Category The Great Outdoors

An Oregon Coast Afternoon

oregon-coast-afternoon-1-of-28

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.

oregon-coast-afternoon-4-of-28

oregon-coast-afternoon-5-of-28

oregon-coast-afternoon-8-of-28

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

oregon-coast-afternoon-11-of-28

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.

oregon-coast-afternoon-12-of-28

oregon-coast-afternoon-15-of-28

oregon-coast-afternoon-16-of-28

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

oregon-coast-afternoon-18-of-28

oregon-coast-afternoon-20-of-28

oregon-coast-afternoon-22-of-28Father of Lies foam

oregon-coast-afternoon-23-of-28

oregon-coast-afternoon-26-of-28

oregon-coast-afternoon-27-of-28

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

Save

Save

Save

Prehistoric Gardens in Oregon’s Rainforest

prehistoric-gardens-1-of-52

If there is a dinosaur-based attraction anywhere near where I’m traveling, I will find it, like a divining rod for giant lizards. Though, to be fair, I don’t know how anyone driving on 101 could miss these particular dinosaurs, given the way they loom over the road. They WANT to be found. And what better place for life size dinosaurs than a section of Oregon temperate rainforest, dripping with moss and ferns? That’s what Ernie Nelson thought in 1953, when he began sculpting size-accurate dinosaurs. Two years later, Prehistoric Gardens opened to the public.

prehistoric-gardens-2-of-52

prehistoric-gardens-3-of-52

prehistoric-gardens-4-of-52

Prehistoric Gardens acts as part dinosaur attraction, part nature preserve, with the sculptures carefully nestled among the trees, and the vegetation allowed to encroach as it pleases–the handrails are really there more for the moss and fungi than human hands.  When I got in close to look at the teeny-tiny mushrooms that had sprouted on the rails, I saw even teeny-tinier spiderwebs attached to them. And looming behind that, of course, a steel and concrete dinosaur.

prehistoric-gardens-7-of-52What’s up with the ellipsis at the end of the sign? “State law prohibits smoking in forested areas…but we won’t tell if you won’t”? “…so don’t test us!” “…and we have plenty of places to hide the bodies of those who do”?

prehistoric-gardens-9-of-52

prehistoric-gardens-33-of-52

prehistoric-gardens-38-of-52

Ernie strove with all of his creations to make them as scientifically accurate as possible (to the standards of the time, of course–you’ll see no feathered dinosaurs here). It took him nearly thirty years to complete the twenty-three sculptures on the property, and they’ve held up remarkably well for their sixty years, with some weathering but otherwise intact. It also features some dinosaurs beyond the well-known favorites, and each exhibit comes complete with a sign containing the name, the meaning of the name, and some factoids about them.

prehistoric-gardens-10-of-52Triceratops’ goofy smile? SCIENTIFICALLY CORRECT.

prehistoric-gardens-11-of-52Dimetrodon’s halloween coloring? SCIENTIFICALLY CORRECT.

prehistoric-gardens-26-of-52The melancholy of the ankylosaur? SCIENTIFICALLY CORRECT.

prehistoric-gardens-12-of-52

prehistoric-gardens-14-of-52

prehistoric-gardens-16-of-52Birds were angry long before 2009.

prehistoric-gardens-17-of-52

prehistoric-gardens-21-of-52Lystrosaurus, the swamp lizard.

prehistoric-gardens-23-of-52

prehistoric-gardens-22-of-52When I looked up to the canopy, I saw that the tree branches were not only covered in moss, but had ferns growing out of them as well.

prehistoric-gardens-25-of-52Psittacosaurus, the parrot lizard.

prehistoric-gardens-28-of-52Struthiomimus, the ostrich mimic. Known for the way it struts around like it owns the place*.

prehistoric-gardens-29-of-52

prehistoric-gardens-39-of-52Trachodon, the rough-tooth.

prehistoric-gardens-41-of-52This ichthyosaur doesn’t appear to be doing so well.

prehistoric-gardens-49-of-52Seymouria, purportedly named for the town where it was discovered, but was actually** named after Jane Seymour, who glared in just such a fashion on the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, when her coffee was served with an incorrect ratio of beans to additives.

And now the thing you all came here to see, an impending T-Rex attack on a car:

prehistoric-gardens-51-of-52

 

*Well, NOW it’s known for that.

