A Travellerspoint blog

Amtrak Adventure: Part Two of 'Riding the Rails'

MY 56 HOUR ADVENTURE ON AMTRAK: OAKLAND, CA TO ST. PAUL, MN

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Quick switch of trains in Portland. Within 5 minutes the Empire Builder named after James J Hill and his legacy of railroad building, starts rolling from the station next to a parked train. A weird sensation occurs with the brain attempting to figure out which train is actually moving. My stomach churns a bit with the indecision and movement. So we roll onward and I roll with the situation as well. We are moving.

I plant myself in an optimal seat as there are no assigned seats this leg of the journey, note the seat number and then venture to the observation car. So far, I have two seats to myself. The food ‘cafe’ is below the observation car with very minimal selections. I strongly suggest bringing picnic lunches and consider carrying a cooler bag for other items such as boiled eggs, cheese, meat, veges etc, i am already missing more fresh vege’s and fruit. Another suggestion is to bring lots of water. I brought refillable bottles and my camel back to fill at stations that allowed a stop long enough to go in and fill them up, preferably at a filtered water station. There is little opportunities to purchase anything beyond the train tracks or the train cafe. I think train delays are expected and they make up time by cutting stops short.

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Since Portland we have been following the Columbia River. The lush green rocky hills lining both sides make me want to live here. The train seems to skirt far too close to water’s edge at times. Quaint river towns pop up alongside the river.

On return back to my seat, I found my seat number and plopped myself down, realizing only then that it must be the wrong car as the items in the seat were not mine. I had to retrace my steps back to home-base.

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Later in the observation car, a woman with two kids walk up the steps from the cafe, mumbling that the cafe won’t take a credit card number, they need the card to pay. “I guess we will starve for 11 hours”. Before I’m able to respond and offer up something from my food bag or money, she is unto the next car. Later she is seen passing through the car with food. A solution must have been found.

Seems like food planning is more of a necessity as there are few options once moving. The man across the aisle said the cafe was closed and he had no food. I offer up some food. Further on in the evening I hear overhead that the cafe was closing so not sure if my neighbor was short on food, cash or didn’t know where to go. Or perhaps the cafe attendant was on break at that time he went, in which the cafe is closed.

At present, I have both coach seats tonight which makes sleeping much easier, adding to the fact that I am more tired tonight from the previous night’s lack of sleep.

I wake early knowing that the mountains are suppose to arise and greet me at dawn today. I take advantage of the women’s “lounge”, albeit tiny, which allows for an easy change of clothes, room to wash face and brush teeth versus juggling toiletries in the tiny closet-like bathrooms. Not sure why it says women on the lounge door, but I am not complaining. Perhaps dating from an earlier time.

I hurry to the observation car as I don’t want to miss the scenery. The morning sky is gray and overcast. I do a quick scan of the sky, no whitecaps visible just yet. The cafe/store is open below. I have my refillable coffee mug with me and they fill it to the top, unlike the small cups they use for sale. It pays to be eco-friendly.

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I find a comfortable seat in the observation car. The man facing me at another table is taking advantage of Amtrak’s 10 trip legs in 30 days for $500. He is basically traveling from LA up the West Coast, across the Northern states to DC, down to Florida, across the Southern state back to LA. He figures it is a steal to see that much of the country for a mere $500. He has an empty plastic container and a bag full of cereal. He buys a milk, pours it into the cereal and has his breakfast. Another travel trick learned.

A second passenger joins in on our conversation. He’s in waste management and he used the tips he received at Christmas time to purchase his ticket. He is in a sleeper car which includes three meals a day with white linen table service. Both of these men are well prepared Amtrak patrons. They know the different services, new cars versus old cars, where trains connect, etc. They are here for the ride. It’s about the journey, not always the destination. I love this philosophy.

I have been tracking the trip via google maps to watch the progress of our route. We pass through West Glacier. We are so near the Canadian border that perhaps a passport will be needed if we just swing a little north. At times we seem inches from cliffs hanging over glacial rivers or stony outcroppings next to the rails. There is a sense of awe passing so much natural beauty, traversing places that one cannot hike or drive. I am sold on Amtrak. I am ready to become their poster child.

