Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig

 

day-eight-1-of-3This is probably a good place to play post apocalyptic power struggle games. It’s also probably a good place to have a rusty shank slipped into one of your organs.

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I’ve had some rough travel days (getting a wicked butt sunburn the day before a 7 hour flight, sleep deprivation, minor illness, etc) but this day was, by far, the worst travel day I’ve ever had. I was at peak illness, the kind of sick where just getting out of bed to sit in one place for hours on end seemed like an insurmountable task.  It started off bright and early with a trip to the Boise Whole Foods, where Emily made me drink something that tasted like a berry-flavored sheep’s stomach and also pushed some other kind of cold medicine in my general direction. Rachel offered me some sudafed, but like all nervous white people, I’d heard that episode of This American Life about acetaminophen and I had no idea how it would react with the aforementioned berried grassbile, so I declined.

I clung tight to that nervous no for at least a couple of hours, until we started going through some large changes in elevation fairly quickly. My ears were super plugged, and at one point, the pressure and pain in them was so severe that it seemed a likely possibility that my eardrums would rupture. I begged Emily to pull over at the next available exit to give my ears a break and then I sat out on a bench in front of a gas station, stuffed some pills in my facehole, and sobbed like a baby, which is a sure way to win the love and respect of the other people in the car who were probably already a little tired of your shit. Speaking of which, I promise to never give sideeye in the direction of a crying baby on a flight ever again, because those babies are tougher than me. I eventually collected myself and got back in the car, the sudafed making the rest of the day’s mountain passes more bearable. And dang, it was nice to see the rich green of the Cascades after a week in the desert, because after twelve years in this state, seeing them feels like coming home.

So, could a powerlifting animal rights activist, a driven psychology student, and a loudmouthed crybaby fart machine spend eight days and nights together in close quarters and remain friends? Or at least not intentionally drive off a cliff to end all of the farting and inappropriate jokes?

 

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Yes. Yes we could. Stay tuned for Sarcasm and Stomach Bugs 2017: The Harpies Take Manhattan*!

 

*Not actually a thing. Yet.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Vast and Salty

After a night filled with dreams about car crashes (thanks, brain), I awoke to discover that my sore throat was not, in fact, the result of having yelled too much at deer about making poor life choices but was instead the onset of a brutal cold.  It may be worth considering that I’m spending too much time locked in my home away from the world’s germs if every time I spend more than a few days away, I end up succumbing to illness, and that maybe I’d be a little more robustly healthy if I spent just a little more time around other people. Or, I could stay home and play just as much World of Warcraft if I just asked the UPS guy to cough on me every time he delivers something I ordered via Amazon Prime. That’d work, too.

At that point, it was just a bad sore throat, so while Emily and Rachel finished breakfast and packed up their belongings, I struck out across the street in search of throat lozenges and found these totally adorable murals painted on the gas station and grocery store.

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Before we left town, I wanted to swing by and see the “giant shopping cart” at Honey’s Marketplace that I saw listed on Roadside America. Because a lot of their content is user-submitted, sometimes I’m rewarded with something truly awesome, and sometimes, well…

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My opinion on the shopping cart would have changed a lot if I was able to go sit up in the basket like an oversized toddler, but Honey’s Marketplace evidently doesn’t give a fig about my opinion. What they did have was yet another vehicle from the movie “Cars”, marking the third “Cars” vehicle we’ve seen in Utah. And this one talked.

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He also talked about their fine selection of french bread…ooh-la-la, managing to be both funny and creepy at the same time. I’m just jealous that there is no talking anything outside of my local grocery store. 

Kanab is the filming location of over 100 movies and a number of tv series, and I’d tentatively put a stop at Little Hollywood Land on the itinerary, but given that our scheduled endpoint for the day was Boise, Idaho, I didn’t feel as inclined to spend a lot of time in Kanab before we left, knowing that would definitely make for another very late hotel arrival and gas station dinner, and I was still feeling a little bitter about the previous day’s late arrival and gas station dinner. All I wanted was a steak the size of a wagon wheel, Kanab! From a sit down restaurant where I could also get a gin and tonic to help me forget about the terrors of the night cows! Or barring that, some goddamned fries and a frosty! We did pull off shortly to take some photos of the scenery, and when I stopped being struck by the view, I realized that there was an entire group of people behind us firing guns into an embankment, protecting us all from some encroaching dirt or something. ‘Murrica!

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I also found it deeply important that we stop at this place with ho-made pie, because I’m the sort of immature person who will always laugh at a sign like this. No one wanted to take a picture with me under a sign indicating that they were a woman both of the evening and of the kitchen for some reason that I can’t begin to fathom.

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Then I tied a bandana over my face* and passed out in the backseat for a while.

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When I awoke, we had stopped at a gas station in Beaver, Utah, and I’m glad that I woke up, because it’s possible that nothing will ever make me laugh harder than a sign for fresh beaver tacos. Because, again, I am immature.

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An hour or more outside the Bonneville Salt Flats, the landscape already was looking seriously salty. As in, the ground looks like it’s covered with snow but it’s actually salt. There were piles of salt so enormous that it was hard to fathom their size, piles of salt so huge they absolutely dwarfed trains and construction equipment. And here I am, paying a couple of bucks for a cannister of salt like a sucker, when I could have brought a bucket with me and filled up a lifetime’s worth of salt for free. Plus the cost of the trip. But that doesn’t count, right?

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And then there’s this thing, a erect pole with salty balls.

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And finally, we were there–the Bonneville Salt Flats, home of some land speed record runs or something. I was much more interested in taking off my bandana for a little while, breathing in some salty air, and checking out the scenery.

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But first, I checked out the flying penis monster on the Bonneville Salt Flats garbage can. Because flying penis monster, obviously that’s where my eyes would go first. It’s like you don’t even know me.

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The Bonneville Salt flats are 30,000 acres of nothing but salt and water. Or sometimes just salt I would imagine, since it’s hard to set land speed records in calf deep water. No insects, no plants, one dead tree. They were, in Rachel’s words, “vast and salty”.  And once we’d heard it described that way, it was difficult to find any other words to describe it. Large and salt-filled? Grand and, uh, high salinity? So vast and salty it was and is. Rachel was the only one of us who ventured into the water, and once again using her lyrical magic, described it as “warm and gross”.  So, vast and salty and warm and gross. That’s about the long and short of it. I was surprised at how many families were out playing in the water in swimsuits, and how many dogs they brought up to the edge even with numerous signs prohibiting it. I also briefly considered scooping some up and gargling with it to see if it would benefit my sore throat, but then almost immediately reconsidered it, because every once in a while, I can make a good decision. Not often, not consistently, but every once in a while.

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After we’d gandered enough at the vast saltiness, I was feeling well enough to take a shift behind the wheel, and I drove us from the salt flats the rest of the way to Boise, taking us through a corner of the last new state we’d visit on the trip, Nevada. This route took us on a number of two lane roads, which meant I got to recreate some of my favorite scenes from Fury Road and shout “WITNESS ME, I AM AWAITED IN VALHALLA” while passing Sunday drivers on their way to and from spending their pension at the casinos.

