July 26, 2006

Reaching Utah.

I drove what seemed like all day. But it was only half as much as yesterday. Big mushroom-shaped thunderstorms loomed in the expanse of desert in front of me. The lightning looked strangely three-dimensional, not flat against the sky the way it looks back home, but in a precise place in the middle ground. Mostly, I drove in bright, hot sunlight, but a few of those blinding storms hit me. One made the temperature -- around 100 all day -- suddenly drop to 67. But I was inside the car, with the windows up and the air conditioning on. I was just reading the numbers on the dashboard.

I'm in love with the beauty of the western landscapes. But at the same time, I know that without the car, this place would be frightening and dangerous. I delighted when the ground went from green to brown as I drove west, and the land went from gentle hills to gigantic, ragged rocks. But it is only because there is so much land like Nebraska and Iowa that I'm in a position to see these desiccated landscapes as beautiful. Without all the affluence produced on that land I snub, I would have to see all this as a tragic wasteland.

But it's beautiful, isn't it?

Arches National Park

Helping make it beautiful:

Arches National Park


Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Althouse Cohen said...

Great photos! They should use that second one in Audi brochures.

Anonymous said...

Great pics. I love the landscape of the southwestern United States too. For me, I think it's because of Westerns. Also, when I compare the western and eastern United States and I think of good scenery, there is no comparison.

Palladian said...

Wow. My paternal family's home country. Not beautiful, but sublime.

Anonymous said...

Great pics. I love the landscape of the southwestern United States too. I think it's because of Westerns. When I think of the eastern and western United States and I think of scenery, it's no contest.

XWL said...

Though the Plains States are fecund and bountiful, they don't have the visual splendor and terrifying (as well as terrific) grandeur of the great empty spaces of the West.

The great emptiness is enjoyable in a car, but the threat of death faced by those that braved this expanse in the past is easy to imagine when you drive mile after mile in that phantasmagoric terrain.

Which makes this little article in the LAT about ultramarathoners, running in Death Valley during July, doubly impressive (or crazy).

(and anyone who drives from LA to Las Vegas more than once or twice, try the trip through Death Valley instead of the easier route on I-15)

(plus this time a year, you're likely to see automakers doing their hot weather stress testing and can glimpse the cars of 2-3 years from now)

Also, I agree, great pictures.

goesh said...

Ohhhh, I like the car but I figured you for a Mercedes, a larger car with a soft ride. Thank God for cruise control,eh? That rascal looks like it could get you alot of speeding tickets.

Jennifer said...

God, I love Utah. If it wasn't so twilight zone, we'd move there in a heartbeat.

Unknown said...

You havnt lived till you have driven through the Salt Lake Desert in the middle of a summer salt storm.

Unknown said...

You havnt lived till you have driven through the Salt Lake Desert in the middle of a summer salt storm.

Cat said...


I spent a few days in Moab a few years ago it took my breath away. I was just soaking it all up when I found myself...a little choked up! My friend driving thought I was mad at her until I explained I was overwhelmed. It is just amazing.

Maxine Weiss said...

Development will push out that way.

30 years from now, the hillsides will be graded. Tract home subdivisions will be put up in the thousands, and you will see the big box superstores in place of the open spaces.

It's already happening. The Indians are trading their reservations for casinos, and Public open spaces are being sold off to private developers.

Enjoy it while you can.

Mark my words. That area will not look the same, 30 years from today.

Peace, Maxine

Paul Brinkley said...

You can say that again, David.

Me, I kinda like some of the East coast spots. For some reason I keep thinking of lighthouses. It's a contextual thing. In an earlier time, earlier versions of those lighthouses guided the first ships in to start colonies. They were a symbol of a lot of neat stuff to come. For me, scenes like those are like scenes of spring.

Robert Burnham said...

The American West's greatest gift to everyone is its emptiness. Yes, I know its population is growing, but it's still hugely empty. Helps put people in their proper perspective.

Another aspect I appreciate is the West's atmospheric aridity — it's just more comfortable out there for the most part. I'll take Phoenix at 113° F and 15% relative humidity over New York at 90° and 70%. (Want to experience nirvana? Try 85° and 5%.)

Aridity also shapes the landscape by how the rocks weather. In the West, igneous rocks made of discrete mineral crystals (granites for example) weather faster than do sedimentary rocks such as sandstones and limestones. This is the inverse of what happens in the humid east.

The reason is that limestones (for example) dissolve relatively quickly when lots of slightly acidic rain falls on them, which is common in the east.

The west's dry air (especially at altitudes above 2,500 feet) cools off dramatically at night, with 30° day/night differences being routine.

In a dry climate, a large daily heating cycle has relatively little effect on those sandstones and limestones, but it causes the crystals in granites to expand and contract at different rates. This physically breaks down the rock's fabric — to see wonderful examples of this in action, visit Joshua Tree Nat'l Monument.

So enjoy!

Smilin' Jack said...

But it is only because there is so much land like Nebraska and Iowa that I'm in a position to see these desiccated landscapes as beautiful. Without all the affluence produced on that land I snub, I would have to see all this as a tragic wasteland.

Food for thought.

John Cunningham said...

Great pics, Ann! I love the Moab area, the land is so stark and severe. It is really neat to go into Arches Natl Park before sunrise, get settled, and watch the sun come up. More SE Utah pics, please!!

Henry said...

I don't think you need the great plains states to set up the beauty of Utah. Back when I used to fly between Utah and upstate New York several times a year, arriving in SLC could make me feel like I had been dropped on the moon. It was stark, hard, blindingly bright. Then the long evening arrived, the clear sky deepened to azure, the mountains caught the sunset as the shadows moved across the valley, and the place turned beautiful.