I have already made a list of things to prepare for the next journey. Perhaps sleep deprivation is shadowing over my senses, but I am experiencing a sort of high with this journey. That said, I would not recommend it for those who want good sleep, have higher comfort levels, want personal space or need to be more active. Breaking up the trip with stops may assist with increasing comfort levels.

I mention the number of sawmills and loaded lumber cars noted passing through Oregon to my new Amtrak buddies. I was reminded that is the milling area of the country. “Here and in Northern Michigan’” chimes in the other passenger. I added that I was surprised to see so many homeless encampments and trailer parks in Oregon. The Portlander passenger said it is a big problem, especially around Portland. “They will camp anywhere”, he said.

Outside of yesterday’s mild disturbance, there is a sense of camaraderie that seems to have disappeared elsewhere in the country these days. I love these moments where humanity can drop their facade of life and share a mutually beautiful moment. Life has slowed to train pace. There’s room to move around, plenty of leg space and no rushing to get to a gate, through traffic or go through security. One chooses this pace.
I have seen more snow in this trip that I ever imagined. Rocky Mountain high.

I remain in the observation car as you can see all around, like surround sound. People are friendly and age, gender, and race seem to slip away.
An older women and younger Nepali born man carry on a conversation a few tables down. They start doing some yoga stretches in the aisle. I join as I want to stretch too. Another woman sees us and we all stretch together. On these long hall rides, stretching and exercises help regenerate the body and soul with all the sitting done. I took advantage of any stops to get outside and walk the platform.

Once past Glacier Park, we meet the high plains. The yoga woman’s husband shares that we are at about 4000 feet. He has an altitude app. The landscape is flat and treeless. The occasional antelope is spotted either solo or in a group.

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I continue a conversation with the Nepali man. He shares that his parents lived in Bhutan, but have Nepali background. They lived peacefully in Bhutan until the King decided that the Nepali majority may cause issues with the ruling Bhutanese. They were forced to move to Nepal but were not accepted as rightful citizens. They immigrated to the US and eventually became citizens. He now lives in Portland Oregon in a spiritual center. He says he lives a life as simple as when he grew up in Nepal. The center does not have electricity and grows most of their own food or use a food exchange system in Portland. Though he admitted he was on food stamps at present. He shared that he rarely uses money, obviously albeit for this train ride. He professes giving love is far more important than making money and he tries to live by that ideal. During our stretches he said he does yoga and exercise up to three hours a day. He seems to live a fairly mindful lifestyle.

A longer stop is coming up so I excuse myself to refill my spare water bottle. I head out. He says he has been rationing water as he doesn’t trust the quality of the station water despite it having refillable stations or drinking fountains.

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I take a walkabout the platform to get some exercise amidst all the peeps taking smoke breaks, however I smell as much THC as tobacco.
I settle down in my chair to eat my dwindling food supply, have some down time from conversation and chill out for a bit as getting drowsy.
The Montana leg of this trip is in the high mesa. Despite the elevation, it is flat. Really flat. Rare can one see trees excepting around the scattered, far apart houses. Mountains can be seen in the distance. Dark specks gather and when in more vision, I realize they are cattle. This is cattle country.
From google maps, the Canadian border is really near. I wonder how this border is patrolled compared to our southern border.

Another 10 minute stop and I head out to stretch legs and inhale fresh air while dodging smoker’s circles otherwise it’s a bit self defeating.
Back on the train I stay in my seat. I like the peace at present and am also fighting the desire to nap.

A group behind me are laughing, in a rather silly way. Guessing they may be smoking some of that wacky tobacc-y that tends to overpower the platforms on breaks. The laughter is enjoyable to hear.

I return to the observation car and find my two morning buddies hanging. They are good guys. One around 50 yrs old and the other in his 60's and retired. They are on the train for the ride. The 50 year-old from Michigan hints of a more conservative political leaning from the conversation, but he remains diplomatic. The Portland guy talks of the changes in Portland. He shares bikers no longer have to stop at stop signs and pedestrians no longer have the right of way on crosswalks. The walker has to make eye contact with the driver to ensure they see them, before crossing. This Portlander has a walker and no car.

We ponder how this shared friendly microcosm on the train could be extended into everyday life that has become so divided lately. The shared experience creates a sort of peace amongst the travelers. We are all here for the journey as otherwise a plane would have been cheaper and faster.
North Dakota has a similar landscape as Montana. Flat, snow and a sense of emptiness. Beautiful in it’s own way, but with a sense of desperateness.

