Earlier this summer my son and I flew out to Colorado, spent a day with my dad and stepmother, then drove across the West. The main “purpose” of the trip was was bring out a car that my dad was selling us, to replace my ancient Mazda sedan; but it was also a chance to spend some time with Pop and my son, and for them to spend some time with each other.
It’s also a drive that I really love and haven’t done in some time.
On our first day we followed I-70 through Grand Junction, past towns with names like Rife and Parachute, the latter featuring some awesome and completely unproblematic cultural appropriation.
From there we continued into eastern Utah, which is fantastically desolate.
We arrived at Moab in the mid-afternoon, and spent our first night there. For those who’ve never been, Moab is a small town whose main claim to fame is its proximity to a couple truly spectacular national parks, Arches and Canyonlands. It is to the average Western town what REI is to Sears: super-healthy, catering to a mix of people who are obsessively outdoorsy, and others who just have money.
My son and I took the afternoon and drove into Arches, which proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. For one thing, Arches is absolutely spectacular; but for another, an incredible number of great views are accessible by car.
Of course, it would be great to spend a few days there, camping and hiking and climbing, but you can appreciate the place in a few hours, which is what we had.
We drove up as far as we could in the park, and we hiked around for a bit.
About ten years ago when my kids were young, and we took them to the aquarium every other weekend (that’s how it felt, anyway, and we managed to more than pay for our Monterey Bay Aquarium membership several years running), I was always struck at how they and their peers would find the clownfish and invariably say, “There’s Nemo!” The movie Finding Nemo was a filter they carried around with them through the aquarium.
Well, driving through Arches, I couldn’t help but think to myself, This looks just like Radiator Springs! I hadn’t realized just how great a job the Pixar people had done of tapping into the archetype of the Western landscape, but boy did they get it.
The next day we went back with my dad before getting on the road.
We drove for several hours, until we reached the town of Selina, Utah.
We ate lunch a place called Mom’s Cafe (you can’t possibly miss it) and it turns out that the food is really pretty good. I had the chicken fried steak, which was exactly the dish you would expect at a place called Mom’s Cafe in Selina, Utah.
The “scone,” on the other hand, was completely inexplicable, though partly that’s because my reference scone is in Grantchester.
We then continued west, through Utah and into Nevada, and picked up Highway 50, the “Loneliest Highway in America.” It lived up to its name.
But so long as you’re prepared for it, it’s also a pretty spectacular drive, desolate and solitary in a way few things are in America any longer.
We stopped for the night in Ely, though the next time I do this I might try Austin or Eureka, both of which are closer to central Nevada, and are even tinier.
As for the car, which is a 2002 Chrysler 300M.
Having driven it around for a few weeks, I like everything about it, but it doesn’t feel like me. I love the leather interior, the comfortable seats, the V6 engine, the sunroof, the air conditioning that works, the suspension and quiet: in other words, I love everything about the car, but I suspect I’m always going to feel like it’s a really good rental car— awesome amenities, but not really my own property.
Still, I’m grateful for it, and will drive it until it can’t run any longer, or I inexplicably hit the jackpot with some future book. And it was acquired in about the coolest way I’ll ever get a car.