We drove into Boise just as the sun was setting, and since we were going west, that meant driving straight into the blinding sun. Straight into the blinding sun as wind shears were grabbing the car. Emily was looking up options for places to go for dinner and telling us about them, and it was right at that moment that my sickness fully set in. In case you’ve never experienced a special moment like this, I’ll do my best to explain. It’s the point where I go from “I think I’m getting sick” to “Oh fuck, I’m sick. I am so sick”. My ears close up, my eyesight goes to tunnel vision, there’s an overwhelming stuffy sensation of being a balloon headed monster in a world that hates balloons. So, to reiterate, I was driving directly into the blinding sun, wind was grabbing and shaking the car, my hearing went from fine to being able to hear very little but the underwater whooshing sound of my blood gravy rushing to my face in a hot sweat and my world has collapsed to that blinding tunnel in front of me. Oh, and for some reason, I also had simultaneous searing gas pain, the kind of fart that rips through your intestines with razor blades, only we’d just had a conversation in the car where I learned that Emily’s husband isn’t even allowed to fart in a room that’s not the bathroom so there was no way I was letting that motherfucker go. My anus was Alcatraz. And my poker face is so goddamn good that I’m pretty certain no one in the car had any idea that any of this was going on, inside of me and outside of me, all at once.  At least until the point where we reached our exit and I snapped that the directions were going to have to be given a lot more loudly because I couldn’t hear anything (and also because I was still holding in The Devil’s Fart and he was angry about his imprisonment). I remember very little from the rest of that night. There wasn’t much to remember for me: as soon as we checked in, I went straight to bed.

 

 

*Why the bandana? They say hunting humans is the most dangerous game. I would like to posit that the most dangerous game is trying not to get sick when trapped in a car with a sick person and recirculated air conditioning for fourteen hour days. Considering there were two other people in the car who needed to get back to work and school and not take still more time off for illness, I wanted to do everything I could to keep from infecting anyone else. The bandana was my best option for making sure the worst of my germ goblins stayed with or on my person, even if (when) I fell alseep and wouldn’t be in control of coughs and sneezes. Basically the car version of how I treat Jason when he’s sick. AND IT WORKED.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: At Night, The Bison Come

I’m not going to name names, but a very stupid and naive person once said “There’s no drive as long or as tense as the one to a gas station of indeterminate distance when your gas light has just ticked on.” That is patently untrue, and I know this because I have made two drives since that were much longer and much more tense: the drives to and from the Grand Canyon. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

No trip to the southwest is complete without a gander at the biggest goddamn hole in the world. The Grand Canyon is actually so large that the north and south rims of it are drastically different. Most photos and videos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon are from the south rim: rocky and dotted with desert scrub, the elevation is lower than the north rim, which makes it easier to see the other side and appreciate its, uh, grandness. The south rim is also the side that offers mule rides and helicopter tours, and has that skywalk that will test one’s comfort levels with heights. Owing to our route, visiting the south rim would have involved more backtracking and made for an overall longer day, so we went to the more hipster north rim, which is heavily forested and cooler, both because of the aforementioned forest and elevation, and because you then get to say that you visited a part of a national park that’s like, totally more obscure.

Heavily forested is where the problems came in. We were actually making excellent time from Antelope Canyon, and were poised to arrive at the Grand Canyon just before sunset which would give us a view of this natural wonder in the most gorgeous light possible. We turned off onto the road that leads to the north rim, and I was just congratulating myself for timing the day juuuust right when I saw the deer warning sign. With a deer under it. Every other time I’ve driven past a deer warning sign, I have not seen a single deer. Not a single one. Between that first deer and the parking lot for the north rim, a distance of about thirty miles,  I saw literally hundreds of deer. On summer trips to Eagle River, Wisconsin, my family would go on car rides in the evening to go look for deer. I could add all of the deer sightings of all of those summer trips together and still come up short of the sheer number of deer I saw on that thirty mile stretch. Deer ambling across the road, deer cropping alongside, deer churning in heaving waves across a stretch of meadow, a frothing sea of fucking deer. I drove, white knuckled, the entire stretch to the north rim. Less so drove than crept, foot hovering over the brakes, looking in despair as the sun began to slip down over the horizon, the sky bursting in gorgeous color that I could not appreciate because I was desperate to not destroy Emily’s new car via gutwrenching deer incident. And then came the warning signs for cows. And bison. And now that I knew that they were totally not kidding about the deer, I took these warnings very seriously and wailed in despair at the thought of more thousand pound plus animals that could come charging blindly at the car. What warning signs would be next? Warning: Elephants? Warning: A Damn Landwhale?

When we finally made it to the parking lot, Emily got behind the steering wheel and said she’d find parking while Rachel and I dashed out to try and get a peek before darkness totally overtook the canyon in a way that would make dashing irresponsible, lest one of the less-coordinated members of our organization (me, I’m talking about me) trips over a rock and hurtles over an unseen edge.

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The admittedly small taste I got of the Grand Canyon was tantalizing. I absolutely want to go back and spend some more time looking at this giant hole in the ground, do some hiking around, enjoy it while I don’t have a stress knot in my back from running through brain scenarios where I trash an expensive vehicle, kill an animal and possibly one of my friends, and leave us stranded on the side of the road thousands of miles from home. You know, those kinds of calming mantras that tend to always pop up whenever they can make a bad situation more stressful because my brain is helpful like that. I’m fairly certain that if I ever got into a really bad situation, like one of those “trapped under a boulder and I’d have to cut off my own arm to survive” type things, my brain would chime in and convince the rest of my organs to just go ahead and die on the spot because it’d be easier. Sort of a biological “nope, everything is too fucked up” force shut down.

We somehow managed to find Emily in the now pitch darkness and set off for our day’s final destination of Kanab, Utah. I got behind the wheel again as it was still my turn, and I figured the drive out had to be less harrowing than the drive in–the deer would be less active now, right?

WRONG.

Having borne witness to the sheer masses of deer within the park on the way in, we were on high deer alert on the way out, and for some reason, decided to count them. You know, for funsies. We spotted deer number one almost immediately. My hands clenched into fear fists around the steering wheel. In the dark, the most reliable way to spot a deer is to look for the glint of reflected headlights in their stupid, stupid eyes.  And spot them we did. Deer two, deer three, deer four, deer five…deer six charged directly at the car. Road trip radio seemed to be making light of the situation with a selection of music that seemed almost diabolical.

Slow ride, take it easy
Slow ride, take it easy

Deer twenty, deer twenty one, deer twenty two–HOLY SHIT WAS THAT AN OWL THAT JUST SWOOPED DOWN AT OUR WINDSHIELD? Why does nature hate us?!

Deer forty three, deer forty four, deer forty five…we began to do that hysterical kind of screechy laughter that happens when you’re in a situation that is entirely out of your control and is simultaneously scary and ridiculous. Cars blazed up behind us, swerved around us, and disappeared into the night. Have they never seen a deer explode over the hood of a car before? Were we the only ones being threatened by this hoofed menace?

It’s the final coundown, whoaaaa
It’s the final coundown

And just as we pulled off of the park road and I began to breathe a sigh of relief that the worst was over, I slammed on the brakes and screamed as a cow appeared from out of the darkness inches from the bumper, placidly chewing its cud. The worst was not, in fact, over. Ahead of us we faced another deadline: get to Kanab before their only restaurant open this late, the paragon of fine cuisine otherwise known as a Wendy’s, closed for the night. The Race for Fries had begun. Rabbits dashed out in front of the car, another owl swooped at our headlights, and I did my best to keep from smooshing anything in my quest to get to Kanab on time for a hot meal.

