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Posts Tagged ‘Utah’


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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So, 2,325 miles and 17 days later, was the road trip worthwhile?

Absolutely.

It could not have gone any better:

  • check-in was courteous and efficient at every hotel /motel, and most rooms were spacious, comfortable and well furnished;
  • the planned itinerary for each day delivered us to the right place at the right time;
  • the hire car was completely reliable and a pleasure to drive;
  • we encountered very little traffic;
  • the weather was fabulous;
  • all the attractions we had planned to visit lived up to or exceeded our expectations;
  • most meals were excellent, including those on the road itself;
  • most people we met were extremely friendly and interested in our journey; and
  • WiFi was reliable in all locations, with only occasional gaps in connection; and
  • we never fell out, other than briefly on one occasion over directions to the hotel.

There were some irritations of course – the noisy room in Kayenta and the abstemious culture of southern Utah – but these were minor.

We did not manage to get to every sight we would have liked, notably Dead Horse Point State Park and stretches of Route 66, but we did visit others that we had not planned. And besides, it means we have a ready made itinerary for the next trip!

The main disappointment – and one that had no overall impact on our enjoyment of the trip – were the two hour delays each way perpetrated by Virgin Atlantic.

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Some friends and colleagues had actually been worried on our behalf about the prospect of the trip. Wouldn’t it be dangerous, just the two of you, alone in remote areas of a foreign country, a proudly gun-owning nation with a history of gas station hold ups and crazed killers mowing down hordes of people in schools, shopping malls and cinemas?

We had never given this a single thought.

Nor was our safety ever compromised on the trip.

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Most aficionados of the road trip advise that the way to enjoy it most is to just jump in the car and drive, staying when and where the mood takes you. Above all, don’t plan.

I understand that, but we decided to plan everything – from accommodation to daily itineraries – and it worked beautifully. But in future we might live just a little more dangerously and leave some of the lodging stops to a whim.

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So would we do it again?

Absolutely. We’d do it tomorrow if we could.

There have been other trips in the U.S. we would like to do – Highway 61, the prairies, north west, cowboy country – to which we can now add several variants of the one we have just finished.

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Sinatra sang that “it’s nice to go travelling” but “it’s oh so nice to come home”. And who can forget Dorothy clicking her ruby slippers whilst reciting “there’s no place like home”? They both have a valid point.

And the road can be tiring. Nobody has ever claimed that they enjoyed living out of a suitcase. And caravans, RVs and even the most luxurious of Winnebagos are not the most comfortables place to sleep, eat and relax in.

So why would anyone want to spend any more of their time than is necessary on the move?

Freedom, or as Richard Grant put it in his wonderful book, Ghost Riders, in which he travelled around with diverse groups of nomadic Americans:

the only true freedom is the freedom to roam across the land , beholden to no one.

The open road, the big skies, the ever-changing landscape, the excitement of who and what is awaiting you around the next corner or in the next town, discovering new cultures and pursuits, stopping when and where you want to eat and sleep.

Aren’t these – rather than engaging inanely via social media, gawping at lowest common denominator TV or moping around a shopping mall collecting things you neither need nor can truly afford – what make life fulfilling?

Life is about movement – physical and spiritual. What better way to experience this than to “get hip to this timely tip”? Hit the road!

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Finally, my thanks to Allen Manning who not only encouraged us to take the trip and designed our original itinerary, but also patiently answered all my uninformed questions along the way. It was fun too to compare notes via daily e mail from our respective trips whilst we were both in the land of the free (his tour included Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas).

Allen, you have a lot to answer for!

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We knew that visiting the Arches National Park obliged us to return to Utah. But we were not concerned as we knew that Moab, our base for the next two nights, was more socially enlightened than the towns we had stayed in at the beginning of our trip. It even had its own brewery!