**Not actually. It’s the town thing.

Save

Save

Save

Lassen Volcanic National Park

 

ca-trip-2016-1-of-30

At least, Lassen was the plan. We’d spent the night in Dunsmuir as it put us within easy morning striking distance of this national park–it would be a not insignificant detour on our day’s route, as that evening’s destination was Anaheim, which was a nine hour drive without a detour, but national parks are worth detouring for. We ended up sitting in construction traffic for a while, but the sun was shining, we  had podcasts playing, and there was jerky to gnaw on (the breakfast of champions). Often as you approach a national park, the land around you will grow wilder, a hint of what is to come. I can’t say that was really the case here. It grew more rural, certainly, and our car got chased down the road by a pack of dogs which was pretty wild, but there were no glimpses of the park through the trees, no clues to what lay ahead.

What lay ahead was that the park was closed due to snowy/icy roads. Dang it! The visitor’s center and a short walking trail were still open, but the driving loop through the park was closed. I was disappointed but this area isn’t so terribly far away that I couldn’t make another attempt in the summer. If I’m honest, I’m already half planning my next trip to that area. And it wasn’t all bad–we got to take a bathroom break, stretch our legs in the crisp air, listen to bird chatter, and see a tiny part of a place neither one of us had been before.

lassen-volcanic-1-of-11

lassen-volcanic-2-of-11

lassen-volcanic-3-of-11

lassen-volcanic-9-of-11

lassen-volcanic-8-of-11

lassen-volcanic-7-of-11

lassen-volcanic-4-of-11

ca-trip-2016-3-of-30The trees were coated with the most neon green moss I’ve ever seen. It flipped my cameras out, they utterly balked at its vibrancy.

ca-trip-2016-2-of-30Greeeeeeeeeeeeeen!

From the sort-of-fail at Lassen, we pushed hard toward Anaheim, making a stop for In N Out burgers (a given), taking a short detour for an address I’d plugged into RoadTrippers which turned out to be an empty orchard in the middle of nowhere (uhhhh, thanks, past me), and stopping for the occasional restroom break. Sometimes, adventure is seeing new sights and plunging off a rocky cliff with a parachute strapped to your back, and sometimes, it’s flossing a chunk of jerky the size of a toddler out from your teeth in a McDonald’s parking lot while being watched by something like twenty feral kittens, and this drive was definitely more the latter. Not just more the latter, exactly the latter, because that was precisely what happened. One moment, I felt I wanted to pull over and get out some dental floss, and the next, there were cats everywhere and my mouth was giving birth to something so large I should have probably given it a name.  I suppose it’s not too late. Rest in peace, Jay Erke.

beloved-jay

Even pushing, we arrived at our hotel late, with all of the usual complaints that come with a long day’s car travel, so I was thrilled to learn that the pool and hot tub were 24 hours. I wasted no time after check in to don my brand new suit decked out all over with sharks (only $10 on Amazon!) and head to the pool–it was late enough at night that Jason and I had the entire pool to ourselves, which was a blessing in more ways than one. Not just for the quiet and moving a body that had spent too many hours sitting and the warm water on aching muscles, but also because within a minute of hitting the pool, one of my boobs popped out, and also, the suit turned see through. Not “naked in the pool” sort of see through (minus, of course, the escapee situation which was corralled immediately), but definitely “it’s a good thing there isn’t a strong light source nearby” sort of see through. What I’m saying is, there’s a solid reason that swimsuit was only ten dollars and it wasn’t quite the bargain I thought it to be. So, you know, thanks again, cover of darkness and other hotel guests with reasonable bedtimes. You saved me a lot of embarrassment. At least until I splashed it out all over the internet.

 

imagination

Save

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.

sunburn and bugs day 6 (51 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (52 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (54 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (55 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (56 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (57 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (59 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (60 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (61 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (63 of 64)

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

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Escape From Santa Fe

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

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

sunburn and bugs day 6 (1 of 64)

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

sunburn and bugs day 6 (5 of 64)Feminist Killjoy, ready to hit the road

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

canyonero

sunburn and bugs day 6 (6 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (7 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (8 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (10 of 64)

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

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

sunburn and bugs day 6 (12 of 64)

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

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

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

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

sunburn and bugs day 6 (14 of 64)

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

sunburn and bugs day 6 (18 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (19 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (20 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (21 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (24 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (28 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (29 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (31 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (32 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (34 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (35 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (36 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (37 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (39 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (40 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (41 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (43 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (44 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (45 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (46 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (47 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (48 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (49 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (50 of 64)

sunburn and bugs day 6 (64 of 64)