We got to Kanab just before 10pm. Wendy, that bitch, had decided to close early, so we made a meal out of whatever we could scavenge that sounded appealing from the lonely Kanab 7-11. And I mean, bless them for being open, but if I never have to eat one of their sad dry refrigerated sandwiches again, I would be just fine with that. I didn’t end up eating much, anyway–my throat hurt from all of the gasping and laugh-shrieking and just plain screaming, and I was more than ready to call it a night and await the coming of the light, when suicidal animals would be a lot more visible.

Final count:

  • 65 murder deer
  • 2 owls
  • 2 night cows
  • 14 rabbits
  • 1 cat
  • and the ominous ever present threat of the night bison

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Escape From Santa Fe

 I slept poorly my last night in Santa Fe, tossing and turning fitfully, sweating and waking up in what seemed like twenty minute intervals. I’m going to go ahead and blame the room’s air conditioner, which ran constantly but never kicked out anything that could be remotely called cold. I believe it had two settings: “Devil’s Buttcrack” (aka off) and “Mouthbreathing Stranger”, in which air is moving but resembles nothing so much as a stranger standing close enough to breathe hot breath down your neck. I mean, sure, all of the alcoholic drinks and the rich food and the multitude of chiles I ate probably played a role in my discomfort, but the air conditioner won’t mind if I point a finger in its general direction, and I do enjoy divesting myself of any culpability.

Emily wanted a cinnamon roll for the road from the French Pastry Shop, and since Rachel and I were all packed and ready to go, we walked over there to get her one. Not having learned my lesson about rich food one bit, I bought myself a pastry with fully half a peach inside and a cookie stuffed with raspberry jam. What?! We were going to be covering a lot of terrain with not many food options, so at the very least I’d have two food items just packed full of fruit-y, healthy vitamins.

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sunburn and bugs day 6 (2 of 64)Healthful. And so tasty, too!

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Our original plan called for driving to Albuquerque and heading west from there into Arizona, and I had a really solid list of things I wanted to do in Albuquerque, but if we were going to get back in three days, there just wasn’t time to spend an afternoon in Albuquerque. Not if we were going to hit two big targets that day: Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

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sunburn and bugs day 6 (11 of 64)Even if that rock already has a name, I’m renaming it to zombie face rock. You see it, right?

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon (well, two of them) in northeastern Arizona, on Navajo land just outside of Page. The canyons are known as Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope, and they each come with their own advantages and drawbacks–Upper Antelope is much more expensive but requires no climbing. It’s also wider at the base, gets those pretty and photogenic light shafts more frequently, and draws larger crowds of people. Lower Antelope is narrower and twice as long as Upper Antelope, significantly less expensive, requires a lot of stair climbing, and tends to draw fewer people. I suppose if we really wanted to get our fill of slot canyons, we could have done both, but with another, grander canyon on the horizon and hotel reservations in Utah, we had to choose one or the other, so I chose Lower Antelope.

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When we arrived, I had to pee. They had a huge row of port-a-potties, and as I walked across the parking lot toward them, I saw a woman walk down the row, open each door, shake her head, and close it. Every single door, all down the line. I immediately judged this woman as unbearably prissy. Oh, sorry these portable crappers don’t live up to Your Majesty’s standards–there isn’t even an attendant to pat Your Majesty’s royal hands dry after being sprinkled with perfumed water from a diamond faucet. Unbelievable.

Then, of course, I reached the first door, opened it, saw what she saw, and regretted my harsh inner monologue. Peeping out the top of that toilet was a veritable mountain of shit, a filthy human Everest that continues to rise as one brave soul after another says “fuck it,” climbs up on the seat, hovers above it, and unleashes an avalanche*. And it wasn’t just one toilet like this, but one after another, after another. Add to that the oppressive heat, blazing sun, and the stench of raw sewage, and I decided I could hold it for a while longer. I went back to the group and told them I no longer fear hell, because there’s no way it could be worse than those portable toilets. Rachel, who was judging me for my prissiness, went to go use them herself and came back with a similar conclusion.

We didn’t have to wait long for our tour to start. All visitors to Antelope Canyon (upper or lower), must be accompanied by a tour guide for safety reasons. During monsoon season, flash floods can whip through the canyon, and it’s important to have someone who can guide you to the nearest exit in case of trouble. A tour guide can also monitor the people in the group for signs of heat sickness, which isn’t terribly uncommon. Our tour guide also told us a bit about the geology of the canyon and posed each person (or group of people) in front of the most photogenic spots.

sunburn and bugs day 6 (13 of 64)The walk to the first staircase descending into the canyon. No photography is allowed on the stairs for safety reasons, and frankly, I’m glad. The stairs are scary enough without someone whapping you with a selfie stick.

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Once I got down the stairs and took a look around, I was astounded. It was astonishingly beautiful. Every single step in the canyon is gorgeous. Every angle was something that I wanted to capture with my camera, to hold on to forever.

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I happily snapped photos all the way through the canyon, and reluctantly climbed the stairs when it was time to leave. I hung out on a rock near the exit for the tour guide to finish taking some final photos so I could give him a tip and also let him know that Emily had gone to get some water in case he needed to make sure he’d left with the same number of heads he went in with. I offhandedly mentioned to Rachel that I wasn’t even that hot, more comfortable, really, and she told me that was a sign of heat exhaustion. Whoops. But hey, if I was going to keel over and die, at least I felt fine right up until the end, right? Still, I chugged an extra bottle of water on the way out. I’d rather have to pee in a gross bathroom than die just yet. Also, I couldn’t trust those other Harpies not to strap my corpse to the roof of the car and keep driving until they found a canyon grand enough into which to dump my windblown, dessicated ass.

*This analogy** got completely out of hand, sorry about that.

**Heh, anal.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: The Harpies Take Santa Fe

After the House of Eternal Return, we set what time we were aiming to leave the following morning and then split up to do what each of us needed to do to recharge our batteries for the trip back home, whether that was art galleries or shopping or eating or making sex eyes at bartenders. I had only a few hours before everything would start to close for the day, which meant I had to make some hard decisions, like crossing the O’Keeffe museum off my list. Not forever, though, I would go back to Santa Fe in a heartbeat.

I took a meandering path around the plaza, keeping an eye open for an ATM as I’d used the last of my cash that morning buying a croissant, and I don’t like being on a road trip without cash on hand. My stroll first took me through the historic burro alley where firewood used to be sold after being carted in on the backs of burros. Now it’s mostly empty, save for a couple of statues, a mural, and the patio for a Mexican restaurant.

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I spotted this mural on the back of a building on Sheridan Street.

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At the intersection of Sheridan and Marcy, there’s a piece of public art called “Santa Fe Current” that was installed in 2009, with 27 Rio Grande cutthroat trout rendered in granite and arranged in an arc to symbolize how Santa Fe’s community is moving forward together.

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And then there’s a statue of St Francis with a prairie dog, because why not?

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After I located an ATM, I made my way to The French Pastry Shop & Creperie to buy an iced coffee and a biscochito, the official New Mexico state cookie. It’s a variation on the traditional Mexican wedding cookie, made with lard and flavored with anise and cinnamon. I’d tried making these cookies at home a couple of years ago and wasn’t thrilled with the result, so I wanted to try a proper one, one made in a state that prides itself on biscochitos. It sat in my purse all day and was still super freaking delicious when I remembered to eat it just before I went to bed that night. I’m not normally one to forget about a cookie, it’s just that I was on the move, going in and out of shops, and while I had no problem being seen on the street drinking coffee, somehow I have a problem with the idea of someone watching me eat a cookie as I walk down the street.

