Category Everything is Terrible

An Oregon Coast Afternoon

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It took some real effort on my part to not try to cram this wooden scarecrow from Something Awesome in Bandon into the car, which I think is precisely the reason I bought a compact hatchback rather than a truck, to curb these sorts of impulses, lest my yard turn into an unintentional roadside attraction. However, the very real possibility of all of my weird hobbies and collections turning into an unintentional roadside attraction is precisely why I bought a home in a neighborhood without a homeowner’s association, because intentional or not, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my neighbors dictate to me what size my yard alien can be.

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oregon-coast-afternoon-10-of-28Tahkenitch lake

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I had to pull over for the Sea Lion Caves. America’s largest sea cave? Yes, please! I parked in their large lot on the east side of 101 and dashed across the road only to be told inside that their elevator was broken and they weren’t allowing anyone into the sea cave, not on the walkways, not to their viewpoint, nowhere, because someone might look over/fall into the elevator shaft. “It’s a liability issue,” they said. “The lawyers won’t let us.” Evidently the lawyers have no problem with them encouraging people to run across a highway, though. So I took the liberty of fixing their sign.

liabilitycavesI also considered adding “The lawyers encourage visiting our gift shop instead” at the bottom but I don’t actually know the lawyers’ stance on that.

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My next stop was Devil’s Churn, a narrow inlet where the waves crash into a milky froth to make Beelzebub Butter. Or so I assume. When the tide is in, the waves can crash up to hundreds of feet into the air, and there are signs everywhere warning visitors never to turn their back on the ocean. The rocks down near the water were very slick with satanic ooze, and my boots skidded right off which is how I ended up in ankle deep demon muck with my boot covered in rock snot*.

oregon-coast-afternoon-17-of-28Baal’s Half & Half

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Then it was off to learn about a very different kind of churn: the ice cream churns at Tillamook. Monday, a cheesy exposé!

 

*technical terms, every one

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I left my hopes in San Francisco

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The primary reason I wanted to take highway 101 home rather than I-5 was that I wanted to see the giant redwoods of northern California. Those ancient conifers, those towering monoliths that you can sometimes drive your car through for an additional fee. It’s the reason we busted ass out of the hotel that morning, the reason lunch was a sandwich crammed down our faces in the car. All my planning and ass-busting, however, couldn’t compensate for the soul crushing traffic leading into and through and out of San Francisco. I watched the sun slip by overhead as we sat and sat and sat and knew that with it, our chances of seeing the redwoods were similarly slipping away. Sure enough, the last of the sunlight disappeared before we got into redwood country. Crap in a basket. We spent the rest of the drive pointing at shadows saying “Is that a redwood? I think that might be a redwood. Or an elk.” as a thick fog swirled around the car, making it difficult to see the road even three feet ahead. Between road construction, traffic, and fog, we didn’t check into our hotel until around 11pm. The next morning, the sunrise revealed a giant billboard pointing back the way we came, enticing us to check out the “trees of mystery”. Damn it. Damn it all.

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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: 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: 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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Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave in La Jolla, CA

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If you want to explore the many sea caves of San Diego, you’ll need to rent a kayak or other equipment to see them, with one exception. I elected to take this lazy route to Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave, with stairs from a storefront leading down into the cave itself. If you buy some jewelry from the store, the fee to enter the cave is waived. As an intrepid pursuer of bargains, I carefully perused the cases first,  because why pay five dollars to go into a cave when I could pay fifty dollars instead, go into that same cave, and come out with some jewelry I probably won’t wear, right? Right. At least I tried to spend more money, but ultimately didn’t find anything that appealed to me. I think the guy who worked behind the counter was also disappointed that I didn’t find anything, as he clearly needed the practice working on his sleight of hand–it wasn’t hard to notice that a cash payment got stuffed into his pocket rather than the register.

