Sunday, October 30, 2011

Last night in North America for seven months

Are we ready? I guess as ready as we will ever be.

We repacked this afternoon, and aside from a panic attack about the whereabouts of our travelers cheques, everything fits and all zippers are comfortably closed. All passports are in hand, all hotel reservations are made, google maps printed and saved — so how come my stomach is all in a knot?

— Well, at least until Aaron took us to a "chill" bar down the street called "Weathered up" where the three of us sipped on a Honey Whiskey Sour Smash and another concoction called Artists something or other, while waiting for our reservation at an even more "chill" noodle house across the street.

This trip to New York has been different than all others. Although we have been here on the way from — or on the way to one place or another before, this time felt very different.

No Broadway shows, no wandering through neighbourhoods. Instead we booked hotels, opened bank accounts, printed out stuff and repacked.

Tomorrow we leave the comfort of Aaron and Melissa's Brownstone for an assortment of accommodations, landscapes, and weather. As we sat down for lunch today, Aaron looked seriously at us and advised us to be careful, and to take it easy in Nepal, not to overdo it and conserve our strength for the long trip ahead.

Funny how the tables have turned and it is him now offering us advice! We listened — knowing full well he was right!

But before Nepal, we have three amazing weeks planned in Israel. As I write these words, the knot in my stomach is loosening. I know that when we get off the plane in Tel Aviv, even with the aggravation awaiting us at the car rental company, and the crazy drivers, and the difficulty getting anything done without an argument, not to mention the overpriced hotels — we will be home.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Passport renewal Israeli style

We knew the first task on our list when we arrived in New York, was to head over to the Israeli Embassy. Our Israeli passports have not been up to date for more than 20 years, but a little birdie (named Barbi) told us, that it has become more difficult of late, to pass as Canadians at Tel Aviv Airport, so we needed to do something about it. The thought of spending hours and days of our time in Israel waiting in lines at the Office of the Interior, convinced us to take care of it in New York, knowing full well that even in New York, there would likely be complications ...

Finding the Embassy was remarkably easy. It was a quick walk from Grand Central Station, and even though it was pouring outside, we made it there in good time.

As soon as we walked through the front door of the building, any semblance of being in New York vanished and we were for all intents and purposes in Tel Aviv. The young man standing in front of the elevator addressed us in Hebrew and in the blink of an eye, our second language became our first. As he gave us the third degree, (Why are you here? Why didn't you get your passports renewed in Canada? How long did you live in Israel? Where did you live in Israel? Did anyone ask you to bring a package to the Embassy? Are you carrying a weapon? Are you carrying anything that looks like a weapon? etc ...) I found myself easing back into the informal way of dealing with things Israeli style. That is, look very formal and respectful, but roll your eyes when appropriate and raise your voice to get things done.

Although we were apprehensive all the way to the Embassy, by the time we got in the elevator, we were primed for the experience. Actually we were kind of excited. Our "Israeli" had been switched on and we were ready to rumble!

The elevator door opened into the security check area. Here, once again we were asked all of the same questions by another young man, but much more seriously. When he asked me whether I had any food or drink with me, I remembered I had a cliff bar in my day pack, which I removed from my bag and showed him. "Well you have two choices Miss," he said losing his patience, as the woman directly in front of us had also brought a granola bar and neglected to fess up to it before her bag went through the xray machine. "You or your husband can go back downstairs with the cliff bar, and then come back after eating it or disposing of it, or we can dispose of it here". Marc was hoping to eat it in on the spot, but that was not allowed. Our interviewer and his colleague took the cliff bar from me and turned it over and over in their hands and read all of the ingredients as if they were interested in the particular flavour of the bar, then he decided not to give us the choice. He put the cliff bar on the ground beside him and under his breath he said "Just know miss, that you will not be able to retrieve it when you leave. I will be throwing it away as soon as you go through the door!" I thought to myself, "He is probably going to have it for lunch ...", but I thought it best to kept that to myself.