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With each night, the sleeps improves. I get excited for the new day and scenery. When I awake, we will be in MN, my home state and destination.
I wake so early that the cafe is not yet open. I must await a half hour before getting a coffee down below in the cafe. In the meantime, I catch up on my writing.

I note a guy with a head set on listening to what appears to be a sound mini-board. I ponder if he is writing music as he jots down things in a notebook. He closes things up and I take the opportunity to ask him if he is writing music and if he takes the train to be inspired. He said he is only writing the base line as he needs more equipment to write the music. He is from Oshkosh, Wisconsin and was visiting friends in Glacier Park where he once worked. The train is more easy to get on and off to visit friends that he met while working there and now are spread out over the states. He tries to live a simple life too so that he can work on his music, etc.

Seems to be a theme on the train. Everyone taking time to enjoy the ride as much or more as the destination. We chat more about finding space to create, setting up routine, etc. All challenges to work around with one’s daily work and obligations.

The train is getting closer to the Twin Cities. We pass junk yards and litter-filled spaces. The train slows way down as we enter what is called an active rail yard. The view is not at all a glamorous entry into the Twin Cities. I want to somehow make an excuse as a Minnesotan for these train track junkpiles. Most of us don’t see this from our roadways.

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Union Depot stop is in 10 minutes. Time to say adieu to the passengers met if around while I prepared to disembark. My heart is a little sad as the journey is over. My faith in humanity has been uplifted on this ride. There are good people out there and this small microcosm was a fabulous example that we all can live together peacefully, at least for a train rides length.

Union Depot has just been remodeled and is a glorious example of times past. It is good to be home. I jump off the train to see a platform full of passengers. Seems the St Paul to Chicago leg is a popular route.

Where to next?

Posted by Shantitraveler 18:57 Archived in USA Tagged amtrak #amtrak #riding_the_rails #slow_way_home #all_about_the_journey Comments (0)

Amtrak Adventure: Part One of 'Riding the Rails'

My 56 hour adventure on Amtrak: Oakland, CA to St. Paul, MN

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The Amtrak train, Seattle bound, arrived early in Jack London station. And yes, aptly named after the Call of the Wild, Oakland-native author. A small old log cabin sits near the waters edge, which was partially transported down from Alaska and supposedly Jack lived in during his residence there.

An Amtrak conductor checks tickets and directs passengers to another conductor further down the platform for the coach class car. The second conductor assigned one’s seat at this station. I score a window seat on the left side of the train, supposedly the preferred side for the more scenic glimpses of the passing landscape. Most of the coach seats are on the train’s second level with the sleepers and roomettes in another car. Services like bathrooms, luggage storage and cafe/store are on the lower levels.

Sleep doesn’t come easy. I am thankful for the compact throw that I brought along to somewhat resemble a sleeping cover for the night. After several awakenings in my attempt to find the best position to gain some REM sleep, I note the person across from me has a leg rest versus just the foot rest which I have been using. I discover I also have that option to better position in a more recumbent style. That explains the second lever on my armrest. Duh. One to flip me back and the other to flip up my legs. I maneuver oh so gingerly as I have a seat mate next to me that appears to have successfully reached REM sleep.

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I arose with dawn’s breaking light in time to catch Mount Shasta in the distance. Any concern of sleep deprivation melt away to the beauty that surrounds me. I start clicking away and send pics to share the experience with curious friends and family of this long journey.

I score a free coffee in the cafe. Perhaps because I had a reusable mug or just lucky. Up in the observation car I sip my rejuvenating beverage and listen in to the chatter of other passengers.

Some passengers who have traveled together for part of their journey, say their goodbyes. One offers assistance with luggage to the departing passenger. Hugs shared and mutual affections given. I am touched at the camaraderie.

Passing the town of Klamath Falls a sign boasts, “Home of the Pelicans” sports teams. At this stop, the overhead announcement states to the oncoming passengers that face masks are now optional on the train. The justice department just overruled the CDC guidance for mask wearing on transit. Maybe half of the passengers continue to wear masks.

