Category Everything is Terrible

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.

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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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Stay Awhile and Listen: A Trip to Diablo Lake

I think we’re all familiar with the fact that Pinterest is full of subtle deceptions and outright lies. Occasionally, I forget, and earnestly believe something that I should be looking at with a more critical eye. Like, for example, this photo of Diablo Lake that I immediately re-pinned on my list of places to visit:

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That’s a barrel of lies, right? But no, a little searching and the state confirmed Diablo’s unique color:

“Fine glacier sediment feeds into the lake through creeks, giving the water its brilliant turquoise luminosity.

The Diablo Dam, named from a Chinook word influenced by early Spanish explorers meaning “devil,” was once the world’s tallest dam, standing 389 feet tall.  Today, the uniquely colored waters of the lake are home to brown and rainbow trout.  The surrounding glaciers grind rocks into a fine powder that stays suspended in the lake reflecting an intense turquoise color.”

Intense turquoise color? I’m in, let’s go take a trip to this magical lake!

….oh.

While there might be a slight turquoise cast when the sun is hitting the lake directly, it mostly just looks like a lake. Until you photoshop the shit out of it, that is.

 

Oh wow, so breathtaking! But why stop there? Come see the amazing ever-changing multi-colored waters of Diablo Lake, the greatest all-natural wonder in the world!

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The Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu

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Man, I just don’t know about this place. I just don’t know. Every guidebook recommends visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center, that their luau is the best and most traditional, that it’s the Disneyland of Hawaii, that it’s wholesome, educational, and delightful. And on some level, it is that place–you can buy ice cream from a boat, you can be quadruple lei’d and spend an afternoon in the sun sniffing the fragrant flowers festooned about your person, you can try poi and pork cooked in an imu, you can consume drinks out of both a pineapple and a coconut (and spend more than a few minutes playing Monty Python and annoying everyone around you), you can see traditional crafting techniques, there’s a pretty high-production value show, and everyone who works there is almost creepily nice and calls you “family”.

But on the other hand, the Polynesian Cultural Center is like a weird human zoo, where you just have to be sort of vaguely brown to play at being a villager showing off “your” traditions (I saw one guy play a member of at least three cultures). It gets even more squicky when you consider that this place is run by the mormons–not only do you get a “look how savage these people were before we civilized them” vibe, but also, it’s the fault of missionaries that hula dancing was driven underground and almost lost altogether, so it’s pretty damn ironic that now they have the “most authentic” dances. None of this is more clear than in the after-dinner show “Ha: Breath of Life” which tells the story of one man’s life, birth to death, but switches what Pacific island he’s from throughout the show: even if it wasn’t intentional, the message is clear that they believe all of these cultures and peoples are interchangeable.

Ultimately, I have been waffling back and forth about how I feel about this place for more than a month. I really enjoyed seeing all of the different dances and outfits and trying a bunch of different Hawaiian food (‘enjoy’ might be a bit of a stretch when it comes to poi) and clipclopping around with a coconut like an asshole in public was fun, but at the same time, giving money to this place is fostering the same community that’s been helping to erase these cultures from history, and I can’t help but think that in that sense, the price of my enjoyment here was too steep.

Iolani Palace: The Only Royal Palace in the United States

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music room

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shaming the kingHow dare these people spelling-shame the king like that?

Iolani Palace is gorgeous, full of history, and its restoration is a testament to the dedication and artisanship of the people who devoted their time to the project.  Unfortunately, the tour experience is less well-designed.

When I arrived, I parked on the street outside; this turns out to be the wrong place as you’re supposed to park inside the gates. The parking lot signs inside the gates indicate that you need to have a government pass or pay or you’ll be towed–the woman working at the gift shop insisted that it was free to park for everyone. The hours for self-guided and docent-led tours vary wildly from day to day which means that if you specifically want to take one type of tour or the other, you need to plan your day around your visit. As it turned out, on the date and time of my visit, they were only having the more expensive docent-led tours. After I ponied up, I was directed to go watch a video about the history of the palace and its royalty, but the video was timed as such that I had to leave before it was over in order to make my tour time, which would be such an easy thing to fix considering they know exactly how long the film is and exactly when each tour group leaves. And then there was the docent.

The quality of every docent tour is dependent on the quality of the docent and in a deeply unfortunate turn of events, I hated mine almost immediately, which is rare for me. If someone wants to talk about something they know and are passionate about, I want to hear it. I always want to hear it. I’ll stand there and listen and suck it all in like a sponge. I loathed this woman. Deeply. And the feeling appeared to be mutual. She talked down to the people in the tour group. She yelled at Jason when the back of his shirt brushed against the wall for “leaning on the wall”. She yelled at me for walking out of a room in front of her when she’d just asked us to proceed back out into the hallway. Wildly inconsistent, sometimes she did have us leave the room before her, toying with us like the world’s pettiest tyrant.  She talked about the bus system on Oahu and how her job pays for her bus pass. She talked about current politics. She talked about personal interactions she’d had with other tour groups. When we chanced to happen by another tour group, I was incensed to discover that group was actually getting to learn something rather than being scolded like puppies who piddled on the rug.