I popped into Mama’s Minerals with my coffee and browsed a bit–it was a really nice rock shop, and the girls who were working there were truly personable. We chatted a bit and they gave me some excellent recommendations for places to eat, one of which I ended up going to for dinner. I ended up appreciating the employees here even more later, because most of the shops I went into were very aggressive about selling you things in a fashion I’m simply unused to. Like, I’m sorry, dude, but no matter how much you flatter me and try to get me to try this opal and diamond necklace on and treat myself, I’m not going to spend $2,600 on it. There’s an amount of flattery and guilt for timewasting that could get me to the hundred dollar range, but I don’t think there’s any amount of flattery and guilt that could get me to splash out more money on a necklace than I spent on my last three trips combined. Possibly four.

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Afterward, I made my way further up the street toward the Loretto Chapel and its “miraculous stairway”, supposedly built with a type of wood that doesn’t exist and in a way that should be impossible for it to remain standing or support weight. This was tentatively on my list but it was too damn hot outside to give up my death grip on my iced coffee for any staircase, Jesus-built or otherwise.

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meow wolf (120 of 129)The mighty Santa Fe river.

Around the corner, I bumped into Emily, who was on the phone. We hung out for a few minutes, and then I told her I was on my way to find one of the Art*o*mat vending machines now that I had cash. I’d spotted one outside the gift shop at The House of Eternal Return but I didn’t have any cash at the time, and I knew there were at least two more within walking distance. Art*o*mats are retired cigarette machines that have been given new life as art dispensers, working with some 400 artists from over 17 different countries. For $5, you get to pull a knob and walk away with a cigarette box sized piece of original art, the contents of which are dependent on the artist you choose: it could be a painting, a drawing, a sculpture, photography, jewelry, glass, mixed media, or whatever they decide. It’s such a creative reuse of machines that would otherwise be discarded, and I had no idea that these machines actually exist all over the US. Before I go somewhere, I’m going to try and remember to check the map to see if there’s a machine nearby–what a cool way to collect little pieces of original art and support artists! For my $5, I got a neat acrylic painting of a sugar skull by street artist Lark, who according to their short bio, has never been caught and hates pickles.

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After I collected my piece of art, I bumped into Emily again and helped her shop for earrings. She says I’m good luck for finding pairs she likes, but I think I’m probably just really good at talking people into buying things after years in retail. Shopped out (for a little while, at least), we had dinner at The Shed,  winner of a James Beard award in 2003 and which also came highly recommended by the employees at Mama’s Minerals. We basically fell upon them like starving dogs and ordered one of every food and drink item on the menu and were not disappointed by any of them. Overheated as I was, I was immediately attracted to the cold red raspberry soup, which is made with pureed raspberries, rose wine, lime, and a hint of sour cream. It was so delicious, as was the green chile stew, the green chile chicken quesadilla, the steak smothered in red chile sauce, the blood orange margaritas, and the frozen mocha cake. I don’t know why entrees came with a side of garlic bread, but that was delicious, too.

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Stuffed to the damn gills, we did some more shopping and tried to find the most ostentatious piece of silver and turquoise jewelry we could find–I think I won when I found a turquoise bolo tie longer (and almost as wide as) my hand. We stopped in at Chocolate and Cashmere where I touched a lot of cashmere but didn’t buy any of it (hey, at least I know I can’t be trusted with the care of nice things), Emily bought a ring, and I bought a number of truffles that I didn’t end up eating until days after I got home. The poblano goat cheese truffle is why I laid down my money, but my ultimate favorite was the lavender caramel, and I was sad when it was gone.

Our next stop was Maverick’s, where the dude working there really laid on the sauce to try to get me to buy the aforementioned $2600 necklace, but the female employee was (again) super awesome. When she expressed shock that we’d driven all the way from Seattle for the sole purpose of The House of Eternal Return, I responded with “well, then you must not know how incredible it is,” and she replied that as an art major, not only had she been, but she’d purchased a year pass and been back three times already. She just didn’t know if it was worth days of driving to see, and I suppose if we weren’t having such a rich trip on all fronts, I could understand her point. If you drove straight, sleeping in the car, driving through the night in shifts for 36 hours, and only saw The House of Eternal Return, to leave the next morning and do the same thing on the way back, it would be a much more difficult trip with a significantly smaller return. When I expressed sorrow that we had so little time in Santa Fe and that I hadn’t even made it to the Jean Cocteau cinema to pick up a signed Song of Ice and Fire book, she snorted, whipped out a map, and showed me that it wasn’t all that far away if I was willing to do some walking. She then marked out a “must visit” gelato place, Ecco Gelato, on the other side of the map, funnily enough on the back side of the block where we’d just had dinner, but told us that if we wanted to go there, we’d have to make sure we got there before they closed at 9pm. I’m pretty sure Emily bought a pair of earrings just to thank her for her time.

We booked it the nine or so blocks to the Jean Cocteau where I bought my book, spotting an adorable little bunny on the way, and then hustled the eleven or so blocks back to Ecco Gelato, getting in just before they closed. It was totally worth it, even though I only had room in my stomach for their teeniest tiniest cup, which I split with roasted pineapple gelato and basil gelato–so refreshing in the heat and after a not-insignificant walk.

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Afterward, we met up with Rachel at the Secreto bar in our hotel and had a couple of drinks to toast a successful (so far) trip, talk about our days, and have one last hurrah before we called it a night to get ready to hit the road again. We all knew it was going to be a harder push–we’d gotten there in four days, but were going to attempt to get home in three. Rachel and I noted that the Power of Positive Mechanics logo on the business card she swiped (“Don’t look at me that way, they had thousands of them!“) would make an ideal friendship tattoo to commemorate the trip, but Emily, not being a tattoo person, could not be convinced. Frankly, I don’t understand why she wouldn’t want an art cult logo on her body forever. What a weirdo.

And then I ate the cookie. SEE? You forgot about it, too.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: The House of Eternal Return

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The big day was finally here. Finally. Four days and around 1,500 miles had passed since we started this fool’s errand epic adventure, all for the express purpose of being right here: Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. But first, a quick stop at Angel’s Bakery & Cafe for a ham, cheese, and green chile croissant, because I’ll be damned if I was only going to get one full day in Santa Fe and not stuff myself with as much chile as humanly possible.

If you haven’t heard about it (in the months before the trip, it seemed like I was reading/hearing about this place everywhere, in the way that only the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon can explain), Meow Wolf is an art production company that creates immersive experiences. With some funding from notable Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin, they were able to buy and convert an old bowling alley into a permanent interactive art space they’ve named The House of Eternal Return. The building also contains a nonprofit education center for children and a makerspace  For my part, knowing I intended to visit someday, I tried to know and read about it as little as possible before visiting. I believe I initially heard about it on NPR, and when Emily linked an article about it on my facebook wall (which kicked off this entire journey), I didn’t even read it, not wanting to feel familiarity instead of awe when I stood before it. If you intend to visit someday, I encourage you to do the same and actually not click the “more” link where I go into the house in depth so you can see it with fresh eyes. If you’d rather visit vicariously or you think the concept of spoilers is bullshit, by all means, read on past the cut.

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meow wolf (5 of 129)They wanted to fondle the mandibles for some reason.

