Cross posted from my daily travel journal on Instagram
Day 1: We packed up our car and drove through the desert, where it was 102 degrees in the dark, and landed in Vegas, where we haven’t been in 15 years. “We’ll be creatures of the night,” we decided, as we headed east into a heatwave with an intense year and an intense couple of weeks and dreams of Nomadland in our rear view mirror. Now we are in the sweet AC of our hotel, watching Peppa Pig in the flicker of the strip club next door.
Day 2: We jumped in the pool at 8:30 and then overloaded our senses at the Discovery Children’s Museum (as seen, notably, in a Blippi video). By lunchtime we were wilting. We stopped for gas at a station called Terrible’s that was running out of gas.
We hit the road again, and I watched the temperature like it was my own blood pressure, like we were on the precipice of something dangerous. The rocks turned from yellow to red, clouds dumping long fingers of light on the mountains like a prophecy.
We passed Valley of Fire, where I remember my mom taking a picture of me at 12, all Sun-In hair against red rocks, telling me how beautiful I was, as I shrank under her certain lie.
We stopped for salty Chinese food in a little foothill town called Parowan and the temperature dropped to a forgiving 88.
Day 3: This morning we were admiring two duck families in the cow pasture next to our cabin in Torrey, UT, when I touched the fence and got zapped with electricity. After telling Dash to learn from my mistake, I mused, “I guess it’s good to know what that’s like. I’ve always wondered what cows deal with.” C.C. looked at me like I was a little crazy and I wondered if that’s my MO—always trying to turn everything into some kind of universal life lesson five seconds after it happens. 🙄
At a little shop next to the Wild Rabbit Cafe, I picked up Desert Cabal by Amy Irvine from Torrey House Press, and now I want to be a wilderness writer, except for the living in the wilderness part.
“I want to ride a horse through these canyons,” C.C. said.
“I want to write a horse through these canyons,” I said.
“How do you write a horse?”
“I don’t know, but I feel like the canyons would tell me.”
We drove through Capitol Reef National Park (thank you, @imorianderson) with its layer-cake rocks in rainbow shades. I made it an official Klein Family Vacation by dragging my child through the heat to a mineshaft containing mildly hazardous materials.
We picked apricots from trees planted by Mormon settlers and drove to Moab, where I remember getting a killer ear infection when I was ten. Retracing the long straight roads my family drove, I listened to “All at Once,” The Airborne Toxic Event’s song about inheriting the world from our parents and grandparents and being totally unprepared.
Day 4: Our last stop in Utah was Moab Giants, a “museum” that really loves 3D shit and does not seem to employ any copy writers, educators, or graphic designers. I love a good tourist trap, but, like…the exhibit about prehistoric sea creatures was a lot like Backdraft: The Ride and included mermaids and the Loch Ness Monster?
Almost exactly at the Colorado state line, the jagged red rocks and Trump stickers gave way to farmland and dispensaries, and I felt a kind of visceral, bodily relief. Even though Utah was stunning and gorgeous, there’s something about a place telling you “stay away” with its topography and politics (which, of course, are not homogeneous anywhere, but) vs. “come on in and chill.”
We’re in Mesa Verde now, staying at the lodge. My dad is too polite to roll his eyes at our bougie ways, but I still feel a little bit of guilt that we’re not camping (it’s drowned out by that sweet AC though). This place completely captivated me as a kid, and I’m so excited to show Dash the cliff dwellings tomorrow. Meanwhile the air smells like mud and fresh grass, and there was a five-minute ice storm.
Day 5: I try not to have big expectations about How A Thing Will Feel, but I guess I had some Mesa Verde expectations, because this morning when C.C. said she felt a cold coming on and could she sit out our first activity, I basically burst into tears, baffling both of us. My sister got it, as she always does—how I can hear my mom’s voice reading aloud all the historical markers, and my dad balking at how much we paid for pizza in the cafe. How you can carry your own ghosts in a place with much older ghosts.
Dash and I ventured out bravely on our own, driving the narrow ridges and carsick curves of Wetherhill Mesa Road until we got to Step House Trail. Step House was stunning—like the coolest clubhouse you could imagine, tucked into a canyon wall.
When I got back from my first trip to Mesa Verde 35 years 😳 ago, I wrote what can best be described as Anasazi fan fiction and turned it in as my fourth grade report on Native Americans. Everyone else wrote about, like, staple crops.
“Anasazi” has given way to the more accurate term “Ancestral Pueblo People,” whose traditions live on in Hopi, Navajo, and other Pueblo peoples. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Pueblo People started building their homes in cliff sides, or why they stopped and then started again. It’s good to have some mysteries, I think.
In the afternoon, C.C. rallied and we all drove to the Far View Sites, a set of older mesa-top structures, and Spruce Tree House.
We got dinner and cocktails at the fancy (and only) restaurant near the lodge, and realized we completely forgot to teach Dash table manners. He was full of squirrely energy, charging up the hill on his way back to our room, through the juniper-scented air, yelling “What the hell hell hell!”
Day 6: One of the last stops on today’s Mesa Verde bus tour was the Sun Temple, a D-shaped mesa-top building that probably had some kind of astrological significance. Our tour guide said, “There’s not a ton of evidence to support this, but the building was constructed in the last few years before the Ancestral Pueblo people left this area. I think it was a last ditch effort. They were running out of water, and they built this to appeal to the gods.”
What I’m saying is that if I write more Anasazi fan fiction, I will call it “Sun Temple Times” and it will of course be an allegory for our times.
We left Mesa Verde and drove through Navajo country, where the flat-bottomed clouds and sinking sun conspired to make a vast Golden Hour. There were billboards reminding people to stop COVID by avoiding parties and ceremonies. The only store in Tonalea sold chicken wings and hair clips and laundry detergent and no produce.
Now we’re in Flagstaff for the last leg of our trip. We are road-weary and relaxed. We listened to Paul Simon in the car, and I think there’s reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.
Day 7: We have reached the “Hey, Dash, want to watch some YouTube while moms answer work emails?” stage of vacation. Other than brunch at the Toasted Owl, we explored very little of what Flagstaff had to offer. Sorry, Flagstaff.