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

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

**Heh, anal.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.

sunburn and bugs day three (1 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (3 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (4 of 67)

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.

sunburn and bugs day three (8 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (9 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (10 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (11 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (12 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (13 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (14 of 67)

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.

sunburn and bugs day three (18 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (19 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (20 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (17 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (21 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (22 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (26 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (27 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (67 of 67)

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.

sunburn and bugs day three (30 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (31 of 67)

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.

sunburn and bugs day three (32 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (33 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (34 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (35 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (36 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (37 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (38 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (39 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (40 of 67)

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.

sunburn and bugs day three (45 of 67)

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.

sunburn and bugs day three (46 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (47 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (48 of 67)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

sunburn and bugs day three (50 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (51 of 67)

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.

sunburn and bugs day three (52 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (53 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (65 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (66 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (55 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (56 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (57 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (58 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (59 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (60 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (61 of 67)

sunburn and bugs day three (62 of 67)  sunburn and bugs day three (64 of 67)

 

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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Not the U2 album, the other one: Joshua Tree

joshua tree (2 of 36)

I could feel the judgement in her eyes even though she was too polite to express her exact thoughts. The national parks employee had just helpfully marked a driving route of Joshua Tree on my map and asked if we needed any suggestions for hiking or other activities. “Nope!” “But there are just a few short–” “Nope!” I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t that I was lazy and underprepared, because while both of those things are true, neither has ever prevented me from getting out there before; I don’t really consider it a hike unless there’s a possibility of imminent death. However, I was also smack in the middle of an enormous day trip and simply didn’t have the time to really flirt with disaster in my usual fashion. Then again, maybe I’m growing up a little: before you enter the park, they make it very clear that people have died there from preventable accidents–things like not having enough water or food, so I backtracked just a bit before the entrance, gassed up the car, and bought important survival necessities like two flavors of gatorade and chips with the guacamole baked right inside so I wouldn’t have to expend any energy on dipping. My obituary certainly isn’t going to bemoan, “If only she had dipped a little less gratuitously” unless, of course, they are talking about the decades-long buildup of nacho cheese that is even now slowly coating all of my arterial pathways, waiting for the right time to strike.

Joshua Tree is gorgeous, with a wild beauty you might not even know was there, based on the area outside of the park. Thanks to a number of pull-out areas and parking lots, I was able to get out and wander around a bit even without tackling one of the proper hiking trails or attempting any bouldering. Since it was still spring, I got to enjoy spotting all kinds of teeny-tiny wildflowers blooming in the desert–not the riotous lush swaths of color you get elsewhere, but delicate clusters of petals wavering under the winds and blazing sun. I would like to go back and explore more thoroughly when I have the time–I should probably plan ahead and bring at least two bags of those chips.

joshua tree (3 of 36)

joshua tree (4 of 36)

joshua tree (5 of 36)

joshua tree (6 of 36)

joshua tree (7 of 36)

joshua tree (8 of 36)

joshua tree (9 of 36)

joshua tree (10 of 36)

joshua tree (11 of 36)

joshua tree (12 of 36)

joshua tree (13 of 36)

joshua tree (14 of 36)

joshua tree (15 of 36)

joshua tree (16 of 36)

joshua tree (17 of 36)

joshua tree (23 of 36)Thankfully, it was not hot enough when I visited for bees to try to drink the water from my eyes or I definitely would have thrown myself off a cliff. Which is a thing they do, and fuck that, fuck that, fuck that.

joshua tree (18 of 36)

joshua tree (19 of 36)The view of the San Andreas Fault/Coachella Valley

joshua tree (21 of 36)

joshua tree (22 of 36)

joshua tree (24 of 36)

joshua tree (25 of 36)

joshua tree (26 of 36)

joshua tree (27 of 36)This parking lot was full so I can only assume that you get stabbed in the Hall of Horrors and someone comes and tows the cars away at night.

joshua tree (28 of 36)The world’s tallest Joshua tree.

joshua tree (29 of 36)Skull rock!

joshua tree (30 of 36)It looks a bit less skull-y from this angle, to be honest. Not even worth the effort of picking its nose.

joshua tree (31 of 36)

joshua tree (32 of 36)

joshua tree (33 of 36)

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Desert View Tower in Jacumba Hot Springs, CA