Then we passed through the metal detector and retrieved our phones and my camera and were instructed to sit in the waiting room until our number was called. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. The young lady behind window number one, looked at our old passports, found us on her computer, reviewed the forms I had filled out, made a couple of adjustments to our identity numbers, reviewed our passport photos and instructed us to wait on the other side of the room where we would be called again. "Humm" we thought, how organized. Are we in the right office?

There were only five or six people in the waiting room, which was also a bonus, and we thought to ourselves "we will be out of here in no time". In the mean time, there was Israeli TV to watch on several screens. And what was on? It was the day after Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped and held for over five years had been released. So you would think that if the television was on, it would be a news channel.  But instead of coverage of this amazing event, we were watching a morning show dedicated to the topic of infidelity. A panel of experts were arguing about the reasons why and the pros and cons of men and woman of different age groups having affairs and/or ending their relationships.

It was a absolute riot! Here we were at the Israeli Embassy, getting advice on infidelity!

We noticed quite quickly, that even with a small number of people waiting, progress was incredibly slow. I guess we had been too quick to judge the seemingly organized procedures!

As we soon found out when our number was finally called, nothing is simple, even if it is simple.

The very nice young lady behind window number 11, consulted our old passports, reviewed our forms, looked us up on her computer screen, did a lot of thinking and then asked me to verify that our last trip to Israel was in 1997. Stupidly, I immediately replied "No. The last time we were in Israel was four years ago." As soon as it was out of my mouth, I knew we were in trouble. I explained that we entered with our Canadian passports and our Israeli identity numbers. She then asked to see the stamp in our Canadian passports. But of course since then we both had new passports. I tried to explain that to her, and her reply was simply to go home and bring her the old passports! Luckily the truth was that we did not have our old passports at home or anywhere else. Neither of us had asked to keep our passports when we renewed them. They had been destroyed.

Big problem, apparently. Her biggest concern was that without the stamped passports, she could only give us a passport for one year. Our biggest concern was that we were flying to Tel Aviv in 10 days and needed our passports!! I explained to her (voice getting louder and more impatient while still smiling and trying to be civil) that based on our past trips to Israel, she could surmise that we do not fly to Israel every year or even every two years. A passport for one year would do just fine as long as we could renew it when the time came. This didn't seem to satisfy her.

The worst of it was that I hadn't yet told her we needed the passports expedited since we were leaving for Israel on October 31st, so I needed to keep her on my side.

Soon she had her superior at her side and she was explaining the full story to him. He of course shook his head and told her to tell us simply to go home and bring the old passports (here we go again). I could hear her explaining to him the sad story of the destroyed passports, that could not be retrieved. Both of them looked bewildered. By this time I had dropped the bombshell that we needed the passports before the 31st. "Did we have booked tickets already?" she asked with wide eyes? I nodded. "Do you have them with you? She asked. Luckily, I did have a print out of our tickets, and I quickly retrieved them from my day pack.

They left together (probably to call the Prime Minister of Israel, to discuss the saga of the two Israelis, who illegally entered Israel on Canadian passports and have no way of proving it ... What shall we do with them? ). She returned several minutes later with two pieces of paper. "We have a solution," she said. "If you can write the story down here on this declaration and sign it to verify that you are telling the truth, I can issue you a 10 year passport and it will be ready on October 27th".

As simple as that. After at least an hour of discussions, we were done. We each wrote the same words on the two piece of paper, signed our names, paid the fee for a new passport, and left the office with a piece of paper that we will exchange for our passports on October 27th.

Will the passports really be ready on the 27th? A betting man would say the odds are fifty-fifty. Stay tuned! This story isn't over until it's over!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Markets may be crashing on Wall Street, but not in Brooklyn!

WARNING: This post is Rated B for Bragging (with no apologies). Proceed with caution: Use of emotional language may cause side effects (feeling of intense pride and in some cases tears).

Our son Aaron never shies away from a challenge. And once he sets his sights on something, you can be sure he will be moving in that direction until he has accomplished his goal, no matter what roadblocks may be put in his way. And even though I am his mom, I can without bias (well maybe a little) say he has once again proven he is unstoppable.

