Journey Into the West – Day 4

To Moab

Todd & Hannah waved goodbye from their door frame and we began rolling south towards Moab, gateway to Utah’s eastern desert.

Driving back through Salt Lake City, I considered that the city is far better looking from the ground than it is from the air, where it looks like a sprawl of humanity wedged between a swamp and ugly, brown mountains. From human-level it is full of low hills and little trees that make it more appealing.

I had expected more visible signs of Mormon entrenchment. But I didn’t see any of the garish church billboards or bumper stickers like those that cover Oklahoma City. Maybe Mormons don’t have to advertise, or maybe they figured out better things to spend money on, like helping people.

We stopped for gas and Terry found a man selling “Beef, Buffalo, and Elk” jerky out of a camper. Terry bought “Peppered Buffalo” and let me try a piece. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it didn’t taste like buffalo and probably wasn’t.

Continuing on, we cut through several mountain passes and came down into the flat lands of eastern Utah. We reached Moab a little before noon.

Todd & Hannah suggested Moab Diner as a food stop so we went there for lunch to find it packed full of blue-haired geriatrics. This should have influenced what I ordered, knowing that the “spicy” things wouldn’t actually be spicy and salt would be a necessity, but I ordered a chorizo scramble in which I could taste everything but the chorizo. The coffee was really good though.

Travel Rule #45: Context should influence your food choices.


Bellies full, we exited Moab and entered Arches National Park, just outside city limits. If you’ve ever seen a picture of an arch made of red sandstone, it was probably taken here.

Arches n' stuff

Upon arrival I noticed two things: 1. I could feel the water evaporating off of my tongue and 2. the sun felt like it was closer than normal. I’m used to hot, but not a complete lack of humidity.

At one of our first stops we heard a park ranger tell a couple,”Please don’t climb on the things that have names.” The park map contained a picture of the same ranger cleaning graffiti. Busy guy. Terry thanked him for his service.

As with all our park visits, we wanted to hike and decided to make the three-mile trek to see Delicate Arch. The signs in the parking lot for the trail said something along the lines of “DANGER: YOU NEED TO DRINK 500 GALLONS OF WATER TO SAFELY HIKE THIS TRAIL”. So we refilled our water bottles and started walking.

We reached a part of the trail I will refer to as “The Devil’s Blast Furnace”, a long hill of unshaded rock. As soon as I stepped onto the rock, I knew I was in for a bad time. I could feel the heat radiating through my shoes.

Within a couple of minutes, I stopped sweating. A few more and I was feeling light-headed and nauseous. I stopped to gulp down some water, then restarted, then stopped again not many yards later. My body was screaming at me to stop but my brain was yelling back, “We can’t stop here. This is bat country!”

I found a little scrub bush jutting up out of the rock that provided six inches of shade and crouched beside it. I told Terry, “Go on, see the rock thing. I’m good.” He was reluctant to leave me, but there were plenty of people walking the trail to help me if I needed it and we agreed he would go and come back quickly.

I watched him plod up the hill and out of sight before putting my head down to focus on cooling off.

A late-30ish woman dragging two elderly women behind her stopped to check on me. They were Czech and only the younger woman spoke English. I shared my pitiful shade and gave them some water because they had run out, having only brought small styrofoam cups.

They were on a road trip too, visiting some of the same places we were. As she walked away, the younger woman asked where we were headed to next. I told her “the Grand Canyon”.

“I didn’t like the Grand Canyon but my husband did. I spread his ashes there.”

Not long after, Terry returned and we made our way back to the car. He hadn’t reached the arch either and had run low on water and decided to turn around. I think he felt bad for leaving me too.

Dumb arch, didn’t wanna see you anyway.

I sat in the car for a long time rehydrating and basking under the air conditioner. Terry drove us further into the park and found more arches that didn’t require long treks across the desert. It took a few hours, but I started feeling a lot better and as the sun went down the park seemed less hostile towards me.

I forgive you, Arches National Park.

Our tour of Arches complete, we headed back to Moab to grab food at Zac’s Pizza, another of Todd & Hannah’s recommendations. I downed 24 ounces of locally brewed Hefeweizen that tasted OK, but was far weaker than I felt was necessary for my day.

And then things got weird

Our original plan had been to visit Arches, blast through Monument Valley, and spend the night at the Grand Canyon. This was a stupid plan and would have required us leaving Arches at the time we arrived there.

So when we left Moab we didn’t know where we were going to sleep. I looked up parks on my phone and found Goosenecks State Park near the Arizona border. It had good reviews and advertised camping facilities. We headed there.

As we closed in on the park, I noticed that there weren’t many other cars on the road. Outside of our car’s headlights the landscape was black and featureless. It felt like we were driving through a void in space.

Our visit to Goosenecks State Park lasted less than a minute. There were no facilities, only a proto-pavillion – four rusted uprights and a couple of cross beams. And the parking lot was empty except for two other cars, a white station wagon that appeared to be abandoned and a psychedelic-painted van that can only be described as “rape-y”.

An artist's rendering - Source credit  Jeff MacKinnon

It was the setting of a post-apocalyptic movie, or at least a really trippy episode of Scooby Doo. Not willing to face the hordes of rabid coyotes and drifter cannibals lurking in the desert, we sped back towards civilization.

There were no other campgrounds nearby and the nearest town, Mexican Hat, a village consisting entirely of motels, had zero vacancy. So we were forced to backtrack to Blanding, UT.

When we arrived, it appeared to be the same situation as Mexican Hat. But we found the one motel in town with a vacancy sign still lit up, The Mokee Inn.

Walking up to the sign that had pulled us in, something seemed off. I first thought my vision was blurred from being tired, but the haze that surrounded the sign revealed itself to be a dense cloud of gnats – tens of thousands of them. Every gnat in Utah was staying at The Mokee Inn.

Terry pushed his arm through the gnats to ring the night bell and a few minutes later the interior lights winked on and a bedraggled lady answered the door. “Come on in, we’ve got one room left. Sorry about the bugs.” We fought our way through the gnats into the small motel office.

I could feel the weight of them press against me and in the roar of their buzz I  heard a whisper, “We are the eaters of carrion, the ever-living. All that you know is but a brief flash of light in the life of the Swarm. You will be forgotten, the Swarm endures.”  Or it could have just been”buzzzzzzzzzz”.

The owner’s husband stumbled into the office a few moments later, the victim of some palsy. Terry asked “So, what’s notable about Goosenecks Park?”. The husband croaked “The geology, I guess.”, his face contorting into a hall-of-mirrors version of a smile.

Key in hand, I entered our room with low expectations. It was simple, but clean, and most important, gnat-free. I took a shower and climbed into bed, partially convinced that our weird evening had been a hallucination and that I was still curled up on that rock at Arches, dying of heat stroke.