From the retail level, there are 145 steps down into the cave, and while I might have personally reconsidered calling this way into a sea cave “the lazy route” on the way back up, I should really be glad there are stairs at all–the original visitors to the cave had to ascend and descend via rope. My total lack of upper body strength combined with my characteristic overconfidence about my abilities would have allowed me to get down there but never be able to reascend, and it’s almost certain that for as long as my total decomposition lasted, the cave would get a new moniker: Bloated Stinky Corpse Cave.

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Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave got its name from L. Frank Baum (author best known for The Wizard of Oz), as he noted that the cave opening appears to be a silhouette of a person, specifically that of the Force Wheat cereal mascot, Sunny Jim. I probably would have gone with Weird Elf Head Cave myself, but you’ll note that they didn’t give me the naming rights. Something about my writing being utterly insignificant, any a-hole can get a copy of wordpress, blah blah blah, I wasn’t really paying attention.

The rocks in the cave are richly colored from their extended mineral bath–greens and reds and purples that need to be seen to be believed. Tiny crabs clung to their surface as larger waves lashed and foamed around them. It’d be even more beautiful if, as usual, some dicks didn’t take it upon themselves to carve their names all over everything. Special note to these guys: no one looks at your name and things “Wow, what a cool person, I wonder what they are up to right now, something totally cool I bet” they are thinking “WHAT A FUCKING ASSHOLE I HOPE THEY DROWNED.” Just so you know.

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Back on the surface, I was a few steps away from this cliff area. A sign clearly warned people off, but that didn’t seem to deter anyone, which makes sense. After all, it’s the edges that are unstable, right? So as long as you stay near the middle, you’ll be fine?

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Oh.

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From this vantage point, I could sea (and smell) that the sea lions were out in force, so I walked a bit down the road to the La Jolla cove to see if I could get a better peek.  In fact, not only could I see the sea lions better (some with pups!), but I also got to see a number of nesting brandt’s cormorants from above, which was pretty neat. Now, I’d heard the This American Life show about the Children’s Cove beach in La Jolla, and how a virtual war had been waged between the people who frequented that beach and animal rights activists, who wanted all of the people to stay away from the seals there and were using bullhorns to scream at people for “disturbing the animals”.  At the time, I have to say that I sided with the people who wanted to go to the beach–after all, I have fond memories of picnicking at that very beach with my grandparents while the seals flopped around nearby. We didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother us; they napped while I picked through the sand for sea glass.

After visiting the La Jolla cove, I have to change my stance on this one. I couldn’t believe the complete disregard for the animals here, or for their own safety. People were giving the sea lions and their pups no space, crowding around them, pretending to ride them, plopping their tiny toddlers right down next to them, and even when one would lunge at someone for getting too close, that person would back away momentarily and close right back in from another angle. It was sickening. You’d think one child being bitten on the face at that very cove would be enough to get people to give the animals some space, but no, it’s way more important to get a few likes on Instagram. Pass the bullhorn.

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Hunting for the Aurora Borealis in Iceland

One of the things in Iceland I was most hopeful I’d see was the northern lights. The flight and hotel package included a northern lights tour courtesy Reykjavik Excusions, which was smartly booked for the evening of my arrival–I say smartly because if you are unlucky in your evening’s attempt, the tour company will take you out again and again at no additional charge until you’re successful or you run out of time. Even so, I tried my best not to have my hopes too high: there’s no guarantee that the weather and the lights will cooperate, and if I made it the focus of my trip, the big bucket list experience I was dying to have, I knew I was setting myself up for disappointment…and who the heck wants to have a big trip framed by disappointment? Thus, I kept in mind that having the best time in Iceland that I could was the focus, and the lights, if I saw them, would be a nice bonus.