For almost a year, Aaron has been conceptualizing a Brooklyn style, Asian Night Market, something that has never been done in New York. Those of you reading this who live in Richmond or Vancouver are very familiar with the basic idea. We have experienced the Richmond Night Market for many years. Aaron also experienced the real thing in Asia, when he travelled there extensively between his undergraduate and graduate degrees. But what Aaron was cooking up was a hybrid.

Key words are local and independent. Artisans, New York style street food, microbreweries, artisanal wineries, indie bands, all outdoors in tents, under the stars with simple strings of lighting. And of course thousands of 20 to 30 somethings streaming through the narrow walkways until the wee hours, tasting, sipping, shopping, listening to cool music, and interacting with art installations. He decided to call it “The Brooklyn Night Bazaar”.

There is a back-story, but let’s just say that pulling this off is easier said than done. It is risky and expensive and it takes a lot of people and know-how to make it work. Having a dream is one thing, but doing it is quite another story.

But Aaron never gives up.

An opportunity arose for him to test the waters. A one-night blowout event at an ongoing daytime outdoor venue called Dekalb Market. The date was set for October 9th. He had a month to pull it all together.

As the date grew near and everything was falling into place, there was an amazing buzz building about the event online. Everyone was talking about it, including the New York Times — and we realized — we needed to be there.

So, sitting in Tucson in front of a hotel, to get some wifi, we booked tickets to New York leaving from Phoenix. The flight was at 6:00 am on October 9th. That got us in to New York at around 4:00 pm just as the Brooklyn Night Bazaar would be setting up.

Aaron had no idea we were coming. We spoke to him on the 8th and wished him well, told him how proud we were of him. We promised to talk to him after the event.

Our flight arrived a bit early, and we made it to the event location about 4:30 pm. As we entered the gate, we saw the vendors setting up their tables, security guards were taking their places and the first live music act was testing microphones. We saw Aaron from the back rushing somewhere, but we were not able to catch up with him. Almost immediately we saw Eric, Melissa’s brother, who I entrusted with my camera, so that he could document the look on Aaron’s face when he saw us.

It took a concerted effort between Melissa, Eric and a few friends to track Aaron down and make him stop long enough to realize that his parents were “in the tent” so to speak. When he finally saw us, we had time for one hug each, then he was off doing what an event producer does an hour before an event — putting out a million fires, meeting vendors, coordinating all of the volunteers, answering constant phone calls — and doing it all as if this is something he has done a million times before.

But for Aaron, this was the very first time. And he was a natural.

Within an hour, crowds began forming at the gate. By 7:00 pm there were literally thousands of people, either waiting in line, or wandering through the food, music and shopping areas. Music was playing in the performance space. The tables in the tented eating area were full of people chatting above the din of the music, drinking local beer, nibbling on street food. The local artisans were interacting with shoppers and small conversations were starting up everywhere. People were texting and tweeting to friends encouraging them to come.

Aaron’s vision was being actualized in front of our eyes.

At about 11:30, when things were starting to wind down just a bit, we had a chance to sit for five minutes with Aaron at one of the picnic tables. There was still music in the performance space so there was not too much hope of a long conversation. We just sat there, all three of us — beaming. No words necessary.

A good event producer knows that it takes a great team to succeed. Aaron had Joann, Belvy and his crew, Oliver, Melissa and her family and an endless crew of their friends acting as volunteers at his side to make the night a success. But every success starts with a vision. Aaron had a great idea and he made it a reality.

When the clock struck midnight (well maybe 1:00 am), the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, turned back into the Dekalb Market. The tent awnings were rolled up. The vendors packed up their wares, the crowds disappeared and the clean up crews arrived. By that time Marc and I were settled in at Aaron and Melissa’s Brooklyn brownstone, so glad we had experienced this great night under the stars in Brooklyn with Aaron, Melissa and her family, Doug Devora and Josh (who drove in from Princeton and Philadelphia) — dozens of Aaron and Melissa’s friends and thousands of total strangers.

Amazing how soundly you sleep, when your baby, no matter how old he is, has had an outstanding day.

