A Long Drive
Updated: Feb 7, 2019
Light poured into the darkness on the horizon like milk in coffee. In the foreground, the cliffs were black. The details of the terrain were lost in the shadows.
We started the drive at 4:06am. My mom woke us up around 3 and we were wished farewell with my dad’s infamous breakfast burritos.
Three hours south and I’d lost some of my gusto. Rain poured the entire time and there was hardly any traffic to keep my attention. An alert on my ’17 Corolla asked, “Would you like to take a break?”
I pulled into a 76 station off the highway to switch seats. I refilled our coffee cups and the gas tank. We’d already exited Washington and breezed through Portland.
Ravi talks on the phone to keep himself awake. I thought I’d take a nap, but his side of the call is a lot louder than I expected.
Traveling east on the Oregon Trail, the sun has revealed the landscape. It’s hilly to the left and jagged to the right. The grass is blonde and the sky has turned a sea foam green color. 967 miles left to go today. We’re making our way to Columbia City, Arizona for our first overnight.
Oregon lasted hours. Beyond hills, black cattle, and the remnants of the Pacific Northwestern evergreen forests, it was unmemorable. Idaho was even less so. The hills laid out into beige flatlands. Spread out towns, if you could call them, were mostly grey warehouse buildings. Tumbleweeds crossed the highway, prompting me to sing the Wild West jingle from the cliched cowboy films.
The second half of Idaho was farmland. Cornfields, potato crops, and one with a thousand little grazing lambs. I so wish there were more interesting things to write about, but alas, it was Idaho.
Utah was busier. We sat through some light Salt Lake City traffic. I saw the first KFC, which is just south of the city. Some homes on the side of the highway were beautiful- we looked them up on Zillow and found out how huge and well-priced they were. The sun started to dip, so I took a rather lengthy nap. We never stopped for dinner. When I woke, it was dark and I ate some pretzels and hummus. Hopefully I lose a pound or two on this trip.
Our GPS told us we’d arrive at 9:30pm. It continued to say this even when it was past 10pm. Turns out, Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time, so we kept waiting for MDT to become MST on our phones. We tried to stop at a grocery store that closed at 10pm. It was 9:20 MST, but 10:20 MDT. We couldn’t figure out why they were closed, since it’s not Navajo territory, which is the only area of Arizona with DST. Very confusing.
We booked an AirBnB for the night. It was a guest suite in a big home in the middle of absolute nowhere. There weren’t streetlights, we had no idea what time it was, and the owner of the home gave us some directions about mile markers since she swore the GPS would lead us astray. When we finally did find it, we let ourselves in the private entrance and mixed a couple cocktails with some nips we'd stashed in the glove box.
AirBnB is seriously the coolest idea. We didn’t meet the homeowners. There wasn’t a hotel for miles. Clean, bright, and quaint. When we woke up, we saw what the night had hidden- massive red-striped cliffs of Zion National Park. My phone updated for MST, by the way. Ravi’s never did.
In Colorado City, Arizona, there are four restaurants. Two of them are open for breakfast, one of which is a pizza restaurant that had good reviews. Berry Knoll Pizza Bakery was supposed to be a quick little nothing bakery in a nothing town, but I imagine it will be one of the most memorable parts of our journey. It was spacious and attractive with well-designed branding. This café deserves attention. If you’re ever going to Zion national park, figure out how to get to this bakery for breakfast.
Ravi had a ham and egg melt, which is as it sounds on house-baked toast. I had biscuits and gravy, which was an herbaceous toasted biscuit topped with a sausage patty and an over-easy egg, drowned in white pan gravy. I love you, mom, but this was the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had.
Caffe Ibis’ Highlander Grogg was the self-serve coffee option. The bouquet was full of vanilla, hazelnuts, and scotch. I typically need some creamer to silence the acid of black coffee, but this blend was smooth as silk. I must order some of this, both for myself and to send to Emily back in the PNW. It tastes the way a warm sweater feels on a brisk morning; the way holding hands feels in a snow-dusted UK market.
It was overcast. On one side of the highway, the sky was vertically striped with sunbeams fighting their way through the clouds. The pink and red rock jutted out of the landscape in most places. We’d been directed back into Utah for a bit of tourism, so the striped cliffs became lighter in color and seemingly more jagged.
Everything out here seemed vast; vast expanses of open field, vast ridges, vast skies of the same color and cloud pattern. Nothing individually interesting, but stunning as a complete picture.
The ground split apart into canyons. If the infrastructure of power lines, roads, and bridges weren’t interrupting every view, it would look like driving on mars. Powerful rivers charged through the wedges they’d created over centuries.
