USA - SEPTEMBER 2002
HIGHWAY 12 - ESCALANTE TO GROVER
Following all of the excitement with the bus a few minutes ago, I carried on along the road that climbed gently out of Escalante ( or Escalente as I saw it once spelt somewhere) and after a couple of minues I arrived at a bend.
Before I had chance to go round the bend - "sez you" ...ed - I came to a shuddering stop. The reason for that was because this was the view that confronted me at the top of the hill.
It's probably fair enough to say that I have never ever seen ANYTHING even as remotely spectacular as the view from up here - although as an aside, I did in fact lose count of the number of times that I was to write that before the end of the voyage.
The view from up here was just completely unbelievable and it seemed to me that almost every 100 yards or so, there was a view that I just had to stop to photograph. and you would have done so too if you had been up here.
It's not very often that I am lost for words - "what? You, Eric? Perish the thought!" ...ed - but how do you find words to describe a view like this? Stunning? Superb? I really have no idea.
There were quite a few tourists up here, including a few French ones, who had also come to admire the view. I had quite an interesting conversation with my fellow transatlantic visitors, and left them with a sense of bewilderment not only at the view but the fact that here was an anglophone in the USA who could chat to them for five minutes in fairly fluent French.
Moving away from the crowds (which I detest anyway) I found another spec and just sat up here for half an hour or so to quietly contemplate the view, wishing that I had a much better camera to bring with me to record it.
Up here along the crest of the ridge there is nothing but canyons, gullies, river courses carved out of the solid rock. Some tree and grass follow the line of the water course as you can see, but apart from that, nothing at all.
Here on the left down there, you can see some buildings. I bet that that is a pretty difficult place to earn a living. You'll also notice that down there, the road disappears into yet another canyon. It only looks a short distance away but you can tell from our present height that it isn't going to be the drive of five minutes to reach it.
A way further up the water course on the left was another farm in the late 19th century which was the scene of a famous murder where one partner of the ranch killed the other during a dispute over working practice. The alleged murderer turned himself in to the sheriff who placed him on parole to go to the US marshall at the regional capital, but he disappeared en route. I suppose round here, it's pretty easy to disappear into the back of your own beyond, just like the legendary Oozelum Bird.
And just like Everett Ruess, a young artist, 20 years old but already quite well known. He spent 3 years travelling around the area which I have been visiting, telling his brother in his last letter home
"as to when I revisit civilization, it will not be soon. I have not tired of the wilderness... It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty"
and he is certainly not wrong about any of that. But having said
"When I go, I leave no trace"
he gathered up his 2 burros, headed off into the Escalante Desert and lived up to his promise.
Some bones discovered in 2009 were claimed after an initial DNA analysis to be his but this was later overturned, and a campsite with corral was discovered near Davis Gulch and which was thought likely to be one that he made, but that was really that. Nothing else was ever found.
And 10 years after I wrote all of the above, someone did in fact disappear into the back of his own beyond in the Escalante Desert and was barely recovered alive after a few weeks wandering around in the desert . All I can say is that he was lucky.
On top of the plateau
Eventually I arrive at what I reckon is the highest part of the road along here. Cue another shuddering halt to admire the tremendous view.
This is the view away over to my left, which I reckon is to the north. Somewhere behind those mountains in the far distance, probably as much as 150 miles away, would be the town of Salt Lake City, if my geography is correct. On the other hand, there could be five fingers. Or even a thumb.
"Nothing but canyons, gullies" I said about half an hour ago (I'm not exactly making rapid progress, am I?). Well, here's another canyon. Or maybe it's a gully. I wouldn't know from up here and I wasn't going to go down and find out.
Upon my return home and examining all of the photographs, I came to the conclusion that this was one of the best from up here, although the quality leaves something to be desired and no photograph, no matter how good it was, could ever do justice to the scene.
Further on again a few hundred yards, I stopped the car at the side of the road to get a good shot of the southern side of the plateau. This was another one of these photographs that can't do any justice at all to the view that you actually saw, more's the pity.
Yes, here I was really on top of the world just here, and in more ways that one. You can understand much better now why it was that the road didn't reach here until 1942.
Boulder to the Fremont River
And so after all of my vicissitudes I finally arrived in Boulder, and from here the road climbed over the Boulder Mountains to to the valley of the Fremont River, which was my next port of call.
Going round the bend - "we've already done that" ...ed - a quick glance in the raer-view mirror of the Mustang was enough to bring me to yet another shuddering halt and to leave the vehicle to take a photo.
Just on one particular bend was a view in my rear-view mirror that made me stop and get out of the car.