Humbling and inspiring though our excursion to Monument Valley had been, our stay in the area was not an unqualified success. Being able to check in at noon at the Hampton Inn in Kayenta did not prove as beneficial as we had first thought. Our room may have been spacious, comfortable and well furnished but it was next not only to the lifts but also the 24 hour (sic) laundry and ice vending machine. You should be able to glean from that what sort of night’s sleep we had, or rather didn’t have. It was unquestionably the most, and possibly only, noisy room in the entire hotel.

We had also been advised at check-in that we did not need to reserve a table for dinner as the restaurant would not be busy. As we were late back from Monument Valley, it was 9pm before we were ready to eat. As we approached the lectern the signs looked ominous – the foyer was full of glum, exasperated fellow residents sprawled on armchairs and sofas.

Sure enough, we were told we would have to wait an hour. With alternative dining options in the vicinity severely limited we had no choice but to sit it out. It was indeed around 10pm before we sat down to dinner, to be greeted with the news that half the menu was no longer available. Even the consolation of a “proper” drink was lost on us as the beverage menu was entirely non-alcoholic!

And then we couldn’t sleep.

It was a pity that our experience of the Hampton Inn was so negative as it was an attractive place with a fine Indian gift shop. At least my complaint about the room did induce an offer of 50% off the (pre-paid) cost of the room by the manager, though it would require us to contact Expedia ourselves to secure the discount (which reminds me).

Our journey north to Moab meant that we would be travelling initially on US-163, the road we had taken the previous afternoon through Monument Valley. This afforded us the opportunity to marvel once more at the landscape.

But not before visiting the Navajo Indian Center, a complex of hard standing stalls selling jewelery and sand art, just outside the entrance to the Tribal Park. Once again, the retailers were all very friendly and genuinely interested in the details of our trip.

It was difficult to prise ourselves away from the area as every few hundred yards of road opened up new perspectives and photo opportunities. As we passed the sporadic, sometimes derelict, gift stalls by the roadside, it was difficult not to wonder whether their business was suffering from the competition provided by the Navajo Indian Center.

Crossing into Utah we passed Halchita and Mexican Hat, where we swung right over the San Juan River. The landscape took on a generally flatter look and the familiar “big sky” that was such a feature of this trip returned.

We joined the US-191 near Bluff as the skies, for the first time in the eight days we had been in the country, began to threaten rain and the temperature gauge dropped below 60 degrees. Distant flashes of lightning followed.

We resisted the blandishments of Blanding, even though it claimed to be the “Base Camp to Adventure” and boasted both a dinosaur museum and a Fattboyz Grillin’ restaurant.

We had become accustomed to roadside signs warning us to beware of animals crossing, but the flashing lights proclaiming “Car Deer Hits: 197”, followed shortly afterwards by the sight of one freshly slain, brought home the danger more forcefully. Dead wildlife by the side of the road was as common a feature of this trip as burst truck tires.

As the rain finally arrived and the temperature fell below fifty (half of what it had been in Bryce Canyon a few days before), we had lunch in Subway at the Canyonland Store in Monticello, which announced itself as the “Home of the Hideout”.

With a little over fifty miles to go I considered a comment made by an English woman we had met in Zion. She had complained that the road from Monument Valley to Moab was “boring”. Well, this may not have been the most spectacular stretch of scenery on the trip, but boring it was not. The road itself may have been straight but there were still sporadic clusters of red rocks amid the desert, which became ever more prominent as we neared our resting place. And there was that “big sky” – how could one ever tire of that?

As we approached Moab and the sky cleared, one of the increasing number of signs extolling the comforts of its accommodation offer was one for the Moab Brewery, that oasis of sophistication in an otherwise dreary state. More surprisingly, it stated that kids were welcome, hopefully not a comment on the strength of the beer!

We were greeted warmly by the proprietor at the Sleep Inn, though how the conversation got round to his enthusiasm for the seventies British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, I cannot remember.