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North of Chelmut the train heads up a 5000 foot mountain pass. There are structures pre and post the occasional tunnels that look like trestles but per another passenger, they are technically a snow shed that protects the tracks from accumulating snow. An Amtrak employees stands behind the set of chairs facing outward in the observation car and says the train is traversing down the hill via an S shaped switchback. He continued saying that back in the day, the train actually had to switchback by pulling Into side tracks and then switching directions to the next switchback. Tall pine trees line the tracks ladened with snow. We descend down to lower elevations. The snow slowly disappears but the pine trees continue to stand tall.

I retreat back to my coach chair for some solitude. The woman across the isle makes a speaker-phone call to her doctor inquiring about the time of her surgery scheduled for tomorrow. They are unable to answer at present and will call back.

I pass time mindlessly looking out the at the passing landscape. Pure bliss to tune out for awhile.

Later in the day, a discussion gets heated in the middle of the observation car. An Afro-American states loudly that he feels insulted when two white men ask him to tone down his voice. He continued speaking at an elevated level directed at the men, so one of the men went off to get staff. He shares,“I am from the south and I know about white privilege.” Two conductors arrived and he tells them, “I will sit like a good, gay Negro til I arrive in Seattle.” Adding, “I should have the opportunity to be able to speak my truth.” I missed most of the prior exchange to totally understand what had taken place.The situation settles and the Amtrak employees disappears.

Later back at my seat, the woman across the aisle got a return call that confirmed her surgery is scheduled for 10:30 am tomorrow.

Everything is so green beyond the windows of the train. The terrain is mostly flat with rolling hills in the background. Buds and green leaves are poking out on tree branches. Several homes in the rural areas are trailer homes or simple, one storied style as the train approaches the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon. The surgery-bound couple disembark.

This is lumber territory. Train cars pass with raw timber loads and sawmills are ubiquitous alongside the tracks.
The overhead voice says that this is a smoke stop, albeit brief, so make sure you listen to the “All Aboard”.

We pass an over-capacity trailer lot that appears more like permanent housing versus campers. Further down the tracks is a scattering of homeless tents. Views for the stop at Eugene, OR train station, show quiet streets that appear neat and tidy. The train stalls shortly after Eugene. Several minutes pass and then a short but speedy train zooms past.

An Amtrak employee passes through with his non-electric carpet sweeper sharing with a passenger that he fell asleep on the train and woke up startled at the last stop. They chuckle.

An announcement was made that they are holding up my next train, the Empire Builder so that those transferring over should directly go to that train. Hopes diminished to wash face, pee in a real flush toilet, buy a fresh salad and try to find one of those neck pillows that normally I find so amusing on people. I have come to realize with increased clarity the reason everyone wears them around their neck in transit.

The man that previously had an encounter with two other men seem to have remained basically in the same seat in the observation deck since last visited this am. He is chatting with new passengers.

The number of mask wearing folk has decreased significantly since the beginning of this journey when the Federal Gov’t stopped the mask mandate on public transit.

Posted by Shantitraveler 17:48 Archived in USA Tagged #amtrak #riding_the_rails #slow_way_home #all_about_the_journey Comments (0)

Road Trip: Santa Fe, NM to Reno, NV: Part Four

Part Four: Moab, UT to Reno, NV


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Day 7: Moab, UT to Provo, UT
We were gambling with a late start to move onward, but thought a second visit to the park was well worth it. We figured we should be out of the park no later than 3 pm and be on the road shortly after. We then gambled further and attempted entering the park a wee bit earlier than our window time. We thought we could play it cool, smile and get a nod from the ranger in those ever so cute hats to go on in. Fail. The ranger kindly said they could not scan the ticket as we were not in the right timed window. She suggested a visit to a petroglyph park and try again during our scheduled time. I am sure she would have liked to have suggested something else for our violation. How many others tried this route and also failed?
We did the drive of shame around the roundabout and headed out of the park. A visit was made to a walking bridge that spanned across the Colorado River just a couple miles down the road. The wind was howling and funneled down this river canyon with shocking force. We bravely crossed the bridge despite the wind being even more angry. On this trip, I have learned that wind is not my favorite element.
We re-enter the park in the right time window and head out to the furthermost point once again, the Devil’s Garden. We wanted to see how far we could hike before our determined departure time.

