Having stayed at so many hotels on this trip, and in even more for work, the Hampton Inn’s waffle making machine was no novelty to me. One of the guests, a blonde just past her prime, watched me curiously as I poured in the batter and flipped the iron over to start the timer. Minutes later, the timer went “ding” and I pried my waffle from the cookware. She looked at the machine, much in the same way a dog looks at something it doesn’t understand, with her head tilted slightly to the side. Hesitating, she eventually poured in the batter and closed the lid, the excess squeezed out of the sides and onto the counter below. Another moment or two passed before she remembered seeing me flip the iron upside down, and then she did the same.
Breakfast eaten, I checked out of the hotel and reluctantly threw my leg over the bike. Zion canyon was a stunningly beautiful place, and the golden glow of the morning sun did nothing to make me want to leave. But I had to get moving. My destination was the other side of the Grand Canyon, only 116 miles as the crow flies, but almost 350 miles by road.
I left Springdale for Virgin, Virgin for Hurricane, Hurricane for Washington, and Washington for St. George, and as I drove through the towns, again I wondered what people did for a living. Was it just tourism, or were there other things that kept the money changing hands?
Over the past few days, I had constrained myself to small roads and state highways, my speeds rarely reaching past 60mph. Now as I left Utah, I traded those roads in for the Interstate, and the extra blast of air on my chest and helmet from the extra speed was noticeably different, reminding me why I hated the Interstate. My only time of peace came when I entered a construction zone while going through a canyon. It would’ve been scenic, if I had more time to look around, but as the two lanes merged together, I had to focus more on traffic.
A while later, I exited the interstate. Somewhere in my planning, I had discovered a bit of land north east of Las Vegas that was supposed to be a bit different than the Vegas Strip: the Valley of Fire. The name alone had attracted my interest, and so I planned the detour. Now, as I followed the track I had programmed into my GPS, I felt a little disappointed. It was good scenery, but nothing spectacular. A few miles later though I reached the state park’s entrance, and that all changed.
“That’ll be $10,” the park ranger said after I told him I wasn’t a Nevada resident.
I grabbed my wallet and pulled out a twenty and my military ID, a challenge in motorcycle gloves. “Do you have a military discount?” I asked, hopeful.
He looked at me for a moment, then started nodding his head as he spoke. “Are you TDY to Nellis?” he asked me.
I got the hint. “Yes? Yes, I am,” I responded, my helmet hiding the facial hair that had grown in over the past two weeks. He gave me my change, including an extra $2 for the discount, and I entered what could’ve been a movie set for Mars.
My earlier disappointment vanished as I drove past the red rocks. Fascinated with the diversity of the rock formations around me, I could see easily how people became geologists. What made some rocks look like beehives and others into craggled canyons? Why, in the middle of the tan Nevada desert, was there a place of fire-red sandstone?
Eventually I left the Martian landscape and followed the edge of Lake Mead. Since Oklahoma, I had felt like I had traveled a long way from home, driving through terrain nothing like what I knew in the DC area, but when I passed an older VW microbus from Chile and a VW Beetle from Australia shortly after, I realized I hadn’t traveled very far at all.
The miles rolled under my wheels, and soon I was at Hoover Dam. I had been there once almost a decade before and many national monuments don’t change much over that time, but as I looked out from the top of the dam I realized that the large bridge spanning the canyon was new. Having crossed the river, I made my way up the Arizona side of the canyon and found a second change: the road dead-ended. With the new bridge in place, Hoover Dam was now just a tourist stop, no longer the only thoroughfare across the Colorado. I turned around, and crossed the dam a second time.
It had been the interstate since I had last seen a gas station, and on the long stretch of US-93, I needed to use my spare fuel cans once more. I pulled over onto the side of the road, unmounted the containers, and refueled before continuing on to Kingman where I used a real gas station.
I had passed many Harley riders recently, and an idea struck me. If the motorcycle community was imagined as the Old West, bikers on their Harley Davidsons would be the outlaws. Other riders wave as you pass, some even stopping to talk at fuel stops. They’re personable, like town citizens at the saloon, talking and playing cards with one another. A Harley rider, on the other hand, swoops in with his loud exhaust and “I’m better than you” attitude, and for a moment everything stops, much like when the outlaw in a western first steps into that calm saloon. I’m not saying everyone who rides a Harley is like that, but it was like it that day, seeming to be worse when in they rode in groups.
I soon left Harley Central (there was an event of some sort at the local dealer, causing everyone to come out for a ride) and found myself on Historic Route 66. Again the wind blew, and again I found tumbleweeds bouncing along. As the winds were at my back, they rolled along in the same direction I was, and soon I started playing a game, guessing which way they’d tumble and trying to avoid them at the last minute. It turns out a tumbleweed striking your leg is a strange sensation.
A little while later, I arrived at the hotel and tried to check in. They had my reservation wrong. “2 people, 1 night?” she asked. “No,” I argued, “1 person, 2 nights.” It went back and forth a couple of times before she looked at another screen and saw the correct information.