We were some of the first people through the door that morning, and were so amped up we could probably collectively take down 50 toddlers who had been turned loose in a sugar factory. When we told the ticket seller that we’d road tripped from Washington to be there, he grinned from ear to ear, gave us the resident’s discount, and told us about another group he’d seen that had come, spent the entire day, went back to their hotel that night, thought about what they’d seen, and then come back the next day to further work out the mysteries of the house. There would be none of that for us: in order to keep to our schedule, we had to see and absorb what we could in one day. The first half an hour, we moved around in hushed awe, with only one other group present, sticking to the first couple of rooms of the house and eventually deciding to split up so that we could each experience it on our own terms. Because it’s the nature of art that different pieces and themes would appeal to us differently individually and very little is a joy-killer so much as looking at something that speaks to you on a primal level and having someone huff over your shoulder because they’re ready to move on.

 

I would have paid anything to have the space solely to ourselves, and that’s not bougie selfish misanthropic Mellzah talking. I don’t have “shut the place down for my selfish pleasures” kind of money–if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know this. And yes, while I have been known to utter “I hate people” in a crowd more than once, it isn’t about my urge to go hide in a cave for three days after attending some massive event. There is so much going on in the house to learn and discover, some of which can really only be experienced by one person at a time, and it is unbelievably distracting and frustrating to have crowds elbowing around you, children screaming, and one group stymieing an area key to the mysteries for hours at a freaking time. I think the overall experience would be immensely improved with the addition of adult-only hours, timed entry, and potentially a limit to the amount of people who can be in the exhibit at once (that is significantly lower than the max set by the fire department). I would pay significantly more for a ticket to have significantly fewer people there. Had I known then what I know now, I still don’t think I would have immediately rushed to the depths of the house to experience them alone, because there is important context at the start, but there are some areas I would have tried to get to earlier so that I could be the one monopolizing it.  THAT is selfish Mellzah talking.

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meow wolf (7 of 129)Beyond here there be spoilers as well. And about a bullion pictures which will eat up your entire data plan if you’re browsing on mobile. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Even More Dinosaurs

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I second-guessed myself more often than normal on this trip. I mean, sure, I pretty much constantly live in my head anyway, but as the person who picked out all of the stuff we were going to see and do along the way, I was feeling some pressure. If I picked a bunch of stuff that made me and no one else happy, I ruined two thirds of the trip, wasted two people’s money and vacation time, and that would probably do a sizeable blow to our friendship. I knew that The Dinosaur Musem in Blanding, UT, would be approximately the jillionth dinosaur thing we’d done on the trip, but I felt pretty passionately about it when I put it on the list, though I couldn’t remember exactly why as we rolled up to this warehouse-y building in the middle of nowhere. I tried to tell myself that if it was terrible, at least we could leave, though that probably wouldn’t make up for me telling Emily she couldn’t browse the Moab shops for earrings.

Dudes and dudettes, this museum was awesome. It was possibly the best dinosaur exhibit I’ve ever seen, and you know I’ve been to many a dinosaur museum. The admission is dirt cheap (possibly cheaper than dirt) at $3.50, and the AAA discount cut it down to three bucks even. But this inexpensive entrance was really just a bonus. The collection here was top-freaking-notch, and there’s good reason for it. The museum was founded and the exhibits were done by one Stephen Czerkas, paleontologist and preeminent paleo artist, who devoted his later years to correcting our misconceptions about dinosaurs–namely concerning their appearance. The feathered dinosaurs I saw here were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They have one of only four pre-Cambrian logs in the world. And they have a full Edmontonsaurus complete with some areas of fossilized skin! AND the world’s largest collection of dinosaur movie posters and other dinosaur movie memorabilia! The woman working there was awesome as well–within a minute of entering the building, she’d already told me a new-to-me fact about the T. Rex, and while we shopped around in the gift shop, she told us about how she used to fossil hunt in the area before it became illegal. We all loved her and wanted to take her with us, but since she had museum duties and we would be traveling home on a different route, we sadly parted ways, but not before buying a dinosaur mascot and naming her Feminist Killjoy.

sunburn and bugs day four (27 of 76)The aforementioned log, found in San Juan county.

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sunburn and bugs day four (40 of 76)Dinosaur or skeksis?

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sunburn and bugs day four (42 of 76)I so hoped they’d sell these in the gift shop.

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sunburn and bugs day four (54 of 76)Obvs my favorite poster.

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Our last stop before we hit Santa Fe was Four Corners, because even though it’s totally cheeseball and everyone and their brother has already done it, I wanted to do it. I also wanted to do it because it’s totally cheeseball and everyone and their brother has already done it. I mean, come on: if you’re passing on a road thisclose to Four Corners, how could you not stop?

sunburn and bugs day four (75 of 76)You should probably also stop for horse crossings.

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Four Corners is pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be: an almost unreasonably hot tourist attraction with a long line of people waiting to take photographic proof that they were in four states at once, sweating and squinting, and looking miserable. But since there’s a three photo limit and a limited number of poses that could array all one’s limbs into even state distribution (at least for your average tourist, I have no doubt a contortionist could manage a few more), the line moves quickly. Also, any part of your body that comes in contact with the ground that’s not covered in a protective shoe will probably immediately regret it as it starts to cook, so that doesn’t encourage tarrying. Afterward, you’re free, freeee to browse the almost 60 kiosks spread among the four states, selling jewelry, magnets, knives, and again, pretty much what you’d expect. So browse we did, and buy we did, and I think the afternoon’s jewelry shopping possibly made up for the morning hustle. Possibly.

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sunburn and bugs day four (63 of 76)These cacti were attracting dozens of hummingbirds, zipping and divebombing and generally making people wonder what it would be like to be impaled with a teeny tiny hypodermic beak.

sunburn and bugs day four (76 of 76)Also a fair number of hummingbird size bees.

sunburn and bugs day four (64 of 76)Rachel, Feminist Killjoy, and me in four states! Ok, Feminist Killjoy is in four, anyway.

sunburn and bugs day four (65 of 76)Yo blogger’s butt’s so big! How big is it? It’s so big it can be in four states at once!

sunburn and bugs day four (67 of 76)Shipwreck rock

The ride from Four Corners to Santa Fe was dismal. The most direct route is through these tiny backroads with nothing to look at but prairie dogs. There was no place for food (it may in fact be the longest stretch of road in the United States without a Starbucks, but that’s just a wild guess), there was approximately one place to gas up, and we arrived at the hotel late, after pretty much every restaurant had closed, starving and miserable. But I had my own room while we were there (the rooms were too small for three unless someone was up for sleeping on the floor, which, surprise, was not something any of us was enthusiastic about) so I was able to eat a protein bar in bed, totally pantsless, while finally watching the previous week’s episode of Game of Thrones, so it wasn’t all bad. And the following day was the big day, the entire reason for our trip: Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. Now that it was so close, I could hardly wait.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Various Noteworthy Rocks

Moab turned out to be a super cute town by the light of day, full of shops and restaurants and even a rock shop that gives away a free dinosaur bone to every customer and we couldn’t do any of it. Because as I said to Emily, “WE NEED TO STOP FUCKING AROUND.” Which isn’t really fair, considering I was the one who plotted all these meandering stops that pulled us off the more direct route and caused us to roll in to every evening’s stop at 10pm, and now I was saying “NO, we don’t have time to shop” like I was a trip dictator and was bringing two hostages along with me who were responsible for paying their own way?  Yeah, that’s basically how it went down. We had time for breakfast on the beautiful hotel patio, sneakily stuff some second breakfast into our pockets, and grab coffee before we rolled out of town…