24 hours later, we were back on a plane to Phoenix, to catch up with the last leg of the Broudos Unplugged 35 day car trip. At the beginning of this blog, I wrote a post called “How many trips can you pack into one suitcase”. Now I am wondering, “How many memories can you pack into one trip?”

As for the future of Brooklyn Night Bazaar, stay tuned!

We are so proud (but I guess you figured that out)!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Grand Canyon yada, yada, yada …

As we got closer to the Grand Canyon, a perfect storm was brewing. The weather was changing, neither of us was sleeping very well, and we had been on this trip for almost 30 days. 30 days of almost perfect weather and out of this world experiences. So if I was not initially jumping out of my skin with excitement about the Grand Canyon — that was my excuse. The other part of the perfect storm was that I just didn’t feel like writing.

Blogging felt like work and I wasn’t very happy with my last posts. It all felt like blah blah blah and not interesting tidbits from an amazing trip. Marc kept reminding me I was behind, which as you can imagine, was really helpful. I suggested maybe he give it a try, but all I got was a shrug. So we had our first blip. Not every moment of this journey is going to be perfect.

Of course, it would not be a perfect journey if every day was perfect, but when it’s happening, it feels like disaster has just struck.

We both also came to the conclusion about this time that it is much better to sleep in our car/motel, than to sleep in cheap (which equals crappy) accommodation. Which led to questions about how we will fare in India. Lots of questions that are impossible to answer until they become realities. Too bad we didn’t have room in our travel bags for our crystal ball!

So if you can stand to read through this, here is how it went down — there is a happy ending!

When we arrived at the Grand Canyon, it was completely overcast, freezing, and uninviting. I knew there was an amazing view out there, but I couldn’t see it. We had warm clothes with us, but the unrelenting wind and rain/snow was a big deterrent. Marc’s plans for our three days here were as grand as the Grand Canyon, and it was clear from the get go that we would not be able to accomplish even a small part of it. As we walked along the rim trail our first day, I felt like I was going to be blown over the edge! We did walk for a few hours and I did take pictures, but really, they were not worth posting.

We spent an amazingly cozy first night in our car/motel, after spending the evening sitting in the heated (but otherwise unremarkable) cafeteria at the Park Village with many of the other campers. This has become a theme in all of the Parks we have visited. They allow you to hang out as long as you want — and they have free wifi. Considering how horrible it was outside, this was really a godsend. Bedraggled people all around in multiple layers of clothing, huddled around computers of all sizes and shapes, skype calls in dozens of languages permeating the room, and cords plugged into every available outlet. Sounds like a bad movie, but it was somehow comforting, to be inside and warm and to have Internet. It is the small things that keep you going in trying times.

In the morning we both concluded that getting the hell out of Dodge, was the best plan. Getting out of our sleeping bags was another thing entirely! It was 6:30 am and f----ing freezing! There was no sign of snow, but it was cold enough for it. We counted to 10 and got out of our bags, and into warm clothes as quickly as possible and headed for the East Exit of the Park. There were more things to see along that road and we hoped that as the sun came up, it might give us a break and make an appearance through the thick gray clouds.

And it did!

By the time we got to the East entrance of the park, the clouds had all but disappeared. It was as if the spirit of the Grand Canyon wasn’t going to let us leave without experiencing some of her majesty — at least for a brief moment.

This all happened as we were beginning our visit to the Watchtower, an amazing structure, designed by Mary Colter, the same architect who designed La Posada in Winslow, and several other amazing buildings at the Grand Canyon.

This building, and my complete admiration for this amazing woman, architect, artist, visionary, was the highlight of my visit to the Grand Canyon. It made all of what came before, disappear.

I really don’t know where to start in describing what I felt when I walked through that door. Perhaps it was the culmination of all of the visits to Peubloan ruins in the area and the poverty we experienced in Canyon De Chelly. Or my reflection on the ranger talks about the displacement of the Hopi and Havasupai in this Park. Maybe it was the strong feeling that I described in an earlier post of feeling like I am trespassing on someone's property. A deep feeling of despair for the scars of progress, that really never heal. Maybe all of these things. Mary Colter in her work here in the Park, attempts to make this right. She spent years researching the Peubloan ruins, the building methods, the pictographs and petroglyphs of the ancient peoples who’s spirits are in this Canyon. She cultivated relationships and consulted with the elders who were still living on ancestral lands and collaborated with Hopi artists to make her concepts realities.

