Monday, 18 August 2008

1997 May - Canyons and Craters

This post doesn't really have anything to do with U2, except for the fact that if it hadn't been for U2 I wouldn't have even been in the US then and also would not have known the great people I was with. So yes, this post would never have been possible had it not been for U2!

We had a few days for travelling after the Salt Lake City gig, so we decided to explore more of Utah before heading into Arizona. We decided to base ourselves in Parowan again as it was fairly close to the areas we wanted to visit - plus we had all got quite a soft spot for little Parowan!

Four hours later we rolled into Parowan and checked in at the same motel. After settling in for a short while we headed for nearby Cedar City to look for somewhere to eat. We found a place called Sullivan's, which appropriately had an Irish theme to it. The food was good and boy was there lots of it! As we drove back to Parowan the sun was setting making the mountains around the town look a deep red, a beautiful sight.

Next morning we breakfasted on coffee and biscuits in our rooms. We checked out a route to Bryce Canyon and then set off. The weather was pleasantly warm and we headed up into the Wasatch Mountains towards a place called Brian Head and snow was beginning to appear. As we drove there was more and more snow, the road had been cleared and huge piles of snow flanked each side of the road. Then, suddenly we were met by a wall of snow at least ten feet high! We couldn't believe it! It was also very cold and all we had on was summer clothing. Later we found out that Brian Head was Utah's highest ski resort.

We turned back and noticed another road going off to the left that was not marked on our map. My internal direction radar "felt" it was the right way to go and as my radar is usually accurate everyone was happy to go with it. This road soon started going downhill so we knew we would not meet another snow block for a start! The road steadily continued downhill in the direction wanted, and before long we were in heat of the canyonlands. Boy does Utah have varied landscapes, in a few hours we'd gone from temperate Parowan, to alpine, snowbound Brian Head to the heat of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce was absolutely gorgeous! The canyons were striated in many shades of red (caused by the oxidation of the iron in the rock) with lots of solo pinnacles that were known as hoodoos. The formations almost had the appearance of lace at times, they could be incredibly delicate. There were trees growing within some of the canyons that were a contrast to the rocks. To me Bryce Canyon is much more beautiful than the Grand Canyon (as amazing as that is!). Bryce is smaller scale, more delicate, and the colours are astounding, plus it is not as touristy - where we stopped there were no other people. I loved it.

We headed back "home" via Cedar Canyon which itself was very pretty. We passed Navajo Lake which was still partially iced over. I marvelled at the beauty of this southern part of Utah.

Once more we stopped off in Cedar City to eat. This time we found a really nice Italian restaurant with delicious food and amazing curly breadsticks! We drove back to Parowan and sat and relaxed on the balcony looking out over the peaceful, rural scene in front of us. We chatted and drank some more of the Southern Comfort we had with us, the end of a great day.


Next morning we had tea and the remnants of the curly breadsticks for breakfast and took our leave of Parowan. We were quite sad to leave the little town behind! We headed south on Interstate 15 for what was going to be a long day's driving. We left the main road and went east towards Zion Canyon. It was very hot at Zion and dozens of lizards darted through the scrub and around the numerous cacti. This canyon was lovely too, again a lot of the rocks were striated in shades of a rusty red. The part of Zion we saw did not have hoodoos and the delicate almost laciness of Bryce, but it was beautiful too.

We stopped briefly at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary near Kanab which was a place that offers a home to any animal that needs it. We continued on the long lap of the journey that took us out of Utah and into Arizona, the first stop being the Grand Canyon. Dianne and I had been there before but the others had not. We went to the Bright Angel viewpoint and even at 5.30pm it was unfortunately still very busy. It is a stunning place, you can hardly believe what you are seeing, shame about the crowds. For me Bryce Canyon is the place. While we were there some deer were roaming amongst the people and the biggest rooks I've ever seen were watching from on high.

It was getting dark as we left the Grand Canyon and headed south for Flagstaff where we were staying for the next two nights. Once darkness fell I noticed the sky was incredibly clear because of the lack of light pollution and we could see the Hale-Bopp comet clearly visible just above the horizon.

Our hotel at Flagstaff was nice but right beside a railway line so there was a regular cacophony of train noise and hooting. But we'd had a long day and were exhausted and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

Next morning we set of early once more and headed towards the Little Painted Desert which is 20 miles north of Winslow, Arizona. As we entered Winslow we had Take It Easy by The Eagles blasting from the car stereo, "Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona..... " this is what an American road trip is all about! We drove along a straight, deserted desert road and pulled into the empty car park for the Little Painted Desert.

It was absolutely beautiful there, very hot but a cooling wind blew regularly taking the heat off a little. The site consisted of small multi-coloured cliffs and canyons arranged in a horseshoe shape, in the middle were little colourful hills. It did look like someone had taken a paint brush to the landscape, I'd never seen anything like it. We all wandered off in different directions and enjoyed the beauty and complete silence. Little purple, white, orange, yellow and white flowers growing everywhere.I don't follow any religion, but in places of such natural beauty like The Little Painted Desert, I feel a spirituality, a connection.

It is in the middle of the Navajo Indian Reservation, and the mesas of the Hopi Reservation were visible to the north. In the distance to the east I could see the snow-capped San Francisco Mountains that surround Flagstaff. It was an ethereal place and I could have stayed for hours. We eventually tore ourselves away, and as we left the car park another car arrived - good timing!

We went into nearby Winslow for a meal. I noticed a large percentage of the people there were Native American, there were also a lot of stores selling their traditional art and jewellery.

There was so much to see in that area but we couldn't do it all and we had to give The Painted Desert a miss which was a shame. Our next stop was Meteor Crater, somewhere I have always wanted to see ever since my childhood when I wanted to be an astronomer! The crater was created around 50,000 years ago by a meteor 54 yards across made of nickel and iron. It's landing would have created a cataclysm that affected all of the Earth. The crater was bigger than I expected - it is 4000 feet wide and 570 feet deep. It was so weird to see this huge crater suddenly just being there in the middle of the flat desert plain. It was also an incredibly hot place, the sun was unrelenting and I was soon wilting, so we went into the museum to cool off and learn more about the crater.

Our next stop was to be Walnut Canyon, close to Flagstaff, but it was late afternoon now and it was closed. So we headed back into Flagstaff, washed the desert dust off, and went for a delicious meal and cocktails in a Thai restaurant right beside our hotel.

I'd absolutely loved these few days of travelling, discovering the stunning sights of Utah and Arizona. I loved the feeling of freedom, driving along those long, straight roads, stopping off where we wanted along the way, and seeing the most amazing things. So, our tour madness really paid off big time!

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