Burning the Midnight Oil and Then Some

A mere 24 hours after returning home, I had the car packed and ready to back out the driveway again. As you may have noticed, my life generally proceeds at a breakneck pace, and I love it that way.

Mark and I were soon on our way to the Texas gulf coast city of Corpus Christi to join our friends the Brothers of the Flame for some fire performances they were giving at a local festival called Bayfest that weekend. Strangely, I had been identified as a responsible adult by virtue of my pyrotechnics licensing, and came along to lend the air of authority that can only come from a woman sporting pink hair. That and I love all the Brothers and folks associated with them and knew I would really enjoy hanging out with them for an entire weekend, playing with fire.

After checking into our strange but perfectly adequate hotel rooms, we milled about the atrium balcony on our end of the corridor (we had a block of 4 rooms) formulating a plan to meet on top of the parking garage for late night urban light spinning. When we gathered atop our impromptu but just seedy enough urban stage, it was balmy and warm, seeing as how we were about a block from the ocean. Tony the DJ was doing his best to lay some good tunes on us from his laptop, but it was hard to compete with the nearby Country and Western bar that felt duty bound to broadcast their karaoke contestants' woeful entries to the immediate world. None of us stayed up too terribly late that night since it was essentially a school night.

Friday night, after dallying about the first half of the day, we headed on over to the festival site late in the afternoon to get everything ready for the evening's performances. While we were setting up, we were treated to the more than adequately amplified narrative provided by the dog and pony show next door. Literally. A dog and a couple of perfect little ponies led around by a teenager and her mom, both in a sparkly costumes. It might have been a bit daunting to compete with the likes of that, seeing as how we didn't have rhinestone cowgirl jackets and cute little animals, but we did have FIRE damn it. For most people, it's not really even a contest, so I wasn't really worried.
The first night of the festival was after work on a Friday evening, so we didn't know what kind of crowd to expect. The poor dogs and ponies only garnered a handful of folks, so I was relieved when our show began and people began to dart over in numbers, of course, moths to the eternal fiery flame. The boys took turns spinning individually for a few rounds each and then paired up in twos, threes and fours to wow the crowd with wall to wall spinning fire. I loved watching the audience and enjoyed the kids' reactions the most - they get so excited!
The boys performed two shows Friday night, both well attended with everything going smoothly. A number of us went out on an early morning foray to see if we could find something decent to eat afterwards, settling for Taco Cabana sometime around 1:30 a.m. I forget Corpus really is just a small town in many ways.

Saturday evening we arrived at the festival not long before dusk and after making sure everything was in a sufficient state of readiness, I grabbed my camera and set out for the midway to have some fun with light photography. I managed to get a few shots I like - check it out:

There were two more fires performances Saturday evening (the Brothers had also been wandering around the fair doing object manipulation shows with all sorts of fascinating nonfiery toys) and both shows went exceedingly well. There were much larger, more enthusiastic crowds which made it more fun for everyone. After each show, the Brothers sat on the front of the stage to meet folks from the audience and I loved watching the fans come up to ask questions and pose for pictures. There aren't many things more fun than being a rock star.

The Brothers: (clockwise from upper left): Vertigo/Manny; Janus/Chris; Mystik/Matt; Raven/Derek; Wulff/Greg; two adorable unidentified children and finally Sy-Clone/Carlos at the bottom left.

After stowing all the equipment for the night, we returned to the hotel and ordered some pizza to avoid the previous evening's food finding fiasco. I wolfed down a couple of slices and returned to my room to take a shower and put on my nightie. Not long after I had put on my robe and was about ready to peel back the sheets and get in bed, a polite knock sounded on the door. It was around 12:30 in the morning, but we had all been up running back and forth to each other's rooms all evening. It was Manny, the Brothers' organizational, nominal and most importantly spiritual leader. "Hey, we're getting ready to drive out to the beach and spin some steel wool and LEDs and fire. Wanna come with?"

