It was another very early morning for me. Somehow, it is so much easier to get up early when you know that you are about to spend the day chasing travel and adventure. Indeed, today I had a busy day ahead of me. I was going to start the day by visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. After that, I was taking a long drive across Utah to go visit my friends Simon and Priscilla on the western slope of Colorado for the weekend.
The morning sunrise was amazing. The sky burned pink over the mountains, and I was a little sad that I hadn’t spent more time in Cedar City. It was a theme I was noticing with this trip. I was always moving fast, eager to get to the next place. It would have been nice to slow down a bit, but I was always so excited and eager to move forward.
Bryce Canyon National Park was gorgeous. The layout was similar to Mesa Verde. I drove all the way along a long road. Then on the way back, there were tons of lookout points to stop at and enjoy the really amazing views. But although the layout was like Mesa Verde, Bryce Canyon was like no other place I had been to. There were a few cool natural arches. But I was stunned by the amount of “hoodoos”. These were these long orange spires sticking up throughout the landscape. Formed by erosion, they looked like stalagmites, and there were thousands of them. The science/nature nerd in me wished I would have taken some sort of tour to truly appreciate what I was looking at.
I’ll be honest, after my adventures in the fairy tale enchanted kingdom of Zion (I’m still surprised I never saw a unicorn or magical castle there), Bryce was a bit underwhelming. That was probably my fault though. I had given myself only a few hours to drive through and explore Bryce. But there seemed to be a lot of really cool trails to hike, if only I had time to properly explore. There were tour groups, and I thought it would be a fun way to learn the science of this place. There was even a campsite here. I bet if I had given myself a full day here to really immerse myself in the environment and explore this alien landscape, I would have gotten a lot more out of Bryce. And perhaps if I had gone to Bryce first, before the magic of Zion, I would have been more fascinated as well. That being said, I was still really glad I took the time to get up early and spend the morning here. The landscape was like nothing I had ever seen anywhere before!
Eventually I finished my abridged tour of Bryce Canyon and decided it was time to head to Colorado to meet Simon. There were a few gas stations as I left town, but my tank was 3/4 full, so I didn’t worry about that. I began my drive across Utah, letting my GPS guide me. I didn’t know it yet but I was in for a memorable day!
I was taking basically the only road out of town, and I hadn’t gotten very far when there was a car stopped in front of me on the road, and a big black trailer stopped in front of it. Both had their hazard lights on. I figured they were traveling together so I got ready to pass them.
Then I slammed on my brakes.
There were hundreds, likely even thousands of sheep, completely overtaking the road. The only road out of town had been swallowed up by a loud white wooly blob. I had never seen anything like this in my life. Was I dreaming?
The trailer in front of me decided to very slowly start moving forward, and I followed behind it. The thousands of sheep would “baaaaa” loudly, and run forward as the trailer slowly inched forward on the road, but the road wouldn’t clear. There were so many hundreds of them consuming the road. Off in the distance, there was a man with several dogs herding the sheep. There were sheep running on either side of the road too. They were everywhere. Part of me was extremely annoyed by the inconvenience of this. And part of me was fascinated by the insanity of it all. This seemed like something that would happen in Costa Rica, but not in The United States.
Ah yes, I reminded myself. This is Utah.
It took a long time. The RV ahead of me slowly inched forward, and I followed close behind. And after a very long time, eventually the herd of sheep cleared and the road finally opened up. Yes! Awesome!
I drove in peace on these rural Utah roads. Utah was so gorgeous. I couldn’t get enough of these amazing views. I started to realize that my driving days were just as amazing as my hiking days. The American Southwest is just so incredible. I got so many really wonderful scenic drives as I explored these four states. I loved this part of the country!
I spent a couple hours driving through these rural mountain roads of Utah. It had been a really long time since I had seen a gas station. None since Bryce Canyon. Fortunately I70 wasn’t very far away. This is the big interstate that cuts through the rocky mountains. Once I got on I70, I could take it East all the way across Utah and visit Simon in Montrose Colorado. Until then, I had a day of fantastic scenery ahead of me.
I’ll admit I was relieved to finally get onto 70. Rural mountain roads are beautiful, but it’s nice to just be able to cruise straight down a freeway for a while. What was awesome was that I noticed there were exits for “Scenic Views”. Of course I had to stop and check them out. It was really amazing too. There was just this amazing desert laid out before me. I was going crazy from all the natural beauty of Utah.
I got back on the road and noticed I would need to start looking for a gas station soon. I still had enough fuel to last a while, but there was no need to cut it close. I was glad that I was out of rural Utah and on a busy interstate. I kept a lookout as I cruised down I-70 East through the Utah Desert. I kept seeing more exit ramps for scenic views. I totally wanted to stop and check them all out, but I decided I should wait until I got gas first. Also, I didn’t want to get to Colorado after dark. I had already spent my entire morning at Bryce.