We pulled up into the area of lower Antelope Canyon, which sits in Navajo Nation, that is somehow both in Arizona and Utah. Apparently, due to deaths and vandalism in the 1990s, Antelope Canyon exploration is exclusive to tour participants. We thought we’d get to walk through and click some pictures, spending as much time as we were comfortable with, without spending any money. We should have known: if it’s interesting, it’s not free.
The tour started at 12 noon. My phone said it was 11:48, so that seemed reasonable. Another interesting fact- tours in Navajo Nation are on Arizona’s MST time, not on Navajo Nation’s MDT. My phone read the actual time, but the tourism village didn’t follow that time. It is a wonder how anyone here could possibly know what time it is, ever.
We grabbed a beer at DAM Bar and Grill in Page, AZ and shared frustration about the time zones with the bartender. She explained about the time zone in Colorado City, though. She said that half the town is in Utah and half is in Arizona, so they probably would have had to choose whichever time zone they liked better.
We downed a pint and headed back to Ken’s Tours. Tickets are $50.40 each, but we were already there and already interested in seeing the big hole. Our guide was Brandon, a young man native of the area. He led our group down metal stairs that had been designed to almost be a part of the canyon. The walls ruffled up from the base. Even in the clouds, the sunlight hugged every curve.
The walls were smooth from all the ware. The canyon was carved by flash flooding from nearby rivers. Some ripples were close together and others looked like full waves. Old red-paint handprints were lightly visible on the walls. Brandon told us they were Native American prints that had eroded away, since his ancestors used the canyon to hide from the US government. He also pointed out interesting light patterns that resembled animals, like bears and horses. He would take each of our phones and take some of the photos for us, just so we wouldn’t miss the perfect placement.
It was magical. Every bend cut open in different places. Ledges were lower in some areas, so it was often necessary to duck or sneak around like a proper explorer. Footholes were still cut into some places, from before 1993, when the stairs were built. Imagine people climbing down rope ladders in a canyon that hadn’t been recognized as a tourist destination. Maybe I’m just not the type.
Halfway through the tour, I had an immediate urge to pee. I was so distracted- I couldn’t hold a conversation or take good pictures of Ravi within the stone playground. I went ahead, fast forwarding my tour about 15 minutes. I didn’t feel like I missed much, but maybe I was just uber positive after the rush of endorphins that came with relieving myself.
When Ravi returned, we went back into the little town and ate some half-assed Mexican food before the skies ripped open and we drove the next several hours in torrential downpour.
“When you stay in Albuquerque, you stay in a Casita.” Don’t know where I heard that, but it certainly influenced my choice of AirBnB.
We arrived around 10pm to a gated compound of small homes made of adobe. They were painted in southwestern salmon with turquoise trim. Through the small pebbled courtyard was our casita, with a little bench outside.
The door was tightly fit and the architecture was quirky. The furniture inside was small, as if a little old lady lived there. The homeowner had warned us about roaches, due to the heavy rainfall. Annoying, but I’m not a snob and you have to expect a couple bugs when you stay in any home that’s old or mudbrick.
The owner recommended a few local places, one of which was Marble Brewery. She said that Bryan Cranston visited often after filming Breaking Bad. We’re Breaking Bad fans.
The brewery was massive. The kettles and pipes inside the brewery were exposed to the parking lot. They must have been 30 feet tall. The tasting room was wide open and the tables were communal. At the bar, couples were spaced out by one seat, preventing anyone new from being seated. We grabbed a couple stools at a long wooden table. I had the Pumpkin Noir and he had a Brut IPA, “This is How We Brut It.” Very tasty beers.
Once the tasting room closed, we moved on to Bar Uno in downtown. A very drunk man in his early thirties spent too much time talking about his unbelievable life experiences. The bartender’s eyes rolled so hard they almost fell out of his head. I drank Scotia- something clover-honey colored and high in alcohol content, and Ravi had an Amber (as he should).
The bartender told us about the Candy Lady, who was contracted to make the blue meth prop in the first and second seasons of Breaking Bad. It’s rock candy!
I drove us back to our little casita. The bed was like a cloud that night- easily the best sleep I'd gotten since we'd been at my parents' house.
We woke up late and leisurely drove to Texas. New Mexico was snowing. Then the wind in western Texas nearly threw us into a ravine.
I was so surprised by how flat Texas was. I'm used to hills and mountains and lakes and oceans. There's movement in the land in the PNW. Texas is flat and it goes on forever.
In the evening, finally, we'd reached Dallas. We didn't have an apartment. We didn't really have a plan, actually. We just knew we needed to be in Dallas and that's where we are now.