Red Rock Road Trip 2016!

Since returning to the states a few months ago, I’ve been very excited to start exploring my own country once again.  After almost three years of not seeing any new US areas, it was time to have an adventure.

I’ve wanted to explore the western states for quite a while now.  I’ve even had quasi-plans that were scrapped twice…much to my chagrin.  So in early June, I was finally off to Utah!

Day 1

The journey began in Salt Lake City.  Overlooking a hiccough or two with the rental car, the first stop turned out to be amazing.

The altitude change, combined with pretty high temperatures equaled slow and steady movements.  But hey, I was on a nice long vacation, so I was in no mindset to be rushed anyway.

The first order of business was to go visit the capital.  The visitor’s center and gift shop was just across the street from the capital building.  It provided a place to park as well as a great spot to capture a beautiful picture.

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The capital was really neat and there were many things to read which discussed the state history, its founders and cultural icons like the infamous beehives you tend to see everywhere.

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After lunch at the amazing French bistro “Gourmandise,” (which I highly recommend, if you are in the neighborhood!) it was time to leave the car at the hotel and set out walking.  There was talk of seeing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse, so I couldn’t pass that up.  The world-famous choir group was about to go on tour and they just happened to rehearse on Thursdays.  I took that as a moment of serendipity and sought them out.  Naturally, they sounded amazing, especially with the accompaniment of the orchestra.

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After briefly seeing the choir, I was able to look around the amazing Temple Square.  It encompasses 35 acres, which contains beautiful buildings, museums and libraries, including the Family History Library, which houses the largest genealogical collection in the world.

Temple

Temple

Assembly Hall

Assembly Hall

Day 2

This was a big day for me.  Having only been to the rocky west for a very brief trip to the Grand Canyon years ago, I was itching to see some larger-than life rocky formations once again.

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The drive to Bryce Canyon National Park was really pretty.  It was cool to see the terrain start to change from the city to the outskirts to red rocks as I traveled south.  At one point the road takes you through an arch on your way to the park.

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Once inside, the trails are easily marked and many beautiful sights are just outside the parking areas and turnoffs.  After a few minutes of hiking, the amazing hoodoos emerge, leaving you breathless for a few minutes.

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Hoodoo

Many countries were represented, zillions of photos were being taken, but everyone seemed to briefly sand in awe before the cameras came out, because no matter how amazing technology becomes, it can never replace the sensation of standing before the majestic view in person.

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Day 3

Instead of taking the interstate east across Utah, toward Moab, scenic byway Rt. 12 was used instead…and that was an amazing choice.  Did it add a little time to the day’s journey?  Yes.  But did it offer breathtaking mountain views and multiple areas to pull off for photos?  Um…most definitely!

With the purpose of the day being the arrival in Moab, the scenic byway was the most beautiful way to get there.

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The unexpected enjoyment of seeing Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park was a wonderful addition to an already beautiful trip.

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After arriving in the town and setting up the campsite, it was time to explore on foot.  Moab feels like a beach town without the beach.  It’s super cute, walkable, with more than enough shops, restaurants and cafes of every kind, not to mention every kind of adventure activity available.  It was great to get some ideas for what to include for the following day.

Day 4

In the morning I went to the northern part of Canyonlands National Park.  Once again, it was easy to drive around the park and pull off to explore great vistas and trails.  Each sweeping view was better than the one before with pull-offs every few minutes.

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With much of Canyonlands being inaccessible by car, I was content with touring the northern part and then heading back to town for another adventure.

Raven’s Rim zip line adventure was next on the list for the afternoon.  I met up with a handful of other people scheduled for the same tour.  The guides took us on a 30-minute off-roading excursion to get to the first line.  (I think I screamed more during that part than during the zip lining part!  It was awesome!)

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Once at the top of the rocks, the lines extended out over huge cliffs and valleys.  Of the six lines, two of them ran for over a quarter-mile, and in the middle of the trek, we had to cross a very flexible swinging bridge.

It was a great day of scenic beauty and adrenaline.

Day 5

This was the day to see Arches National Park.  This park is very close to the town of Moab and easy to travel around.  There’s about 40 miles of scenic roadway that takes you through the park.  Many arches and beautiful formations can be seen well from the road or pull-off areas.  For the more adventurous, hiking trails can be used to get as close as possible to the structures, including some little ones that are hidden from the road.

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I was able to get some great shots, but a word of caution: the iconic “Delicate Arch” takes over 1.5 hours to hike to…each way.  Seeing it from far away was just fine, considering I was able to see so many other amazing arches close up, with only a minor hike instead.  With the altitude and very high temperatures, I had to make choices on how to exert my energy.

