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.

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