It was time for a road trip. The cool weather was moving in and summer visitors were leaving Pie Town, New Mexico. They were heading in various directions, ours being northwest. Our journey would be filled with many visual delights as we traveled along scenic corridors in Utah. Along the way, I met a couple of store proprietors who gave me reason to ponder.
We filled our water tanks and then drove sixty miles west. Our departure wasn’t until after 1 p.m., and our first destination was to spend the night at a rest area, giving us a head start in the morning. Pinion Pines covered the area and filled the air with an aroma of the crispest green.
We spent the night amongst the luscious smelling trees, and then headed west to Arizona where we went grocery shopping. Then we turned north and headed up Hwy 191. The second night was spent at Sanders, Arizona at the junction of I-40. We parked in front of an abandoned old building, a onetime store perhaps. It was an industrial area and there was a lot of train activity. When we woke up in the morning wild horses were crossing the street. They would be the first of many free roaming horses we would see during our journey.
By the third day, the views became stunning with age-weathered hills and cliffs taking on aspects of moonscapes and landscapes as might be described in science fiction books. We stopped and did the tourist thing, taking pictures by Wilson Arch.
We stopped at Bluff, Utah, not far over the border of Arizona. While Tal checked out the truck, I went across the street to a gas station/diner/gift shop combo and met the owner, Nancy. She wasn’t busy, so I sat down with her at a table and talked for a while. We shared kid stories, mom stories, and men stories. Then I went into the gift store that was actually a heavily locked and vaulted room. I looked at the items in her display cases made up solely of turquoise jewelry she had collected since the 1960s. She would end up keeping most of it too, as her prices were too high for much of the collection to sell. We continued our conversation while I dreamt about owning several of the antique pieces. She told me she had sworn off men, and if one of her three children hasn’t come to help run things by retirement, she would be selling out. The place could be more than it was. Either it was due to her being alone, or she wasn’t making the money she needed to make the place into something memorable.
Nancy was a tall slender woman with a light-brown braid that hung to her waist. Her dull watery-blue eyes held no sparkle, and her skin was pale, never seeing the sun. She was pretty enough, but a certain disdain tilted her smile. She told me a past husband—long gone, was never around anyway as he was always working in the mechanic shop next door, which was also a part of her property. It is now closed. “I don’t sleep well,” she told me, and with him gone she was sleeping better having the whole bed to stretch out in. She rented two cabins of seven (five stayed locked up due to not having time to clean them), and ran a small RV park. “I work from the time I get up until the sun goes down,” she said. Joy was not a part of her vocabulary, and we all know what they say about all work and no play.
Traveling on we went through Moab, Utah. The line to enter Arches National Park was over a mile long. That surprised me as school had already started; it being mid-September.
After a day of seeing amazing rock and sandstone formations we pulled out behind PaPa Joe’s gas station and convenience store along I-70. I always like to check out the small stores in hopes of finding a unique souvenir or treasure. I walked around the crowded packaged-food isles and didn’t see anything of interest. What was of interest was running into the shop-keep. He was taking inventory, and when I rounded the corner we were standing eye to eye. He looked like he could have been of Mediterranean decent, or perhaps even Spanish/Mexican. He was no taller than me, wore a well-trimmed beard, and had a full head of dark hair styled and combed back. He looked at me with sage green eyes and asked, “Can I help you find something?” He was dashing and could have passed for royalty in some countries. He didn’t fit my idea of a gas station jockey, that was for sure. We spoke briefly about nothing important, and I purchased a box of mints.
When I walked outside I could see there was an attached house behind the store where I assumed the merchant lived. Next door was Jo Mama’s Fast Foods, but it was abandoned and closed up tight. It had the same paint and detailing as the gas station, so I assumed they were connected. I wondered if he had purchased the property with a wife or lover at his side expecting the two buildings to be a draw to passing travelers. Could it be that she had grown bored of the life on the side of I-70, and left him? Perhaps she passed away, or was laying sick in the house behind the store, and living out her last days. Anything was possible, yet by the way he looked at me with the same lonely eyes as Nancy, I felt an emptiness lurking deep within him.
Had his dream been reduced to less that he imagined? I could see that both roadside establishments, his and Nancy’s, would have been started with dreams of little gold-mines via the wallets of traveling strangers. Instead, both were struggling. I had the thought that he and Nancy should get together, but I doubt that neither one would give up their place for the other.
The next day, which was a Saturday, we went through Green River, Utah and picked up three melons. A watermelon parade had just taken place and there was a craft show going on. We didn’t stop for the fair, but continued west as we climbed to the top of a canyon where Butch Cassidy had hidden stolen horses. We had a picnic of avocado and cheese sandwiches and green grapes at the summit while enjoying the incredible vistas. We spent the night on the side of I-15 and Hwy 50 in a truckers’ parking lot.
Starting our sixth day on the road, we traveled through a long stretch of farm land and then salty flats. The mountains were not as impressive as before, but still held some formations of interest and looked to be great for hiking. I no sooner mentioned I would love to find a place to pull over; than one appeared. I went for a hike by myself complete with a FRS radio, whistle, gun, and staff. We were so in the wilderness and on such a lonely road that we felt a small bit of apprehension until we adjusted to our surroundings. Not knowing what animals might inhabit the area, or if there were traveling opportunists, we were on guard as we should be.
Still, to have thousands of wild acres surrounding us felt amazing, and I realized that if we ever buy land, it might feel too small no matter what size parcel we could afford. To say the least we have been spoiled by the land we inhabit, and view the sprawling landscapes with complete appreciation.
The most important aspect was that we were experiencing the trip together. No lonely hearts for us, and for that we are most thankful!