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The wind remained steady and strong. This hike appears to be as popular as Delicate Arch. We pass families and couples hiking out. The path starts harmless enough with few obstacles. There are far more arches on this trail then elsewhere in the park. As one advances on the trail, folks tend to drop off as the trail becomes more primitive further out. The first real hurdle is an uphill climb on a more narrow portion of rock that drops off on both sides. Easy enough to scramble up but my brain is already in flight mode thinking how will I fair going down. We meet some hikers coming down that share there are more iffy parts further up on the trail, and with the wildness of the wind, they chose to return rather than fly off these beautiful rocks.

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On return to this earlier questionable narrow rock spot, I have a moment of what I will call mild panic. My friend who has outwardly shown more signs of his fear of heights during this trip, goes down without too much trepidation. I stand frozen at the top. I had to regroup and rethink. I see a few folks looking up at me, which only adds to my state. Are they praying for me or trying to figure out how they will rescue me after I fall? A couple minutes pass before I get down basically on my butt as I scoot slowly down. I feel ridiculous but jubilant that I was successful without injury.
We make a dash out of the park as planned at 3 pm. Sad to depart. The next leg of our journey is now basically to drive til we get to Reno, NV where I have family.

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As we head north out of Moab tumble weeds fly across the road. The wind is tough and blowing up a storm of sand. Visibility goes down to about 1/2 mile. We are wondering how much mileage we will be able to put behind us tonight. We stop at some dusty petrol station to get reinforcements and courage to continue.
We have to get over a mountain pass before dark. Our goal of driving later into the evening may not be successful. We mount the pass and sail down the other side by dusk but then hit an onslaught of rain and sleet. Visibility once again plummets. We exit off and pull over to contemplate our next move. As we do so, it starts to snow. We are outnumbered by the natural elements. We find a hotel to hunker down for the night. Like a beam of light in the dark, our saving grace was an Indian Restaurant in the hotel that was closing in 10 minutes. My friend checks in while I race down to order takeout. A delightfully happy ending to the day.

Day 8: Provo, UT to Reno, NV
The forecast did not look good for an early start. Between rush hour and weather, we waited it out til after 10 am. Good these smaller chain hotels include a basic breakfast, and more importantly coffee. There were several accidents during the morning rush hour but by the time we departed, the roads were pretty much dry and the sun was out.
This was going to be a long haul day with more destination in mind than the journey as the other days had been. It was basically a straight shot on Hwy 80, which was relatively mellow compared to one of her sister roads, number 40 down south. Did you know that all East/West interstate roads end in zero, and North/South roads end in 5. Pretty darn clever.
A few gentle mountain passes were toppled as we plied West. The wind had settled to a more gentle pace. At 80 miles an hour, we basically booked it to Reno and took turns eating so as to make up for lost time. We arrived before sunset and were ready to rest after so much mileage.
A higher respect for Nature was earned on this most fabulous of road trips.

Posted by Shantitraveler 02:39 Archived in USA Tagged #beautiful_utah #arches_park #usa_national_parks #road_trip Comments (0)

Road Trip: Santa Fe, NM to Reno, NV: Part Three

Part Three: Bluff, UT


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Day 5: Bluff, UT

Leisurely start today following yesterday’s whirlwind visit of Canyon de Chelly. Coffee sipped on the deck of our second story hotel room facing the red canyon wall, while watching two kids scurry up a rocky path without fear. My age, experience and body think of the potential risks of falling, tumbling rocks or landslide. When did all these fears set in?
We did hike up the path later, but with less vigor and fearlessness.
A soak in the whirlpool in the morning led us to a conversation with another hotel guest. She encouraged us to visit a few places making it seem very plausible to do in half a day’s time or less. She suggested visiting the several petroglyphs in a wash that included ‘The Processional’ which was not to be missed. And the 8-mile hike named the Citadel was fantastic.
A further stop at the visitors center gave more alternatives to our day’s planning with conflicting ideas and time frames, adding confusion to our decision making. The woman at the visitor center was veering us from Monument Valley saying that Valley of the Gods was just as pretty without the crowds. And the road to the petroglyphs would take time. With daylight burning we settled on a drive through Valley of the Gods with a stop at Gooseneck State Park and Mexican hat before making our way down to Monument Valley for our scheduled tour there.
Perhaps Valley of the Gods had less tourists, but alternatively, there we’re several RV’s and campers scattered across the valley. One camper shared that this was BLM land, (Bureau of Land Management) where people can park/camp for free.

