colorado. I found a spot or two to pull over and snap some pictures as the streaks of orange came and went. The light was so lovely.

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