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch

Pine Tree Arch

Pine Tree Arch

On the way back to Moab, you’ll pass a road with sheer rock cliffs that many try rock climbing on.  Just past the rock climbers is a long section of rock with a bunch of petroglyphs.  It’s amazing to see the work of people about 10,000 years before our time, but the writing is faint and could be easily overlooked.

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Day 6

A big day of travel!

The goal was to leave Moab, Utah and arrive in Page, Arizona, with a stop in 4 Corners.

On the way out of town, there is a small detour you can take to Newspaper Rock.  It’s another petroglyph area.  These are a little easier to see, and you can get closer to the writing, making for some cool photos.  I’ll never get tired of looking at things that are frozen in time.

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About an hour south, near the town of Blanding, UT, I made a pit-stop at a really cool dinosaur museum.  I was a bit surprised to see this caliber of museum in such a sleepy town, but there were lots of displays, fossils, replicas and other cool things to see.

This museum had 3 of the 6 known North American Permian logs, and the only ones on display! Not bad for something 275 million years old.

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Another hour down the road I was dipping into Colorado and then New Mexico to swing by 4 Corners.

The Monument really is in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a pretty cute tourist trap.  The line was very long and the day was very hot (about 100 F) but signs leading up to the seal requested that everyone limit themselves to three pictures to ensure that the line will keep moving.

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The center seal reads “Four states here meet in freedom under God.”  Radiating out from the center is each states seal, name, overlook ramp, info plaque and flag, as well as booths of Navajo folk art around the perimeter.

After getting my photos, customary travel art and a much-needed snow cone, it was time to keep going.  I had another three hours of driving before arriving in Page.

This was pretty much a straight shot to Page, with no additional turn offs.  But once in Page and checked into the hotel, I still had lots of time to do something else.  I had wanted to see Horseshoe Bend anyway, so when the hotel attendant said it was really close and easy to see, my mind was made up.

Ten minutes down the road was the sign and parking area.  From there was a few yards of an uphill hike, followed by a 10 minute walk to the cliff edge.  No safety features were in place, so caution was necessary, but the view was out of this world.

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The pictures are great, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the scale that the eye absorbs in person.

 

Day 7

Touring Antelope Canyon was a highlight of this journey.  This iconic canyon, just a few minutes drive away from downtown Page, has a few different parts, and stretches below the surface for quite a distance.

I went to the “Lower” part for my tour.  I paid extra for a photography tour, because we were allowed to bring nice photo equipment and tripods along.  We were also given lots of extra time to really set up our shots.  (The regular tour is great too, but they really move people through quickly.)

It was pretty tight getting down into the canyon, but once you squeeze your way through the opening, it opens up a bit so movement is a little easier.

Once at the bottom, we followed the path to some wider spots to set up our gear.  In about two hours we were able to take some great shots without the other tour groups in our way.

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It was an extremely hot day, but worth the hot sun and the sand blowing in our faces for this experience.

Day 8

This was my last full day of vacation.

Leaving Page, I headed south on my way to Phoenix.  After an hour or so, I pulled into the Cameron Trading Post.  This is an awesome gift shop if you want anything to do with the 4 Corners area, Navajo art, desert home decor, local jewelry, pottery, Kokopelli images, etc.  Some of the art was insanely beautiful and intricate.  I walked away with a beautiful set of metal etched earrings and some sand art.

Continuing on, I noticed the first signs of cacti began about 50 miles north of Phoenix.  The terrain changed and soon they were everywhere.

Getting into the city was a little crazy, as I didn’t understand how the city signs were labeled.  But, after stopping to ask a few questions, I was on my way to the State Capital in no time.

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The day was so hot…about 105 F to be exact.  So I was happy to take refuge inside the capital building for a nice long time.

The main building is a museum now, due to newer wings that were added for legislative purposes.  You guide yourself through the floors and take in all the unique things that Arizona has to offer about its history.

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After an extremely hot day, it was nice to head to the hotel and enjoy some much-needed AC.  I was hoping to go to a mall and hang out for a few hours, but I found out that Phoenix doesn’t have a mall!  I guess there is a shopping area, but it’s all outside, like a strip-mall.  So back to the hotel it was! I enjoyed pizza delivery in my cool room for the rest of the night🙂

This trip only confirmed that the western states are so big, with so much to see, that I have no choice but to return one day and continue my exploration.

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The Blue and the Grey

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About 10 years ago I went to the National Civil War Museum.  Like any historical museum, it was filled with exhibits that made you think, made you sad and sometimes made you angry with regards to how people justified backward and unjust ways of living years ago.

