North America 2013: Road Trip!

After nearly 3 months it was almost time to head back home and to the real world again, but there was one thing remaining… road trip! The third member of our friends from Patagonia, Dan, had been out of the country and I’d missed catching up with him, but things would finally work out: he had a meeting on the Colorado / Arizona border and was going to drive there, and I had a few days left. Perfect!

I flew back to Ontario airport (I’d learned my lesson about LAX), Kevin picked me up again and we met up with Dan for one final meal together before Dan and I hit the road for a late assault on Las Vegas.

Vegas had never been on my itinerary. Based purely on impressions, it seemed like a place that might be fun with the right crew, but flying solo it held little appeal for me. I was still curious though, so after we checked in around midnight I didn’t require much urging to go for a wander up the strip. It is absolutely quite a sight, to say nothing of the human spectacle with girls flicking cards in your face to attract attention and nightclub touts every 15 metres (“Gentlemen! No cover charge tonight… we got drunk chicks inside”).

That was to be the extent of my Vegas experience though! All of about 8 hours, and most of them asleep. The next morning we were on the road again, bound for Zion National Park. We arrived at the town of Springdale in late afternoon, so we kept going for a short drive into the park. This was also the first time I really “understood” this type of scenery. I am used to admiring lush or snow-covered mountains, rain forest scenery, and so on—but when everyone I talked to kept raving about all the “red rock” parks I didn’t really get it. Sure, the rock formations looked cool, but how much of it did you really need to see? Well, standing there in the middle of it, with enormous red sandstone cliffs and formations eroded into being over thousands of years, in colours more vivid than any photograph can ever convey, I did understand why. I was definitely looking forward to exploring properly the next day.

The light was going down though so we headed back to Springdale… only to discover that the hotel we’d booked was actually located on the other side of the park! So, back through that road for a third time, with the people at the gate giving us strange looks.

Over dinner that night I learned that not only does (Mormon) Utah actually have at least one brewery, but they have a sense of humour about it: I washed my food down with a Polygamy Porter.

The following morning we again drove that road through the park for a fourth time, saying good morning to our friends at the gate, and parked at the visitor centre to investigate hikes before catching a shuttle in. We had planned to explore Hidden Canyon, but when that was closed off not far from the entrance we took another path winding up to Observation Point, with glorious views back over the main canyon and river.

My penultimate full day had us take a fifth and final trip through the park, and head along the Arizona border towards Lake Powell. We didn’t have time to see Rainbow Arch, but the boat tour through the lake’s canyons was still striking. Sunset over Horseshoe Bend was even more spectacular (and put Grand Canyon firmly on my list for my next trip, when you realise this enormous bend was a fraction the size of those in Grand Canyon!)

Hitting the road for the final time together, we drove through Monument Valley—an expanse of mesas and buttes that looks just like every cowboy movie you’ve seen, because that is indeed where they were all filmed—towards the tiny town of Durango in Colorado. Dan’s friends there showered us with hospitality, and in the morning even took me on a short hike in the hills. I was really sorry not to have more time in Colorado; mountains still draw me, and there’s a lot to explore there.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to happen this trip, for that was the end. Dan drove me to the airport, and I began my 32-hour, 6-flight (of which I had to sprint for 3!), return voyage.

Èl Fin, Un Comienzo

I always pictured writing some final paragraph with my favourite places and memories, but in reality I don’t think I could separate much. I will pick out Alberta as my favourite outdoors experience, but Yosemite and Zion were both very different and equally spectacular. New York was great, Portland was too for very different reasons… but again, there were very few places I wouldn’t gladly revisit and a long list of places I still intend to but couldn’t this time.

As always of course the people made the most difference—so to everyone I met, old and new, and invited back to my home-town… I was serious, come visit!

This post effectively marks the end of this blog as a place for my travel pictures.1

As I mentioned at the beginning, I quit my job before this trip, and together with a friend I’m now well into something new. That means a lot fewer travel-related posts for now, but on the other hand I do have a long list of posts in technical and business areas I plan to write. Stay tuned! (Or update your subscriptions accordingly)

  1. It was originally a means for people to keep track of where I was, but given the delays in recent posts it didn’t do that very well. 

Mark Hepburn 16 May 2014
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