I will never be able to capture what I saw in words or photos, no matter how many of both I use to try to describe it. You have to be there, to breathe in the spirit and feel the depth of the experience. As you walk up the winding staircase to the top of the tower, Mary has cut out windows in the walls, which frame views going 360 degrees around the tower. If we had been there the day before we would have seen only clouds, but that day, at that time, the sky was perfectly blue and we saw for the first time the grandness of the Grand Canyon.

The Hopi People believe that they were born through a hole in the sky and were destined to work hard and wander the earth in search of their homeland. They believe that their Jerusalem is the Grand Canyon. Even though they now occupy only a small fraction of land in the Canyon, and they have been forced to abandon most of their land and their way of life, they still remain here, tied to this land. Mary Colter, helped me experience their rich history while wandering through the Watchtower, and Hopi house, which she also designed. Both buildings celebrate the cultures of the people who built their homes here, cultivated crops here, and prayed to their creator.

As we exited the Park from the East, I felt totally inspired. The blip was just that — a blip and it was over.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Has anyone heard of Winslow, Arizona?

When we spoke to the Ranger at the Petrified Forest National Park, he kindly gave us all sorts of tips to see the best spots in the Park, and then as a footnote suggested we stop in Winslow for dinner at La Posada, the best restaurant in Arizona.

That registered immediately with Marc, and we made a mental note. We did not make it to Winslow for dinner, but we did put it on our agenda for lunch the next day. Not knowing how large Winslow was we looked the address up on the internet and I was quite impressed with the website but we still didn't know exactly what to expect.

Ends up, La Posada (which is a hotel) is on historic Route 66. It was in it's day an amazing hotel built for the rich and famous traveling Route 66 from Chicago to LA. Around 1957 Interstate 40 was completed and all of the hotels and businesses on Route 66 died a quick death. La Posada had the same fate.

What I forgot to mention is what makes the original hotel especially amazing. It was designed by Mary Colter. I had never heard of her, but we were about to see several of her masterpieces in the days following our visit to Winslow and the La Posada Hotel.

Here is a blurb about her I found online:
Mary Colter trained at the California School of Design and was hired by the Fred Harvey Company in 1910, moving from interior designer to architect. Working with Native American art forms and artifacts, she helped redesign them into objects and architecture for Harvey’s commercial endeavors. One of the few women architects of her time, she completed twenty-one projects including a series of landmark hotels and commercial lodges throughout the Southwest.

And this from the La Posada website:
La Posada’s story weaves together two extraordinary visions. It begins with Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter and Fred Harvey, who hired Colter to design the hotel. It embodied her vision, from its architecture down to its finely crafted details. But La Posada closed in 1957; for the next 40 years, its future remained tenuous. Enter Allan Affeldt and his wife Tina Mion. Affeldt heard about the hotel and purchased it in 1997 after much negotiation, bringing with him a strong vision and commitment for returning La Posada to Colter’s original concept. Restoration started immediately and continues today, thanks to Affeldt’s efforts and the support of local preservationists, hotel guests, and a talented team of artisans and craftsmen.

This hotel/restaurant/trading post is hard to describe. We didn't see the original hotel, but the recreation is absolutely beautiful in every detail. Mary Colter is an absolute genius!

We had an amazing lunch at the hotel dining room, followed by a fab dessert. We thought seriously about spending the night, but of course they were all booked for the next week. Both the room rates and the restaurant pricing was unbelievably reasonable, so next time you are travelling on route 66, try La Posada!

And when you are in the Grand Canyon, you will see more of her work and if you are anything like me, it will bring you to tears. Really, that amazing in every way. Like a building that is a a perfect piece of art. More on this later.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Abducted again!

Either we were in a Petrified forest, or abducted again by Aliens! What we saw was not of this world!