I cruised on. There were more and more scenic views, but not really many exits. And there were no gas stations. In fact, the rare occasion I would actually come to an exit, there would be a “No Services” sign. I was a little nervous, but I still had enough gas. I knew I would find something soon.
But I didn’t. I kept driving eastbound down I-70. The long highway continued through the Utah Desert, but there were no signs of civilization ANYWHERE. I kept seeing more and more “Scenic Views” and they were just taunting me. I didn’t need another scenic view, I needed a damn gas station!
I kept driving, trying to stay optimistic. But I was in the middle of nowhere, and each time the mark on my fuel indicator dropped, my heart started racing a little bit faster. Was I about to run out of gas in the middle of the desert?
I sped onward, and began to imagine it. The sputtering sound my car would surely make as it ran out of gas. The shame and terror of having to pull over. I would have to carry my backpack with me, I couldn’t leave my laptop in the car. And I would have to hitchhike to a gas station, there was no way I could walk two marathons one way to a gas station. And then I would have to walk back. Would anyone even pick me up? How hot was it outside anyway? I was in the desert. It was pretty hot. Too hot. Dangerously hot???
I tried to stay positive, but there was NO sign of civilization anywhere, and the nearest town was still maybe 60 miles away. My fuel tank dropped another notch and now I was panicking. All these terrible images flashed through my head of getting stranded with no gas in the middle of the desert. Not only was it terrifying, but it was also embarrassing. (Hey we all know how terror and embarrassment can mix).
I had been very good about watching my gas the entire road trip. How could I let myself get stranded in the middle of the damn desert???? It was ridiculous that I had gotten myself into this situation. At least I was mostly getting cell phone reception. I realized that the last time I had seen a gas station was leaving Bryce. Which means I had gone almost 3 hours without seeing a single gas station. Surely I was not the first person who had used Google Maps to go from Bryce toward Moab. How many other people had gone through this same ordeal? How many other people had run out of gas because they had no idea there was going to be on an insanely long stretch of emptiness.
This was horrible. I was stressed. But I knew that no matter what, I would figure it out. In the end, it would make a fun story to tell. But not one I wanted to tell, especially after trying to be so responsible.
I was flying down 70. The road became twisted, winding through rocky structures. It would have been beautiful but I couldn’t even see the scenery anymore. I was focused on getting as far as I could before I ran out of fuel.
I finally checked Yelp to see when the next gas station was. It was far. Maybe 40 miles. Would I make it that far? I didn’t know. I hoped so. 40 miles was an impossible walk if I ran out. And then I would have to come all the way back too. That meant 80 miles. On foot. Impossible.
I continued on, refusing to acknowledge the panic that was trying to force it’s way into the forefront of my consciousness. I refused to acknowledge the reality that I could end up stranded in the middle of the desert alone without fuel. It wasn’t my fault that I had gone on a 3 hour stretch without a service station. I’m not even sure how that is possible.
The next 30 minutes felt longer than the rest of my trip combined. As I watched the mile marker signs toward Green River, my heart was racing. Gradually I started to relax.
20 miles was still horrible walk if I got stranded, but it was a lot better than 60.
15 miles, that was a long walk, but not impossible. I kept flying forward, my mind single focused now on one thing.
10 miles more.. I could walk ten miles. If I ran out of fuel, it would NOT be bad. I could walk ten miles and get gas. It wouldn’t be my proudest moment, but I probably wouldn’t die in the middle of the desert either. But maybe, just maybe, I could make it.
5 miles. If I ran out of fuel I could easily make it. Five miles wasn’t bad. It was embarassing. It was an inconvenience. But it wasn’t terrifying. Yet, I still didn’t know if my car would make it 5 miles. I was just about out of fuel. I had never run my car this low.
It was unreal when I finally turned onto the off ramp onto the Green River. I pulled into a gas station and felt the best I could imagine. I was flooded with adrenaline by this point, which was mixed with this overwhelming and incredible sense of relief. I filled my car with gas and walked around to calm myself down.
I texted Simon that I was on 70, on my way.
“Be careful, there is a long patch on 70 in the middle of nowhere” he responded.
I laughed. “Yeah I almost ran out of gas in the desert.”
“You city boy,” he replied.
With a full tank I got back on the road.
Bryce Canyon. Sheep consuming the road. And almost running out of gas in the desert. Man, what a day! I got in my car and drove. Now I could enjoy the view once again and love the journey.
I felt a bit of longing as I drove past Moab. I had always wanted to visit that town, and felt silly driving past it. But it was ok. I could come back and check it out after spending the weekend with my friends in Colorado.
I got to Grand Junction, and then made my way down to Montrose.
This indeed had been a memorable day.