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After driving through the bumpy but scenic road in Valley of the Gods, later cropping photos to eliminate RV’s in the backdrop, we stopped at the twisting, turning San Juan River at Goose Neck State Park. The vista was tremendous and one can only awe at Nature’s beauty. En route we caught a view of Mexican hat, aptly named for its sombrero shape.

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We arrived at Monument Valley in time to grab a quick snack at the local market before jumping in the back of a pickup truck bed (with seats) for our tour of Monument Valley. The Navajo welcome center which included a food market was still partially closed due to COVID.
Our guide was Larry and we were the only ones on the tour.

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Larry was Navejo and like Richard, saw figures in the rocks that maybe us white folk might not be as in tune.

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We met up with another tour group at a sheltered overhang that was used long ago for all night ceremonies. One could see the sky from the natural hole above. Larry and the other guide sang a Navajo song and played a flute. I tried to imagine what the rituals were like on those cold desert nights here. Our tour ended with a very cold, windy jaunt in the back of the pickup as the sun was near setting. I couldn’t help but laugh how we looked hanging on to our hats and belongings for fear of furiously flying off into the desert night.

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We arrived back to Bluff in time for a quick dip down in the hot tub with stars coming out above. As we sat soaking the wind picked up. A few chairs were blown into the pool and an umbrella was knocked over. Time to call it a day.

Day 6: Bluff, UT to Moab, UT

We tried to pace our days so that we were not always racing around. Today is my friend’s birthday so the celebration commenced with a coffee enjoyed on the deck with a breakfast from the Shack Cafe.

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Before leaving town, we decided to check out the petroglyphs at Sand Island campground on the town’s outskirts, per the visitors centers recommendations.
Afterwards we took a drive through this quaint, historical town. 13,000 years ago, this area was inhabited by the pre-historic hunter/gatherers Clovis people. Then in the 1500’s the Utes and Navajos were around. In the 1880’s along came the Mormons who settled here and built a fort along with a school, church and the likes. Wondering how peaceful these different groups took over the land. There was much more to be experienced in this town, but it was time to head north to Moab.

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We had a timed entry to enter Arches National Park at 3 pm. Timed entries were to protect our natural resources from hordes of humans. We didn’t want to miss this window. The scenery once out of Bluff was less dramatic than what we had seen the prior day. We made few stops en route and landed in Moab with enough time to check in to our hotel and ready ourselves for a hike to Delicate Arch. My friend turned 62 today so I gifted him the coveted Lifetime Senior Pass to all National Parks. It’s a steal of a deal! And now that he had the Atlas to the National Parks, he was set.
The wait time to enter the Park was about 20 minutes as we slowly inched our way to the gate. The rangers were as friendly as ever considering the line never really lessened and most likely they had to answer the same questions repeatedly.
We drove the switchback road up that leads to this awe-inspiring park. There are several stops and pullovers to admire the breathtaking landscape. The day was chilly and the wind was still a wee bit persistent. The Delicate Arch hike was our goal today and whatever else we could fit in before the sun dipped below the horizon.
Delicate Arch is one of the more popular hikes here. Old and young alike ply their way up the 3 mile hike with about a 500 foot elevation gain. I was curious as how some of these younger folk would fair and if they would eventually need assistance and possible portaging as they ascended up on the fairly steep slick rock. The view of the arch was definitely worth the effort.

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We chatted with a Salt Lake man that frequented the park often. He planned to wait til sundown at the arch for hopefully some photogenic shots. He was a brave soul as it was cold and windy and there was still 2 more hours until sundown. We used the spare sunlight to explore more of the park.

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We drove as far as Devil’s Garden and did a short walk to the closest of arches there. The sun was setting and we estimated a half hour drive to get out of the park so we headed back, embracing the awe and beauty on the return drive with a sunset enhancing palette.

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A brewery birthday was the celebration of choice for a dinner venue. While sipping beer, we decided to try land another entry into the park for the next day before we commenced the next leg of our journey. We scored a 12 noon window and decided that we would linger in this beautiful part of Utah and then scramble as much as we could on the road to make up the lost time.

