The Fallen Leaves

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA carpet of dead leaves covers the ground, lit up by the bright morning light.  The leaves glow in the warmth of the sun.  There is a beauty in the dying.

Before we know it, the golden leaves will all be swept away.  The winds of winter, even now, renew their strength. They blow our way from the north once again.  Soon we will be scurrying to find shelter from the bone-chilling cold as Old Man Winter reaches out with his icy fingers.

And this will pass eventually.  As Winter fades into Spring, the cycle will start once more. There will be renewal.  All this will happen without a care for what you or I think, and without care for your or my presence…  And so it goes.

Days of Autumn

I wrote an optimistic blog a couple of days ago.  I had seen the sun come out and was ready to bask in its glory.

Alas, it was not to be!  The clouds appeared in the sky soon after I posted the blog, and the weather turned gloomy once again.  All motivation to go out and get some exercise soon faded away.

But the sun did come out once again yesterday.  The bright blue sky stayed that way the whole day.  I could go out for a run, in preparation for the Feaster Five event that one is going to participate in on Thanksgiving.

As I was driving around the neighborhood, I noticed a couple of bright spots in the midst of the drab surroundings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough Fall has generally been a dull affair this year, there are still some isolated flashes of brilliance to be experienced before it is all gone.

And then it turned cold and cloudy once again today.  And now it is raining!  Dang!

These are the days of Autumn.  I suppose that is what one should expect.

The Sun is Finally Out Again

There are leaves on the ground all over our backyard.PB070001.jpg These are the days of transition, from the greens of summer, to greys and browns of winter.   The days in-between, the days of Autumn, can be quite pretty as we observe the dying of the leaves, but we have not had occasion to see much of that in our neck of the woods this year.  We did make the attempt during the last couple of weekends to see how things were on the towpath.  Two weekends ago,  we saw mainly green.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was how it looked where we went last weekend, to a different section of the canal close to the place we had been to the previous week.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We already seem to be at the end of the Fall phenomenon in these parts!  It was a surprising difference that we were seeing between the two places that were just a few miles apart over the the course of a week.

And then it started raining!  The wet leaves stuck to the grass and the pavement all around our neighborhood.  It stuck to the rooftops of cars parked on the street.  It got carried into the storm drains by the storm water flowing in the streets.

The dampness penetrated the layers of clothing and made one feel miserable and wanting to crawl back under the sheets.  There was no motivation to go outside and do some exercise, something that was needed badly!

But the sun is out today.  I am optimistic about what the day can bring.

Stories of Our Lives

Each one of us comes with our own life story.  I believe that every story is unique, and that this story is strongly influenced by where we come from, and the circumstances that we grew up in.  I was more conscious of the existence of such stories when encountering people during our recent road trip out west.  It was not just about experiencing the places, it was also about trying to get to get to know a little bit about the people in any little way possible, with the faint possibility of even understanding something a little more substantial about individual lives.  Others’ stories are as important as our own, regardless of what you think of their achievements, or yours.  And many people are, for the most part, just trying to get by and make a living without hurting somebody else, and trying to find some happiness in their lives.  That is universal.  Life is not necessarily about becoming powerful, famous, and well-known, even though that would not be very obvious from what we are used to hearing in the news.

In my mind, most of the interesting interactions with people took place when we were in some of the smaller places, and mostly when we met people associated with the smaller mom-and-pop establishments, like some of the motels we stayed in, or some of the  restaurants we ate at.   Thankfully, there are still places that have not been overtaken by the big hotel chains and other “name brand” commercial establishments. There are places where you can find things that seem more genuine.  In some of the smaller places that we visited, there were even people we encountered who ran multiple establishments or operations of different kinds – like the hotel, the country store, and maybe even the town’s gas station and/or a restaurant.  Life could be about making a living and being happy. It does not necessarily have to be about defining a always rising career.

In the places we were visiting, you could try to imagine the background of the people you were interacting with or talking to (hopefully without romanticizing it unnecessarily), and if things turned in that direction, you could even strike up a conversation with them and get to know something specific about them.