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Today, the museum still offers all those necessary elements but the exhibits have been updated.  They do a great job conveying the power, fear and culture surrounding slavery, complete with weapons and devices of submission along with excerpts of slave owner’s worry over losing their way of life, depending on the war’s outcome.

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As expected, Abraham Lincoln was highly featured.  His elegant words still resonate today.

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Near the end of the museum’s self-guided tour, there was a wall which had a collection of plaques featuring a “War of Firsts.”

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This war was unique in so many ways.  Yes, in some ways each war seems to only create new ways of killing each other.  But this war had many things at stake.  It not only divided the country’s interests, but also families and the culture.  North and South, black and white, harvesters and manufacturers all were split and torn on many levels.  And from great turmoil comes great lessons…ones we should never forget, or need to learn again.

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Homecoming

It has been a decade since I’ve actually spent time in my hometown.  Sure, I’ve been back for a few days or a week or so every so often, but nothing more.  Now I’ve been visiting …

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Homecoming

It has been a decade since I’ve actually spent time in my hometown.  Sure, I’ve been back for a few days or a week or so every so often, but nothing more.  Now I’ve been visiting for a month, and it’s crazy how little I know.  Many things have changed, or at least everything looks different.

Most people know their hometown like the back of their hand, having roads, people, and memories on the tip of their brain upon returning.  I, however, feel like I’m learning things for the first time.  I’ve had almost no connection to this place in so long, that it feels like a new foreign land to me.

So, what are things my mind wanders towards now that I’m back in the US?

There are many things, but I find myself feeling extremely grateful.  I’m grateful for clean drinking water, hot showers whenever I want them, produce that won’t give me food poisoning.  I’m so happy to see beautifully paved roads with no traffic (after living in Jakarta, I’ll never complain about traffic…and traffic here will NEVER compare!)  I love that my favorite foods are reasonably priced, considering they are made or produced locally.  I’m grateful for fast, reliable internet 24/7 and clear connections when I want to call someone on the phone.

And, what have I leaned from being away for 2 years and then returning?

I’ve learned that I can be happy with very little (if I didn’t know that already.)  I’ve learned that every country and every person has room for improvement.  I’ve learned that most people have fears about things that are foreign or far away, no matter where they live.  And…most importantly, I’ve learned that although I may not have much, I have a rich spirit, fruitful experiences, abundant relationships on many continents and the satisfaction of achieving my personal goals.  There is no way I would ever permit myself to look back on my life and feel anything less than successful.

“There will be a time when you believe everything is finished.

That will be the beginning.”

-Louis L’Amour

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Lasts

“Firsts” are always something to get excited about.  They are markers of time and of life: first kiss, first car, first boyfriend, first job.

Usually, they are special memories surrounded in puffy white clouds and sparkles when we think back on them.

“Lasts” are more bittersweet, at least most times, for me.  Every so often I will do something for the last time and think, “YES! Thank You! Never Again!”  But those moments are few and far between, thank goodness.

I recently finished up my stint as an expat in Indonesia.  Although two years abroad isn’t an incredibly long period of time, it is interesting how easy it was to get into routines and life schedules.  Daily life was very different compared to the USA, but for the time in which I called Indonesia my home, that life became usual, common, natural.  Saying goodbye was difficult because I had grown accustomed to certain things I was sure to miss from time to time once I returned to northern North America.

As the weeks counted down, I was cognizant of every “last” that came up.  I was happy to submit my last grade…considering I had to enter 5 scores for each of my 1,100 students.  I paid my last months rent.  I scheduled my last dentist and spa appointments (two extremely cheap things that I had to take advantage of while I still had the opportunity).  I acquired my last souvenir.  I said goodbye to my last student.  I gave some belongings away to make room for my most important items and memories, and then packed my suitcase for the last time.

There will be no more student greetings or farewells, no more high-fives, no more belly laughs over the ridiculously funny things these kids said.  There will be no more birthday serenades, no more seas of beautiful brown skin, hair and eyes attentively waiting for my tongue twister warm-ups and group games.

No more thick pollution, but no more extremely cheap cost of living.  No more traffic, but no more roadside food stalls every five feet.

I am happy to be back in the West, with family, appreciating the beauty of Winter, but there are many things about the East that I will miss.  The people were very friendly and incredibly hospitable, the shopping was cheap and the weather was always tropical.

Maybe one day I’ll get to go back and revisit some of my close friends and continue traveling around the country.  I’d love to check in on my kids to see how much they have grown and learned in my absence.  That will be a treat.