 

desert view tower (29 of 31)

In 1923, Bert Vaughn believed this corner of California was destined for big things: namely, that it was going to become a border crossing area. So, in anticipation of the future economic boom, he bought the whole damn town and set himself to the task of increasing his personal fortunes. One of the ways he sought to do so was by building a roadside attraction as a “monument to the pioneers”, though mostly it was to advertise his bar. Although the town’s border crossing dreams never came to fruition, the roadside attraction did: the desert view tower. Constructed from the wooden remains of an old plank road running over the sand, the tower has seen some updates since then–the lower circular portion was added in 1950 when it changed hands. From that point forward, the tower has remained much the same, even as ownership changed, and is now a California historical monument.

As I approached the tower entrance, I spotted a dog flopped across the stairs, basking in the sun. I didn’t want to startle it by stepping over it, so I tried making some noise to wake it up. The dog could not have been less interested in the prospect of waking up, so I carefully stepped around it and went inside, where I found another super chill dog flopped out on a couch. I don’t know what exactly is in the water of these Jacumba hot springs to make these dogs not even care who the heck is stepping into their abode, but they should definitely bottle and sell it as I happen to know a small dog who could use a little chilling out.

desert view tower (31 of 31)

For a pittance per person ($6.50,  or the cost of one regrettable drive through meal), I got access to the tower itself as well as the at-my-own-risk boulder park next door. Cheap thrills! I singlemindedly climbed all the stairs, ignoring the ephemera on each floor in favor of seeing the view first. After four flights of stairs, there’s a large viewing area, and the option of ascending a much narrower set of wooden stairs with room for one or two people at the very top, and I climbed this as well, cramming ahead of Jason who mostly got a view of my butt. The view was a bit better on the larger platform below, or at least I felt safer looking in all directions without worrying that I’d put a leg through the stairs while distracted, or be knocked off the stairs entirely by the wind. A sign on the gate says that they close the tower when wind speeds hit 110 mph so on the day I visited, it must have been below that threshold, but it was still strong enough that if I faced the wind and opened my mouth, the wind would breathe for me, saving a little mileage on my lungs. (I’m trying to keep them supple and youthful for all of those marathons I won’t be running and/or for when I inevitably run into an organs dealer in a back alley, I would hate for him to get a terrible price on the black market because of all of that time I spent carelessly breathing, the nerve.)

desert view tower (1 of 9)

desert view tower (2 of 9)

desert view tower (3 of 9)

desert view tower (4 of 9)

desert view tower (5 of 9)

desert view tower (6 of 9)

desert view tower (7 of 9)

On the way back down the stairs, I checked out the dust-covered doodads and geegaws lining the cases, but as there was precious little information about any of it to place it in context, I moved on rather quickly, having no patience for the “What inspired them to put this dragon figurine next to this string of christmas lights and Himalayan salt lamp?” guessing game.

desert view tower (1 of 31)

desert view tower (2 of 31)

desert view tower (9 of 9)

desert view tower (3 of 31)

desert view tower (8 of 9)

desert view tower (6 of 31)

desert view tower (5 of 31)

desert view tower (7 of 31)

Back outside, it was time to take my life into my hands at the boulder park. On my way in, I encountered a British couple outfitted in safari hats, who excitedly asked me how I’d heard about this place (as they were the only other people I’d seen there, and the reverse was presumably true for them), which sounded a bit like “Oi! This place is brilliant! ‘Ow’d you hear it about, then? Chip chip cheerio, time for a spot of tea!”. You may think this isn’t an accurate transcription of the conversation, but I guarantee they will tell their friends they ran into some Americans who told them that “like, oh my god, I like, totally read about it on the internet or something dumb like that, it’s so dumb, everyone is so dumb” so this cultural conversational mistranslation goes both ways.