…and stopped a mere fifteen miles down the road at Hole N’ The Rock. This is something that I knew about but actually hadn’t added to my list, because I figured it was the sort of tourist trap that only I would be interested in. But I’m glad we did stop, because now I’ve toured the House on the Rock and the Hole N’ The Rock and all I need to complete the trifecta is to tour a house UNDER a rock or The Rock’s house (my email address is on my about page, Dwayne. Just saying.). sunburn and bugs day four (1 of 76)

Hole N’ The Rock is a home that was carefully dynamited out of a sandstone rock half a mile high. While we waited for our home tour to begin, we browsed through the shop, trying on hats, joking about buying one of the swords on the wall to wave out the window at cars that wouldn’t let us pass…and one of the employees overheard us. It turns out she was our tour guide and this is how I got labeled “the troublemaker” on our tour. OK, sure, sometimes I cause trouble (mostly on the internet), but this time I was just innocently grabbing two gun shaped belt buckles in order to make a really gross joke which isn’t troublemaking so much as it is cheap prop comedy.  However, for the entirety of the tour, she made sure to let me know she had eyes on me–no touching (I mean you, troublemaker), no climbing on anything (I’m looking at you, troublemaker) which incidentally made it really difficult to get into trouble.

There were no photos allowed on the tour (I mean it, troublemaker), so I will do my best to paint you a photo through the use of evocative language. It was basically a cave that someone turned into a house.

Not evocative enough? Sheesh. There were a lot of odd juxtapositions in the house in the Hole N’ The Rock. Yes, it’s essentially a cave house–with the portion of the cave that was turned into a commercial kitchen painted a thick shiny mint green to prevent sandstone from crumbling into the food, decked out with 50s era appliances. The rest of the cave walls and ceilings are natural stone, with supports left up all over to prevent the half mile of stone above them from falling down and smashing them at the molecular level, like scientists searching for the Higgs boson. Granted, I have not been in many cave homes, but I would have expected the furnishings to look a little more rustic. Instead, they had some ornate Victorian style antiques which looked very out of place in a cave. Propped up on the bed were lots and lots of creepy porcelain dolls, the kind that one could easily believe come to life when you aren’t looking and kill people, their tiny white porcelain hands rinsing perfectly clean to remove all evidence of their heinous crimes. There were also some monstrous pieces of taxidermy–a mustang and her foal forever posed in the hideous curl the amateur taxidermist found them frozen in. A decaying burro with horrendously misshapen hooves. And all around, paintings of Jesus, watching the dolls watch the tour guide watching you.

The rest of the grounds you were free to photograph to your heart’s content, save in the gift shops, because they don’t want the world at large to have photographic evidence of what they charge for a bag of Doritos, lest they plan ahead and frugally pack their own.

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sunburn and bugs day four (5 of 76)Dude, what is it with Utah and Cars?

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sunburn and bugs day four (11 of 76)I’m not certain what they do with this jail but I’m glad I didn’t sass the tour guide.

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sunburn and bugs day four (14 of 76)I thought it was funny that the sign had both our destination and a place from our home state on it.

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After we’d hassled Hole N’ The Rock’s many lizards and plumbed the depths of their gift shops, we headed to our next destination (and subsequently drove past it and had to backtrack to the (barely marked? Let’s say unmarked.) offshoot road that led to it): Newspaper Rock. Newspaper Rock is a petroglyph site with art that dates from 1500 years ago to this century. And when I say “this century” I mean up to and including the current week because people can be real pieces of shit. Here’s this thing with historical significance! It won’t be complete until I carve my name into it, being a person of significance!  The markings themselves have not been deciphered, but it was still very cool to see something that old in person.

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sunburn and bugs day four (21 of 76)This looks like the discovery of one Dr. Richard Stinkbeard. (NSFW)

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On our way back to the main road, we saw this…thing off in the distance, so Rachel and I went to check it out. It was certainly…a thing all right. Weather station? Alien detector? A new pyramid-based roadside attraction? I have no idea.

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And with that assessment, we were off to check out more of a different sort of rock, blasting rock music and eating rock candy. Rock on.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: How Can I Have Moab If I Haven’t Had Any Ab Yet?

On the morning of my departure from Salt Lake City, I took one of those showers that leaves one still feeling dirty. Not because I was taking a shower in the middle of a giant jetted tub in a carpeted room, or because of all of the french fries I’d consumed hours prior in that same tub, or even because of the drinks that got me to the point of consuming fries in a tub like a bargain Hasselhoff. No, I still felt dirty because Salt Lake City has the hardest water of anywhere I’ve ever visited, the kind of water that leaves you feeling like your skin has been airbrushed with grime, leaving nary a single nook nor cranny unscathed. I probably would have been better off just slathering on more deodorant and hanging my greasy head out of the window to be blowdried by the salty wind. Perhaps the other people who had to share an enclosed car with me and my various odors wouldn’t have been better off, but that’s a hypothetical for the next road trip that runs through Garbage Water USA.

Before we met up with Emily’s brother for breakfast, I wanted to get a couple of snaps of the stuff I’d seen the night previous in the daylight, namely the astronaut and Brother Zack the alien. Although they were just a few blocks away, it took a bit longer than I thought it would, because SLC has long blocks, which are made all the longer for the relative lack of anything worth looking at on them. Granted, I didn’t see the entire city, but what I saw felt dull, empty, and oddly sterile. Few people out and about, primarily chain establishments, empty business spaces for lease everywhere, and none of the small stuff that makes a city feel vital and thriving.

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After breakfast, we swung by the Gilgal Gardens, which are so set back from the street and unobtrusive that I never would have found them if I wasn’t specifically looking for them. The gardens’ sculptures are all intended to be physical expressions of the creator Thomas Child’s internal philosophies, primarily focusing on religious belief. If you’re interested in the intended meaning of the sculptures, you can learn more about them here. I was primarily interested in the Sphinx with the face of LDS founder Joseph Smith, because that was the weird thing that put this place on my radar to begin with. Aside from the photo opportunity, the gardens didn’t really resonate with me. It’s not impossible for me to be moved by religious artwork, there just needs to be something more to it than an obscure bible verse carved into a rock.

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After the Gilgal, we were ready for some fresh, salty air in our faces, at the Great Saltair. I definitely half-assed my research, because when we arrived, I expected to see something that looked a lot more like this instead of the discount Wal-Mart version we got. If only I had scrolled down even a little further on the Wikipedia page. Just a little, eensy bit. Regardless, this was our first time getting a real glimpse (and smell of) the Great Salt Lake. It was, uh, not good. The lake has receded quite a bit since this Saltair was built, shimmering in the distance across a vast expanse of salt-crusted sand, while the wind whips its pungent odor up into the nostrils. It’s not the fresh salt air of the ocean, it’s a malodorous crusty decaying shoreline that assaults your nose. That’s some great salt air! Still, Rachel and I decided to venture out to the water’s edge, with me boldly declaring that I was going to taste the water to find out how truly salty it was.  The entire walk to  the shore was littered with bird corpses, and I began to instantly regret my earlier announcement. Bugs swirled around us in disgusting tornadoes. Bones crunched underfoot. And still there were people out wearing swimsuits and carrying beach towels, either because they were optimists or they were bound and determined to use the things they’d lugged along with them. As we reached the shoreline, the water lapped at thousands (millions? I wasn’t going to count) of dead insects and I really hoped Rachel wouldn’t remind me that I was letting her, nay, the world down for not putting some of that salty bug water in my mouth. Thankfully, she is far more humane than I would have been if the situation was reversed (I would have at least teased her about it), and the water remained ungargled. At least by me.