Unpacking was peremptory as we prepared to stake out the Moab Brewery and a restaurant for dinner that evening. The only drawback to an otherwise excellent hotel was that it was a mile away from the centre of town and that, with a four lane highway and intermittent paths on either side, walking was an extreme sport. But when you consider that Moab’s modern renaissance has been borne out of its status as a haven for mountain bikers, rock climbers, jeep junkies, raft riders and hummer hammerers, I should not have been all that surprised.

We negotiated the short distance to the thriving Moab Brewery premises, sat at the bar and ordered a Lizard Wheat Ale and Scorpion Pale Ale respectively before returning to the hotel to prepare for dinner.

We ate later at the Blu Pig – Brews, Blues & BBQ restaurant where I had catfish and Janet enjoyed a mighty plateful of spare ribs, and we drank a bottle of – whisper it – wine, Beringer’s White Zinfandel to be exact. We then took our lives in our hands by venturing along, and then across, the highway in the dark for another glass in the Moab Brewery before retiring for the night.

How unlike our evening experiences in Hurricane and Panguitch! OK, Utah isn’t so bad after all!

And we slept too – after all, it was The Sleep Inn.

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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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After filling up with gas we hightailed outta Hurricane headin’ north to Cedar City on I-15. As we passed the small towns of Browse, Pintura, Snowfield, Kolobo Canyon and New Harmony signs warned “drowsy drivers” to “use next exit”. We  didn’t fit into that category at this point so politely ignored them.

We pulled off at exit 57 for Cedar City, self-styled “Festival City USA” (it does host an annual Shakespeare Festival as well as a music festival so I think it’s entitled), and spotted Starbuck’s where we had a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese and lattés. The incomparable Townes Van Zandt was singing “Pancho and Lefty” as we entered (though, sadly, not in person as he left us at a criminally young age fifteen years ago). On our exit Sting was crooning “every step you make I’ll be watching you”, which was a little more disconcerting.

We drove around Providence Plaza with its incongruous lighthouse (though I believe that there is a link with Rhode Island). I spied a smart looking bookstore entitled Deseret and immediately bounded in. However, it did not take long for me to decipher that this was not a bookstore in which I was likely to find any underground, or even secular, literature. The devotional muzak, clean cut, grinning staff and shelves of Mormon tracts hastened my exit and reminded me that we were still in the heart of Utah.

Turning off the I-15 we took the U-148 towards Panguitch. Despite the heat, the trees in the Dixie National Forest were beginning to show signs of Autumn’s approach.

We arrived at the Cedar Breaks National Monument, a kind of mini-Bryce Canyon, just in time to catch a talk by a park ranger from Akron, Ohio on what to do, or rather not to do, if we met a brown bear on one of the area’s trails. Essentially, it came down to the acronym SCRAP – we shouldn’t stare, call, run, approach or panic – now I think I could make a passable attempt at the first four but might just struggle with the last.

Anyway, should you come across a brown, or for that matter, grizzly bear on your morning commute or during your weekly shop, please bear in mind the advice I have kindly dispensed above. Hopefully, you’ll be as lucky as us and not meet any. But it’s as well to be prepared.

We decided to take the Chessman Ridge Trail, a two and a half mile loop at over 10,000 feet. The altitude caused us to catch our breath intermittently and my heart has never pounded so much – apart from that night with Jennifer Aniston in a motel room in Bakersfield.

Chipmunks nipped in and out of the bushes in front of us, though I was a little disappointed that we didn’t hear a single rendition of Ragtime Cowboy Joe. I’m referring here, of course, to the original band, not the modern team led by Alvin.

A party of local schoolchildren passed us in the opposite direction, and I couldn’t resist warning them to watch out for the bears. But kids are too streetwise these days to be freaked out by such news. I think they felt a little sorry for me. Ah well.