In circumstances like this, when one did get a chance to interact with people, they usually tended to be open and friendly.  There was no reaction that would indicate discomfort because of how dissimilar or out of place tourists like us might have seemed be in the particular situation.  I say that because you typically do not see a large number of Indian tourists at the kinds of places we visited.   That having been said, I am not sure if the people we were meeting were as curious about us as we were about them.  Nevertheless…

Here are some of the folks that I remember from our travels, folks who in many cases were from the little towns that we were passing through:

The waitress at Doug’s Steak and BBQ in  Monticello, UT;  the waitress at The Broken Spur Steakhouse in Torrey who went out her way to customize a dessert for us – she looked busy but she did not ignore us;  the waitress with a east European accent  at Rustler’s restaurant in the town of Tropic, UT,  – we did not have the conversation to figure out how she ended up in Tropic, but she appeared to be bringing up her daughter there; the friendly waitress at Mango’s in Red Cliff, CO, who was cheerfully also serving the noisy crowd at the bar, but nevertheless talked to us a little bit.  (If you do go to Red Cliff, ask about the many dollar bills you will find attached to the ceiling in Mango’s using tacks).

I remember the girl at the hotel front desk at the Green Bridge Inn in Red Cliff, CO.  She clued me in on what there was to do in and around her little town.  The lady who checked us in at the Blue Mountain Horsehead Inn in Monticello cheerfully talked to us about the few eateries in her small town and gave us a sense about how small it was.  They have one traffic light in town, where the two main roads of the town intersect.

The owner of the Peak-to-Peak motel at Estes Park, CO, was manning the front desk of the motel himself.  I got the impression that he took also care of a lot of the things in the motel by himself.  It felt like that kind of an operation. I think he lived in the little house I could see outside the window of our motel room.  He helped us look for a place for dinner and even chatted a little bit about stuff.  His accent did not seem to be of the place.

The lady who was taking care of the Country Store at Cannonville, UT, when we checked in also owned and ran the Grand Staircase Inn.  When we did not have the change with us to pay for what we had bought from the store, she asked us to pay her whenever we were back down at the store, even if it was the next day.   We met her cousin the next morning when we went down for breakfast. She told us that the only two commercial activities in town were the motel and a cement factory.  Apparently, the place always had a small feel to it.

Bernice, the young Navajo girl who was our tour guide at Upper Antelope Slot canyon near Page, AZ, was a whiz with any camera that came here way.  She would take the pictures for the people in her tour with their own cameras.  The pickup truck that she was driving made all kinds of sounds as we traversed the sandy wash, but it made it.  It did not seem to be in the best of shape.  I suspected that the pickup truck was hers, but never found out.  If there had been some spare time, I might have tried to find out more about the life experiences of a young Navajo girl.  When I asked, she said that she did not own a real camera, but muttered something about getting one.  How affordable would something like that be for somebody who earned a living the way she did?

I remember the kindly old native American lady we met at the pullout at Monument Valley.  She was selling trinkets that she had made, and she was willing to talk about herself, where she lived, the circumstances under which she grew up, the life of the Navajo people in general, etc.  She told us that the young Navajo went to college outside the reservation so that they could find jobs.    There were not many jobs in the reservation.

Torrey, UT, is a very small place.  There are small number of private hotels just outside town on the way from Torrey to Capital Reef National park.  One of them was the Noor Hotel.  On our way out of town we stopped at the gas station connected to the hotel.  I had to go into the store to get a receipt.  I could have sworn that the lady behind the counter looked middle eastern.  Unfortunately, it was not the right time to start a conversation and find out.  I did find out that the hotel had changed hands in the last couple of years.

The ranger at the Interagency Visitor Center for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was very friendly.  She took the time to engage with us and to talk about the place, at one point even looking up a book to try to find out information about some plant that Teresa was interested in.  I do not know if she was actually from the local area.  I do not know what the hiring process is for folks who do these kinds of jobs.   In general, the rangers we interacted with were young and enthusiastic, and tried to be helpful.