If I had been in a Shakespeare play, this is where I would have presented a long clever soliloquy on the great sorrows of fading youth pitted against the folly of yielding to exhaustion. At least that's what happened in my head in really really fast motion. I had to decide on the spot if I was going to heed the siren song of the soft sheets or if I was going to put my dirty boots back on and go out to the beach and light some shit on fire. I'm pretty sure everyone can guess what I picked.

The first order of business once we reached a nice quiet stretch of Padre Island was for Manny, Derek and me to spin some steel wool. Now what I mean by that is taking a little metal cage, filling it with steel wool (just like you'd use to scrub a pot) and then using a small torch to light the wad of steel on fire (easier than you'd think) so when you spin it around at the end of a chain it makes a gigantenormous sparkler. Manny and Derek used pairs of cages on short chains to spin the steel wool much like poi in two tight parallel circles close to the body. I used a single cage with a much longer chain, allowing me to helicopter a huge dome of sparks over my head. That's Derek on the left and me on the right. (Thanks for taking pictures, Karen!).

After we were done with the steel wool (it's rather cumbersome to set up and dangerous to be near, so it doesn't tend to go on too long) the LED light toys came out and I ran to get my camera and tripod. I've been experimenting with light painting recently and to have all these really good spinners, spin in complete darkness in a group, was like spotting a rare wild animal. It was so beautiful to watch as Matt, Chris and Derek filled the void with moving color that I kept forgetting to click the shutter.

The LEDs were really beautiful and all, but there's only so long I'm able to go without fire, and eventually several of us coaxed Chris and Derek into spinning fire on the beach at the water's edge. I had been sitting down, beginning to lose the wind under my sails when it dawned on me what was about to happen - the way that fire was going to make the sand and the water look made me excited enough to leap up and run to set up my camera. I really, really love some of the images that came out of the shoot. The texture of the water, the shape of the sand, the blood colored palette - I literally moaned allowed as the boys spun and I clicked off picture after picture. Here are a few of my favorites:

We finally gave up the ghost around 5:00 a.m. and headed back to the hotel. Mark had wisely/foolishly stayed behind to sit in bed and drink cocktails and watch zombie movies, and hadn't been sleeping long when I tried to slip quietly under the covers. "What time is it?" he croaked. "It's better if I don't tell you" I whispered. I know from experience that being aware of what time it is only makes it worse.

We had to check out of the hotel by 11:00 Sunday morning, so Mark and I rallied ourselves and had the car packed and ready to go before the deadline. We said our fond goodbyes to the few others that were slowly stirring at that hour and headed on back up the interstate to Austin.

We arrived home by early afternoon and unpacked the stuff that might come back to haunt us if we waited too long. By then, I thought a rare nap might be a good idea since I was feeling a little rough around the edges. I lay down under the fan, enjoying the cool refreshing breeze. That was about 4:00PM. The next thing I remember was Mark waking me up around 8:30PM to see if I was ready to get up for a bit, and all I did was roll over and go back to sleep. I didn't wake up again until 6:30AM Monday morning. If you don't know, me sleeping for that long a stretch is an extreme rarity. I guess I just can't burn the midnight steel wool like I used to!

All in all it was a splendid weekend with lots of great time spent getting to know each other and doing what we all pretty much like best: playing with fire. I feel lucky for Mark and I to have been so graciously included and will say, just one more time, my what an amazing life I have.


