"I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, 'This is what it is to be happy.'"
- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.
Best day of the entire trip. This is a road trip and even though we stop at interesting points along the way, it’s such a joy when the road itself offers so much pure enjoyment. Take a bow, National Scenic Byway 12, an All American Road.
All American Roads are chosen for what they offer the traveller. There aren’t many of them and we consider ourselves fortunate to have found this one. The roads have to ‘have one of a kind features so exceptional that they qualify as a destination unto themselves’
That’s a direct quote from the All American Road people and, ignoring for now the clumsy wording, this road ‘does exactly what it says on the tin.’
The road begins just below Panguitch and we were there to look at Butch Cassidy’s childhood home in Circleville. If it doesn’t sound like much of a place, it isn’t. Paiute County takes the word ‘rural’ to extremes.
In the last week we’ve seen many references to ‘Butch’ and the house where he lived until he left to become an outlaw is no more than a tiny wooden shack. Even so, Butch was the eldest of 13 children living in this shack with his devout Mormon parents. The local paper reports the State of Utah is set to spend 138,000 dollars to renovate the house.
Oh, come on, it’s not much more than a B and Q shed. 138,000 dollars? The plan is to demolish the building and rebuild it, exactly as it is, but with better foundations. Whoever agreed the tender for that job should be removed from office.
We find this road by chance and by using our familiar system of driving along to see what’s around the next corner we soon find ourselves in the midst of nature in its purest sense. We cut through the Dixie National Forest and the views on either side are mind blowing. Up until today, we both agree the South Island of New Zealand has afforded the best scenic routes. Today, we found a serious rival.
We’re heading for Bryce Canyon and Scenic Byway 12 will take us well along the way to there for the next 124 miles. Almost the first thing we see are two dogs. Not any old dogs, but dogs that closely resemble dingos. Later on we described these dogs to a local and he said, ‘oh, they’ll be wild dogs, there’s whole packs of them in the hills.’
There are numerous scenic parking spots along the way as we wind our way through forests and along gently curving gradients. Naturally, we don’t have all this splendour to ourselves. At almost every stop we see other cars. Not any old cars though, although many fit that description exactly. There’s a major rally for vintage cars taking place. They set off from Santa Fe and are travelling a route that includes Moab and Las Vegas before finishing in San Francisco. Much like our own trip, although we’ve had rather a lot of detours.
Most of the cars are European registered, no US models at all, and Belgium and Holland seem to be in the majority. I can understand the irritation of an owner of a classic car when people lean on the bodywork as they take photographs, but these people must have had many a bad experience as they’re all, without exception, awful. After saying ‘hello’ to several of them, without any response at all, we conclude this isn’t a language problem, they’re just a bunch of miseries.
A classic Porsche, containing a pair of merchant bankers, or something sounding very similar, arrives in a cloud of dust and screeches around the car park leaving rubber all over the road. Oh, how hilarious these chaps are. We give them a wide berth.
After we reach Boulder the road changes character again and we’re now in Canyon Country. It’s spectacular with the road cut into soaring red sandstone cliffs on one side and sheer drops to the valley floor far below on the other. Did I mention there were no guard rails of any kind? Marigold was on the rock face side, fortunately, as if she’d witnessed the precipitous drop on ‘my’ side at close quarters it would have had serious repercussions. I wasn’t exactly carefree myself.
We made a late decision to stop at a café in a really isolated spot. Keva Koffeehouse is perched on top of a rocky outcrop and it turned out to be rather wonderful. Three generations of women ran it and both the views and the ambience were stunning.
Marigold wandered off to look at some ear rings and one of the staff came over to her.
‘You have a good eye for quality,’ she said, pointing to the ear rings Marigold was looking at. ‘These have an interesting story behind them and they are 98 dollars.’
Marigold said, ‘Do you have any without such an interesting story? They may be cheaper.’
The woman pointed to another pair and said, ‘these are only 50 dollars.’
Marigold came back to me and said, ‘I’ve decided I don’t need any more ear rings. A baseball cap here is 25 dollars. Do they think we’re mad?’
I went over to look at the baseball caps. One of them was very nice. Very like the one I was wearing, actually. I don’t think I paid 25 dollars for it. Unlikely as I seem to remember it was from Poundland.
Two couples are sitting next to us and when the waitress brings their drinks over one says to her, ‘where’s the nearest Walmart.’
‘No idea,’ the waitress says.
‘Well, doesn’t have to be Walmart, any big sized supermarket will do.’
The waitress thinks for a minute. ‘There’s a pretty big supermarket about three and a half hours down the road.’
The couples look at each other. ‘Three and a half hours?’
‘About that, if the roads are clear. There’s a store, sells basics, just down on the left there, about an hour away.’
The couples wander off looking a bit shell shocked. Marigold asks the girl what she does about shopping.
‘I go once a month, buy a lot of things in bulk, but I have a big garden, so that helps.’
Living way out here seems wonderful in many ways, but there are limitations. It obviously helps to have a big garden.
We come across a group of cyclists on the road. A tour party, all riding the same make of bike. Their support car tows a trailer with a fitted kitchen inside. They’re sitting in a lay by having a pretty good lunch. All except one who cycles off on his own.
I get talking to the tour leader. He tells me he’s retiring this year after taking cyclists on tour for over forty years. He’s going back to Texas and intends to cycle the whole way. ‘This group,’ he indicates the munching cyclists, ‘are the worst I’ve ever had. Nobody talks to one another and they keep going off without the rest of the group. Did you see that one going off on his own just now?’
I say I did.
‘He’s the worst of the lot. A German, can speak English but won’t do it. Always going off on his own and has no idea where this road goes or where I planned to take them. I’ll have to go off and find him, try and get him to come back.’
Most of the group are asleep by now and don’t look as if they plan on cycling up the big hill ahead of them any time soon.
Marigold has been talking to one of them, also German but speaks English. She tells Marigold the tour leader, whom I was talking to, is a ‘monster’ and a very rude man. They all want their money back. It sounds like retirement can’t come soon enough.
Eventually we arrived at Bryce Canyon and found a lodge type hotel, just two storeys and we were upstairs. As we climbed the stairs Marigold said, ‘I’m puffed already.’
So was I. Bryce Canyon is on a high plateau, over 9,000 feet high.
‘It’s the altitude’, I said.
Marigold nodded. ‘Trust us to make it even worse by getting an upstairs room.’
I’d never even given that a thought.
We decide enough is enough for today. It’s only six o’clock, but we can go out and about tomorrow if we get an early start. One more stop, we’ve decided and then we’re off to Vegas. Tomorrow we’ll head for Zion National Park for yet more stunning scenery. Not been dull, this trip.