At the Visitor Centre at the Petrified Forest National Park, we watched an informative film about the way in which tree trunks petrify. For those of you who know as little about this as we did, the short answer is that logs end up under water, buried in a sludge coating that keeps the wood from decaying. After millions of years a very interesting process occurs. Particles of water get trapped within the fibres of the tree trunks and the chemicals in the water, react with the fibres to eventually fuse together into quartz particles. Little by little, the entire tree trunk becomes rock.

While petrified wood can be found in many places around the world, there is a very large concentration of it in Petrified Forest National Park — or at least there was at one time, before millions of visitors began taking the forest home one piece at a time. It is estimated that one tonne of petrified wood leaves the park each month in peoples pockets. There is signage everywhere alerting you to the fact that it is a federal offense, punishable by being sent to jail and large fines. There is also a sign letting you know as you leave the park that you can be searched.

As we were passing the sign on the way out, it was already dark, but Marc commented that if we took a look under the sign, we would probably see piles of small pieces of petrified wood, that visitor’s who’s conscience got the better of them threw out of their windows before leaving the park! Apparently there are many people who get all the way home before they fess up. The Ranger station routinely receives packages with pieces of petrified wood together with heart felt apology letters!

While the petrified wood was fantastic geological sight to see, the Park itself was absolutely out of this world. We did not get an explanation for the rolling layered and crackled, purple, blue, and golden hills where the pieces of petrified wood have come to rest. We were there at sunset and with each moment, the colours and textures changed. We walked through this landscape, we really wondered if we were on another planet!

Toto, we are not in Utah anymore…

Walk down to the canyon floor
We crossed the border into Arizona and almost immediately, we felt the difference. Utah thanked us for coming and wished us well as we left. Arizona couldn’t give a crap.

The flat barren landscape was littered with weather worn simple buildings, surrounded by numerous old rusty trucks and farm vehicles and a lot of junk. A few horses grazed within fenced areas and groups of wild looking dogs gathered at gas stations and along the edge of the highway. Then there were groupings of small identical unadorned buildings, all the same, evenly spaced. We assumed that these were ramshackle accommodations for migrant workers, but there didn’t seem to be any crops.

No grocery stores, nothing that said a community of any kind lived here. It took us a while to clue in that we were driving through a Navajo Reservation.

Canyon De Chelly National Monument (pronounced De Shay) is in the centre of a large Navajo Reservation. Our best guess is that some kind of reciprocal agreement has been made between the Navajo Nation and the State of Arizona, to preserve the prehistoric Puebloan dwellings that can be found in the canyon.

There are two hotels at the entrance to the Park, and a lodge and picnic ground inside the park. All run by the Navajo. There is a road going through the park with viewpoints of the canyon, which our guide book assured us has views that rival the Grand Canyon (but on a smaller scale)*. The Ranger at the visitor centre gave us directions to the only hike down to the canyon that is allowed without a Navajo guide. Signs at each stop remind you to respect the inhabitants of the canyon and not to take pictures without permission.

The experience from the get go was overshadowed by the poverty we saw all around us and the ever present sense that we were trespassing — walking through someone’s front yard, who had been put on display against their will. The disparity between the visitors and the visited was in your face at every step.

Left: View of the Canyon. Top right: Spider Rock. Bottom right: Prehistoric Peubloan ruins

Looking at the photos today, a few days after the visit, I do see the beauty of the canyon, and I am glad we spent the morning there, even though at the time, I was distracted by the plight of these and so many aboriginal peoples all over the world, who have been segregated into areas devoid of a means of supporting themselves, by governments who take everything worthwhile from them and then pretend to preserve their artifacts.

We did walk down to the bottom of the canyon and spoke with some local artisans that were displaying their jewelry and pottery. I bought a pretty necklace that will remind me of the hike and the few hours we spent with the Navajo and the Puebloan ruins.

*As of the time of publishing this post, we are in the grand Canyon, and as picturesque as Canyon De Chelly was, it does NOT rival the grand Canyon!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What can I say about Arches National Park?