The circumstances under which we saw the cowboys was not geared towards any meaningful interaction, but I have to wonder about the life of a cowboy these days.  I tried to take a good look at the face of one of these cowboys, but I could not gather a decent impression because I had to concentrate on driving.  Of course, he was wearing a cowboy hat!

Many of the employees in the restaurants that we went to in the very touristy town of Moab appeared to be of Hispanic background, whereas, we did not see many Hispanics on the streets.  It seemed like there was a story somewhere there.

Everyone has his (or her) own story to tell.

 

Colorado, Utah, and Arizona by Car – The Epilogue

(You might notice that the subject line for this sequence of blogs has finally gotten corrected in the last posting of the series!  It’s the least I could do.)

It happened when we were in Kanab, UT.  It had been a while since we had gone to a Chinese Restaurant.  Luo’s Cafe was close enough to the hotel for us to walk to.  The food, and especially the hot soup, was welcome on a cold evening after the active day in Zion National Park. We got fortune cookies at the end of dinner.  The one I opened up said “In the near future, you will discover how fortunate you are.”  I have thought of myself as very fortunate for many years of my life.  So this message about making a “discovery” was incorrect in a way, but considering the nature of the trip that we were making, it was still interesting, and perhaps timely, anyway.  The other fortune cookie had the message “It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.”  Please contact me if you can figure that one one out!

Here are some stats from the trip.
According to the odometer in the car, we covered 2579 miles during this trip.  This might be equivalent to driving across the country.

The places we stayed in were Denver, Estes Park, and Parachute, in Colorado; Moab and Monticello in Utah; then Monument Valley and Page in Arizona; back to Kanab, Cannonville and Torrey in Utah; and finally Red Cliff and Denver in Colorado.

The National Parks we visited were Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonland (two different sections), Mesa Verde, Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef.  Places visited also included Monument Valley, Pike’s Peak, Four Corners, and a few state parks.  We passed through numerous interesting little towns, including places like Escalante in Utah, and Parachute, Red Cliff, and Leadville in Colorado.  We did drive through a town called “No Name”, and drove past a restaurant called the “Bla, Bla, Blah Cafe” towards the end of the trip.

Most of the travel was on the Colorado Plateau.   We started off at an elevation of slightly over 5400 feet, in Denver, and probably stayed at an altitude above that most of the time, finally hitting over 14,100 feet at Pikes Peak.

The weather cooperated for the most part.  Even when it rained in the night or in the morning, it would clear out in time so that we could do something outside.  We had some really cold mornings, even around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but it usually warmed up enough for us to get going.  We always dressed in layers, and the outerwear would go into the backpack as we warmed up during a walk.  The snow that we experienced was not significant enough to cause problems, but it did bring an additional element of beauty to our travels.

One of the surprises for me was the fact there are still cowboys in the west, and that cattle still roam the open range in Utah.  There is definitely still a western culture.  Another delightful surprise was the discovery of the town of Red Cliff in Colorado.  I could have spent more time in that area, including a drive through Shrine Pass.  I could probably have also spent some more time at places like Cortez, Escalante and Leadville.  But we had other places to get to.

People we encountered were generally nice and helpful.  Conversations were not very deep. Politics never came up and that helped us stay out of trouble.  The servers at the restaurants were mostly  genuine and hardworking, and we ended up talking to some of them, and even tipping more than usual.

There were many tourists from Europe.  I  noticed very few black families in the parks.   This is unfortunate. On the other hand, the number of oriental tourists we encountered was staggering. For a reason I cannot fathom, tourists from India are found in large numbers in Page, AZ.

It took me a significant amount of organizing effort to make sure that we had a place to stay every night of the trip, and that these places would be suitably located relative to things that I thought were good to experience.   There was no issue with any of the hotel reservations, and some of the facilities had their own character and were interesting in themselves.  There might be one or two changes that I would make if I had to do this again, mainly related to location, but things worked out nicely for the most part.  I had also created a list of things that sounded interesting to see and do for every place that we stayed at.

