Haha… Probably true, but pretend you’re a neighbor, I’ve invited you to dinner and, just as you sit down—SURPRISE, on goes the Honeywell, lights-out, and I launch into a detailed account of 341 slides of unidentifiable landscapes punctuated with a raft of disconnected trivia—it is the stuff dreams are made of.
I’m going to share some recent experiences as my wife Leslie and I flew from Richmond, Virginia to Denver, Colorado, rented a car, and spent a couple of weeks driving 3000 miles around Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. There are some connections you could construe as design-oriented, but mostly these are the notes of a tourist wandering around, gawking, and eating.
Hopefully you’ll find something of interest, (I’m especially thinking of my friends who haven’t been to this part of the world—I like seeing what some consider mundane, everyday stuff that isn’t typically covered in the vacation hightlights of travelers). Warning: I tend to ramble.
Day 1: Richmond to Denver
This was my first extended trip to the Rocky Mountain States since the 1970s—back then I converted a van, quit my job as an art director at Riddick Advertising Art (RAA), and traveled back and forth across the United States in search of my American dream—and, perhaps, to find a new place to lay down my roots.
1978: That’s my Dodge van, myself, and my traveling companion, Oscar the dog.
First, some trivia: Who is this gentleman? Hint, his 1948 invention has revolutionized agriculture around the world. Scientific American magazine called it “perhaps the most significant mechanical innovation in agriculture since the replacement of draft animals by the tractor.
He is Frank Zybach and his invention was the Center Pivot Irrigation Sprinkler System. If you’ve ever flown in the United States (and lots of other places), you’ve seen the thousands of farm fields that use Zybach’s system today.
(Below) I’ve always been curious about the thousands of circular fields you see from the air—this time I looked it up. (See, aren’t you glad you read this far? You learned something already.)
When we arrived in Denver, we headed out to the Denver Botanic Gardens. It’s an exciting collection for easterners because of all the varieties of plants that are not indigenous to our part of the continent. Under roof are substantial collections of cacti and tropicals that wouldn’t survive the harsh Denver winters, but offer a glimpse of what’s to come as we travel south.
(Below) When we were visiting the Botanic Garden was displaying a number of sculptures by Ricardo Soltero (standing roughly 10 feet tall) celebrating Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
The Mavin anchors the Dairy Block: a collection of shops and restaurants located in the LoDo district of Denver.
We walked a few blocks to Union Station, a working train station that includes more shops and restaurants.
We sat at the bar in the Mercantile and enjoyed a board of cheeses and meats as we watched the kitchen crew work their magic.
Later, we explored the neighborhood.
Day 2: The diversity of the Rocky Mountain landscape
This day we’re off to cross the Rocky Mountains on Interstate 70 in central Colorado. We’ll avoid Interstates when it makes sense, but the stretch between Denver and Silverthorne doesn’t offer any alternatives.
First, we make quick stop at Babette’s Artisan Bread which is among a mix of shops at a hotel complex known as The Source.
I should explain that my wife Leslie is a bakery aficionado. When we were first married she set up our kitchen in North Side (Richmond, Virginia) to wholesale baked goods to local retailers. (In those days, we had the only residential kitchen in Richmond that was inspected and certified by the Richmond Health Department.) Hence, as you’ll see, when we travel, we often stop at local bakeries and sample their wares. (It’s hell, but somebodies got to do it.)
One thing I noticed about the Denver area is the amount of new construction. It seemed as if there is a building boom going on—new hotels, restaurants, multi-family housing, and so on. We inquired from the couple who run Babette’s about it and they confirmed that, at least their part of town, had seen a significant boom in construction in the last couple of years—that, in fact, the building they were in, was just constructed in the last two years.
The same was true in other places we visited, in particular the Salt Lake City corridor in Utah and Phoenix, Arizona. All of these places, of course, have grown exponentially since my last visit in the 1970s. That was fascinating to see but sad to me. I guess there’s a natural inclination to hope that places remain as you left them—in the hopes you could re-live your original experiences.
I thought this was a fun-looking storefront…
One more stop before we head up to the Loveland Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel—at the Rheinlander Bakery in Arvada, Colorado. I snapped this picture of some cupcakes (so I didn’t have to eat them)…
But I found the scene across the street more interesting—two field dressed elk (200-500lbs) in the back of a pickup truck. It turns out, Steve’s Meat Market is a couple of doors down from the bakery—which specializes in game processing. Not what you typically expect with your morning coffee, but interesting non-the-less…
On to the main event of the day: the 325 mile drive between Denver and Vernal, Utah.
Its all about the landscapes. I have never seen such a diversity of landscapes in such a short distance—from snow-capped mountain peaks of the Southern Rockies to the geologic eccentricities of Colorado Plateaus to the broad, distant views of the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains—it is stunningly beautiful…
In the order we encountered them…
We settled into our hotel room in Vernal, Utah at dusk.