I think from day one, I have been at least three days behind in recording our exploits. Once in a while I get a few hours to myself where I am not falling off my feet, dead tired from hours of hiking in the sun, climbing sides of mountains, or wading through rushing rivers. Today I had the time to catch up, or at least to almost catch up but there is still a problem.

I have written four posts already today, and besides the fact that you are probably tired of reading so many posts all in one day, I am also out of headlines and creative ideas of how to craft an interesting story about the highlight of this weeks adventures — Arches National Park! Hard to believe, but I am actually speechless ...

Arches National Park is simply put, a park of natural arches. They are all amazingly beautiful and at every turn you see extraordinary structures. To add to this, we had a day in the park with clouds that added another dimension to the whole experience.

Basically, to visit the arches you have to either hike to them or drive to them. We hiked for four hours to the Devil's Garden where we saw a large number of them, followed by some drives to viewpoints and another long hike to the Delicate Arch, which was so worth it, even though I had had way too much sun and was a bit cranky. Then we drove to several more before the day was done. The next day Marc took a guided tour to the Firey Furnace to conclude our trip to the arches.

I think this was my favourite park so far, which is hard to believe, because they have all been outstanding.

If I manage to post this tonight, I will actually be completely caught up — that is until tomorrow — when it all starts again, but it will feel really good to have a clean slate if you know what I mean, even if I haven't really given Arches the prominence it deserves.

So please enjoy the photos, knowing they can not capture the true grandeur of this place. Just look at each one and try to imagine it looking 10 times better than the photo and then you will be almost there.

Canyon Lands National Park — Remote and desolate

As you drive into the park, there are several signs alerting you to the fact that there is no food or services in the park. For that mater, aside from the taps at the Information Centre, there is no water. In Marc's notes for the day here, he has bullet points to remind himself to gas up and have supplies for the day before entering the Park.

We have just left the Days Inn and are imagining that we are covered in bites (see Moab post for details) and that the sand flies we found in our room are in our suitcases copulating, laying eggs and feeling quite at home. Even with this on our minds, we do gas up and prepare for a day in this remote badlands of Canyon Lands.

This description from Wikipedia (along with it's links) will help explain the photos:

Canyonlands National Park is a U.S. National Park located in southeastern Utah near the town of Moab and preserves a colorful landscape eroded into countless canyons, mesas and buttes by the Colorado River, the Green River, and their respective tributaries. The park is divided into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. While these areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character. The park covers 527.5 square miles (1,366 km2). Canyons are carved into the Colorado Plateau by the Colorado River and Green River.[3] Author Edward Abbey, a frequent visitor, described the Canyonlands as "the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere."

We manage to take in a Ranger talk, once again amazed at these young men and women, who are so knowledgeable about the Parks they are working in. She described the history of Uranium mining here, and the soil and water reclamation underway to clean up the mess left behind in the tailing ponds. The story of the Uranium, gave her a creative way to explain the geology of the area and was very informative.

I personally found the landscape unappealing and harsh, but the way the Colorado and Green Rivers have carved this landscape is quite a sight to see. I was looking forward to the next day at Arches National Park, where the geology is much more uplifting. More on that later!

Moab — A few bugs in our plans

So far this trip, we have had incredible experiences with great and inexpensive accommodations. Even with the crowded conditions (way more tourists than we expected) and our last minute planning, we have managed to luck out. I guess that is why our first night's accommodation in Moab was particularly disappointing.

We arrived in Moab way before sunset (which is really unusual for us) and easily found our prebooked Days Inn. We could tell from the outside of the Motel that our luck had probably run out, but we got up to our room and were pleasantly surprised — at least at first. The clogged shower drain should have been our first clue.

We cleaned up as best we could with a tub filling up with the scummy water from a our day of hiking, and drove over to a restaurant recommended by the local 20 something young lady sitting behind the Days Inn reception desk. Dinner was great, but we were bushed, so back we went to the hotel and we made it an early night. We noticed on our drive to the restaurant and back, that the centre of town consisted of chock a block hotels and motels. Almost all with "no vacancy" signs. We were glad we had preplanned for once and booked for two nights!