Zooming on home

I knew I had a full day of driving ahead of me on Tuesday, so I hit the road bright and early, searching valiantly as I headed south out of town, hoping, wishing, imagining I would spot a little coffee stand - but no such luck. "Ha!" I said, mocking my own useless hopefulness, "It's only 30 miles to the bustling metropolis of Bluff, Utah where surely they'll have a nice espresso bar!"
According to Wikipedia, Bluff, Utah has a population of around 300. You drive across miles and miles of flat brown desert in the remote southeast corner of Utah, unremarkable in any quality expect for maybe its uniformity, when suddenly the geology of Bluff springs up dramatically in front of you - a veritable southwestern Brigadoon. Whatever volcanic forces that decided to erupt there were certainly capricious. The land in every direction lies flat and docile as far as the eye can see, but when you round that last bend before entering town, you suddenly find yourself in a maze of colorful 300 foot high sandstone bluffs.
There's a ton of history that goes with the place, including ancient cliff dwellers going back 13,000 years and an invasion by the Hole in the Rock Mormons in the late 1800s, but today it seems to be mostly a dusty little town, parched by the sun, isolated, dog-eared. So imagine how I about dropped my teeth on the way out of town when I saw a sign ironically beckoning me toward the espresso bar I had mockingly conjured up earlier that morning!
Comb Ridge Coffee occupies a trading post in Bluff that dates from 1942, tastefully decorated, soundtracked with the warble of new age flutes on the CD player, dramatically lit with halogen spots. A slim Navajo boy of 18 or so darted back and forth behind the hand-hewn timber counter, adjusting the bells and whistles of the sleek Italian coffee maker like a wizened old south Austin barista. His glorious crown of long glossy black hair was pulled back with an elastic and moved to and fro like an enormous horse tail as he worked the buttons and knobs and levers with intensity. His only adornment was a pair of self-consciously hip rectangular black eyeglasses that suavely insinuated "I don't belong here!" He seemed vaguely irritated and a tad short with his customers - perhaps exhibiting a faint whiff of discontent to those who cared to notice.
While I waited my turn (there was a constant stream of customers), I found a short menu that unfortunately sat directly beside a hand written notice that only coffee would be for sale that day. I sighed wistfully when I read about the likes of arugula, fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes. Not today though, not in Bluff, Utah.

When I finally had the attention of the fella that was slinging the grounds, I said, "Boy, I sure didn't expect to see a menu like this in Bluff, - why, it even has arugula! I thought fresh vegetables weren't allowed in Utah!" I found myself desperately wanting to make him laugh. Instead, I apparently hit a nerve: "Not only will you not see good food in Bluff, you won't see it anywhere in Utah! This place is a culinary wasteland!" I couldn't argue with him since he probably hadn't ever tasted Judy's enchilada casserole or Stuart's English toffee or a fresh hot scone from Angie's. I myself had the pleasure of knowing there to be several oases of deliciousness in the vast gustatory desert of Utah.

No, it was plain to see this poor kid just had a bad case of the I-need-to-get-out-of-this-town blues which may or may not have been exacerbated by the pair of matching middle aged ladies with fanny packs that pulled up in a Volvo with California license plates just as I was leaving.
Happily, the cup of coffee he brewed for me was by far the best one I'd had since leaving home. I bragged on it to several approaching customers to try and help offset the memory of watching that boy trapped behind the counter, pacing.
When I resumed my journey, delicious cup of coffee nestled in the cup holder, I started listening to the audio book that Bruce (who is always a step ahead of me) had given me - a Tony Hillerman book called The Fallen Man about a corpse found on top of a volcanic rock formation called Ship Rock that's sacred to the Navajo (that's a picture of it above from Wikipedia). As I pulled out of Bluff, Ship Rock lay about 80 miles south and east of my position - so the route I was taking would land me smack dab in the middle of the area where the story took place! lt turned out to be a lot of fun to drive through the very towns that were being talked about in the story. I stopped at a Trading Post in one of them to part company with my excellent coffee and when I returned to the counter to pay for a beverage, the clerk and another shopper were speaking in Navajo! Man, the production team for my movie was doing a really good job that day.

After listening to several detailed passages about Ship Rock, I was eager to see it appear on the horizon. I knew it to be easily identifiable not only because of its distictive shape, but also because it too rests on a broad flat plane from which little other serious competing rock juts up. It can be seen for a great, great many miles from any approach. I really like the picture on the right that I found on the web, showing off it's strange geology.

