Is There Life on Mars?

Day 6

Starting mileage: 3726.7

It was still raining when we woke up and even though the dogs are delicate and made of sugar, they wanted a quick walk despite the risk of them melting.  And then we continued the search for Ted’s Tacos from the previous night.  Now even though I had the exact address, my map was determined to send me somewhere weird.  I was about to make the U-turn it told me to when I looked up and…oh there it is.  When the crew from “Feasting on Asphalt” came here, they had fry bread and all kinds of tacos.  For some reason my stomach wasn’t up to that so early in the morning.  However the breakfast burrito kept calling out to me.  Wow.  Another must have if you’re in the area: a tortilla wrapped around bacon and egg and cheese and green chili and tater tots!  I devoured it huddled in the car because there was nowhere to sit outside that was out of the rain.  I then stopped at coffee shop in town for an americano.  I can’t remember what the cafe was called but it was right on the main road and it had a steady stream of locals which is always a good sign.  Some of the folks were people that you would expect to see in a nice coffee shop.  Others looked like they left their horse parked out back after riding the range.  I loved it.  I wanted to ask if I could take their photos but the shyness set in so I got back in the car and drove to a nearby park to let the dogs out since there was a break in the rain.  Then back in the car.

But not for long.  As we drove back through Cortez, I saw a sign for an off-leash dog park.  I made squealing noises in my head as I turned the car around to find one of the largest dog parks I have ever seen.  There was another dog there, a husky named Gemini, and the four of them tore around while Gemini’s owner and I made small talk.  The dogs have a husky friend (who also happens to be Piper’s boyfriend) named Kiddo and I think they all miss him because they were playing with Gemini differently than how they usually play with new friends.  Or maybe it was just because he was a new friend.  Soon, with tongues lolling and my hands frozen, we jumped back in the car.

And here was another dilemma I had: I had been trying to visit as many of the “Feasting on Asphalt” restaurants that I could that were close to our route.  There was a steak place and lodge that was not too far across the border into Utah.  The reviews online were all good but it would take out a huge chunk of travel time and would I want to continue on after a (hopefully) delicious steak dinner?  I was agonizing over my options.  Then it occurred to me: why was I trying to recreate someone else’s adventure?  Was I going by places that were equally good but hadn’t been featured?  Or maybe they had been visited but cut out of the series for time?  Was I missing on perfectly good places that were newer or setting my heart on places that were now closed?  These places that have been on TV get a boost in business for sure, but maybe there were other places that also need a boost.  Maybe by even one person reading about the amazing meal that I had, or the wonderful treatment of my dogs,maybe just maybe a business that someone has poured their heart and soul into can get a few more people through their door.  And that did it for me.  Onward we go.

I had a couple of routes available to me and I chose the most southern course, which just happened to be the longer, one.  No backtracking that way.

When I saw the signs for Monument Valley, well my friends, how could I not head that way?  It seemed like the road crossed back and forth over the border between Utah and Arizona.  I was amazed by the colour of the rocks and soil: a red like I had never seen in real life and reminded me of the photos taken by the Mars rovers.  Buttes and mesas (I think I’m using those terms right) jutted out of the sand all around me with sagebrush dotting the land.  A few things hit me during the many stops I made for photos: what made people stay here?  Not just now but why would anyone decide to settle here?  Southern Ontario is lush and green and rich in natural resources so this desert looked so forbidding and inhospitable in comparison.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was stunningly beautiful and I understand the allure of it.  But it does give you an appreciation for how tough a people would have to be to stay there.

The other thing was that I finally understood what people meant when they refer to the air as smelling like sagebrush.  I would get out of the car and there was this perfume that cut through the fumes of the cars and buses that sped by.  It was subtle but definitely there and I was tempted to grab a few handfuls to take with me.

Third was that I had expected the ground to be teeming with rattlesnakes and scorpions and all kinds of things.  Believe me, I was on the look out.  I’m not that upset that we didn’t see anything, but it would have been neat.

Monument Valley is STUNNING.  If you go, make sure you allot a few hours at least to really enjoy the place.  Unfortunately the one hiking trail was closed but we still drove the road through the valley.  I didn’t even bother keeping track of time as we followed the road.  There were plenty of places to stop and some of my favourite pictures from the trip are from the valley.  A word of caution though: the ground is fairly monochromatic.  So, for example, you might be creeping along the road and approaching a hairpin turn and be busy so busy watching for approaching vehicles that you don’t really notice how deep a rut in the road is until BAM!  Front wheels down.  Crap.  Try and ease rear wheels in but BAM as you wince and pat your dashboard in apology.  I peeked under the car the next time we stopped just to make sure nothing was dripping.  Nope.  On we go.

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At the entrance to Monument Valley
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A real road runner.
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Family selfie.
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Love the colour.
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One of my favourite pictures from the trip.
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Apparently I like trees.

We stopped in Page and after a quick Yelp consult, we stopped at El Tapatio in Page, Arizona.  I will admit, I had seen signs for Navajo tacos and wanted to try them but the few places that advertised after we Monument Valley were closed.  In hindsight, I should have gotten them at the Monument Valley Visitor Centre, but the crowd was so busy that I was afraid it would take a long time and I didn’t want to leave the dogs for too long.  The thinking was if anyone would have some kind of a taco, it would be a Mexican place.  In even more hindsight, that makes zero sense but by that point I was kind of desperate.  I had a basket of tortilla chips and some salsa and what I think was a coleslaw brought out with my menu.  After some debate, I ordered the mole chicken platter.  The food was outstanding and they let me sit with the dogs on the patio!  I was the only person out there and it was getting windy but it was great to be able to stretch my legs and not sit in the trunk of my car because there was nowhere else to eat.

Another thing?  I should have grabbed a hotel in Page.  The sun was setting and I wanted to get further down the road and I thought that I would be able to get somewhere before it was too late.

The dark seemed to come all at once.  It was like “the sun is going down and now it’s pitch black”.  I was looking for places to camp but there was nothing and I kept driving through the night and then I thought that it seemed like such a waste to drive through Arizona in the dark.  The few hotels that I saw listed an hour down the road were stupidly expensive.  I saw a Days inn listed for over $200 and had to read that over a few times.  I drove by one lodge that had their “No Vacancy” sign lit.  The next lodge that I stopped at was Cave Dwellers Lodge, and they didn’t allow pets.  But the owner did tell me that it was BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land down this road so I could stop somewhere safe and sleep.  I asked if there was a place to camp since I had the dogs and she told me I could camp there as well since it was public land.  Oh reeaaaaaaaaaaaallllllyyyy.

I had passed by what looked like a turn out just before Cliff Dwellers Lodge so I went back there.  It was a larger turnout than most of the ones we had passed and several boulders seemed to offer some cover from the road.  I set my tent up in what was essentially a parking lot right off the road.  I had even noticed a port-a-potty and thought “Wow this must be like a rest stop so of course we can park here”.  There was even another vehicle parked a short distance away.  They were probably wondered about the way I was constantly moving the car and all of the opening and closing of the trunk.  It was hard to see with the only light coming from the stars and my headlights so I tried to keep my car pointed away from them.

The similarity to Mars was so strong that I had to make a few few pictures of it before crawling into the tent.

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The moon rising.
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Camping on Mars.

8 thoughts on “Is There Life on Mars?

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