The most alarming moment, however, occurred with less than half of a mile of the trail left when both Janet and I realised that we couldn’t wait to get back to the visitor centre to take a leak. Whilst I resolved my particular issue in one of the many bushes on the side of the trail, Janet felt it necessary to pick a precarious spot on the side of a steep cliff upon which to relieve herself. For those readers of a delicate constitution I will not give any more details other than to say she somehow managed to maintain her balance and dignity (just). Nor do I have any photographic evidence.

Leaving Cedar Breaks we took U-143 towards Panguitch, a lovely road with cedars and pine trees turning yellow and orange almost before our eyes. However, before very long we encountered, as far as the eye could see, hundreds of sheep striding down the road in front of us.

They were clearly intent on crossing from a field on one side of the road to another, but not before they had gone for an afternoon stroll in the middle of the road first. There was no shepherd to be seen and they had little inclination to move out of the road other than in their own good time. Eventually, they dispersed, not least on account of a driver overtaking us and heading at speed for them. Perhaps he was a local and that this was the appropriate way to scatter them, but it seemed cruel and risky to us townies. At least we could now proceed slowly, avoiding the stragglers with ease.

As lunch had been no more than a granola bar at Cedar Breaks we were hungry by mid afternoon and grateful to come across a small restaurant at the Bear Paw Fishing Resort on the  man-made Panguitch Lake. If the hearty food was not welcome enough, the proprietor proceeded to slap a map of the region down on our table and point out a host of potential places to visit in addition to those we had already planned to see. The road trip was getting longer by the day.

What struck us most on approaching Panguitch were the wide roads and number of single storey houses and trailers. We found the New Western Motel easily enough and were pleased to discover that, rather than the single motel room we had expected, we had been placed in a newly refurbished suite with separate lounge and bedroom. Equally surprising was the fact that it was run by Indians – no, not the Navajo, Hopi or Zuni, so prevalent in the southwest, but Hindus.

A much anticipated visit to Bryce Canyon awaited us on the next day.

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This road diary is primarily about just that – the road. Although, in one sense, the purpose of the road is merely to link one natural wonder after another, it is that act of movement, through time and space, and the sights, sounds and adventures that inhabit them, that is the focus of these articles.

So I will not be exclaiming at length about the extraordinary parks and canyons that we are visiting. In fact, I don’t really have the words, or at least the time to find the right words, to describe some of the most beautiful spots on earth, let alone the United States.

Moreover, I hope that the photographs that will increasingly feature in these pieces will speak more eloquently than ever I can.

Hurricane, Utah, whose culinary delights I have already commented upon, was our base for Zion National Park, which we visited on our second full day. It is not as close as funkier Springdale, effectively the gateway to the park, but still convenient and much cheaper.

Our trip to Zion was prefaced by a sumptuous breakfast in Bear Bites, actually room 116 in the Travelodge, one in which it might have been difficult to swing a kitten, let alone a fully grown cat. Here we banqueted on toast, juice and coffee – we hadn’t the confidence to negotiate the waffle machine – with an assortment of non-English speaking residents.

One mature German couple sat down next to us with four slices of toast. The woman then produced a carrier bag containing a whole cucumber and half a green pepper – complete with seeds – which she cut up and scraped onto the toast.  No accounting for taste.

As we were packing the car, two surprisingly beardless, but not bandana-less, bikers were lovingly tending to their Harleys before setting off on the next leg of their own road trip.

In the short drive to Zion we passed Doggy Dudes Pet Care. Oh to have had a pooch in tow at that point.

On arrival at the entrance to Zion we purchased an annual pass for all US national parks for the phenomenally low price of $80 (total), representing a huge saving even by the end of this trip. Had I been a few years older it would have been $10! British visitor attractions please take note.

We parked at the visitor centre and took the shuttle to the furthermost point of the park, the Temple of Sinawava, and worked our way back, hiking several trails, including Riverside, Weeping Rock, the Lower Emerald Pool and the Pa’rus Trail in near hundred degree heat.