In the Spring, when I often flew back to New York, it was like plunging into a jungle. The Mohawk Valley landscape seemed impossibly dense; the trees and fields steamed with humidity. Soon enough, I would adjust to the softer light and luxuriant vegetation.

I miss both places now, living in the scrubby flat of Rhode Island, but if I moved I'd miss the ocean.

Jeff with one 'f' said...


As a Nebraska native, thanks for pointing out the affluence/privilege thng about the different landscapes. As a current resident of NYC, I feel the same way about Manhattan: without the bounty of flyover country, the peaks and valleys here would be just so much wasteland.

It all reminds me of this Onion story: 'Midwest' Discovered Between East, West Coasts

Jerry Troutman said...

Holy shnikies! What kind of lens is that in the second photo?

Sigivald said...

Arches NP?

I prefer to do the desert states in February, myself. That way you don't feel like you're stepping into a convection oven when you get out of the car...

SAMPLES said...

If I recall correctly, you are leasing the Audi. How many miles are included w/your lease and what is the charge for extra miles? How is it that you manage to drive across the country in a leased vehicle?

in_the_middle said...

Make sure you take some side trips off the I-70 Corridor through colorado. Go up the Grand Mesa from Grand Junction, drive through US 50, The mesa is the largest in the world, and the climate at the top is very different and the old-growth forest amazing.

Hit Crested Butte drive along the Taylor River, and not only are you able to see the cars of the next model year being tested, you can see the ones for this fall being shot for their ads.

This area of Colorado is so beautiful it's no wonder all so many car ads are shot here.

Oscar Madison said...

Nice shiny car against the red rock -- the favorite image of car advertizing.

Robert Holmgren said...

So will there be a San Jose meet up? Could I convince you to consider Palo Alto?

Robert Holmgren said...

So will there be a San Jose meet up? Could I convince you to consider Palo Alto?

lucas m. said...

I am a native Arizonan, and grew up in sight of the Painted Desert in Nothern Arizona. The Desert is a beautiful, desolate place, and these pictures are just a glimpse of the splendor that is the desert Southwest.
One of the most amazing things is the way monsoon storms that roll in so fast that you can't belive it, a wall of black and purple with flashes of brilliant white lightning, looking like the end of the world coming at you.
If you haven't seen AZ, come and sepnd some time. The high country around Flagstaff is classic High Country with great scenery, hiking and fishing, and the people are lovely. The temprature isn't bad either.
The low country is lovely too, but you easterners might want to wait untill late fall unless you want authertic 115 Arizona heat (But it's a dry heat!)
If you come you must take the Grand Canyon Railroad. It's an olld fasioned rail service to the Grand Canyon, and runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

japhy said...

grew up in utah, been living in philadelphia for 3 years or so. wow! those pics make me ache for home. there is something surreal and spectacular about the desert landscape. hope you're enjoying yourself. have the enchiladas suize at red iguana if you make it so slc.

Bruce Hayden said...

Wonder if we were on the road at the same time? I spent the night before in Fruita (CO) and then I came through 40 miles north of Moab on I-70 about 7 a.m. on 7/26 on my way to Las Vegas. I usually turn south at Crescent Junction (though the Colo. River route from Cisco to Moab is a lot prettier) on my way to AZ (I do it enough that I can recite the towns by memory: Moah, Monticello, Blanding, Bluff, Mexican Hat, Kayenta (where I always stop at the Burger King - where they have a Code Talkers exibit), Tuba City, and then Flagstaff, and give you the distances between them).

Its actually a bit interesting, as you move from mountainous Colorado to all those spectacular rock formations through Utah (as Ann is showing here), and into the desert in AZ. Surprisingly, there isn't as much overlap as you would expect, given that the borders were drawn on a map with a staight edged ruler. Its always a bit weird hitting the Utah desert within a couple of miles of the CO/UT line, and then hit the real desert as you enter Monument Valley, and then hit the AZ border half way through it.

As I indicated through, I stuck with I-70, and there is a stretch starting a dozen or so miles west of Crescent Junction, right at Green River, where the sign on I-70 says "No Services for the Next 100 Miles", and they aren't kidding - though there is a rest stop about 90 miles in to that stretch. And then, all of a sudden, after 100 miles of rock formations, you all of a sudden find yourself in well irrigated Utah farm land.

Being from CO, my preference, of course, is for our mountains. But after that, I will easily pick the UT rocklands, as pictured here by Ann. For me, AZ and NV are mostly desolate desert - which is nice, just not as nice, from my point of view. The desert provides a lot of tranquility, whereas all those spectacular rock formations in Utah merely provide a lot of glorious scenery.

I am back in CO for the weekend, with my car in AZ, so I will be driving back up through that area in another week or so.

Bruce Hayden said...


I am not really dissing AZ, as I spent a number of years there (and a couple in UT also - but SLC, which is very different from Moab, both socially, and as to scenery). Indeed, I will be back there in a couple of days. Yes, I know that much of AZ is not desert. But so much of it is - that is still by general impression of the state: high desert, low desert, but still arid desert.

I often head back to CO driving NE from Phoenix, and you very quickly get into pine trees, and stay with them for most of the way up until shortly before you hit I-40. And Flagstaff is almost indistinguishable ecologically from where I used to live (at about the same elevation) west of Denver in the mountains. And, I spent a summer during college in Prescott - again heavily wooded. But the state is still primarily desert - mostly w/o the spectacular rock formations you see in UT.