On the Road with Charles Kur — er, Michael Martinez

The moon rises above the mountains on the Oregon/Idaho border.

The moon rises above the mountains on the Oregon/Idaho border.

I wish I had time to write a full account of my trip so far, but after taking nearly 200 pictures (via cell phone), I think I’ll never be able to document my journey from Houston to Seattle very well. But I wanted to share the picture of the moonrise. Alas! my cell phone doesn’t do the beauty of an Oregon moonrise justice. The moon looked so huge, I wondered if I was seeing a mirage of the sun (which was setting on the other side of me).

And as I write this, I’m still only in Pendleton, OR (I think). Something about driving through mountains on precipitous ledges when there is no light and nothing to prevent my car from diving off a cliff thousands of feet in the air except my own desire to stay alive just makes another night-time passage undesirable.

I noticed two things as I drove through the mountains of Colorado last night: first very, very few people make that trip. Second, it’s a kind of scary feeling to know that you could plunge off the road in the blink of an eye just because you cannot tell the difference between the black top and the blackness of the valley you’re driving past.

So when the sun set this evening and I found myself driving through the mountains of Oregon, I decided I’d had enough fun with hair-pin curves and insane vacation drivers who don’t appreciate just how fast they are going on two-lane roads that have ‘runaway truck’ turnoffs that look like skateboard slam walls. Has any truck ever failed to stop on one of those things? I hope not.

I’ve traveled across the United States before, although most of the time I have flown across the country. But I’ve driven from Florida to Indiana, from Georgia to New Mexico, from New Mexico to Ohio and back, and from New Mexico to Texas. And now I’m driving from Texas to Washington. I’ve seen many things, met many people on those trips. But I couldn’t help noticing a few repetitive motifs on this trip.

A road-crew tractor is tipped at an angle in this picture, which is an homage to the movie Cars.

A road-crew tractor is tipped at an angle in this picture, which is an homage to the movie Cars.

A road-crew tractor is tipped at an angle in this picture, which is an homage to the movie Cars.

I don’t know if I have ever encountered as much road construction as I have this week. It seems like half the highways in Texas and one-third of the highways across the country are being widened, repaired, or renovated. As I drove through one congested construction project, I sent my girlfriend a picture of a bulldozer or something and said, “Wanna go tractor tipping?” We had seen the movie “Cars” this summer and loved it. As I passed another one, I decided to tilt my cell phone and sent this image to her with the subject line, “Tipped it!” She wrote back, “Don’t get caught!” (you have to know how the movie handles tractor tipping to understand the reference).

At the same site, I saw two road smoothers (I call them “steam rollers” but they don’t actually operate on steam) tilted at 45 degee angles as the drivers smoothed the side of the newly laid asphalt. I took a picture of the second one but Blogger is not cooperating. I can’t seem to upload the picture.

I’ve driven through 4 or 5 rain storms. The scariest one was in eastern Utah, where as I drove across the flatlands sheet lightning so powerful it looked like huge explosions lit up the night sky like daylight. Via the half-light of the lightning I watched a rain storm in the distance pummel the open land. I took a picture of it but the picture was so faint I decided it would need a lot of work.

Although I used the RandMcNally Web site to plot my course, I took a wrong turn in Colorado and found myself driving through a national park that consisted entirely of mountains. Large mountains. High, large, rocky, you can barely breathe mountains.

Who in their right mind would want to put a national highway across the peaks of high mountains? A highway that is so hard to see at night that people just pulled off the road to stop and wait for daylight. I wondered who was crazier: me for continuing on after it became impossible to see anything (it was also raining) or the people who parked their SUVs about 100 feet below the snow line.

I did take some pictures of the snow up close. But I didn’t stay around to see how cold it would get. I eventually found myself wandering into the little town of Ouray, Colorado. I had actually stopped at Silverton but their lone gas station was closed and I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask for a room in a house that had a sign on it that read, “Hotel”. This town looks like a classic “western” town from the movies, only the main street is paved with asphalt and they have electricity.

So, having sufficient gas to make it to Montrose (by my calculations) before I’d have to shut down for the night, I decided to try my luck on the dark roads and set out from Silverton to Ouray. Ouray looks (at night) like a sort of ski resort. I’m not entirely sure of what it is, except that it is larger than Silverton and has more than one street.

Ouray at least has a gas station where you can fill up if you have a credit card after dark. As I drove down into Ouray’s valley and hit the outskirts of town, a 12-point buck came running up a side street, crossed main street in front of me, and ran up another side street. Unlike many a doe I’ve nearly hit through the years, this buck didn’t stop to stare at my headlights. Either he was the official welcoming committee having had a few too many dark lagers, or else he’s done the slip-through-Ouray-at-night thing before.

And, no, I didn’t think to snap a picture. I was too busy saying to myself, “Wow! There’s a 12-point buck walking across Main Street in Ouray, Colorado….”

I drove up to Grand Junction, thinking I would stop there for the night. But, noooh! That wasn’t about to happen. Grand Junction is a sizable city. But every hotel and motel was booked up full. I didn’t think to ask what she meant when the night manager for one hotel said, “I don’t think you’ll find anything before you get to Salt Lake (City).”

When I hit Green River, Utah, an elderly gentleman coming out of yet another full hotel explained it to me. “Every Mormon from Salt Lake City is heading to Moab,” he said. “You won’t find any rooms anywhere.” And here I thought Moab was the name of a Biblical country descended from one of Lot’s incestuous daughters.

Well, I didn’t ask why the Mormons were migrating to Moab (or maybe it’s an annual pilgrimage — I intend no offense), but he apparently saw my weary, frustrated expression and suggested I try the other end of town. “I’m no longer a trucker,” he said, “but time was when there was only one motel in this town and it wasn’t one of these national chains. Then there were a lot of little ones. Go up past the truck stop and try your luck.”

Then he got into his U-Haul rental truck and drove off. I don’t know who he was, but he seemed to be quite familiar with Mormons, truck stops, and motels. So I headed to the other end of town.

Unfortunately, a couple hundred Mormons had beat me to those little motels, so I got back on the Interstate and drove 3 miles up the road to my next scheduled turn-off. After driving another hour or so, I found a hotel in Price, Utah that had some executive suites available. I was tired, it was late, so I took one.

There is so much more I could say, but I’m still tired. And the pictures are amazing, even for a cell phone. I’ll have to create a Web site on Xenite.Org some day. Assuming I can get the pictures off my cell phone. It’s becoming sluggish. I don’t know if that’s from all the pictures or from me constantly recharging it because I keep using up the power.

Anyway, Seattle isn’t far. And then come Monday I’ll start a new adventure.

‘Till then, gentle readers, take care.

The following comment was left on the original post by a friend:

WBS: It may interest you to know that the appearance that the moon is larger at the horizon is an optical illusion created by having the moon appear next to things of which we better perceive the scale. An easy way to verify this is to hold out your hand as though you were hitching a ride, and compare the size of the moon to your thumbnail. You’ll find that the nail-to-moon ratio is always the same – but that doesn’t decrease the beauty or silliness of your standing out under the night sky trying to thumb a ride on the moon.