Do you recognise the view in this photo and the one above? You should do -after all, they are a view of the mountains and the desert that I have just spent two hours driving over. It looks even more wild and desolate from up here, doesn't it?
That huge mountain in the distance, I reckon that it may well be Mount Humphrey, the 12643 feet-high mountain that we encountered at Flagstaff
the other day. I can't think of any other prominent peak that it might be.
Tomorrow, I'll be heading in a more-or-less south-easterly direction and so, if you were me, you'd have a quick look all around you in that kind of direction to see what the road might have in store for you tomorrow
What can you say about that view then? Not very much from the photo, of course because photos can never do justice to the scenery. In real life you can say even less, because you would be speechless, just like I was at that moment.
Now I was down off the mountains and on to Highway 24 going east. This led me along the Fremont river valley, a gorge carved into the rock some 100 feet or so down and wide enough for a road - but in some places only just. There were spectacular things to see and to photograph, but nowhere to stop, but when there was somewhere to stop, there was nothing spectacular to see or to photograph. Just as you would expect, in fact.
A bit further on, though, the road burst out of the valley into a wider plain. There was a pull-in here and what is known as a "gentleman's rest room" (and wasn't I glad to see that? Another couple of minutes and they would be growing rice in this desert next year). So a brief stop and a photograph of Chimney Rock, after which this rest area is named.
As an aside, there are thousands of rocks called "Chimney Rock" all over the States, so if you've heard of a famous one, it probably isn't the one that I've just found. One Chimney Rock that I do want to visit is the one on the Oregon and California Trail in Wyoming.
From here you can see the view back into the Fremont Gorge, the direction from which I'd just come. The difference in time between the photo on the left and that on the right is as long as it takes to go for a ride the porcelain horse. This gives you some idea of how quickly the light has gone in this part of the USA on a late September evening.
Yes, the light is really going now, and here I am, somewhere in the gathering dusk in the desert miles from anywhere. The choices weren't too complicated. Either I could go back about 50 miles to Richfield, turn off and head north about 40 miles to Moab, sleep in the car, or try my luck in Hanksville, a small one-horse town in the middle of the desert a few miles further on.
Now I hate going back, or turning off. Particularly if it means going to the big city. "Onwards or upwards" isn't just the motto of Jim Dale in Carry on Columbus and it wouldn't be the first time that I have slept in a car. Not by a long way.
So here is the town of Hansville, Utah. Originally known as Graves Valley, it was established in 1882. The Pony Express followed in 1883, and in 1885 the name was changed to Hanksville, after Ebeneazer Hanks, one of the original settlers.
It has a population of 197, according to an estimate in 2003. For some reason, the town was omitted from the census of 2000. Anyway, all of the 197 people turned out to see me arrive, as you might expect in a place like this.
The low population could be attributed to the fact that bromide is found in the neighbourhood, as I found out a long while afterwards. At least, that was what I told Percy Penguin.
One thing about Hanksville though was that even this most unlikely place had a motel, as you can see. You can tell that there isn't much trade around here, due to the number of weird sculptures of dinosaurs made from old scrap. Obviously some people have nothing better to do. But despite that, I at least found it all quite amusing.
The motel was very 60's, traditional, olde-worlde, but clean, tidy, comfortable and good value for money. Once again, rural America comes to the rescue
I had a good chat with the owner, an old guy in his late 50's or early 60's I guess. He'd been around the block a few times, I'm sure. He told me that in the past he held the tow-in licence for Wayne County, and probably even Jayne County too - so he pulled in all the abandoned or impounded cars from all around the area. It goes without saying of course, that my ears pricked up at this.
"I bet you've had some good ones pass through your hands" I said, hopefully. That was a leading question if ever I've asked one.
"I surely have" he replied, and gave me one of those inscrutable looks. What followed was one of the finest examples of what is known as a "pregnant pause", or even an "enigmatic silence", that I have ever heard in all my life.
"I bet you wish you still had them now." I said hopefully, remembering what happened when I asked a similar question to a garage owner in Brittany in 1989 (nothing changes in my life, except the location and the distances, even over 13 years) and led to a story that I still dine out on even now. Anyway, I explained to the motel keeper my weird interest in junkyard salvage projects.
After another long while, we started again.
"Oh, well, if you're really interested, then there's still a few out back" he said. Then we had another enigmatic silence. This was like plaiting fog, eating soup with a fork, or corresponding with the Football Association of Wales.
"Well, would it be a problem if I went an took some photographs while it's still light?" I asked. My hope was turning to something like despair by this time.
"You just make sure you close the gate and don't let the cattle out".
So, tell me. What would you do? Go to check out your room, or would you go for a scramble around a junkyard in the fading light? Do bears live in the woods? I'm normally not at my best in the presence of large animals, but you don't think that that was really going to stop me, do you?