Zion is not dissimilar to Yosemite in that it contains awe inspiring cliffs and rocks, lush vegetation, and flowing rivers and waterfalls (though the latter were not much in evidence today). In fact, I preferred it to Yosemite, proclaiming it the loveliest place I had ever seen. I was to change that judgement more than once over the next week.

We called at Springdale on our return to the motel and found it an urbane and attractive town.  Were we to visit again this would be our base. We could not resist the Bumbleberry Inn where we rewarded ourselves for our strenuous walking all day with a slice of the “famous” (how is everything “famous” or even “world famous” in America?) bumbleberry pie. It might not truly be famous but it was delicious. Apparently, they grow on giggle bushes, which is pretty cute.

The gourmet evening was completed by a Domino’s pizza and wedges back in Hurricane – across the road from the infamous Barista’s – washed down by beer from the local gas station. Wine remained out of the question.

The road to Panguitch, Utah beckoned the next morning, where the story will continue.

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We had been warned that high quality dining options were severely limited in Hurricane, Utah. Moreover, it was likely to prove difficult to obtain an alcoholic drink – beer possibly, but certainly not wine.

And those warnings were sadly endorsed over the next few evenings.

It all began when we went out to dinner on our first night. Having consulted TripAdvisor and selected its number one restaurant, a pizzeria in a cinema complex around a mile away, we were feeling optimistic. Armed with the respective street numbers we set off in our search for the cinema.

We found this easily enough – but no sign of any pizza restaurant. We walked a little further and then around the whole area, all to no avail. It was only when we returned to the motel and read the fulsome TripAdvisor reviews a little more carefully, that we discovered that it was only a mobile street wagon that set up stall during daylight hours (and even then not on a Wednesday)!

We headed off back in the direction of the motel, only mildly disappointed because we had spotted an attractive looking restaurant called Barista’s on the way down. And by the time we had been sat at our table and started to read the hundreds of  alleged customer testimonials claiming that the pizza and ice cream, along with many other items on the menu, were the best on the planet, we had struck lucky in adversity.

I like to think that I am reasonably streetwise, and do not often get hoodwinked by confidence tricks (I’ve conveniently forgotten the guy on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco who screwed ten bucks out for me for “cleaning” my boots), but this proved to be one of my dumbest moves.

The teenage waitress in shorts who clearly wanted to be anywhere else took our drink order. Conscious already that wine was out of the question, we asked what beer they had. With a huge sigh the girl said “St. Pauli” in a “take it or leave it” manner, so St. Pauli it had to be. Now, although I didn’t articulate it immediately, I was familiar with this German brew and suspected that it might be non-alcoholic. After the girl had yanked the bottles out of the fridge and slapped them down on the table, and we had taken our first sips (it was too unpleasant to gulp), we knew it.

The food, whilst not inedible, also fell way short of the absurd praise scrawled over every inch of wall space (the staff must have had great fun fabricating that piece of fiction). My miniscule portion of fish and chips was delivered in a cereal bowl and Janet’s enchiladas came with no accompaniment whatsoever – not a hint of beans, rice or sour cream. The “service” remained surly and peremptory. Indeed, I think it might have been the first time I had eaten in America without being asked continually during the meal by the server whether the food was acceptable.

To add insult to injury, on reading both TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews back in the motel, we read a lengthy litany of furious, even vicious comments about the food, beer and staff attitude. And yet it had looked so appealing from outside. The words book, judge and cover sprung to mind.

We consoled ourselves by purchasing  a six pack of beer in the local gas station, though even this was of low strength (Bud Light, Coors Light and the like).

This was not, however, why I got to sleep so easily that night. I can thank the account of Joseph Smith’s revelation in the Book Of Mormon for that.

Having exhausted the full extent of Hurricane’s gourmet offerings on that first evening, we played safe on the following night by buying in a Domino’s pizza, washed down again by insipid beer.