I drove along, glancing out the window at that beautiful temple of nature every minute or so, contemplating and easily understanding why people both before me and after me have and will find this place to be sacred.

Ship Rock slowly faded from view and it wasn't long after that, that I ran out of two lane blacktop and intersected America's shining network of interstate byways. The scenery portion of the trip was over and it was time to cover some miles toward home.

I raced around Albuquerque and headed south on I-25 toward Las Cruces. My goal was to spend the night in Fort Stockton, Texas that night and that meant I had a fair number of miles to cover. When I'd gone a good bit south, I spotted a mileage sign that inspired me to formulate an immediate dinner plan - Hatch, New Mexico just ahead. Hatch, as any self respecting foodie knows, is the epicenter of tasty chiles in New Mexico. Every September, local farmers set up stands in the tiny town to vend their freshly harvested and roasted chiles. The stands are all festooned with a profusion of glossy red chile ristras, some even accented with yellow and orange and green. I picked the stand with the most color in evidence and bought packages of both medium and hot peppers to take home with me. I asked where the best place to eat in town to eat chiles was and got a quick reply. I drove to the restaurant and, alas the place was closed! And in fact, when I began to search, I found that every single restaurant in town was closed! Just after six on a Tuesday evening and not a single place to eat a freshly roasted chile except maybe from the ziplock bag I just bought. Oh well, c'est la vie. I was happy enough to have fresh Hatch chiles to take home to Mark. I knew he'd make them into all sorts of tasty things for me.

I did in fact make Fort Stockton late that evening and was happy to fall into bed. The next morning when I got up, it was overcast and breezy and cool. I had about six hours of driving in front of me to get home, but it was easy driving - straight down I-10 across the flat expanse of west Texas. Around Sonora, I ran into rain that alternated between heavy and light all the way back to Austin. When I finally pulled in the driveway, I look down at my tripometer to find that I had gone EXACTLY 3500 miles. My, I love a good clean crisp number, especially at the completion of a journey.


It's so great to be me

As most of you know, I'm from Texas and prone to frequent bragging and exaggeration about my beloved state, but I have to take my hat off to the state of Utah for completely dominating the market on extreme scenic beauty. Utah is full to the brim with surprises and wonders and grandeur - a lot of it thickly concentrated in the southeastern corner of the state. So when I sat down at the beginning of my trip to figure out where I might go to most enjoy test driving my new car, the notion of curving my way through the canyon lands of Utah came instantly to mind followed directly by the idea of consulting Stuart Smith about just exactly how best to do that. Some years ago, Stuart had advised me on a wonderful drive through southern Utah that had included a good portion of the stunningly beautiful Highway 12. Stuart was a Boy Scout leader in Utah for at least a gillion years and he's travelled extensively all over the state, conquering both dirt and water. I could think of no better advisor on the topic of Utah's natural beauty and looked forward to hearing what he had to suggest.

As we hovered over the map the Thursday afternoon of my visit, Stuart pointed out a route that would take me down a portion of that same amazing 24/12 highway loop, but would then branch off and divert me down a long dirt road that ended at a ferry landing where you could catch a boat to motor you to the other side of Lake Powell. Perfect! I'd get some off-roading in, get an up close and personal view of the canyon lands of Lake Powell and get to ride a ferry! Yahoooo!

As I set out with a full tank of gas from Nephi, Utah on Monday morning I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Not only was the weather perfect, but all in the world I had to do all day was thoroughly enjoy my drive along mile after mile of gorgeous Utah back country. Not too long after I had turned onto Highway 12, I picked a nice pullout where I could engage in a little al fresco noshing. The appetizer I created made me think of my friend Nate who is as big a fan of gustatory empiricism as I: a rectangle of beef steak jerky for a base, a length of mango licorice (twisted festively to enhance the fluting effect) and two roasted almonds, one adorning each end of the licorice cornice. Delicious! In the foreground - evergreens and aspens, some flecked with fall color; in the distance the red and rust and ochre layers of the canyon lands. A cool breeze blew as I spotted a chipmunk scampering hurriedly behind a rock, obviously horrified after stumbling unexpectedly onto my rustic picnic.