And I'm certainly glad I decided to travel on to Hanksville and to stop at this motel. And take the time to go for a wander round the back of the motel like this. Just look at all of these bits and pieces. You could have a lot of fun making an interesting project out of all of this - "well, you could" ...ed.
Yes indeed - there's all sorts of stuff in that lot and I bet that every little piece would have its own tale to tell.
The rare American just here would make an interesting project for someone reasonably determined and dedicated. It is practically complete and here in the desert of southern Utah it never ever rains so nothing ever rusts.
Or so I said back then. If you think that that this is a rare car, then in Windsor, Ontario in September 2010 in a driving rainstorm I even encountered someone with a an estate car version of one, and how rare would that be?
In the next two photographs, you can see a couple of old chassis, complete with wooden-spoked wheels, and so how old would they be? Prior to the late 1920s, that's for sure.
They look like they've been stripped down to take modern engines and these "funny car" or hot-rod bodies, but the owner lost interest. Any kit car builders out there fancy doing something quite interesting and different?
Some aluminium sheeting, a folding press, a couple of sheets of marine plywood, a bit of 2x1 and a long weekend and you'd have something nice and unusual at the end of it.
Thinking on, I saw a nice and interesting bodyshell a couple of weeks ago when I was up at in Wheatland in Wyoming. You know, I could be on to something here with all of this. Where's my trailer?
You know, that step-side pickup hidden deep in there looks interesting. I could have hours of endless fun with that too.
Most women go in for retail therapy by wandering around clothes shops and the like. I fully believe in retail therapy too, but in my case it would be in a scrapyard like this. It is really like a treasure trove and I could spend a whole day wandering around in a place like this. It's a good job that Nerina and I are no longer together. How she suffered when I used to do this kind of thing all over Western Europe.
That's a pile of cars dating from the very late 1940s and early 1950s and if you have a close look at all of these cars, you can tell that they have been parked here for years.
Although I'm hard-pressed to tell one American vehicle from another, these are very similar to all of those that I saw in Répentigny in Québec in April 2012 and while you might think that there is a world of difference between the two classes of car, here in the Utah Desert it never rains so there is no rot and very little rust, and they are all in perfectly restorable condition.
So after my little perambulation I went back for a chat with the owner and, quite naturally, these cars formed part of our discussion. I couldn't pass up an opportunity like this, could I?
He tells me that in the main, all of these cars are for sale and he will even arrange shipping for them to Europe or anywhere else you want, as long as you ask him nicely. So hurry up and make your bids because they won't be here for long if I have anything to do with it.
However, you can forget all about placing a bid on the powder-blue Mustang! That one is mine - after all, I saw it first. My only regret is that it isn't a convertible. I'd have the hood down, even in an Auvergnat thunderstorm.
That's not quite true - I did have another couple of regrets
Firstly … by now, it was too dark to do the photos justice.
Secondly …I didn't have a better camera ditto
Still, if it's a first-generation Mustang that you really want, not a problem as there are a few others here to choose from. For you agricultural fans, there's even an old tractor parked on top, although what you would need a tractor for around here is anyone's guess. You couldn't make anything grow in this soil, that's for sure.
I'm not sure what that modern car is doing perched on top of everything else either. That vehicle looks completely out of place around here.
Yes, if you parked this old jeep in your drive, you'd certainly put the Wyllis up your neighbours - "groan;" ...ed.
I'm sorry - I'll get my coat.
But you see how the light has gone completely right now. That's a shame - I was having an enormous amount of fun and that's not something that happens every day to me, more's the pity.
It was also time that I organised some food. I was quite hungry by this time - in fact I could eat a horse, and I reckoned that that would be all that there would be to eat in a one-horse town like this.
However, I digress. Most people have by now realised that I am a vegan (life is so cool on Planet Vega) and in the USA, sometimes it's ... er ... difficult. In the depths of rural USA it's even worse. So I was prepared for anything. Almost. Certainly not for what happened next.
The choice of restaurants in a small town like Hanksville was, as you might expect, "limited" to say the least, so the "Slickrock Grill" would have to do. I went in, all full of trepidation, prepared to meet my doom, and was met by the tradional American Diner Smiling Waitress.
"I'm sorry to trouble you" I said, "but I don't eat any animal products. I wonder if you have anything that I can eat".
"Sure thing" she replied, bunging me the menu. "There's a couple of things on there. If there's nothing you fancy, though, you can always stoke up at the salad bar!"
Dead right she was, too. I had an excellent meal here, and I stoked up at the salad bar too! Yes. I'd definitely eat here again! Five star place, this was.