We were no more successful in hunting down a bottle of wine to have with our evening meal on the following two nights in Panguitch. Raids on assorted supermarkets and gas stations proved equally futile. Only the dining room in the lodge at Bryce Canyon proffered a wine list, but, of course, that was at lunchtime and we were about to embark upon a prodigious hiking expedition that afternoon.

Whilst our stay in Utah was, in all other respects, wonderful, with visits to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Red Canyon and Pink Coral Sand Dunes Park, our first swing into Arizona meant one thing above all other. No, not Lake Powell or the Grand Canyon but an opportunity to partake of one of the most civilised pursuits available to humankind – consuming a glass of wine.

Having got that off my chest, it is time to return to the true hero of this diary – the road.

And the journey between Hurricane and Panguitch had some interesting moments.

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Firstly, apologies to Brigham Young for the deliberate misquote, but it seemed as apt a title as any for the drive from Las Vegas to Hurricane, Utah where we were to spend the first two nights of our road trip.

It got off to an electrifying start …………………….. with a lie-in and a spa bath. Making the most our deluxe room in Mandalay Bay, I was also able to complete the first post of my road trip blog.

We checked out at the latest possible time and collected the car from valet parking, when the guy who delivered it to us unaccountably disappeared before I was able to make his day by dispensing my customary $2 gratuity. Within a couple of minutes we were on the I-15 north in the direction of Salt Lake City (401 miles). It was already very warm and sunny, with temperatures forecast to tickle 100.

Locating a country music station on the car radio proved more difficult than anticipated, and after rejecting around 20 stations, spewing out everything from hip hop to power ballads, the comforting tones of Kenny Chesney took over. We had landed on 955 FM Vegas Country KWNR and life was good.

The landscape quickly gave the impression that a race of furious giants had ripped up and stamped upon it at some time in the distant past, leaving a jumble of cliffs, hillocks and mounds of varying sizes and colours.

We passed through the Moapa Indian Reservation and alongside the Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area before arriving, 85 miles and 70 minutes after setting off, at the town of Mesquite, Nevada.

We cruised through the main street in search of a suitable lunchtime dining option. The signs were gloomy until we spotted Peggy Sue’s 50s Style Family Diner.  Dave Gorman, the English comedian, whose book Unchained America recounted his mission to cross the USA “from sea to shining sea” without paying even a cent to “the man”, would have been proud of us. This was the sort of place you should eat at on the classic road trip.

And Peggy Sue’s was indeed a classic. We were greeted with Laurel and Hardy on the TV at the end of the restaurant and Roy Orbison on the jukebox. The walls were liberally adorned with photographs of movie stars (Marilyn Monroe and James Dean amongst them) and Elvis (obviously), US flags (equally naturally), 45rpm discs, vintage Coca-Cola bottles and metal advertisement signs.

In addition to the customary condiment containers, and in the unlikely event that conversation should slacken in the few short minutes before your order arrived, each table had a series of books on it by Ben Goode, amongst which were  How to Cope when you are surrounded by IDIOTS…….Or if you are one, How to Share a Bad Attitude and The Fine Art of Worrying. They, and many others, could be purchased at the till for a measly $7.99 each.

The waitress was loud (in a good way), enthusiastic and attentive, which set me wondering, not for the first time, why her British counterpart invariably demonstrated the opposite characteristics. And then it occurred to me – why not sack all restaurant waiting staff in the UK and replace them with the London 2012 Games Makers? Moreover, they could work for free – there’s one you hadn’t thought of, Mr Cameron. In fact, the idea could be replicated in other industries.

Shortly after we resumed our journey, we were joined by the Virgin River which wended its muddy way through the steep cliffs on either side.

It is often said that beautiful American roads are too often scarred by huge, garish billboards, but, advertisements for fast food joints, motels and politicians aside,  the prize for the daftest sign today must have been the one that advised us to “Watch for Rocks” The entire landscape comprised rocks of various shades of red, orange and brown!

As we entered Utah where, according to the welcome sign on the state line, our life was about to be “elevated”, we lost an hour (moving from Pacific to Mountain time) but gained a degree (it was 99 now).