So much happened here: It had electricity and telephones before the White House! The monarchy was crippled and later overthrown in a massive betrayal by the Queen’s foreign advisers! The Queen was imprisoned in one of its rooms! It was turned into a government building, all of its exquisite and rare koa wood was completely painted over, the place got riddled with termites, and it was almost razed! The furnishings were all sold and had to be reacquired piecemeal and restored to its original condition! So tell people about that, because if they’re visiting this site, they should know what’s been done to Iolani Palace, what’s been done to the monarchs who resided there, what’s been done to Hawaii. This is the site to impress upon people those weighty histories. As it stands, I learned more from five minutes of video than I did in the entirety of my tour, which is a sad shame. So maybe save the bus pass talk for bunko night.

Opal Thai in Hale’iwa, HI

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While on our trip, our group decided to have lunch at Opal Thai in Hale’iwa, which we’d heard is the best Thai food on Oahu. It’s cash only, so a few of us made a trip to a nearby ATM. I withdrew $60, which I figured would be more than enough cash. When we were seated, we were handed menus, but minutes later the owner arrived at our table and plucked them out of our hands. He then proceeded to quiz us on our knowledge of Thai food. Do you like Thai food? What’s the last thing you ate at a Thai restaurant? Can you even name six Thai dishes? Then he informed us that he would be ordering for us and we’d be eating family style. He asked us about what we didn’t like and proceeded to give us shit about it. Oh, you don’t like cilantro? Do you eat Mexican food, like salsa? Did you know there’s cilantro in that? I began to get a very bad feeling about my lunch prospects. One: I really don’t like having someone else decide what I’ll be eating. If I’m paying for it, I goddamn well want to choose. Ideally, I want to be able to choose even when I’m not paying. I’m especially leery when the decider is someone who knows what he has to unload from his fridge to prevent spoilage losses.  Two: I loathe eating family style, especially if there’s a possibility that I’ll only like one or two of the dishes. I don’t want to take more than my share of anything, I don’t want to be made to feel like I’m taking food out of someone else’s mouth. As a fatty, I’m especially sensitive to this because I don’t want to be known as the Jabba that ate everyone else’s lunch. Three: I’m here for lunch, not a goddamn quiz show.  I especially don’t want someone treating me like Miss Hicksville, U.S.A. because an ingredient tastes like soapy tinfoil to me. Yes, I know cilantro is an important component of the cuisine. Knowing that doesn’t change the way it tastes and the fact that it ruins any dish it touches for me.

The food started rolling out, and he didn’t really take any of our dislikes into consideration–either because he wanted to prove us wrong about what we claimed to dislike (like educating a toddler), or because he straight did not give a shit. Literally everything one of us said we didn’t like or wouldn’t eat was represented on the table. The things that I did eat were on par with other Thai restaurants I’ve been to, nothing extraordinary. Looking at the other tables in the restaurant, it appeared that everyone was getting the same things, and I was pretty sure we’d been duped. When the bill for lunch for six people arrived and it was almost $200, I was sure we’d been duped and I was ashamed that I didn’t have enough in my wallet to cover my full portion of the bill. And when I looked up and saw Guy Fieri’s face on the wall, I knew why this happened. When your restaurant is full of tourists on vacation who saw you on the Food Network, you don’t really need to worry about repeat customers, so you can cook what you want, rack the bill up to what you think they can afford to pay (and there’s always that ATM across the parking lot in case you overestimated the cash in their wallets), and shake their hands on the way out and act like you’ve given them an experience.

I don’t what makes me angrier: that I spent nearly three times as much as I’d planned on freaking lunch or that I walked out from a lunch that was three times as expensive as I’d planned still hungry due to the aforementioned not wanting to take more than what I perceive to be my fair share of anything. Damn family style bullshit. Jason left stuffed to the gills because he ate everything that was left over on every plate out of fear of hurting the owner’s feelings. Given his business model, I don’t think he really cares one way or the other. What I do know is that we now refer to expenditures in terms of Thai Lunches For Six. Buying a new car? The payment is only one and a half Thai Lunches per month! Going on a trip? The hotel is only one half Thai Lunch per night! Movie night? We can get two tickets and a soda that rivals Lake Michigan in volume for 15% of a Thai Lunch. What a value!