By the way: Because we are off season, we didn’t worry about finding a room. And to narrow the choices, we found that searching New Sleeps was a good way to find new and newly renovated hotels. Not necessarily a guarantee of a good room, but it did prove to be a good and reliable gauge.
Day 3: Dinosaurs and Salt
This morning we take a back road over to Dinosaur National Monument—a National Park that straddles the borders of Colorado and Utah just south of Wyoming.
Minutes outside Vernal, Utah we’re in what seems to be the proverbial middle of nowhere—what was, to me, one of the most simple but inspiring spots we visited on the trip. Canyons and mountains are impressive, but there was something intimate about this little road among the hills.
Dinosaur National Monument was established in October of 1915 to protect the Carnegie Quarry in the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation.
Ben at ExtinctMonsters.net explains: “About 150 million years ago, a severe drought ravaged the western interior of North America. In eastern Utah, malnourished dinosaurs gathered near a dwindling river. Unwilling or unable to leave the water source, they eventually died of thirst or disease. When rain finally returned to the region, three or four successive flash floods washed dozens of animal carcasses into a relatively small depositional area to the southeast. Today, this site is known as the Carnegie Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument, and it is one of the most incredible fossil sites in the world.”
Here’s another resource that covers this rich region.
You pass through the entrance…
And travel up and around the hills…
To a visitor center…
Where you take a shuttle to the Quarry site…
The we’re off on a trail that snakes back around to the visitor center…
From the park we’re off through the Unita Mountains to Salt Lake City…
According to PEW, 55 percent of Utah’s adult population identifies as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—so we would be remiss, not to learn a bit more about it. To that end, this afternoon we visit the Temple Square.
First, some context: Wikipedia summarizes the Church’s history like this (I’ve edited it for brevity):
“Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, gained a small following in western New York in the late 1820s. The main body of the church moved to Kirtland, Ohio in the early 1830s and then to Missouri in 1838. After Missouri, Smith built the city of Nauvoo, Illinois (near which he was killed). Following Smith’s death, a succession crisis ensued, and the majority voted to accept the Quorum of the Twelve, led by Brigham Young, as the church’s leading body.
In 1846, after continued difficulties and persecution in Illinois, Young led his followers, the Mormon Pioneers, to the Great Salt Lake Valley. The group branched out in an effort to pioneer a large state to be called Deseret, eventually establishing colonies from Canada to present-day Mexico.
By 1857, tensions escalated between Mormons and other Americans, largely as a result of church teachings on polygamy and theocracy. The Utah Mormon War ensued from 1857 to 1858, which resulted in the relatively peaceful invasion of Utah by the United States Army, after which Young agreed to step down from power and be replaced by a non-Mormon territorial governor. Nevertheless, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints still wielded significant political power in the Utah Territory.
At Young’s death in 1877, he was followed by other powerful members, who continued the practice of polygamy despite opposition by the United States Congress. After tensions with the U.S. government came to a head in 1890, the church officially abandoned the public practice of polygamy and stopped performing official polygamous marriages altogether after a Second Manifesto in 1904. Eventually, the church adopted a policy of excommunicating its members found practicing polygamy and today seeks to actively distance itself from ‘fundamentalist’ groups still practicing polygamy.”
This is the Salt Lake Temple. In her commentary about who can enter an LDS Temple she explains:
“For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, temples are our most sacred spaces of worship. Much of our religion revolves around the ordinances that take place there and the covenants we make with God while in the temple.
In this discussion, it’s important to understand the distinction between LDS temples and LDS meetinghouses. Regular Sunday worship services do not take place in temples—in fact, temples are only open Monday through Saturday. Sunday church services, as well as various activities throughout the week, are held in meetinghouses, and the invitation is always open to any and all who would like to come.”
The Assembly Hall…
Later, we travel south through the busy city-center corridor to our hotel.
Day 4: From North to South Utah
This morning we continue south through the busy corridor of Salt Lake City, Orem, and Provo. The traffic is every bit as challenging as any large metropolitan area I’ve driven in–that was a little surprising.
But south of Provo, we’re off onto smaller roads and back to wide open spaces and more beautiful scenery.
Today is mostly about traversing the 300 miles that take us to Kanab, Utah —the town closest to tomorrow’s destination, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
In the last couple of days, and on the way down today, we see stretches like this, where fires have left burned out hillsides…
In mid-day we stumbled on the childhood home of Robert LeRoy Parker (Butch Cassidy) just outside of Circleville…
And later, this picturesque herd of indigenous fiberglass animals…
There is nothing like these big skies…
Its easy to see how people fall in love with the drama of Utah’s vastness combined the intimacy of spots such as this…
To be continued…