Next morning I was up early (again) so I had a long chat with the owner. Two old men sitting on the porch drinking coffee and putting the world to rights. This was really rural America.
I told him about my adventures at Page and the Glen Canyon Dam. He wasn't in the least surprised.
"That's nothing" he said, and proceeded to tell me the most amazing story that I've ever heard in the USA. He has a friend in Northern Utah who is a farmer, and the land has been farmed for generations. It seems that, suddenly, he's had to quit farming.
"Well, in the area they've just built a pile of new houses for incomers, and they've pulled his water rights to give them to the new inhabitants".
" "But that is residential - this guy's a farmer, he needs to grow things - people need things to eat" I exclaimed
"So what?" was the reply. "The government doesn't care. You can buy food in. No-one cares any more about the farmer"
Now I don't know about you, but my opinion of American administration, not very high to start with, is going down and down. We already have water wars going on in the Golan, not to mention the Turks Syrians and Iraqis at each others' throats over the Birecic and Ataturk Dams on the Euphrates River. Once the Oil Wars are over, we'll all be having water wars.
I explained to him about the Channel Tunnel and the fact that there's a water pipeline that runs through it. There's a French company at the French end of the pipeline, and at the British end the public utility has just been sold - to a French company. In a case of water shortage or drought in Western Europe, no prizes for guessing which way the water will be flowing. In fact, in the dry summer of 2006, there was a hosepipe ban and drought order in South-East England according to my friend sue, while in North-East France where the meteorological and geological conditions are to all intents and purposes identical, my friend Ricky told me that there were no restrictions at all. Purely a coincidence, of course.
He was well-up to speed on this. He told me of a system he and some friends had invented - the "Wildlife Saloon" - that can be used in semi-arid areas to hold water for long periods to aid in irrigation and livestock watering. I willingly took a couple of CDs and some notes to read at my leisure. What with the idea I'd heard of in Colorado about growing Jatropha in semi-arid areas to use as an oil crop, I thought that here I might be on to some thing here as well.
Yes, one thing I do like about rural USA is that it's so full of surprises. You never know just what awaits you just around the corner.
And not just novel irrigation projects too. Another thing was a petrol station where the office and shop had been carved out of the inside of a huge rock. I don't know why I didn't take a photograph of that.
At the county line, there I was in stitches again, as you could gather from the sign here! Well, I suppose that the othere side of the line one would be in Jayne County!
So, for those of you who don't know his -or her album, Rock 'n' Roll Cleopatra, then track 12 was specially written for George W Bush and his neocons.
A few miles on was a sign indicating a scenic turn-off and as the road I was on was very unscenic, I decided to pull off, eat my breakfast, and admire the view. Why don't they have scenic turn-ons by the way? That's much more appropriate.
Do you realise that if I hadn't have turned off here I'd have missed the view. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the photo to see what I mean - but remember to click on the "back" button" on your browser afterwards.. Wasn't that just so impressive?
These are effectively the headwaters of Lake Powell where it reverts to the Colorado River - it had taken me a whole day to go halfway round the lake from Page to here, and I wasn't complaining in the slightest. Far from it, in fact.
Across the water is Hite Marina, and if you want to find out more about that, read Ed Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. That will tell you everything that you need to know about it;
There's a river, the quaintly-named "Dirty Devil River" that branches off from here and disappears into the mountains.
The story of its name goes that when John Wesley Powell, who explored so much of the water around here during a 10 year period after the end of the Civil War and who we encountered at Page the other day, first saw that river, he shouted over to the other boat that was with him "I suppose that's a really good trout stream up there". The other crew went up to have a look, and on their return, shouted over to Powell "no, it's a dirty devil of a river" and the name has stuck to this day.
So breakfast having been duly eaten, and scenery having been duly photographed, time to go.
Well, Yours Truly wasn't obeying the commands on the roadsign - he didn't even deviate - he just went straight on. And not only that, "frog" isn't the usual second syllable that you associate with "bull" whenever some people refer to what I've written, that's for sure. You've probably realised this for yourself by now.
Anyway, no time to stand here idly gossiping. Here I was, driving along Highway 95, following the exploits of Doc Sarvis, Bonnie, Hayduke and Seldom-Seen Smith, members of Ed Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang when suddenly I came across a right turning onto Highway 261. And there was this sign that read
Yet it was a wide metalled road sloping gently uphill. But with a sign like this, you would, wouldn't you? Well, I did, anyway! I drove along this nice road gradually rising up and up in a nice gentle slope until all of a sudden the road disappeared and I came to a dead stop. And what I saw, well, I was speechless (and those of you who know me will realise how much of a rare event this can be), if not spellbound. I never expected to see anything remotely like this in all my life.