When I noticed a fresh set of moose tracks nearby, I decided maybe it was time to move along and let other travellers enjoy the spot as well. Happily, the act of resuming my journey registered a gratifying 11 on the APDES (Absolute Peak Driving Experience Scale). I eased out of the driveway of the scenic overlook smoothly, using my six speed standard transmission and 400 ponies to accelerate like a perfectly choreographed rocket, rounding the curve of the approaching mountain pass as gently as if I were walking a baby in a stroller. As I crested the hill a stunning panorama appeared before me and at that precise moment, the throbbing power chords of a Pendulum song kicked in on the 11 speaker Bose stereo and the whole scene shifted into rock video fantasy mode. It made me whoop like Woody Harrelson in a bad B movie.
I wove along the blacktop, back and forth, to and fro - swooping and zooming and careening. Punctuated by frequent scenery stops, of course. You can't help but stop at pull out after pull out along that road - every single view seems notable.

When I reached Boulder, it wasn't apparent just exactly where the dirt road came in, seeing as how there was a lot of dirt around there. I've learned from making the same mistake over and over again that it's way better to stop and ask for directions than it is to merely resort to your best possible guess. I spotted the Anasazi Indian State Park just ahead and pulled in so I could consult with one of the rangers. "Good afternoon!" I chirped "Can you tell me where the turn off to the ferry is?" A look of concern clouded the ranger's eyes. "Do you have a 4 x 4?" he asked. "Well, no sir, I've got a Cadillac that doesn't have the greatest clearance in the world. Is the road too treacherous for a sedan?" I'm sure I didn't look much like the type that would have mudders and a periscope style tailpipe on my truck. "Well, the problem is, I just got a call and there was a pretty heavy rainstorm out that way last night and the road is completely washed out about 5 miles from the ferry landing. You would have driven all the way out there only to have to turn around 5 miles short of your goal and come back." Egads! I could have kissed the man. What great cosmic luck he had visited upon me! It was obvious that my fortune at being the luckiest girl in the world was continuing unabated.

I retraced my path back up Highway 12, this time turning eastward toward Capitol Reef National Park, an area I'd never had the pleasure of exploring. And it was absolutely gorgeous! How can there be so many different but exquisitely beautiful places in one small area? Sheesh.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent heading toward the southeast corner of the state. At one particularly sandy spot of austere khaki beauty, I pulled over to admire the high marks that had been left at the base of a nearby pinnacle. High marks are tracks made by marauding 4 x 4s, taking turns trying to reach the most absurd height on a vertical plane. The tenuous tire tracks they leave behind serve as the sole evidence of their heroic assays. After admiring the audacity of the scene and snapping some pictures I got back in the car to leave and found that backing out the driveway was not only precarious, but ultimately impossible. My only choice was to ease the car forward down a well worn path to a nearby flat spot where I could turn around and head out nose first. When I arrived at the flat place and shifted into reverse to turn around, the sound of sand shifting aimlessly under spinning wheels gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I instantly envisioned my pink haired skeleton sitting prone in the shiny black Cadillac, mired in a dull gray ocean of sand. I summoned the internal stillness required for thinking through the situation rather than merely reacting and applied the traction control feature to help ease me out of the bog. When the car began to roll slowly forward, I sent up a thankful prayer to the god of escaping-dumb-escapades-unscathed and pulled back onto the highway with a sense of palpable relief.

