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Posts Tagged ‘Lake Powell’


The idea for this trip came thirteen years ago when I bought the book entitled The Blues Highway: A Travel and Music Book by Richard Knight.

But then, as we were on the point of booking the trip, Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, the planned starting point for the trip. We resolved then that we would wait to do it when life in the city had returned to some semblance of normality.

In 2012, we did finally embark on a road trip, but in a very different part of the country – the National Parks of the South West, covering the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Setting off from Las Vegas, our expedition took in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Arches National Park and the Grand Canyon, followed by a sizeable detour through New Mexico, visiting Santa Fe, Albuquerque and iconic locations on Route 66 such as Winslow, Arizona (“Standin’ on a Corner”) and Gallup, New Mexico before returning to Vegas.

Numerous trips to San Francisco, Tahoe, Vegas as well as the North East (of the U.S, not England!) followed, as the Southern states, other than Florida, failed to seduce us sufficiently into venturing in their direction. Maybe their racist past (and present), Christian fundamentalism and gun culture all have had something to do with it. Moreover, the scene from Easy Rider where the main protagonists get short shrift in a southern diner still haunts me, and the song by Folkestone band, the Transients, entitled They Don’t Like Hippies in Baton Rouge, only serves to exacerbate the anxiety.

But now, with mid-term elections looming and the divisions in America widening, we have chosen this moment to plunge ourselves into the belly of Trumpsylvania, though a Californian friend’s recent assertion that we were essentially visiting “blue cities in red states” is a comforting and far from innacurate one.

So what is the attraction of this particular itinerary that has stubbornly refused to disappear from our vacation radar?

The Blues Highway, essentially Highway 61, runs, for the most part alongside the mighty Mississippi, from New Orleans  to Chicago and traces the migration of many African Americans from the Deep South to the Northern cities following the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Equally, it charts (sic) the development of the major music genres for which we are so much indebted to the United States for, principally the blues and gospel (Mississippi delta, Memphis, St Louis and Chicago), but also jazz (New Orleans), cajun and zydeco (Lafayette), country (Nashville) and soul (Memphis again, and not forgetting Elvis!).

After an initial overnight stay in Newark, New Jersey (flights from the UK being so much cheaper), we fly to the “Big Easy” for four nights before hitting the road with single overnight stays in Lafayette, Vicksburg and Clarksdale. A three night residence in Memphis follows before we head east to Nashville for four nights, arriving on the eve of my birthday.

From “Music City” we cross country back to the main road for three nights in St Louis, followed by a night in Peoria before arriving in the “Windy City” for another four nights, when we are hoping to be joined for a couple of nights by friends from San Francisco. Two nights in New York City conclude the trip before we catch our return flight from Newark.

The trip has the added bonus of introducing us to seven new states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois with brief detours through Kentucky and Arkansas. The prospect of experiencing new cultures, historic tours and spectacular scenery is, of course, exciting, but it is the music that is the driving force of the trip. Clubs, bars, museums and street musicians will, therefore, be the major focus of the next three weeks.

And we must not forget the other star of the show – the road itself.

Little thrills the blood more than the thought of exploring this amazing country by car with the radio blaring out the music style that reflects the landscape you are travelling through at the time. I am sure it will reveal some entertaining adventures as this blog grows over the coming weeks.

So let’s get on with the show!

See y’all later!

 

 

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After a heartier breakfast in a more spacious Bear Bites room (and patio!) than its sister motel in Hurricane, Utah, we made the short drive from the Travelodge in Page, Arizona to Wahweap Marina for our Lake Powell boat cruise.

We succeeded in getting on a two and a half hour cruise that enabled us to have a leisurely lunch before taking up our Antelope Canyon tour in the afternoon.

With 1,960 miles of shoreline, longer than the entire west coast of the continental U.S., man-made Lake Powell, with its clear, blue water, red rock canyon walls and sandy beaches, welcomes nearly three million visitors per year.

It was already warm and sunny, if a little breezy when we took our seats on the top deck of the boat.

We had taken a similar cruise on Lake Mead, which is linked with the more celebrated Hoover Dam, the previous year, but enjoyed this tour more. The geology was more varied, and the descent into Antelope Canyon was spectacular. The final part of the tour took us in the direction of Glen Canyon Dam, the power from which serves 1.5 million people across five states.

We had a sandwich and coffee at the Marina before returning, briefly, to our motel to freshen up.  We then joined an excitable crowd at the Antelope Canyon Tours office for our 1.30pm tour.

The assembled throng was almost entirely Italian, a coach party of elderly tourists and half a dozen young couples. The former were accommodated first, and when our young Navajo driver / guide, Rosie, asked the rest of us to board her open-sided jeep for the journey to the canyon, there was an unbecoming scramble for seats, even though there were sufficient spaces (sixteen, eight on each side) available.

What followed was a jaw juddering, hair raising charge across desert and sand dunes to reach the opening to the canyon. Fortunately, we had neither had too much or too little lunch for the journey to discomfort us unduly.

What, however, added to the excitement, or alarm for those of a more sensitive disposition, was the fact that the 20 minute journey coincided with the first rain we had seen since we arrived in America.