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sunburn and bugs day three (28 of 67)Look at how far away the Saltair is from the shore!

Our next stop was the “Up” house in Herriman. This Disney dream house was built in a relatively normal Utahan suburb, and the new owners are kind of prickly about people taking photos of and with it, which doesn’t really make sense to me as long as people aren’t actually trespassing. If privacy was paramount to me, I don’t know that I would buy a house that was built for the express purpose of marvel and amazement in a populated area and then get angry when people marvel and are amazed. When I emailed to ask for permission to take photos of the house, they said a couple of photos were fine so long as we didn’t have any balloons or wear costumes of any kind. FINE. That’s what Photoshop is for.

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Our next architectural marvel was Krishna’s Lotus Temple in Spanish Fork, which was built as a replica of a temple in India. It was beautiful and they even let us feed their koi. I can’t speak to the quality of their $5 all you can eat vegetarian buffet as I was still full from breakfast, but had I more time, I could have definitely done some reading there in the sunshine while peacocks strutted around. Alas, we had to pack back into the car relatively quickly as we had at least three more hours to drive–and that’s without stops.

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Speaking of stops, we tried to take a short detour to see the World’s Largest Miner but after pulling off at three different (wrong) exits, finally getting off at the right one and being forced on a detour due to construction, and still not seeing it, I (as the driver and also the person most interested in seeing the world’s largest anythings) declared “Fuck it, we’re going to keep driving”.  And so we did.

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Until we saw the world’s largest watermelon. The world’s largest driveable watermelon. I don’t know how the fuck the driver sees anything from inside this seedy behemoth, the important thing(s) is (are) that: it was completely unguarded, I was able to go inside, and they wisely did not leave the keys in the vehicle so I couldn’t attempt to take it on a test drive. It’s like they knew I was coming.

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sunburn and bugs day three (49 of 67)Once we were done trespassing in Green River’s giant watermelon, we made our way to Ray’s Tavern for a quick bite, and then it was back on the road, with a minor stop-off at another Pixar-happy location, Papa Joe’s, where the cars from Cars went to retire, grow decrepit, and die. It also appears that the Scooby Doo gang met with an unfortunate end here. The real mystery is where their bodies are buried.

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At this point, we were about thirty miles from our destination. Rachel and Emily passed time by competing to see who could find the most prairie dogs, and I began to feel a little left out because as the driver, I couldn’t see any of them except the road-flattened ones which I was informed don’t count. So while they tallied up real prairie dogs, I began pointing out all of the ones they didn’t see, like a hitchhiking one on the side of the road wearing a tiny metal bikini with dreams of going to Comic Con. Apparently those don’t count, either.

We were passing Arches national park just as the sun was starting to set, and I asked the group if they wanted to swing in–knowing that we couldn’t possibly see all of it (including the most famous part of it, Delicate Arch, which I already knew was off the table as it requires a fairly strenuous hike from which the unprepared often have to be rescued) but that we could at least see some of this beautiful scenery that we may otherwise never visit. Everyone agreed, so I pulled in, racing against the sun, careening around hairpin turns while Rachel and Emily photographed out of the car windows. We made some pretty good progress before we lost the sun, stopping a few times to better take in the area. As the driver, I don’t have many photos, but what I saw was unforgettable, from the startlingly red rocks towering above us as we began our ascent into the park to the first twinkling stars peeking out over the formations.

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We stopped at balanced rock and had just enough light to eke out the short hike around it. At the back half, Emily elected to go back the (more paved) way we came, and I decided to press forward, telling Rachel which way I was going. I got back to the car and pulled on the handle, expecting that everyone had beaten me there and were anxious to get to the hotel while I fiddled with camera settings. The car was empty. I walked back to the path. Full darkness had set in and there was no cell signal. “Emily? Rachel?” I called out, getting louder with each repetition. “EMILY?! RACHEL?!?” I found Emily back on the path, using her phone’s light to look at the various insects that had wandered out in the absence of the heat of day and told her that I’d gone back to the car but Rachel wasn’t there, had she seen her? “That’s not funny,” she replied. “I’m not trying to be funny,” I hissed back. Rachel joined us almost immediately thereafter, saying she’d been calling for me and some other hiker told her which way I’d gone. It’s not that he knew my name, he just figured that the two ladies stumbling around in the dark without any equipment must have been together. At least we didn’t have to be rescued.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Medium Roar, Lightly Salted

There’s no drive as long or as tense as the one to a gas station of indeterminate distance when your gas light has just ticked on. Even though you know in your heart that you have at least a gallon left, every song on the radio might as well be the score to an action movie. The worst action movie ever, mind you, because the only action is scanning the horizon for any sign of an upcoming pump, which probably still makes it better than Fantastic Four. As you’re probably biting your nails right now from empathetic anxiety, I’ll save your manicure and let you know we made it to a station with gas to spare, which unfortunately takes this from a potentially interesting story to a boring one. So sorry for that, but not all of my stories can end with being towed illegally on the top of a flat bed truck, and if I didn’t resolve the (non) cliffhanger from the last post that’d be poor storytelling. Yes, there is a lot of poor storytelling around here, but I didn’t want to engage in poor storytelling this time. Shut up.

Our next stop was the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden, because while my motto is not “If there’s a dinosaur I want to see it”, it may as well be*. The drive there was filled with a lot of conversation about the effect of the great salt lake on the surrounding environment. Does it make the rain salty? Do they have to salt the roads in winter? Do local vegetables have to be seasoned when they’re cooked or do they come pre-seasoned? Is the salt the reason the landscape and all the vegetation looks a little frosted or is that just the way it looks? Does dead stuff naturally mummify here rather than decompose? If you just went out and licked the grass, would it be salty? Can you pull over so I can get out and lick the grass?

Aside from the last question, the answers were all “I don’t know”. The answer to the last one was “No, Mellzah, and stop asking.”

Once we were at the park, I strode up to the admissions desk, whipped out my credit card, and informed them that I’d like three tickets for adults who act like children, and is there any discount for the young at heart? Again, the answer was no. I was getting shut down left and right that day. Evidently no one finds me as charming as I’d like to think.

The indoor portion of the park closes earlier than the outside, so we made our way through the inside first, starting with the animatronic dinosaurs upstairs. I feel like the quality of these sorts of dinosaurs has improved drastically, and if I saw one out of the museum context, say, if I was just walking down the street and happened to catch a glimpse of one moving in the bushes, I would absolutely poop my pants.

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Outside of the animatronics section (is it a section if there are only two of them?) is a room of fossils and minerals. My favorites were the minerals that looked like foods. The vast majority were labeled with what they actually were in addition to the item they were masquerading as, with the exception of the snickers bar, which may well mean it’s simply a petrified snickers bar, possibly due to the aforementioned salt mummification process. I do know that if they weren’t behind glass, I would have definitely tried to put one of those jelly beans in my mouth as I have a weakness for chewy candy or rocks that look like chewy candy, which is a fact to which my dentist will attest.

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Downstairs were the larger, showier fossils, as well as an area where you can see paleontologists at work. Or could, if they weren’t already done for the day. Lazy scientists.