As I continued my journey, several fingers of Lake Powell crept in from the west, making the breathtaking views even better. Just as dusk began to settle, I pulled over for one last draught of scenery before I lost the light for the evening. The sunset was awash with pink and lavender, making a gorgeous backdrop for the dramatic and lovely landscape. I paused in the quiet of that remote spot, hearing only the wind and the sound of the quaking leaves it rustled and felt completely and deeply at peace with the world. As the last streaks of color faded, my headlights began to illuminate the tawny grasses of the roadside, bathing everything in a white, otherworldly halogen light.

Not long after dark, I stopped for some dinner at the Old Timer Restaurant in Blanding, Utah. I ordered a ribeye, medium rare with french fries, which happily entitled me to a trip to the typically small town salad bar. Decent salads are what I miss most while I'm on the road, but I managed to make an edible concoction from the pitiful palette of ingredients featuring iceberg lettuce, garish orange French dressing and industrial looking croutons.

When I sat back down at my table, a gentleman sitting in the booth across from mine leaned over and asked in a friendly tone, "Say, are you driving a black sedan?" He and his companion looked to be in their 60s, both of them sporting crowns of wavy silver hair, associated visually by their matching sportswear.

"Why yes, I'm driving a black Cadillac CTS-V. How'dju know?" The old man got a twinkle in his eye and said, "You passed me 3 times! Every time you'd go by, I'd tell my wife here 'That gal sure looks like she's having a good time!'" He proceeded to tease me affectionately about my sassy driving and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. We kept talking and eventually got around to exchanging travel tips, which I've found to be absolutely one of the best sources for good information about the road. Another table of gals on the other side my silver haired friends joined in the conversation and I felt the warm glow of creating community on the road. Not what I expected from a city that has the word 'bland' in the name! As a matter of fact, I liked it so well that I decided to hang up my saddle and call it a night there in Blanding.

After I was snuggled down into the sheets, I called Mark to tell him goodnight and articulated a thought I'd been having all day: I sure did feel sorry for anyone who wasn't me that day.


Working for the Man in Logan, Utah

I found there to be a sort of yen and yang symbiosis in the pair of reasons I selected for going on a road trip. The new car angle you've already heard about, but the companion reason that nestled up so neatly with my goal of driving some fun roads was that I'd been wanting to go visit my friend Bruce and check on the progress he was making on a house he's busily been building for his brother Lance in Logan, Utah.

Bruce is a structural engineer by training and is a veritable genius when it comes to making practically anything (well, except maybe a salad). Over the past couple of months, he's been working to cast the structural walls of the house he's building using a technique he developed which involves forming cement around a thick styrofoam core (that's a cross section of the door jamb in the garage seen at right). As you might imagine, the cement and foam combine to make a nice sturdy structure, but they also make a highly effective thermal barrier which should keep the temperature inside the house pretty damn comfortable, all the year round.
I was really happy when I found out Bruce would be doing a cement pour while I was there so I could witness the whole process from start to finish. I had so many questions about it all!

When I first arrived at the job site, I found Bruce putting the finishing touches on the forms that would be filled during Friday's pour - the final set of upper panels for the garage section. Everything had to be ready for the truck to roll up and start pouring the next morning.

Which it did, right on schedule. When the truck arrived, a fellow named Darwin who was there to run the cement pump guided the chute into place and before I knew it, there was not only cement pouring out the truck's chute, but Darwin immediately had the pump cranked up and cement started plopping out the end of a huge heavy hose that Lance held over the forms to fill them. The pump is a pretty serious piece of equipment and needs a careful tender to avoid calamity. Pushing that amount of concrete through a hose isn't as easy as it looks! I was full of questions for Darwin about what he was doing as he went about his business. He was very patient and informative and friendly, I'm happy to report.