The boulder park was constructed during the 1930s, when out of work engineer Merle Ratcliff carved effigies in the stone for the supposed wage of a dollar and a jug of wine a day. That day rate seems suspect to me, but I do like a good legend, so I’ll let it slide. Either way, Merle was an industrious worker, and his carvings are generally whimsical and have stood the test of time. It was seriously fun to clamber over all of these boulders–I felt like I was getting away with something, that someone would pop their head out of the tower and yell “Hey you, get down from there!” No yell ever came, and I happily jumped from boulder to boulder, ducked under others, squeezed through narrow passageways, and warmed myself on a rock like a fat rattlesnake. Thankfully no actual rattlesnakes, fat or otherwise, made an appearance, or there would have been a brand new boulder in my pants.

desert view tower (10 of 31)

desert view tower (11 of 31)

desert view tower (12 of 31)

desert view tower (13 of 31)

desert view tower (14 of 31)Olaf is seriously pissed about something. Maybe about being, uh, frozen in stone. This is a stupid series of jokes, I should let it go.

desert view tower (15 of 31)

desert view tower (16 of 31)

desert view tower (17 of 31)

desert view tower (18 of 31)

desert view tower (19 of 31)

desert view tower (20 of 31)

desert view tower (21 of 31)

desert view tower (25 of 31)

desert view tower (22 of 31)

desert view tower (23 of 31) dontforgettofloss

desert view tower (27 of 31)

desert view tower (28 of 31)

desert view tower (26 of 31)

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Iceland’s Golden Circle

I staggered back to the hotel around three am after looking for the northern lights and slept like the dead…for three hours until my alarm went off to rouse me for the golden circle tour. Almost every single part of me wanted to stay in that bed, save for the part that wanted to shatter the alarm clock with a rock first and then go back to bed. What kind of sadist tour agency books an early morning tour immediately after a late night tour? I mean, granted, that’s probably something I would have done anyway if I was in charge of scheduling as I subscribe to the “cram as much as humanly possible into one trip, sleep is for the dead” school of thought…at least until that alarm goes off in the stark cold morning and I’m the coziest hedgehog that ever curled into a blanket burrow and then I think “sleep is for me, sleep is for meeeeeee.” Either way, I always get up, looking forlornly at the bed, and this sullen state of mind usually continues until I get some food in me, also known as the Pre-Food Grumps™.

Iceland’s “golden circle” is a ~200 mile loop that comprises a number of tourist destinations, primarily Geysir, Gullfoss, and Þingvellir. Reykjavik Excursions must be familiar with the Pre-Food Grumps™, as the first stop on their golden circle tour is Friðheimar, which you will note is not on the list of three things I mentioned above. Friðheimar is known for growing tomatoes year round in greenhouses under artificial lighting. As you may or may not know, Iceland is a young land, geologically speaking. It’s still developing, and is very volcanically active. Natural forces bring Earth’s heat close to the surface, which allows the country to use inexpensive and clean geothermal energy to heat and light their homes…and to power these sorts of greenhouses to grow crops. Through the use of these greenhouses, they’re actually able to grow local bananas, a fruit you would never expect to find in their climate.

On the way to Friðheimar, our tour guide explained a bit more about food production in Iceland. Now, I am not mocking her at all–she was knowledgeable, well-versed in English, and I liked her quite a bit–but occasionally she would come up with a turn of phrase that just boggled the mind. For instance, when talking about geothermal activity in Iceland, she went on to explain that in some areas, the ground is too hot for people to bury their dead and that thinking about that problem was something that “put a little smile” on her face. Yes,  I often get a little smile when thinking about the problems of others, but generally that’s not something one discusses among company one doesn’t know particularly well. As we pulled into the Friðheimar parking lot, she told us that these were the best tomatoes we would ever eat, and they were grown completely without the use of “shamicles”. You would be wrong if you thought that “shamicles” has not worked its way into my regular vocabulary, and not always as a substitute for the word “chemicals”. As an example, the homeopathic natural remedy section at Whole Foods is FULL of shamicles.

tomatoes

so many tomatoes

marys menu

At Friðheimar, there was signage everywhere proclaiming that NOW is the best time of the day for a bloody mary. Jason is particularly suggestible when it comes to this sort of thing (I may or may not have tricked him into marrying me by leaving photos of wedding bands laying around) and this is how he ended up with the world’s finest bloody mary at 9am. At 9:01am, he learned that he doesn’t actually like bloody marys. I, too, am not a fan of the bloody mary,  though I briefly considered the “healthy mary” (green tomato, lime, honey and ginger, served chilled with sparkling water) or the “happy mary” (the healthy mary, but with added gin, hence the happiness). If you really want to get your motor revving bright and early, you can also elect to purchase a hollowed out tomato filled with schnapps. It was a little early for me to be hitting the sauce, particularly at the start of an all-day tour, so I passed. However, I remain intrigued by their dessert menu, which includes a green tomato and apple pie, tomato ice cream, and cheesecake with a green tomato cinnamon jam–so much so that I’m considering importing some of their products to try at my leisure.

bloody mary

Our next stop was Geysir, the periodically spouting hot spring from which the English word “geyser” also spouted. One of our fellow bus riders was so anxious to witness the phenomenon than he stood up and began grabbing his bags before the bus came to a stop, which prompted our tour guide to scold him with “You must listen to me or you will fall down and hurt yourself very badly!” to which Jason followed up with a whisper in my ear “and then I’ll get a little smile on my face!” which caused me to erupt in raucous laughter, like a different (more obnoxious) sort of geyser.

