Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Speaking Of Traveling

It's actually interesting to throw yourself into mainstream american pop culture without the Internet, getting all of your information about the world outside your immediate environment from radio and TV snippets, newspapers and casual conversation. Just days before leaving on a three week vacation my newer Dell laptop died.
I became ignorant.
With a steady diet of mainstream media my worldview evaporated. Oh sure, ABC/FOX/ClearChannel et al happily informed me about various high profile bloodletting and celebrity gossip. Newspapers dutifully wrote about local goings-on. If I wanted NBA scores they weren't hard to come by. But not having access to this nearly infinite well of information for weeks left me deaf, dumb and clueless to the larger world. If I had to live in that state from now on all my opinions would be influenced by manipulators, demagogues and propagandists, flunkies, proselytizers and liars. Instead of being an active participant working to uncover information and opinion I'd become a passive consumer of mainstream pablum, safe in my comfort zone, always eager to get my emotional chain yanked and have my opinions conveniently pre-packaged for me.
Like too many brain dead americans.

By the way, some thoughts about vacationing, that endangered experience that we could once count on to get away and relax:

It's getting expensive geometrically, not arithmetically. We're all choking on the gas prices, but there are steep increases all across the board. Entrance fees are up. The National Park Pass is 60% more this year. A spot in a KOA type campground is typically near $35; it was less than $30 last year.
Be prepared for more prohibitions and constraints. I can remember when public lands meant exactly that. Now your access is increasingly restricted. The eventual result will be a look but don't touch policy, more like safe and pretty outdoor museums than natural splendor where you can find adventure. Of course if your idea of a splendiforous vacation is the Grand Old Opry or the Richard Nixon Library this won't matter to you.
Be prepared for crowds. If you haven't hit the road in awhile you'll be shocked.

This vacationing business may soon be an extinct animal, with more war, financial armeggedon or earth changes meaning any future excursion might actually turn into a fight for survival. If it all pathetically limps along and you have to escape your cubicle for a stretch, some tips.

Some people like a lazy hotel by the sea, or maybe an endurance hike along the Appalachian Trail, or possibly some shopping in Ciudad Juárez. Give me the Colorado Plateau. It's the most staggeringly beautiful place on earth, more eyeball bang for the buck than anywhere. Dozens of parks and monuments all clustered in a relatively small area of the country so that if you go there it's a short hop to the next jaw dropping scene. That's what floats my boat but I think the following might be useful travelling just about anywhere in the US today.

1. Travel as small and as light as you can. Whatever "conveniences" you can dispense with, do it because you don't need all that crap to lug around. Believe me, those giant wheeled megalopoli are going to disappear. I really like the retro trend back towards those small teardrop trailers if you want to sleep off the ground.

2. You can avoid the above problems by choosing destinations that don't get the big attention but are every bit as awe inspiring. An example in the SW - go to Valley of the Gods instead of Monument Valley. Camp for free, rock climb, take pictures, have the place to yourself.

3. Dry camp when you travel. Who wants to "camp" in an expensive, noisy place while on the road anyway? I've toyed for years about writing a pamphlet I'd call Gravel Pit Camping. Along most highways out west at differing intervals are gravel pits where the highway crews store mountains of gravel for road projects. Just pull in behind one and you have a free camp spot for the night- it's amazing how beautiful these remote places can be. Some states actually encourage weary travelers to pull into roadside pullouts and rest areas. I can't praise Nevada enough for being traveller friendly like that.

4. If you can, buy bulk food and gallons of water beforehand. The trend is to rip vacationers off.

5. Have WiFi capability. There's been an explosion of hotspots around the country and you can get online in places you wouldn't have thought you could. How about Castle Rock Store outside of Capital Reef Natl. Park in Torrey, Utah, pop. 171? Make reservations, check road reports and weather, look up places to visit.

6. Get out of the vehicle and walk or best of all, bring a bike. It's exhilarating to peddle around places like Yosemite Valley or Chaco Canyon. The Natl. Park Service should be complemented for instituting new programs of eliminating personal vehicle traffic from some treasured areas and putting in free shuttle services to bring people where they want to go. This is a Very Good Thing, in spades. Zion Natl. Park for instance. Ten years ago the wonderful valley reeked of fumes as thousands of cars and motor homes inched around vying for a few hundred parking spaces. Hot, pissed off people wasted their time driving aimlessly through the murk. Now, try this - park at the visitor center, put your bike on the front of one of the propane shuttle buses and take a ride to the top of the valley. Then peddle gently downhill listening to the Virgin River and wondering at the hummingbird moths in one of the most stunningly gorgeous places you'll ever see.

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