As the fresh cement came plunging out of the hose, Nicole leveraged her many years of forklift training to expertly wheel Lance around the perimeter of the form set so he could continue filling in the cavities on either side of the foam. Bruce went right behind with a giant vibrator, which aside from providing a never-ending source of ridiculously easy dirty jokes, also helps the cement settle down more compactly into the void by shaking the hell out of it.
After all the prepared wall forms had been filled, the cement truck driver signaled that there was still a small amount of material left in the barrel, and Bruce Almighty was instantly at the ready with special forms he had devised to produce a bunch of cement paving blocks! Bruce has amazing skills in maximizing his resources - the man won't even let a little wet concrete go to waste he's so efficient. After the pour concluded, the lot of us worked to clean things up so the cement could just sit overnight and do it's job.
Saturday was spent removing all the various and sundry elements of the forms and scaffolding, revealing the lovely new layer that had been poured just the day before! Voila! Beautiful! That's one of the most satisfying things about concrete - the almost instantaneous gratification. Each piece of the scaffolding/form get up was carefully disassembled and staged in some pile or other, ready for it's next turn on the next layer.

Saturday evening after we'd finished putting all our toys away at the job site, the boss let us have a rare night off. I relaxed by washing my car in the yard while Bruce and Lance labored to prepare the foam for the next pour. Bruce had devised a jig that let him cut precise slots in the foam, and proceeded to whip up a beaded foam flurry that was probably as close as I'll get to seeing snow this winter.

Sunday saw the whole process begin anew as Lance and Bruce labored to reinstall the scaffolding and set up the new forms for the next pour. I put in a hard day's labor as well, wiping the sweat from my humble brow and dreaming of quitting time when we'd return to the Christiansen house and enjoy the tradition and deliciousness of Sunday Dinner!
Judy and Pat Christiansen had been such gracious hosts all weekend - feeding me, giving me a nice cozy spot to sleep and even toting me along on their Saturday morning garage sale trek. I imposed on their kindness once more by insisting that I be there for Sunday dinner before I headed out of town. I absolutely love the concept of the Christiansen Sunday dinner - as steady and reliable as the sun in the morning and the moon at night. I had been lucky enough to visit once before on a Sunday at which time I was treated to the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy version. This Sunday Judy was preparing her famous enchilada casserole and zucchini brownies with chocolate icing for dessert! And boy howdy was it all tremendously delicious.
It was a bit difficult to take my leave. In the fours days I'd been there, I'd enjoyed a flurry of social engagements in between stints out at the job site and was feeling attached to all the fine folks I'd spent my time with. I said my goodbyes and headed out just as the sun was setting so I could get some miles under me before I put my pallet down for the night. It'd be easy interstate driving that'd help me land a little closer to my target area. Sorry as I was to go, it felt good to be back on the road.


I was pleased to discover that Steamboat Springs is a foodie town, and my options Wednesday morning for breakfast were generous. I chose a cafe that was renowned for their incredible cinnamon rolls, yeasty confections that rivaled the immensity of the dog-head-sized beetles I had seen the day before. When the freshly baked roll was set in front of me it was warm from the oven and smothered in a delicious orange peel flecked vanilla butter cream icing. Coupled with a side order of nice thick sliced bacon, a bowl of green chili cheese grits, and a mug of excellent coffee, I easily reached the wonderful state of breakfast nirvana.
After putting a sizable dent in my cinnamon roll and finishing as much of my breakfast as I was able, I began my day's trek westward along a sparsely populated highway that had me exit Colorado into Utah through a tiny town called Dinosaur.

My expectations were that Dinosaur kitsch would be abundant, but the sad little town boasted only two bedraggled old plaster beasts that had seen much better days, penned in tiny corrals that were sprouting peeling paint and encircled with weeds. Even if they were located conveniently at the corner of Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus they made a pretty poor showing, I must say. The only other dinosaur themed item I could find in town was an ancient painting decorating the side of a minuscule restaurant, but the portrait of family dining did manage to make me smile.

