While visiting those national parks and monuments, we drove through many treacherous roads, scenic by-ways, snaky mountain roads where one small mistakes will plunge the car into abysmal, and twelve national forests (Ashley, Dixie, Fishlake, Humboldt-Toiyabe, Inyo, Kaibab, Lassen, Plumas, Sierra, Stanislaus, Tahoe, Uncompahgre). We drove through what is known as the Loneliest Road in America :-) though I have to say that almost all the roads out there were lonely. We would hardly see any car and there were no cell phone reception. If anything happened to our cars, we would have been stranded either in the middle of a desert or forests with rattle snakes, wild goats, deer, wild horses, bear and mountain lions as our companies. We experienced temperature ranging from 50 degree Fahrenheit to 124 degree Fahrenheit (10 degree to 52 degree Centigrade). We climbed up to about 11,000 feet above sea-level (in Great Basin National Park) and climbed down to about 500 ft below sea-level (in Death Valley). People driving through Death Valley should take extra precautions as the car climbs down from about 7000 feet above sea-level to 500 feet below sea-level in a matter of about 10 to 15 minutes. With such drastic change in altitude and air-pressure in such a short time, the sinus cavities are really affected and gets clogged.
We saw numerous geologic eras, strata and formations, lakes, creeks, mountains, canyons, trails, passes, deserts, meteor craters, volcanoes, glaciers, caves, dams (e.g. Hoover Dam), petroglyphs, wildlife and vegetation, wildlife refuges, tribal territories, cities, towns and villages. The sleepy villages had all the charm of old-days with country or general stores and no chain-stores. Out there, they called a small collection of about hundred people a city :-) -- well, one can't really blame them! If for thousands of miles there are no human-dwelling and if suddenly there is a place with hundred people, like an oasis in desert, then it has to be called a city! Travelers passing through such places could easily go without food during night, as it happened to us, because the small village-restaurant closes by about 8:30 or 9-ish pm.
However, the highlight for me has been seeing hummingbirds for the first time and one of the darkest skies with Milky Way stretching across it and observing saturn, ring-nebula, M15-Globular Cluster, star-nursery and sun-spots through telescope. The sunspots appear like tiniest black-dot on a large white ball. However those tiniest black-dots are so huge that couple of earth can fit in each of them!!! It was completely mind-blowing and I never knew such dark skies with so many bright stars, shooting-stars and satellites whizzing around, and all observable with naked eyes, could exist!! I also saw huge femur bones of dinosaurs and other fossils embedded in rocks in mountain-sides.
We saw nature in its most raw form where humans have not left any imprint. The scenery changes at every bend of the road with mountains, red sandstone canyons or hoodies or alpine forests rising from the side of the road; towering forests or desert valleys stretches to the horizon. As far as eyes could see, the vista was that of open country, rugged beauty and wilderness, stretching into horizon. Beautiful wild-flowers dotted the roadsides. Mountain goats were grazing by the roadside or deer trying to cross the road. Rabbits, chipmunks and badgers would be scurrying along the road, ignorant of the car passing-by! Crystal-clear still lakes and swamps dotted the land as rivers meandered by. We also saw horses in the lands and valleys, in middle of nowhere, in Utah. Were they wild horses as Utah supposed to be having wild horses? Birds like eagles or vultures soared high up in sky and wild turkeys flew to the trees. I can use all the adjectives like awe-struck, awe-inspiring, beautiful, wonderful, magnificent, majestic, humongous, magnanimous, grand, grandeur, haunting, captivating but none of the words will be enough to describe what we saw in the scenic by-ways, in the open country, in the lonely roads crisscrossing through the wilderness or in the national parks. I can only fervently hope that all those roads and beauties and the wilderness will be preserved though we saw many parts of those wilderness up for sale. It will be tragedy and the joy of riding through those wilderness will be lost if their silence, loneliness, beauty and ruggedness are gone through development. Last year, the Sierra Club and our allies submitted nearly 250,000 comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opposing the expansion of the privately owned Alton Coal Mine onto federal land in southern Utah, 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park.. Bryce Canyon IS ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AND DELICATE NATIONAL PARK THAT WE SAW. Not only America or Americans but humanity will lose the most valuable treasure if those wilderness, roads and natural beauties are developed and destroyed.
If the beauty of North-East is that of milk and honey, welcoming and soothing, then that of West is unwelcoming, dangerous, rugged and imposing, that of like a mighty ancient-warrior or gladiator -- a tiny error, one wrong turn and you will be dead and lost forever. Nature in north-east can also be dangerous but at least it gives the impression that people can survive in the wilderness. Out there, no one will survive beyond couple of hours -- lack of water and vegetation, heat, blazing sun with no trees to get any shade and wild animals will kill you. How did the pioneers, the cowboys, the gold-rush hunters and the wanted criminals survive? All the places and route we visited were paradise for geologists, artists, photographers, poets and writers. I wish I were one of them.
Among all these magnificent wilderness and rugged nature, we saw the destruction and havoc created by human beings. We saw extreme misuse of water-sprinklers as they were unnecessarily used to water, for twenty-four hours, farms, gardens and lawns. Water-sprinklers were watering when it was raining and also watering when the outside temperature was 102 degree Fahrenheit and the afternoon sun is burning above head!! Sometimes the sprinklers were watering the road; it is currently claimed that south-west USA is having drought and shortage of water!! A national calamity is waiting to happen when the water from the rivers and lakes dries up. We already saw many dried lake-beds, lakes whose water got heavily drawn and thus its size reduced; we saw the current level of Colorado river being many feet down from where it used to be. We saw huge sprinklers watering acres and acres of land to produce grass. We could not understand the reason; perhaps they are growing grass to feed the cow or create sod for lawns. We saw many part of the desert or forest cleared to create ranches of humongous size. Agricultural mono-culture was rampant everywhere with thousands or millions of acres of land devoted to only one crop - corn or some kind of grain or pistachios or olive or sunflower, etc. We saw aeroplanes spreading some kind of chemicals (looked like huge clouds of dust over the farm-land). We saw pipeline access, and mining for natural gas and oil in the wilderness; in the middle of nowhere the drilling-arms of those exploring machine would be working automatically, going up and down like a huge robot. They were very common in Colorado. We saw large-scale electricity production using coal; the coals were piled high-up like a mountain. But, I guess we have no right to say anything as our trip was also not environment-friendly, burning up large amount of gas. We tried to rent hybrid cars but they were beyond costly to rent, charging us about $100 per day!
However, we also saw many wind-farms and solar panels. Hopefully, more and more of those will be created, wastage of water will decline, a different method of agriculture will come back and nature will be restored. On coming back, we saw our backyard has turned into a jungle with flowers, vegetables, strawberries ripened, fell off and got rotten and pears (infinite of them all spread around in the backyard and rotting. The birds and the squirrels do not eat a whole pear; they take a little bit nip and throw the pear down; raccoon, deer, groundhog and rabbits then devour them).
More information and photos will come in subsequent posts.