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Before going outside to check out their large, exciting dinosaur displays, I popped into their gift shop before it closed for the day and was sorely disappointed. I never would have guessed that a park with this many large displays would have such a crappy gift shop–I’ve seen better wares on offer at gas stations. Did you know that some of those have thong underwear that folds up into a rose, for a charming gift? And that the tube they come in can be turned into a charming crack pipe?  Most of this gift shop was empty, with a few sad magnets and posters hanging around to let you know you weren’t in the wrong place. Blech.

The outdoor portion of the park was wonderful, though. Everywhere I turned, there was another huge dinosaur making a menacing pose or engaging in deathsports, and I couldn’t help but think that as a teenager, this would be the absolute coolest place to hang out after they closed for the day. And I definitely wasn’t even that kind of teenager–I opted for the annoying, goody-two-shoes end of the spectrum. In case the teens who hang out behind my house are reading this, I definitely encourage you** to drop everything and drive to Utah and hang out there.

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sunburn and bugs day two (79 of 94)The orthodontiasaurus

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sunburn and bugs day two (72 of 94)“Look at that sad, gross thing.” “It’s not very nice to talk about our ancestor that way, Emily.”

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sunburn and bugs day two (54 of 94)The spirit of the 80s is alive in this dinosaur.

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sunburn and bugs day two (77 of 94)Mandatory.

sunburn and bugs day two (64 of 94)And then there was this guy.

 

It had been threatening to rain the whole time we were at the park, and just as we were getting ready to leave, it started to sprinkle. I stopped to snap a few more pics, turned around, and saw that Rachel and Emily were already out of the gate and heading toward the car. Given my behavior of the past few hours (the loud singing and the incessant questions and the rocket dong and the gas thing which may or may not have been my fault for not speaking up when I saw a “last services for ___ miles” sign), I decided that I’d better book it to the car so as not to be left behind, shambling and crying out “Don’t leave me, I’ll be better!” in the manner of the truly unathletic and uncool. After all, I didn’t want to have to try to take shelter in the cave of a fake cave bear.

We dropped off Rachel at a friend’s house for the night and then made our way to our hotel in Salt Lake City. Finally, I’d know if the rumors were true: if this really was the greatest city in the country in which to dress immodestly and get crunk. Emily was pretty tired from the day’s drive and was definitely looking forward to having a cocktail and meeting up with her brother, who lives in the area. I was excited, too. We had been using the Hotel Tonight app each morning to prebook that night’s hotel–this made it so we didn’t have to plan where we were going to be every single night in advance and allowed for some spontaneity while making sure we didn’t end up sleeping in the car (because you know, summertime, peak travel season, etc). Another advantage to going that route was that since it’s last minute, the rates can be lower, unless there’s really low availability everywhere. For our night in Salt Lake City, we were staying at the Hotel Monaco, which is a flipping nice hotel, for a pretty damn low price.  Since Rachel was going to be with her friends and Emily was going to be with her brother, I was going soak in some hotel alone time–maybe have a bath, eat some pizza, finally watch that week’s episode of Game of Thrones, feed the loaner goldfish some pizza crust, and just generally relax.

We pulled into the hotel, gave the valet the keys, and hauled all of our stuff to the front desk to check in. Emily gave the hotel clerk her name, and he tapped and looked a bit perplexed and then said he regretted to inform us that we didn’t have a reservation and that the hotel was fully booked. Noooooooo! Emily checked the app, and sure as shit, she had accidentally booked us at a different hotel a few blocks away. So everything got hauled back out to the car, where the confused valet helped load us up and got a pretty sizeable tip for not laughing at us.

We checked in at this new hotel, and I asked the desk clerk about my options for food delivery that wouldn’t also fill me with regret, and according to the clerk, delivery regret is one of the few Salt Lake City specialties, so my hopes for the evening dropped by a few notches. Emily was distraught about this change of venue and kept apologizing to me about the turn of events, and I kept telling her it was fine (because it was fine, I’m not fancy).

Not as distraught as she was, however, when she saw the room, which I promptly dubbed “The Love Bunker” when I saw the enormous jetted hot tub in the middle of the living room. Hot tub shower combo, I should say, as there was no shower in the bathroom proper, which meant we’d have to be a lot more careful in the morning to not accidentally ogle one another’s goodies, because we haven’t reached that full nudity state of comfort with one another yet. Yet.

Also in the bathroom? A giant mirror that took up the entire wall facing the toilet that affords you the opportunity to become way more familiar with your own goodies whether you wanted to or not. Complete with a phone, in case you needed to order some delivery-based regret while on the can.

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When we saw the room and I saw Emily contemplating throwing herself over the balcony***, I knew my plans for the evening had to be set aside, and I went into Full Clown Mode. Basically, when someone is feeling badly but there’s not really anything I can do about it, I just act like a bigger and bigger jackass in the hopes of jollying them out of it. Because what’s a lack of self respect for if I can’t make it useful once in a while? I popped into the bathroom, called Emily from the vagina phone, and told her we were going out and getting her the largest drink Salt Lake City had to offer. Or rather, a number of small ones because Salt Lake City doesn’t allow large ones. And a vodka penne. And a boozy salad. I then popped into the shower while she was taking photos of the room to show her husband just how ridiculous it was, because that’s what friends do.

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oh my goodness

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On our way out of the hotel, we spotted this astronaut, who looked as if he had flung himself from our hotel room and was totally fine with that.

Because we’re gluttons for punishment, we had dinner at Bambara, one of the restaurants inside the Hotel Monaco. I breezed past the same confused valet and informed him that since I’d seen our real room, I needed a drink, and then made my way to the restaurant, where we met up with Emily’s brother. Although it wasn’t what I had planned for my evening, I ended up having a really good time. After we finished eating and boxed up our leftovers, we went next door to The Red Door to have another drink. I tried to abstain as one drink gets me plenty tipsy these days, but first I got peer pressured by Emily and her brother to just order one and let it sit there and then I got drink shamed by the bartender for not drinking it because I was “talking too much to drink” so two it was. I may not have dressed immodestly but I definitely got a little bit crunk that night.

sunburn and bugs day two (91 of 94)“What’s the deal with that monkey?” I asked. Evidently the owner of the bar has a friend who works on animatronics for Disney and asked him to make something for the bar, and one day this showed up, tiny skull staff and all.

I knew that the Mormon UFO I wanted to see was in the general area, so I asked Emily’s brother if he’d seen it. He hadn’t heard of it, so they had me ask the bartender. He hadn’t heard about it, either, and when I pulled up a picture to show that it exists, they both immediately said that the bar it was in front of was right down the street and the UFO was definitely not there or if it was, it was so tiny as to be unnoticeable.

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IT WAS NEITHER. I may talk too much and drink too little, but I was vindicated, and that’s what was important. To me, anyway.

Also important: I got to ask Emily’s brother all of the questions I’d had about the area’s general saltiness and was able to get some answers, namely that nothing but the lake is salty and that they do need to salt the roads in winter, which made me feel a little salty. I also informed Emily that I’d be eating the rest of my steak and fries in the giant tub, just because I could. She didn’t believe me.

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It was medium rare and lightly salted and just what I needed.

 

*Depending on which day you ask me, my motto is “Eh, why not?”, “Can I get extra cheese on that?”, or a string of curse words. So I don’t really have a motto exactly, I just say some predictable things.

**I do NOT assume any of the legal consequences for this or any other act you may do.

***If you’re looking at the Love Bunker and saying “that’s really not so bad,” you’re right, it was more a combination of factors that I’m not going to get into. Let’s just say the room was the icing on the cake, or the salt on the steak, as it were.

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