(composed Tuesday, 8/23/06 for later posting)
While Thomas had a little swim, I went to the lobby of the Best Western where they had an ethernet cable for plug-in Internet. I was able to post our entry from the previous day, but for some reason pictures wouldn't upload.
While there, I chatted with the grizzled handyman, who was a little concerned about the wireless problems. He was interested in our trip and seemed intrigued by Worldcon. He told us it was a long trip to Los Angeles. As I was leaving, he dangled by his fingertips above a bottomless chasm, met my eyes, and said, "Fly, you fools!"
Oh, no, sorry, that was Gandalf in LORD OF THE RINGS.
But fly we did. South on I-15 through bleak terrain with high, jagged mountains on the horizon. About noon we stopped to get gas, and found a nail in one of the tires. Closer inspection showed two other tires badly worn, With a day of hot desert driving ahead of us, and a 2,500 mile trip home after that, we decided to get the tires replaced.
Soon we were back on the road on Eurovan's new tires. What a difference! That annoying shimmy around 80 mph was gone, along with the more annoying shimmy at 85 mph, and the downright-scary vibration at 90 mph.
At about 2:00 we saw a sign and took a turnoff into Kolob Canyons, part of Zion National Park. For folks who are flying through with orcs on their tails, like us, there's a five-mile driving tour that hits the highlights of the Canyons. (Kolob Canyons is of particular interest to Battlestar Galactica fans: they were the original inspiration for the planet called Kobol.)
Wow! Once again, pictures cannot do justice to the craggy red sandstone landscapes.
One note that may be helpful to someone: the lady at the National Park Service desk told us about a $50 full-year pass to all National Parks. We wish we'd known about that sooner -- it would have been excellent to have on this trip. (Disclaimer: this option is undoubtedly posted at all National Parks and it appears in guidebooks, both official and unofficial. If we had bothered to read, we would have known about it beforehand. But it wasn't until someone actually told us, that it penetrated.
If you're going on a trip where you plan to visit a few National Parks, buy a full-year pass.
A last note about National Parks and visitor fees. We paid $15 at Badlands, $25 at Yellowstone, and $10 at Kolob...and we have more to go on the way home. It might seem odd to have to pay so much to visit areas that are the common heritage of all Americans -- you'd think the government would fully fund the National Park Service, so visitor fees would not be necessary. We thought so too, but one thing comforts us: At least all the rich people got their massive tax cuts. That's important, too. Apparently.
Back to the trip. About 5:00 pm we crossed into Arizona. We were now in the High Desert, and soon entered the Virgin River Canyon: a dozen or so miles of huge mountains, twisty road, and incredible scenery right out of Tatooine. Don kept snapping picture after picture, for around each turn there was another amazing vista. We stopped at an exit and took some more pictures.
We flew down I-15, crossing into Nevada and Pacific Time. Outside Las Vegas we stopped for gas, but no new tires this time. We zoomed through Las Vegas, and then stopped at the Nevada Landing Casino at exit 12. With $10 each, we played slot machines. Don lost most of his, and got bored rather quickly. Thomas, though, finished ahead, after winning several payoffs, including one that paid 150 quarters ($37.50). We stopped after that one, and had the dinner buffet at $8.61 per person.
Coming into California, but still in the middle of the stinking desert, we stopped in Baker, CA ("Gateway to Death Valley") to visit Alien Fresh Jerky. This Area 51-themed store deals in beef jerky, stuffed olives, dried fruit, and huge amounts of whimsey. We bought some jerky and some garlic-stuffed olives.
In the same town was The Mad Greek and the Bun Boy Motel. We speculated about the relationship between the two....
Continuing on, we finally emerged from the desert and entered Greater Los Angeles. And Don learned the most important rule about driving in California: Don't.
It's not just that the drivers are crazy and the traffic is obscene. It's not just that the roads are confusing. Like in Washington, DC, there is an almost complete lack of informational road signs. This includes those blue-and-white signs that tell you when there's food, gas, and lodging. By this time it was past 10 pm (past 11 pm by our Mountain Time bodies), and we were desperate for a motel. After following several false leads, we finally located a Motel 6 by seeing its sign from the highway. (We would have stayed at the Arizona Inn, whose sign was also visible from the highway, but once we took the exit we could no longer see it, and of course there were no directional signs.)
Ah, well. We made it down safe and settled in for the night. No Internet access, though, so this will have to wait until we're settled at Worldcon. With any luck, all the pictures will upload then, too.