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A Link to the Past

Around 40,000 years ago, when modern humans were reaching as far as Australia and Europe, a few in a cave, just outside Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia, decided to get creative.

Besides pictures of animals, which cropped up in a few other countries at about the same time, these people in the shallow cave outside Makassar did something different.  They put their hands on a high rock and spread natural red dye over them to leave very clear hand prints…the first time (to the world’s current knowledge) a modern human had done so.

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I’ve always been an avid museum goer and love to experience things that seem “otherworldly.”  I’ve seen fossils, dinosaur bones and space rocks, but this was a different kind of “otherworldly.”  Maybe there was a reason and purpose at that moment for marking the rocks.  Or, maybe as we made the switch from a hunter/gatherer lifestyle to a lifestyle rich in cultivation, time for creativity could actually be afforded.

Maybe it was a bunch of kids sneaking away from their family responsibilities and totally freaked out when they realized the dye they used on the cafe graffiti wouldn’t wash off!

In any case, I’m glad they left a marker, a message, a connection to another time.

The rest of my short trip to Makassar was much more modern…except the drive to and from the caves…that was still peaceful and untouched.

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The city of Makassar is very nice, albeit extremely hot.  It had an interesting feel to it, considering it’s a major city.  It was busy but not crowded, highly-traveled but not expensive.  The location was interesting as well.  Makassar is perched on the west coast of one of the peninsulas in the south of the island.  City and tropical beach are strikingly close to each other, which is why you don’t see many foreigners in the city itself.  Apparently after exiting the airport, many head straight to the beach or one of the well-known diving spots.

This worked out really well for me, as I was there for cultural experiences, not time on the beach.  Besides the cave paintings, I was able to tour Fort Rotterdam at the edge of the city.  It happened to be really close to the hostel I stayed in and I was the only white person…so I was naturally swarmed with photos, opportunities with locals to practice their English and even had a request for an impromptu greeting, to address an English class being held on the lawn.  After two years of living here, these are things I’ve grown accustomed to and am ok dealing with those situations.  Everyone in Makassar was so nice and their English was very good…so it was easy to accept the attention with a smile.

Meanwhile, I was actually able to see the beautiful Dutch fort in between speaking engagements. The complex is quite large, including two buildings that are museums with the royal history shown in paintings around the inside.

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After the museum and statues, it was time for driving around and shopping.  The city has nice wide streets with plenty of places to park, so I could get a great picture of their central monument (much like MONAS in Jakarta) and grab some beautiful wood carvings at an artisan gift shop.

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As usual, this was a quick getaway, but I had a great time exploring a new area of Indonesia for two days.

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Lost in Translation…or just communication

My walk to work every morning takes about 15 minutes.  It’s about a mile of walking through the neighborhood and includes passing no less than four security checkpoints.  These areas are for neighborhood safety patrols because everyone basically lives in “gated” communities…although they are not glamorous like what you would normally picture in the hills of California or other prestigious areas.

Anyway, since I walk every day (which is extremely unusual here), all the security guards know who I am and where I work.  They are very nice guys who I always say hello and goodbye to along my journey.

The oldest security guard and I have a special bond.  He has gentle eyes that squint against the sun and pretty white hair that shows beneath his cap.  In all the times I’ve run into him, I’ve never seen him without a big smile across his face.

This is the only guard who I let give me a ride to the school, if he happens to be going that way on his rounds.  On the back of a motorbike, the journey takes only about 2-3 minutes, so it is a nice gesture when he offers.  But in those 2-3 minutes, an interesting situation occurs.

While on the back of his bike, this guard just talks and talks and talks…in Indonesian.  I clearly only know enough Indonesian to get by in basic situations, so the nuances of chummy banter are absolutely lost on me.  After about nine months of living in this particular neighborhood, all the security dudes should know my extremely basic Indonesian vocabulary, but this special guard loves to talk and talk and talk.  I usually respond by nodding my head, saying yes or sometimes just giggling, knowing full well that this guy is having a conversation completely by himself.

Over the course of two years, this has happened a few times to me where the other person just wants to chat whether I can contribute or not.  It used to pressure me a bit because I wanted very badly to join in, ask a question or add something of value.  I don’t want to say I’ve given up necessarily, but I think I got to a point where I recognized my language ability wouldn’t develop fast enough for that to happen.  Since that moment of realization, I started to enjoy just listening to how beautiful the language can be and how sometimes a smile can communicate everything you need.

The older security guard will still give me a ride every now and again, he will still smile and talk away, and I’ll still giggle in ignorance.

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