We were drenched within minutes, and for a moment I was reminded of the eleven people who had been swept to their death in the canyon by a flash flood fifteen years before.

However, by the time we were helped, dazed, from the vehicle, the heat had dried our clothing completely and the threat of further rain had receded.

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon, which means that thousands of years of wind, water and sand have ripped a narrow crevice in the mesa (a raised, flat stretch of land). It is a quarter of a mile long and 130 feet deep. Access is restricted by the Navajo tribe and visitors must be accompanied by a licensed tour guide.

The array of colours and shafts of light from above make it a real challenge for amateur photographers to capture the glorious images that dazzle the naked eye. The combination of a new digital camera and a modest appreciation of the snapper’s art, did not augur well for us. However, Rosie not only set our camera for the best effect, and then reset it at the end, but also took several of the photos herself! There appeared no end to her talents.

Indeed, as the young Italian couples in our group neither seemed to possess much English, nor appeared altogether interested, she spent most of the time directing her commentary to Janet and I. And yes, she is responsible for the picture below.

Dinner was taken at Bonkers, the number one rated restaurant in Page according to TripAdvisor. In fact, we liked Page and could have stayed a week without having to eat at the same place twice. A far cry from our earlier experience in Utah!

But before anybody reading this thinks that I have treated that state unfairly, we had two more nights there later (in Moab) where we enjoyed excellent meals, washed down with fine wine and hand crafted, home brewed beer.

For now, we were looking forward to our trip to Monument Valley the next day, the most eagerly anticipated leg of our trip.   

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I have already written in this diary about our frustration at being unable to find a decent alcoholic drink, especially wine, in Utah.

Imagine our relief, therefore, when we left Panguitch in the “elevated” state for Page in Arizona, our base for Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam, safe in the knowledge that we would be able to enjoy a bottle with dinner that evening. Although, I suspect, for different reasons, our guidebook declared that the only reason for driving US 89S was to reach Arizona.

Curiously, the first song playing on  97.7 FM The Wolf this morning was the last broadcast as we pulled into the motel the previous evening – Picture to Burn by Taylor Swift. As the cliffs loomed high on either side of the road, reception was lost, though we succeeded in finding 95.9 FM Classic Rock in time for Led Zeppelin to pound out Whole Lotta Love. 

Cruise America and El Monte RVs sailed past in the opposite direction in equal numbers, and I wondered what it might be like to live on the road full time rather than stay in even the cheapest motels. But I think Janet and I enjoy our creature comforts too much to go to such lengths.

We passed a PT Cruiser wedged in a ditch with the local sheriff”s car on the scene. Fishing resorts and ranches peeked through forestry as we drove through Glendale and Orderville. A billboard in the former proclaimed the Buffalo Bistro where the “crazy sausage” was the house speciality.

After filling the car with gas we left the main road to fulfill another of our Lake Panguitch guide’s recommendations – visiting Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Motorised buggies were hurtling over the distant sand hills and, eyeing the largest peak in the distance, from which youngsters were sliding down on a variety of contraptions, we set off in pursuit to do the same.

However, after twenty minutes barefoot yomping, and little appreciable distance travelled, we abandoned our plan. The exertions in Bryce Canyon the day before had taken their toll.

We rejoined the highway and continued our journey to our intended lunch time stop in Kanab, Utah, the self-styled “Greatest Earth on Show”, a town with a strong Mormon tendency but which had a distinct western feel to it.

As the photograph below indicates, the lack of wine was beginning to have an alarming effect on my looks.

Kanab’s justifiable claim to fame is that it was once “Utah’s Little Hollywood”, providing the backdrop to many prominent movies. Plaques extolling such Hollywood greats as Ava Gardner, Howard Keel and Maureen O’Hara were positioned along the main street.

We were also pleasantly surprised to find a funky, western oriented cafe and upstairs art gallery open where we had an excellent andouille sausage with cajun (or was it creole?) sauce and Greek salad respectively. Although wine was on the menu we were saving ourselves for Arizona. Isn’t that a film? No, it’s Raising Arizona, Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter I think.

It may have been Sunday but we also found a couple of attractive cowboy / Western stores – Gifts of the West and Denny’s Wigwam Western Wear (Denny must have been a big shot in town because he also owned a restaurant and craft shop) – to browse, and spend money, in.

The most amazing building, however, in this surprising town was the Kane County tourist information office with its beautiful murals celebrating its history adorning the exterior.

In view of my dishevelled state, it was understandable that Janet should find herself a cowboy.

Shortly after leaving Kanab a billboard screamed at us: “TARNATIONS! Did you visit Denny’s Wigwam and get your Levi’s from $29.95? NO? Turn round now”. We felt we had already invested enough of our money in the Kane County economy, so ignored the entreaty.

We skirted the vast Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument area where the jagged rocks resembled the longest bar of Toblerone in the world. Buttes and mesas abounded as we crossed into Arizona, celebrating its centennial as a US state, and arrived at the Travelodge in Page (another decent sized room for the price) where we were to spend the next two nights.

After I had booked a tour of Antelope Canyon for the following afternoon, and Janet had tested the pool, we had an excellent dinner in the Dam Bar and Grille –  with wine of course.

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