Being city people newly relocated to a temporary home in the northern Utah mountains, we have adopted a regular Sunday tradition: Explore Utah! This takes the form of a drive to some part of the state we are unfamiliar with and, being a surprisingly large and diverse state, this is a past time without much of a limit.
Reclaiming the Sunday Drive
Sunday drives were something of a childhood irritation; I never liked the feeling of being locked in a moving box with windows as the adults silently observed the, to my mind, rather uninteresting landscape that whizzed by the backseat windows. Oh well, I survived without many scars. Now, several decades further along in my development and with a great deal more amusing digital do-das to accompany us, our drives exploring our temporary locale have become something to plan and look forward to. Mountain? Forest? Desert? Big lakes?
Utah is a large and surprisingly diverse place that we had almost no vision of when we came here 6 weeks ago. There was the skiing, and a city called Salt Lake that at one time had a successful basketball team. That was about the extent of my Utah knowledge. Total ignorance can lead to tremendously satisfying explorations. The novel is inherently attention-grabbing.
Food, Water, and Bathrooms on the Road in the Time of COVID
We started out small because, now in the time of COVID, we had no idea how to do an all-day road trip without stopping for food, water, and bathrooms. The first thing was the water. The solution was a 2.5-gallon container in the back and a couple of big cups — less plastic waste, and that was enough water to keep us alive if we got into some imaginary situation causing us to become marooned in some bleak desert somewhere. Utah as a state, is surprisingly well maintained with a seemingly endless amount of county parks. They are everywhere, and all clean, tidy and quite cheery. Who knew? The best county park bathrooms ever. New York and California, take note and up your game, these guys are crushing it in the local park game.
Food was taken care of with half a dozen burritos from Whole Foods that we heated in the oven pre-trip. The burrito is an excellent self-contained low-mess in-car food source for a 12-hour trip. Get a variety of them; you won’t regret it.
Paper Maps vs Google Maps
Since humanity has advanced beyond AM radio to Audible Books, we are never at a loss for entertainment and brain food. The other modern travel advancement, Google Maps, while generally helpful is not to be relied upon in the wilds of Utah. It doesn’t work in a canyon and, worse, it doesn’t know the difference between a perilous, spine-jangling jeep track and a paved 2-lane road. Yes, that happened. Google said a particular winding goat path of a road would be faster. The Google bots lied, and we had a hearty adventure trying to get the car turned around on a cliffside. Bring a paper map; they don’t lie and work without cell service.
World-Noteworthy Sites All to Ourselves
One of the great upsides to a pandemic is there are almost no people at the scenic spots that are usually human magnets. Driving to Moab, where the National Parks were closed but everything else was open, we had world-noteworthy sites all to ourselves. Utah is a big place and there are not all that many people here in the first place, but standing in front of a wall of world-famous petroglyphs without a soul in sight is something I must assume would not have happened on any other lovely weekend day.
Re-Evaluating the Benefits of a Car
Is this a moment to re-evaluate the automobile? For us urbanites, the future was to be all about self-drive, Uber, shared cars — the end of individual car ownership and the demise of the parking garage. Like so many things, we were only seeing things through the lens of the part of the world we lived in. Out here, where a 6-hour drive is normal, that future is very much not the reality. And as much as the environmentalist in me would push back, having our own vehicle, our own safe, virus-free bubble, with our own food, water, and personal possessions, was a pleasure.
Exotic travel is what we make it. It doesn’t need to include an airplane or another civilization. Its defining characteristic is being unfamiliar. The Sunday drive as geographic exploration fits the bill quite well. Send us your Sunday drive-walk-bike photos. We will publish them. Include a caption of where you were.