When we returned after dinner, the owner was behind the desk. I mentioned courteously that our drain was plugged. "Sure, sure, I will look after it in the morning", he assured me. 

I got up first the next morning, and noticed when I turned on the light that there were bugs everywhere. They looked dead, but when I got closer they started moving. Not bed bugs luckily, but bugs none the less. They seemed to be concentrated around the sink, so I didn't panic, but I was needless to say — unhappy.

We went down for our complimentary breakfast and thought about strategies. We knew most or all hotels were booked as well as most campgrounds. Ask for another room in this hotel? Hard to imagine other rooms would be any better ... It was Saturday and the busiest day for finding a hotel or a campground.

Back in our room, the situation intensified. We noticed to our horror that the bed was also spotted with bugs. At the same time there was a knock on the door and the cleaning person came in to clean the room. I showed her the bugs and she looked horrified. "I call the manager right away!"

Five minutes later she returned with three cans of various bug sprays and told me that the manager would speak to me at the reception desk!

I was pretty worked up by the time I got downstairs. The owner was all smiles and explained that we are in the desert and these sand flies are everywhere. A quick spray and all will be well. I tried to explain to him that I was not at all interested in staying in a room sprayed with poison. "Oh no!" he said. "It is not poison, it will just make you safe from the bugs". We had a bit of a lengthy conversation about the absurdity of his argument. Needless to say, we were able to check out, with no penalty for the second night reservation. He was as glad to see the back of us as we were to get our bags out the door.

I am happy to report that the same evening after a full day in Canyon Lands National Park, against all odds, we did find a wonderful hotel — Comfort Suites which I would recommend highly. No bugs, beautifully appointed rooms, extensive hot breakfast and laundry facilities to boot. We settled in for two nights, as our base for Arches National Park.

A visit to Capitol Reef National Park

As the sun rose the next morning we headed for the small town of Torrey for breakfast before entering Capitol Reef National Park. At the junction we noticed a cafe called Coffee and Candy. The parking lot was full so we figured we were at the right spot. The place was packed with locals and groups of people dressed in hunting fatigues. Lots of interesting conversations to eavesdrop on while we waited patiently for our breakfast. Well worth the wait, the breakfast was superb and the coffee even better (and there was candy as well, home made chocolates and saltwater taffy, but we held back ...). Our bellies full, we headed down the road for our first hike, Chimney Rock.

Just inside the west entrance to Capitol Reef along UT 24, the Chimney Rock Trail is described as the best short path in the national park, as it is relatively short, not too steep, provides the shortest hike to a high elevation viewpoint, and passes varied surroundings. We were both glad to have gotten this under our belt before the heat of the day.

We stopped at the Capital Reef Visitor Centre to get oriented for our days activities. This area was originally a Mormon settlement, established in1880. The town became known as Fruita around 1902, due to the large fruit orchards planted here. The National Park Service purchased the town in 1955 to be included in Capitol Reef National Park. The orchards are still maintained and you can eat as much fruit as you want while visiting the orchards. Anything you take out in a bag is $1 a pound. Pears were ready for picking the day we were there.

We spent a few hours in the Fruita area, visiting the few remaining historic buildings and stopping at the small museum and store for a delectable home baked three berry pie, spinach olive bread and a vanilla cream soda. Marc couldn't resist the home made ice cream, and quickly created an ice cream soda. We sat and contemplated the view as we ate our mid day snack.

We also learned about the Freemont culture and viewed petroglyphs, with the help of yet another intelligent and entertaining Park Ranger.

Our final hike in the area took us to Petroglyph Narrows, which once was an actual road built 100 years ago. Today after many flash floods, it makes for a challenging and beautiful hike.

At the end of the trail, you are rewarded with natural water collection pools called tanks. On this particular day, it was not much of a reward. One pool was indeed filled with water, but not a very inviting sight. Looked more like a breeding ground for mosquitoes than anything else!

We had a three hour drive ahead of us to make it to Moab where we would be staying for the next three nights. So we bid our farewells to Fruita and Capitol Reef and were on the road again!