Posted by Shantitraveler 19:43 Archived in USA Tagged #bluff_ut #beautiful_utah #arches_park #delicate_arch #on_the_road Comments (0)

Road Trip: Santa Fe, NM to Reno, NV: Part Two

Part Two: Santa Fe, NM to Bluff, Utah


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Day Three: Santa Fe, NM to Chinle, AZ

Departure day. My friend does the mad scramble of finishing up business and work before departing with a clear mind. I did the same two days prior. Best to hit the road sans worry and stress. I did a walk about in the nearby arroyo (a wash) to pass my morning. I was on alert mode for rattlers, but not enough to prevent me from getting out in the chilly, crisp air, yet warm sunshine. A far cry from the wet weather I said adieu to in MN.
We head south to Albuquerque and merge onto Hwy 40, a semi-truck filled road. I tried to quiet the anxious backseat driver in me, despite the excellent driving skills of my friend. Perhaps not owning a car for nearly two decades, has turned me into the beastly passenger with the occasional ‘air’ brake foot stomp.
We head north out of Gallop, which whether or not true, is the birthplace of the national polling stats. I have nothing to show proof of this, and am presently in a hotel where we are too far from the internet router to pull up data on WiFi that would rebuff this declaration.
We stop in the small town of Chinle as we have a tour planned for Canyon du Chelly in the morning. This is Navajo Nation country. The town has few options for dinner beyond Denny’s and fast food menus. I had just finished sharing with my friend that if there was an option to eat local Navajo food, I would prefer. The restaurant chosen served up Navajo tacos. Bingo. If my mind continues to make a wish which is immediately granted, this will be a most fabulous trip. We get our food takeout as COVID at one time ravaged this area and we’re not sure of present stats. Most folks are still wearing masks here. Myself included.
I rarely shy away from picnics be it out in nature or in a hotel room. The taco will cover both dinner and breakfast. We catch up on the continuing horrific news of the War in Ukraine, which is so challenging to comprehend. A quick wave a guilt sweeps through my head thinking of my present situation and those in Ukraine.

Day Four: Chinle, AZ to Bluff, UT

Up early as continue on MN time. Tour pickup at 0900. Need to pack up snacks, load up the camel-back and re-pack the car as heading further north today. I fill my camel-back with ice from the machine, hoping it’s filtered and cold for the hike, anything to prevent buying bottled water with it’s legacy of mounting, non-compostable stockpiles.
Our guides name is Richard. He is Navajo and has lived most of his life in the Chenle area excepting a few periods of living beyond. He says many young folk leave the area nowadays as jobs are few and unemployment is high. He recalls a younger time in the community he grew up where there were more businesses, a cinema with free movies on Saturday and a pool hall. Now the building space stands empty between a 7-11 and a petrol station. Estimating Richard’s age was difficult, not knowing how much the weather and life played a part in his lined face and streaked grey hair.

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He had a poetic aura as he pointed out eagles, lizards, and other animals on the bluff face. He took frequent pauses to point these out or to share a stories of this sacred land. People have lived in these canyons for nearly 5000 years. Etchings on the canyon walls mark the history of these first residents. Richard shared that the cliff dwellings high above the canyon floor were inhabited by people 4 feet in stature or less. There were small foot holdings carved out on the wall to access these precarious dwellings.

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The Ancestral Puebloans, “Anasazi” (Ancient Ones) followed leaving their legacy of multistoried villages, small compounds and more wall paintings.
We hiked down to the canyon floor of Canyon de Muerte, chosen because other canyon hikes would involve water/mud crossings. There were moments of trepidation whether the steep angles of sandstone would support a hesitant, misplaced foot. We noted we were the only ones hiking down while others enjoyed the bumpy jeep ride along the canyon floor. We waved as they passed in their jeeps.

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We summited back up the canyon wall and parted ways with our guide. One thing I love to do on road trips is pack picnic food to take advantage of impromptu al fresco options for meals. We chose the park by Thunderbird Lodge to partake of our feast of veges, hummus, cheese and crackers, etc. before hitting the southern rim road of Canyon de Chelly. There were various lookouts to peer over the canyon, but the highlight of them was the final overlook, Spider Rock.

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We lingered longer than expected at this park and thus scurried up to our next stop, the town of Bluff, before dusk settled across the desert horizon.
Thankfully, we were able to grab a quick dinner at the quaint little food shack on the premises as well as take a quick dip in the hot tub before calling it a day.

Posted by Shantitraveler 21:12 Archived in USA Tagged arizona new_mexico santa_fe canyon_de_muerte chenle bluff_ut Comments (0)

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