Friday, December 5, 2008

The Great Christmas Road Trip 1980

I had spent my first Christmas in the Navy in bootcamp. We did get to open cards and the chow hall served a nice feast. Pretty boring day. However, my next Christmas was in Great Lakes while I was still in A school. I was a petty officer third class by then; this is when the ET schools awarded the crow at ten weeks. I decide to fly home for Christmas. I knew my parents weren't there, Dad was still working in Saudi and Mom was with him. The only person I had who I could stay with comfortably was my brother Larry. As children we never got along. He was seven years older, I was the only baby girl and spoiled. As I grew up and he mellowed out, we became fast friends. Enough so some people thought I was his girlfriend we hung out together so much! (euw)

He had a little apartment and a wandering ferret who nibbled toes. He wasn't working a full time job, there was no tree, and I wasn't up to visiting the aunts and cousins. So Larry and I decided to hit the road into Southern Utah where the weather was warmer. Maybe visit Four Corners because we'd never been to the place where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. We hopped into his bright orange Chevy Nova and off we went.

Driving into Southern Utah isn't difficult, we had no map, but there were plenty of signs. We stopped for lunch in Capitol Reef N.P.; I'd made an "Engine Stew" by wrapping meat and veggies in foil and placing it on the manifold. Yummy! And the scenery was amazing, of course. As we drove south, there was holiday traffic on the road, but it steadily decreased. Late in the afternoon and low on gas, we realized we should have headed for Blanding after we left Hanksville. Oops. We were headed for Bullfrog Basin on Lake Powell on Christmas Eve. There wouldn't be a soul there! We'd be stranded for days!

What to do? We saw a sign which read: Escalante. 75 miles. Dirt road, drive at your own risk. I now know this is the unpaved Burr Trail. It didn't look too bad, very well-graded. So we risked it. Soon we reached a low flat river, the Western kind that's shallow. I waded through the ford and he followed in the car. So far so good! Then we reached a hill. The red dirt was shadowed, the sun was dipping. No choice but to drive up the switchbacks. I was a little dismayed when I saw the empty red car stuck in the bank over a deep drop. Yikes!

We reached the top of the plateau. The sun was setting and the needle on the tank touched "E" for the first time. We kept driving, five to ten miles per hour. The sun set and we got our first taste of back country dark. That's really, really dark, but there's so many stars! The trail led into a canyon. Here the soil and rock was not red, it was ghostly white. Shadowy trees and thick bushes lined the road. Both of us got the chills and creeps at the same time and swore that if the car ran out of gas, we'd not set a foot out of it in the dark. Spooky doesn't begin to describe our sense of impending doom. We kept driving.

Pavement! We were overjoyed! We limped into the sleeping town of Boulder and parked under a large tree in front of a small gas station. In the night, the owner came out to fill her sons' trucks. She sold us gas and gave us a map. Hmm, Escalante was still a good long ways away; that "75 miles" meant the length of the Burr Trail, not the distance to a town! Larry decided to keep driving to Kodachrome Basin.

There was an old-fashioned radio show on, the Twilight Zone I think. The story was about a man and a woman driving in the night on Christmas Eve, and the road was empty, they were lost without gas, the road bordered by fallen logs. We were spooked now! Turns out they were toys in a toy cars and the logs were pine needles from the Christmas tree. Whew, we whistled the theme song for miles afterward.

Leaving the pavement once more, we bumped over the ruts of the unpaved road into an unknown state park, the low slung Chevy moaning and groaning at us. We found a clear spot and parked, falling asleep soundly, one of us up front and one in the back.

Christmas morning in Kodachrome was spectacular, it was more undeveloped than it is now. We were parked under an enormous stone pillar washed with sunlight, showing all the glorious colors of Red Rock Country... reds, pinks, salmon, white and cream and beige and rose ... just beautiful. I was cold and cramped from sleeping the car, hungry because all we had to eat was chips, but it was a wonderful Christmas morning. Even driving down to the Grand Canyon didn't compare to that morning, nor stopping in Vegas because I had gotten violently ill from food poisoning and Larry took $20 and turned it into $700 at the craps table ... no, that morning in Kodachrome Basin with my brother was a Most Excellent Christmas gift.

Thank you, Larry.


Sail Man said...

What an awesome adventure you two had on this roadtrip, what a beautiful way to spend Christmas. Thank you for sharing this with us. I'm sure typing it brought a smile to your face, and tears to your eyes, as it did mine.

archersangel said...

great story

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