After we deboarded, we carefully made our way to the hot springs, as the constant water droplets cause the pathways to turn into sheets of ice. Nearby trees were crusted with ice solely on their geyser-facing side. The surrounding landscape was almost otherworldly, with smoking holes bubbling gases into the air, and every few minutes, the heavy sigh of Strokkur pluming boiling water into the sky. Geysir itself erupts infrequently.

In case the wonder of nature wears off, thankfully, there’s an adjacent gift shop with some really upscale items, like fur hats that I couldn’t stop petting until I worked out the price conversion and gagged a little…and then petted them some more because there was no way they were coming home with me. There were also some items that looked suspiciously like walrus pajamas, from the Danny Devito line for well-dressed walruses.

geysir hot springs

alien landscape

punching the sky

coated tree

walrus suits

After we’d had enough of water shooting up, it was time to watch water go down at Gullfoss. Gullfoss (or “golden falls”) is so named because of the way the waterfall lights up golden when the light strikes it just so, and has nothing at all to do with another phrase you may have heard, golden showers. I didn’t personally see the water glitter golden (it could have been the wrong time of day, too many clouds, or some other factor), but it is a gorgeous falls nonetheless. The popular legend about Gullfoss is that foreign interests wanted to turn it into a hydroelectric plant in the early 1900s, but that the daughter of the farmer who had leased the land, Sigriður Tómasdóttir, was so opposed that she fought a legal battle to prevent this from happening, walking to Reykjavik barefoot more than once, bleeding due to the rocky terrain, and she even threatened to throw herself into the falls themselves should she not prevail in court. Some sources say this story is true, others claim it’s false,  and since I’m not a research librarian and from all available evidence, you mostly read this blog out of pity for me and for jokes about butts, not accurate historical information, all I’ll say is thank you for your pity, and butts butts butts.

jason gullfoss

gullfoss 1

dont walk

gullfoss

gullfoss water

gullfoss pano

gullfoss iceland

 gullfoss flare

Next to Gullfoss is another gift shop, in case you found yourself with a desperate need of a keychain between your last stop and this one. I took a quick pass through (because you know me, I like stuff) and it was basically the same stuff I’d seen everywhere else on the trip. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se, I guess I just would have expected a little more variation from place to place–things that spoke more specifically to the exact place at which one is standing (“Sigriður Tómasdóttir threw herself into Gullfoss and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”, etc) but that just might be my American consumerism talking.

After reboarding the bus, the tour guide told us that we were coming up to her favorite part of the tour–the part where she stops talking for an hour, so if we’d like to nap and not miss anything, now would be the time. It seems all I needed was for someone to reassure me that I wouldn’t miss anything, as I fell asleep in seconds, drool running down my chin in a poor imitation of the waterfall. By the time the tour guide started talking again, I was feeling a bit more refreshed and a bit less like a member of the walking dead, saliva nonwithstanding. We had arrived at Þingvellir national park, the place where the north american and eurasian tectonic plates meet. You can actually see the continental drift between the plates, and walk along the Almannagjá fault, which is what we did. Other tours are available to go snorkeling between the plates in the Silfra fissure in the Þingvallavatn lake, which supposedly has some of the most crystal clear water in the world. I’m not the world’s most avid snorkeler, so that’s not a claim that I can personally verify, electing to spend my time doing something other than panicking quietly in a drysuit.

boulder cliff edges

cliff

walking path

rocky cliffs  pathway    j bundled             t walkway

church    

running water

pano

As we were leaving the park, the weather turned nasty. The skies grew dark, rain lashed at the side of the bus, and someone driving behind the bus felt the driver was taking things a bit too cautiously, laying on the horn the entire time he passed us. We saw him a few miles up the road being dug out of a snowdrift.

…It put a little smile on my face.

Save

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.

Save