A Yankee Notebook: Among the crowds on vacation out West

Willem Lange. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Willem Lange. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By WILLEM LANGE

For the Valley News

Published: 03-27-2024 9:30 AM

Our cab arrived at 4:40 a.m. on the dot and deposited us at the entrance to United Airlines about 5:30. Check-in was amazingly easy, and the trek to our gate likewise. We took off from Logan also on the dot — it seems to be true that the earlier in the day you fly, the better your chances of avoiding foulups — and a few hours later, after a change in Denver, we arrived in Grand Junction in mid-afternoon with plenty of time to get to Moab for a swim and supper.

I’ve noticed that, using a cane as I do, people everywhere are quick to be helpful: holding doors open, carrying my coffee and orange juice from the buffet to my table, responding to conversational openings. Everyone, that is, but vehicle rental agents and desk clerks. Their minds seem to run, “Aha! A cane-user. Let’s see how he handles finding his car in the farthest part of the lot or the room farthest from the elevator.” Doesn’t bother me much; I’ll meet them in the hottest part of the afterlife.

I’ll grant the auto clerk this: he was overtaxed. When we finally got to him, he explained the fine print on the rental contract as if he were a tobacco auctioneer, then waved vaguely northward toward the huge lot. After several minutes of searching, we were rescued by an employee of a different company, who not only figured out where our car was, but took the key and went and got it for us.

Over the next two days that car (a BMW, which got no respect in cowboy country), our elegant, if tired, conveyance acquired the sobriquet Hermann Goering’s Revenge, for its weirdly designed automatic gear-shifter. I never did master it, but I did get fluent enough eventually to get it right within three tries.

Hermann and our GPS phones got us to our hotel in good shape, where we discovered that our reservation was intact, and the desk clerk, though assigning us a room almost as far as possible from the elevator, was very helpful in suggesting places to dine in downtown Moab, as well as “Route 128,” which was not a national park and not mentioned in the literature Bea picked up at the visitor center. We dined on barbecue and took enough back to the hotel in boxes to microwave for two days.

The hotel itself, though featuring several outdoor pools and bubbling hot tubs, was strangely devoid of bar or pub. I felt like H.L Mencken in 1925, covering the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, and ruing that he was in a spiritual desert (as in spirits).

Our first day we tackled Arches National Park, just a mile or so from the hotel. It’s impossible to describe adequately the soaring spires, arches, and impossibly precarious perchings of huge sandstone boulders upon skinny spires. It took us two visits to traverse the road and side hikes all the way to the end of the park.

A word about the National Park Service from my occasional experience with it, from the Smokies to Acadia to Arches: It does an incredible job managing the priceless resources that have been set aside over the years, especially under the assault of so many thousands of visitors. Its regulations can seem nannyish, but we saw many keep-off signs explaining the damage wreaked upon desert soil by tramping feet, while right behind them the ground looked as though there’d been a folk-dancing festival. We didn’t meet a single NPS employee who wasn’t cheerful and welcoming.

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We were here during Bea’s spring break — and everybody else’s. The breakfast room at the hotel, and the pools in the space beside it, were full of families with kids. When Bea swam laps, she dodged an aquatic Frisbee game. But the weather, for us Yankees, was perfect, on the cusp between winter’s chill and summer’s ovenlike heat.

We spent another day in Canyonlands National Park, with its thousand-foot-high overlooks above the Colorado River and carefully worded instructional signs that made the pioneer interlopers in this ancient land sound like benefactors. But they’re all gone now, both ranchers and indigenes, along with the game that once lived in this beautiful, apparently barren land. In our days there, we saw mostly ravens haunting the parking lots for treats and three confused-looking pronghorns near the northern end of Route 128. That road, following the Colorado River valley, was so spectacular (and quiet) that we drove its 40-mile length three times, once on our way back to the airport, where I bade auf Wiedersehen at last to Hermann. United got us back to Boston about midnight, just ahead of a snowstorm.