Quite honestly, I left Dinosaur a disappointed woman. Where was the cleverly named cafe that served a special dinosaur dish? Where were the giant plaster mascots? Why the good people of Iraan, Texas managed to whip some up for their park, for crying out loud - what's so hard about buying some chicken wire and mixing up some cement?!

Well off to Vernal, Utah, then - 33 miles distant - a city I knew absolutely nothing about. Imagine my surprise when I arrived in town and sitting there in a patch of carefully sculpted evergreens was the dinosaur of my dreams! An enormous flirty pink Brontosaurus with a perky tail, well over three stories high! Now THIS was a dinosaur town. As I drove down the main highway, I spotted a huge new expensive Dinosaur Center along with... you're not going to believe this... another giant dinosaur who was busy having a cookout and sporting a jaunty hat!
As I cruised down the main boulevard in Vernal and marvelled at all the dinosaur flavored signage, the idea for a screenplay began to formulate in my mind: two towns, 33 miles apart, each vying desperately for the Dinosaur crown. They compete vociferously, trying to win the hearts and dollars of frolicksome tourists, each claiming to be the Dinosaur Dominator. I think Act II would involve the hiring of some sort of redneck samurai to protect each village, with the obvious conclusion presenting itself in Act III - the cranky people of Dinosaur, Colorado give up in defeat and dishonor living in poverty and shame. I'll be sure and let all of you know when the movie version comes out.

I left Vernal behind, having had my sense of the outlandish restored and continued on toward Logan, Utah - just a little over an hour north of Salt Lake City. My friend Bruce Christiansen lives there and the other half of the reason I was making this road trip was to go and see the house he's building for his brother Lance. I've talked about it with him endlessly since I'm so fascinated with how things are built, and I've been keeping up with the progress via pictures he's posted on the web, but I really wanted to see it in person and watch one of the many concrete pours that will form the exterior walls of the house. I planned to stay several days and find some way to help so I could watch the goings-on.

Shortly after I passed north of Salt Lake City and into Ogden, I made a stop at one of my very favorite salvage yard/doodad stores: Smith and Edwards. A huge billboard on I-15 announces "Whatever you want, we've got it - if you can find it." And they aren't kidding. The store itself is well organized and full of irresistable bargains, but it's the outside that makes me salivate: a couple of football fields worth of rusty/dusty old junk, heaped in boxes and shelves and carts, calling out to be poked through and appreciated. A good number of the things I run across are cryptic, their function a mystery to me, their form an intriguing invitation. Last time I visited I bought several two foot M1 shell casings (the kind shot from an Abrams tank) and a box of some beautiful dummy amunition that looks like little aluminum rockets. You just never know what you'll find at Smith and Edwards and it's always a treat.
I walked out to the beautiful old WWII era rail car that I know sits on the grounds to take a few pictures. Nate had told me many years ago that the car had been brought back from the European theater after the end of the war. The windows all have metal liners lacking glass and are covered with heavy wire mesh to prevent damage from flying shrapnel and allow the car to travel in a blackout condition. Over the decades, the car has oxidized into a gorgeous pallet of oranges and browns and greens, and on this visit massive mounds of military helmets had appeared in great drifts around the base of the car. You really just never know what you're going to find out there - tray-zhurs abound.

I didn't find anything this trip I couldn't live without, but it's always a fascinating stop and one I'll make anytime I'm within a 100 mile radius!

I resumed my journey toward Logan, pressing on so as to be able to meet my friend Stuart Smith for dinner. When I arrived in Logan, I drove out to Bruce's work site to collect him so he could join us as well. By the time evening had rolled around, we all met, along with Bruce's friend Elin, at Logan's home of Asian food finery - the Mandarin. Two hours passed before any of us had realized it, and we parted company after reciting our ridiculous fortunes aloud. Bruce had arranged for me to stay at his parents home, so we headed back there where I was greeted warmly. As glad as I was to see Pat and Judy and Bruce, it wasn't long until I was ready for bed and subsequently in it.