Monday, June 12, 2006

Cold Comfort

Who would work in a tourist information centre? There were benefits of course – the chance to work in an area with "drop dead gorgeous" scenery, such as Zion Canyon. And fabulous it was – huge canyon cliffs towering over us like in Yosemite, but warm red rock instead of grey. With the heavy falls of snow the area was a winter wonderland.

We poked our noses into the Visitor Centre. A large board was hung over the information desk. On it were written the answers to the four most commonly asked visitor questions in Zion Canyon:

1. Where are the toilets?
2. How far is it to Bryce Canyon?
3. Is it really that far?
4. How long is the 12-minute video?

(Sigh) Imagine working amidst such glorious scenery and being asked such inane questions day in, day out.

We drove around the Zion Valley, making the most of this opportunity. From the year 2000, these roads would be closed forever to private transport between March through to November. At that stage it would be buses only in an effort to manage the 3 million visitors per year.

The early Mormon and Methodist settlers had given religious names to the rocky features of the park. Zion means place of refuge. There were "The Patriarchs" (Abraham, Isaac and co), "Angel’s Landing", "The Pulpit" and, causing more than a few sniggers in our group, "The Great White Throne".

We drove out of Zion Canyon and Utah, back into Arizona. A roadside billboard announced our next destination "Grand Canyon – Greatest Earth on Show".

The countryside was dreary after the wonders we had seen. More like what we thought Death Valley should have looked like. Grey dirt making a barren, dusty landscape with straggly clumps of tussock. The land looked drained of all moisture and the roadside was littered with empty booze bottles, something we didn’t see a lot of in Utah. The bottles were no doubt flung out of car windows and we kept on the look out for drunk drivers.

We passed some tacky, almost falling down stalls advertising Navajo jewellery (in American spelling of jewelry), mats and carvings. They didn’t look very appealing. However, just after we had driven past we spotted some hilarious signs: "OOPS, YOU MISSED US" and "FRIENDLY INDIANS BEHIND YOU".

We cruised into Tuba City looking for accommodation. There were slim pickings. One motel at $US75 per room, the motel’s campsite at $US11.00 per tent, and a youth hostel at $US50 per room, with a shared bathroom. Unlike New Zealand campsites, we noticed that this campground had a heated toilet and shower block. With hot showers, our thermals and our three season sleeping bags, we could make ourselves very cosy.

After the previous cost overruns, TH and I happily plugged for the campground. F1 was paying all of his and F2’s personal expedition and accommodation costs. F2 was hanging out for the motel room and, for once, F1 questioned her. However, the answer was that we could share the motel with them to keep the costs down. I coolly pointed out that while this would reduce their costs, it would increase ours, and, if they had helped us out by sharing a cabin the night before, then we could have helped them now.

The problem was compounded by their ignoring TH’s pre-trip advice about packing warm weather gear. In the snowy roads, and in their spartan canvas topped Series 1 Land Rover (which did not have a heater), both F1 and F2 had been very cold. Still, they had refused to buy even woollen hats and gloves in the many tourist places we had been. F1 was still using my spare pair of gloves, which I was annoyed about, as I could have done with an extra layer on my hands.

F1 suggested we try the youth hostel. I didn’t even have to answer that one. F2 promptly refused to go anywhere that she had to share a bathroom with unknown others. It was hard to believe how she had managed the amount of camping that she had said she had done back in New Zealand.

Team meltdown was, by now, almost complete. We camped and they paid for their own motel room. Tomorrow we would go our separate ways.

However, sometimes people can surprise you. TH and I had just made our tent comfortable when there was a knock on our tent pole. It was F2 with a steaming cup of coffee for each of us.
"I made this in our room for you. It will give some warmth."
It was a kind gesture and one that gave me hope. Given time, perhaps she could make it work with us later in the trip.

Maybe, just maybe.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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