I did all the driving, but Teresa worked out all the details of packing and unpacking and managing the stuff that we carried during our hikes.  My outerwear to handle cold weather stayed in the back seat of the car for the most part when I was not wearing it.  I spent significant amount of time every evening, and the next morning, working on the blog for the day.   I used to wake up very early in the morning and slept less than usual overall.  It must have been the difference in time zones that I never adjusted to.  But I have also noticed that something like this happens to me every time I make a trip like this.

We jointly decided what we would try to see and do on a particular day, and it mostly worked out.  We were flexible in planning and adjusting when things did not go exactly as planned, especially when it rained.  Sometimes the advance planning was minimal.  We did not see everything we would have liked to.  There was not enough time.  We did most things together – there were a couple of occasions when I did a little extra on the trails.  We managed to not get on each other’s nerves too much.  It was good teamwork.  Teresa actually started proof-reading my blogs after the first few days.  I know it helped, but I suspect that a bunch of editorial stuff still needs to be addressed.  I will try to fix errors as I find them.

The return to Gaithersburg and reality was smooth but I would not call it pleasant.  The election season is upon us, and it is the season of lying and spreading fear.   But a day at the Manna food bank revived my spirit somewhat.

I did manage to rescue the jacket that I had left at the security checkpoint on our way out of Dulles Airport on the 6th.  Some people may not be happy about that, hoping that this rather tattered piece of clothing would disappear.  But I think there is something to be said about being sentimental about old things.

Here is the link to a page that lets you access all the blogs for the trip in the correct order.

By the way, this is an amazingly beautiful country!

 

 

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 15, The Return Home

The last day was somewhat relaxed since our flight out of Denver was only in the afternoon.  I had time to work on the blog for the 14th day, the one that I could not start work on the night before.  We headed out to the airport early just in case there were delays in processing, especially at the car rental place.  The day after we had arrived and rented the car, as we were driving to Boulder, we had noticed a crack in the windshield on the top left side.  It was in a location that you would normally not look at.  Most likely it had not been noticed and the car had been rented anyway.  We had continued driving the car anyway, not wanting to turn back and return to the rental place and lose time.  The windshield had held up, but we were not sure what to expect from the rental company.  Perhaps they would blame us.  Things went smoothly, but I do not know if they get back to us later to try to add additional charges.  I should note that the vehicle that we were driving, a Dodge Journey SUV, performed admirably.

One of the handles on the big bag that we were traveling with came apart as I was lifting it into the car at the hotel.  Of the three original handles on this suitcase that had been bought in Australia many years ago, only one working handle remained.  Fortunately, the folks at the United Airlines counter were helpful and did not create a fuss. They taped up the broken handle so that nobody would try to use it, and the bag has made it home.  The suitcase will be promptly discarded.  It has served its purpose over the years.  It has even been to Africa!

Getting through security at the airport was a smooth process, and I had time to put the finishing touches to the blog for the 14th day, and to send it out.  I bought a sandwich for us to share on the plane.  The flight was not as long as we expected, probably because of the speed of the prevailing winds.  We sat next to a young girl, originally from Colorado Springs, but now living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Her flight to Sao Paulo was from Dulles airport.)  She was quite talkative, and has lived an interesting life even though she is very young.  Her family background is diverse, both in the nature of where people in the family come from, and also in the nature of where they have settled  down all over the world.  She is really into the outdoors, and has traveled a lot around the world, including to India.  But what impressed us most was the fact that she spent 8 months in Kabul in a girls school.  She was supposed to be there for 3 months, training teachers in teaching math, but liked the experience so much that she extended her stay.  She was getting her Masters Degree from Tufts University at that time, and took a leave of absence to do this.  Hope things go well for her.

It took us a long time to get home from the airport because we were using an airport shuttle service.  I have to find an alternative strategy the next time.

But now we are home and trying to get back to our regular routine.  It is a somewhat cool and windy Fall day here in Maryland.

I will finish up this series of blogs with an Epilogue some time.  Sorry, no pictures to share today!