Back to the Desert

Day 13 brings me to the mountainous desert around Salt Lake.

Despite my less than perfect accommodations, I slept reasonably well. I think it’s because of the sound of flowing water that came in through the door to the back deck. I’d left the door open a few inches, trusting the lock on the screen door to keep out any hotel guests who might be wandering around on the deck. I was in the end room, so the chance of someone walking by my door on their way to another room was remote.

I showered. It was the first motel shower I’d encountered in a long time that couldn’t keep a steady water temperature. Every time one of my neighbors flushed the toilet, I’d come close to getting scalded. The third time this happened, I shut the water off and called it quits.

I packed up the car, checked out, and headed south on 89. I had a Doubleshot to meet my caffeine needs. (My friend Lorna, who has been reading these entries faithfully from her home in Maine, e-mailed me to ask what a Doubleshot is. In case you don’t know, here’s the scoop. A Doubleshot is a canned Starbucks coffee drink. It’s an easy way to get a caffeine fix when I’m on the road. I usually buy a couple of them when I’m in a supermarket and keep them in my cooler. When I can’t find decent coffee elsewhere, I drink a doubleshot. I don’t really like them — they’re too sweet for my taste — but they’re easy.)The road began by following the Snake River through a canyon. When it reached the town of Alpine, WY, the Snake River curved to the northwest while I headed south. Alpine was a nice little town with a lot of tasteful new construction and small businesses. The town was very quiet — it wasn’t even 8 AM yet. I almost passed a drive-up coffee stand. When I spotted it, I hit my brakes hard and pulled in for a latte.

The building was tall and it was quite a reach up to the woman inside it. My Clarkston reused coffee grinds experience had left me a little leery of coffee stands, but I had nothing to worry about here. The woman, who was very friendly, made me an excellent large triple latte. I asked her whether she owned the booth and she told me she didn’t. In fact, it was her last day at work. She was moving back to Spokane, WA. The woman who owned the booth was doing okay, but it was hard to do well in the town because of its heavy Mormon population. I later discovered that Mormons don’t drink coffee. I guess a coffee shop in a Mormon town would be like opening up a pork store in New York’s Lower East Side.

From Alpine, I headed due south on 89, which lies on the east side of the Wyoming/Idaho border. I was in farmland again, but at an elevation well over 5,000 feet. Wheat and alfalfa seemed to be the big crops. One alfalfa field had just been cut — probably the previous day — and the smell of the fresh alfalfa was rich and sweet.

I think I was in Afton when I saw the car wash and pulled in. I’d managed to call Megg on my cell phone and arrange to go to her house in North Salt Lake City that afternoon. My car was dirty and I didn’t want to make a bad impression. So I washed it for the third time on my trip. This time, it was the dirtiest it had been so far. The bug situation in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming is bad and the front of the car was pretty much plastered with dead bugs of all shapes, sizes, and colors. It took six minutes worth of car wash time to get it all off. I dried it with my rags and dusted off the dashboard. Much better.

I crossed into Idaho at Geneva Summit, which was 6,938 feet. That put me into a long valley with a succession of towns: Montpelier, Ovid, Paris, St. Charles, Fish Haven, and Garden City. Every town I drove through was remarkably quiet — nothing seemed to be open. Except the church, of course. All the church parking lots were full and I saw more than a few well-dressed people out on the streets, walking to or from church. Things changed a bit when I got near Bear Lake. Lots of people were out and about at the lake, in boats and in public access areas. There was a lot of housing on the lake side of the road with plenty of Private and No Beach Access signs to keep people out.

Bear Lake

Somewhere between Fish Haven and Garden City, I passed into Utah, the ninth state I’d visited on my trip. At Garden City, I got on route 30 and followed that around the south end of the lake. I climbed a hill and immediately realized that I had slipped into high desert terrain. The vegetation on both sides of the road consisted of tall grass, sage, and a variety of other desert plants. I was getting closer to home, leaving the water wonderland I’d enjoyed since entering Oregon more than a week before. I felt disappointed and did not look forward to what I’d drive through ahead: dry desert, hot sun, empty riverbeds. I realized that I’d fallen out of love with the desert.

I turned right on route 16 with a bunch of other cars, heading southbound. More farmland, but not much more. I passed the bunch of cars, tired of breathing their exhaust. Later, I turned right again onto route 39, heading west. The road climbed and climbed and climbed. I kept checking my GPS for elevation information and the number kept going up. I was certain that when I reached the top of the mountains, there would be a lookout where I could see Salt Lake. I crossed over the Monte Cristo Summit, at 9000 feet, and started down. There was no lookout. The road dropped into a canyon with a small stream on either side. It twisted and turned as it descended. I passed two pickup trucks and some kind of Volkswagen — a Jetta, maybe? — blew past me.

I spotted a restaurant on the left and made a harrowing turn into a parking space. I needed a bathroom and lunch, in that order. I asked for them in reverse order. It would be a 20 minute wait to eat outside on the patio, which looked like a good place to eat. I got directions to the ladies room and while I was doing my business, decided I didn’t feel like waiting. Instead, I’d find a shady spot in a park and eat some of the food in my cooler. So I left and continued on my way.

Trouble was, there was no shady spot in a park. All I passed were campgrounds, and since it was Sunday at midday, all of the campgrounds were full. So I kept driving.

The road dumped me down in Ogden. I got on a main avenue that was also labeled route 89 and headed south toward Salt Lake. I wasn’t in a hurry. I was supposed to meet Megg at around four and it was only 1:30. That meant I had time to kill.

I should have killed time up in Ogden, because when I got closer to North Salt Lake, all of the shops and businesses were closed again. It would not be a good place to kill time. I drove all the way down to the city, then came all the way back up to Bountiful, where I found a Barnes and Noble that was open. I killed over an hour in there, buying books for myself (as if I needed them) and for Megg’s son, Cooper. Then I hopped over to the Taco Bell for a bite to eat. Then I drove around some more. It was around four and I was in a Smith’s parking lot, after buying two pies for Megg and her family, when I finally connected with Megg. I was five minutes from her house. She gave me directions and I made my way over there.

Megg is one of my editors. She works with me on my Quicken Official Guide books, which I’ve been revising faithfully since the Quicken 99 edition back in 1998. Megg hasn’t been stuck with me that long. She inherited me from my first editor on that book, Joanne, about five years ago.

Megg has a lovely and very large house on a hill overlooking the North Salt Lake area. Excellent views, plenty of space. And a very comfy guest room. I met her son and her husband. I then proceeded to join her for a very relaxing afternoon and evening.

What do you think?