Before my tour, I had a little time to check in to my hotel and get settled, post horseback ride. Given that I was so exhausted from the flight, I elected to use a little of that time to try and take a nap, saving a couple of hours before the tour bus picked me up to go eat dinner. This short time window was when I learned something important about Reykjavik: if you don’t have dinner reservations, you aren’t getting in anywhere, even mid-week. I tried no fewer than four restaurants and was turned away from them all. My hunger grew larger as my time grew shorter, and ultimately, I had to buy dinner from the Icelandic equivalent of 7/11, 10-11. My healthy purchases included a sandwich called a “pepperoni taco”, a bag of mini cinnamon rolls, bacon maple syrup popcorn, and a couple of kinds of candy I’d never seen before, including one called “Dracula Blood”, which was easily one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten (and just let me remind you that I’ve eaten salsa stuffed with mealworms and a centipede flavored jellybean). Dracula Blood tastes of salty pennies and licorice, and just when I’d gotten past the salty penny coating to the more pleasing licorice part, I discovered it was filled with salty penny gunk as well. One pastille was more than enough, regardless of the recommended serving size.

dinner

With dinner down the hatch, I made my way to the lobby to wait for the bus. So far, Iceland hadn’t been as cold as I’d been anticipating, so I elected not to wear my outermost snow pants. They were a little snug in the gut region (it couldn’t be all that candy for dinner, could it?)  and I’d already managed to break the zipper once, because I’d bought the cheapest possible pair online. Why spend the evening worrying about whether or not my long undies were showing through my fly when I could be in relative comfort without them? This was a decision I almost immediately regretted when I stepped off the bus into a snowdrift that went up to my knees, soaking my pants.

The cold was unbelievable. I have no doubt that I’ve been spoiled (weakened) by mild Washington and California winters; I’m no longer the same Wisconsin kid who could wait for the bus in sub zero temperatures wearing only a hoodie, the kid who looked cool* but didn’t feel cold. Lately, I shiver when the temperature in the house is a balmy sixty-five, and my poor husband has to tolerate the icebergs, formally known as human feet, that I plant on him under the sheets every night. I have never implied that being married to me is a treat, so if you ever found yourself thinking “Oh wow, Mellzah is so cool and wonderful and beautiful, I only wish she had a clone that I could make my bride,” you should know that you’d be signing up for a lifetime of tantrums and torture.

I’d brought along a few packets of hand and foot warmers, which barely made a dent in the bone-chilling cold. At first, I stuffed my hands in my pockets, but eventually, I pulled my arms out of my jacket sleeves and kept them pressed against my torso in the hopes that they would not need to be chopped off later due to frostbite. My feet, tucked inside waterproof boots and thick socks, went numb almost immediately. The icy wind bit at my cheeks as I stared futilely at the sky. I didn’t know what I hoped for more–the aurora borealis in the sky or the warmth you’re supposed to feel when you’re close to freezing to death. After thirty minutes or possibly much less (time has a way of stretching when one is in misery), I’d had enough and trudged back to my bus to await the trip back to the hotel.

The tour group, however, was not ready to call it quits, possibly because they’d reached bus capacity. The bus that picked up tourists from our hotel and several others met up with something like twelve other buses before we headed out, and if we went back before seeing the northern lights, that’s twelve busloads of people who would potentially be back the next night demanding a free second outing…in addition to any new bookings. With the limits of their bus fleet in mind, we trekked on to a different spot while I tried to rub feeling back into my toes. It was there that we got lucky. Our tour bus driver said that the aurora we saw that night was the best we could hope to see under the circumstances–those circumstances being that we were only four days away from a full moon, and the sky being so brightened by the reflected light not making for ideal viewing conditions, which, come to think of it, is probably why the week I booked the trip was significantly less expensive than one a week earlier or two weeks later.

I made my way off the bus, up an ice-slicked hill, looked up at the sky, and saw what I can only describe as a dirty gray smear that may or may not have been moving, and if someone hadn’t told me it was the aurora, I would have assumed it was an unremarkable cloud. It was certainly not the spectacle of dancing green lights I had come to expect from years of looking at photographs of the aurora, and even with my “anything you see is a bonus” mindset, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointment.

aurora

Cameras, however, can capture things that would otherwise be invisible to the human eye, and sometimes, post processing reveals things one didn’t notice at the time.

 

better aurora

 

…ah, that’s better.

 

*I was never cool.

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