We stopped for coffee in St. George, an attractive and civilised town with two bookshops (always a good sign for me) and many public art works, including lovely bronze statues scattered around the main square where gleeful children  froliced through water features.

St. George is home to the dazzlingly white Mormon Temple , the only Latter Day Saints temple completed during Brigham Young’s lifetime, giving it a special place in the Mormon world. We decided not to visit, partly on the advice of our guidebook which advised that non-Mormons were not permitted to enter, but also that any caller to the adjoining visitor center was as likely to leave on a two year mission to Mozambique as be sold a guidebook.

Besides, this particular pasty-faced Brit would rather escape the heavy hundred degree heat for the comfort of the air conditioning in the car.

We left I-15 at junction 9 and took the road leading to Zion National Park. After nine miles we arrived at the Travelodge in Hurricane where we would be staying for the next two nights.

Our unusual dining experiences there will have to wait for the next article.

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“Road Trip” – is there another phrase that better exemplifies the heart of the American experience? Apple pie perhaps? Have a nice day? Manifest destiny? No, none of those come close to capturing the same sense of freedom and adventure that is synonymous with the American Dream.

Well, dear reader, as you are a valued friend, I am inviting you to join my wife and I on our very own road trip of the American southwest over the next three weeks. Come with us as we criss-cross five states (Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) and three time zones.

We’ll hear the siren song  of the slots in Vegas casinos, listen to the mournful wail of country music radio as we glide the endless highways, and gasp at massive, multi-coloured incisions in the earth’s surface.

We’ll meet peoples from the rich diversity of American culture, including Mormons and Native Americans.

We’ll take juddering jeep trips with Indian guides into the heart of their reservation where we will purchase Navajo and Zuni jewellery.

We’ll stand at the only point on the North American continent where four states intersect, and have our photo taken like the dutiful tourists (I prefer the word travellers) we are.

We’ll eat at authentic cantinas and  tacquerias and sleep in beds where once slumbered the the Hollywood stars of yesteryear.

We’ll even find ourselves standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, waiting, or at least I will, for a girl in a flat bed Ford to slow down and take a look at me.

The itinerary?

I write this in our hotel (Mandalay Bay) room where we spent last night after a tortuous 15 hours on a Virgin Atlantic plane and equally frustrating wait in line for the car hire. But a fine meal and live swing band in The House of Blues, followed by a solid night’s sleep, has us ready for the road this morning.

Today we drive to Hurricane, Utah for two nights, the base for our exploration of Zion National Park. We then move on to Panguitch, Utah, close to Bryce Canyon for a further two nights. Staying at Page, Arizona for another two nights will enable us to visit Lake Powell and Glen and Antelope Canyons.

The highlight will be our trip to Monument Valley in the heart of the Navajo Nation, iconic location of so many westerns directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.  A stay in Kayenta, Arizona that night will predate two nights in Moab, Utah, our base for Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

On the premise that we will be “red rocked out” by then, and that our hiking boots might have earned a rest, we will wind down a little at this roughly mid point. The sightseeing will become more leisurely as we move on to Durango, Colorado and then into New Mexico for stays in Santa Fe (two nights), Albuquerque and Gallup before driving Route 66 to Flagstaff, Arizona.

A two night stop there in which we will “pop over” to Sedona and the long drive back to Vegas, sixteen days after we left it, for the final four nights, the second of which will be my sixtieth birthday.

The rigours of the road will dictate whether we might take short detours to Los Alamos, New Mexico and the Mesa Verde National Monument.

Sounds fun?

So jump in the back seat of the car, tip your hat over your face, but not before grabbing a couple of Buds (or rather Sierra Nevada or Anchor Steam beers), kick off your cowboy boots, sing along to Hank Williams and Toby Keith, and enjoy the ride. It’ll be a blast!

Time to head out on the highway.

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