Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Religious Experience

Dateline: ALPINE, Wyo.

Didn't quite make it all the way to Jackson as I planned, and the view of the stars is woefully obscured by the bright lights of the parking lot of this Motel, but I've showered and soaked off the residue of the Great Salt Lake, and am ready for a quiet evening of Community (thanks, Dara) and sleep. I think I need to recover from Utah.

I've known for a while that Mormons were nice. One can't almost help but forgive them their delusional religion (as opposed to other delusional religions) because it turns out such really frickin' nice people.

After having been to the Mormon Mother Ship, I'm starting to wonder if maybe they're not doing something right with their delusion. The downtown was clean, my friends. Like, Disneyland clean. I pulled into downtown Salt Lake City at about 9 a.m. and there were people all over the place, pruning trees and bushes, replanting flowers, wiping down the garbage cans, scrubbing the sidewalks on hands and knees. They were still at it four hours later when I left.  It was immaculate and white and like the cities you see in movies like Ten Things I Hate About You. It's what a city should look like. Unless you like litter and dinginess and the smell of old piss. Then San Francisco is definitely your place. 

(For those of you who will claim I only saw downtown, and therefore the painted face of the city, I will note that I got lost in the adjacent neighborhoods a few times while trying to find parking and then while trying to find the highway. They were also clean and well-cared for, if not as pristine as Mormon Central. It's a town where it's clear that people actually care about where they live and how it's maintained. They put effort into it. There's something appealing about that.)

I took a million pictures of the Temple Square grounds, snuck to the second floor of the Tabernacle, watched good Mormons get let into the Temple itself via a backdoor as if it were a club with a secret password, stifled laughter while touring the Visitor Center/Museum, bought a copy of the Book of Mormon as a souvenir and had amazing pork belly for lunch at The Copper Onion.

I'd intended after that to head directly to Jackson to grab either a campsite or a hotel room, but I did want to see the Lake, so I took the advice of the front desk girl at last night's hotel and headed to Antelope Island.  It was a long drive through several towns, and a hot day, and $9 just to get into the park, and I almost thought it was a wash. I drove around half the island, saw a few bison and some picturesque views, but didn't get down to the water. On the way back out, I saw the sign I'd missed coming in  -- "BEACH ->" -- and went for it. As I pulled into the parking lot, I could see about a quarter-mile in the distance, across the sandy salty playa, a group of people wandering at the edge of the water. I headed for them, and met a guy coming back who was soaking wet -- those people weren't wandering, they were bathing in the water of the lake. I was woefully unprepared -- my bathing suit was back in the car, I had no towel -- so I figured I'd just dip my feet in the water, but a couple visiting from New Jersey convinced me to submerge myself, dress and all.  It was ... well, there's not really a good way to describe the feeling. The water was lukewarm, not the SF-style 55 degrees I was expecting when someone told me it was "cold, but nice", and so salty that I just floated on the surface without even trying.  I would guess that's what the Dead Sea is like, and now I can understand what would make a bunch of crazy religious pioneers decide to stop and make their lives here in the middle of vast beautiful emptiness.

Last night I said that the adventure didn't feel like it had begun until I entered Utah. This moment in the Great Salt Lake is where all the stress I'd been carrying around with me, some I didn't even know I had, floated away. When I finally walked back to the parking lot and found my car missing, I didn't panic at all. I just laughed and shrugged my shoulders and figured that these things happen. My car wasn't stolen, by the way: I'd walked back up to the wrong parking lot. We found it after a little while, but it wasn't a relief to do so. It just was a thing that happened. Does that make sense?

I laughed most of the way out of Utah and through the small corner of Idaho that was on my route. And again I had to laugh when I was stopped in the middle of a stretch between Wyoming towns by a family on horseback herding their cattle on the side of the highway back into the barn. I probably nearly got rammed by a panicking steer a couple of times as I tried to sneak around them.

Tomorrow I'm going straight to Grand Teton Park and gonna try to get a campsite. I'm actually considering skipping Yellowstone -- or just doing a drive-by -- in favor of Grand Teton and then going to the Deadwood area. Any thoughts or suggestions?

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