Friday, July 22, 2016

The Long Drive Home

Typical terrain along our drive as we came into southern Utah.
July 18, 2016

Our five-day visit to Utah ended on Monday, and we prepared ourselves for the dreaded ten-hour drive back to our homes in Arizona. At least this time we had two cars, with Dylan and Jake in the Buick LaCrosse Dylan had purchased from his brother, Jacob. Although my Chevy Traverse has three rows of seats, it was still pretty tight having five large people and all our luggage crunched together for the drive into Utah.

We checked out of the resort right at noon on Monday and drove away by 12:15 Utah time (or 11:15 Arizona time). With two fuel stops and two meal stops along the way, we pulled into my driveway in Arizona a little before 11:00 p.m. Arizona time (or midnight in Utah). I think the actual driving time was about ten hours, perhaps 30 to 45 minutes longer than it would normally have taken, thanks to some surprises as we drove through the vast Navajo Reservation.

Our stop at a gas station in Price, Utah.

We had filled the tanks of both cars in Midvale on Saturday after our visit with Jacob and Danielle. Despite having driven to Salt Lake City and back the following day, our tanks seemed full enough to get us quite a long way before we needed to fuel up again. And they did. Turns out we both got fairly good gas mileage (my Traverse gets 22-23 miles per gallon on the highway), because both of our cars had more than a quarter-tank left when we finally stopped to fill up in Price, Utah, more than an hour and about 250 miles later.

We had our picnic lunch at Kane Springs Rest Stop again.

Then we drove on for two and a half hours more before we paused at the same rest stop where we had lunched on our way to Midway on Thursday, four days earlier. This time, instead of tuna salad on French rolls, our picnic lunch was deli sandwiches of smoked turkey, ham, and provolone on nutty multi-grain bread, with leftover homemade potato salad.

Back on the road, looking through my bug-spattered windshield.

It was about 4:15 when we got back on the road headed south and, except for a few ridiculously slow tractor-trailers in no-pass zones, it was mostly smooth sailing with bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds.

This is Recapture Reservoir, just north of Blanding, Utah.

We can see there's a huge storm ahead of us.

Then, about an hour from the rest stop, we began to see dark storm clouds gathering ahead of us, with heavy downpours of rain visible, stretching from the low clouds down to the horizon below. Within fifteen minutes, the rain was pouring on us, too. It was intermittently heavy, then drizzly, then heavy, but it was continuous until after we'd passed through Bluff, Utah, and over the San Juan River, approaching the Utah-Arizona border. Finally, the rain seemed to fizzle out by the time we'd crossed back into our home state at the northern edge of the Navajo Nation.

We hit the rain showers a few miles before the small town of Bluff, Utah.
Bluff is the first town you come to when you enter the Navajo Nation
on highway 191 from the north, while you're still in Utah.

The rain lightens up as we enter Bluff, getting closer to the Arizona border.

Driving across the San Juan River, a green oasis in the middle of high desert.

Once we'd passed through the storm, we expected clear sailing ahead.

Our first 80 miles into the Navajo Nation were clear and bright.

Our first hour and a half past the storm and into the Navajo Reservation was beautiful. There was a good, stiff wind buffeting the car, but the sky was brilliant blue, and puffy white clouds scudded by overhead. There was very little traffic, and that part of the highway had recently been redone, so the asphalt was smooth under the tires and we flew along at almost 75 mph. I even commented to Mark that we'd be home in no time if only the rest of the trip were this smooth. I guess I must have jinxed us.

Then heavy dust storms began to blow across the highway.

Around 7:00... Okay, the whole time thing becomes pretty weird at this point, because we are now in Arizona and Arizona does not do Daylight Savings Time. Unless you are in the Navajo Nation, which does do Daylight Savings, even though it's in Arizona. Probably because part of the reservation is in Utah and New Mexico, both being states that do practice Daylight Savings, although I think it's pretty silly since probably more than 95% of the reservation's land mass is in Arizona... Anyway.

So around 7:00 (or 8:00 if you're Navajo or Utahan), the wind becomes really strong and tumbleweeds begin rolling across the road in front of us. First one, then a few, and then dozens. The sky turns dark, and ahead of us the landscape becomes blurred under the heavy brown veil of sandstorms blowing over the high desert toward the highway. Soon the highway, and our cars, are engulfed in the gritty stream of blowing dust.

Luckily, this was nothing like the haboobs in the Phoenix area, which are so thick that there is zero visibility and you must stop to wait for the dust storm to pass. Our visibility was reduced, yes, so we had to slow down, but we were able to continue moving.

This was my final picture, because after this we were all too scared to take our
eyes off the road. After the dust, the rain clouds rolled in and the deluge began.

That is, we had some visibility until the downpour began. Oh. My. Gosh. I've driven in heavy rains a time or two during my life, but this put them all to shame. Behind me, in the Buick LaCrosse, Dylan and Jake were terrified, having never seen rain like this before, let alone driven in it. Jake was so freaked out that he tried to call his mother to tell her he loved her--just in case--and was upset to find there was no phone reception.

I couldn't even pull over because we were in the middle of nowhere, and pulling off the road could very well have meant getting the cars stuck in the mud or a ditch, or even hitting a barbed-wire fence or a cow that I couldn't see through the heavy sheets of rain. So we pressed forward at about 20 mph while I desperately kept my eyes on the road stripes, which sometimes disappeared under the waves but were usually all I could see, other than the blurred lights of oncoming cars, also driving very slowly.

And it wasn't just the rain. Lightning was flashing all around us. And I mean all around us, 360 degrees, plus sheet lightning directly overhead. The rain was so loud that we could barely hear the blasts and rolls of thunder, but the lightning still left bright images on our retinas and lit up the sky far longer than I'd ever seen lightning do before.

It was an extremely stressful stretch of our journey and it lasted more than half an hour. When we finally reached the town of Chinle, I thought we'd stop and wait out the storm there, maybe go ahead and have dinner at the Chinle Burger King. Then we saw that the lights of the town had gone out and crews were working to restore power, so we drove on through. Thankfully, though the rain continued, it wasn't so heavy by this point and we continued on without further incident to the Burger King in the Navajo town of Ganado. We stopped there and had dinner about 8:00 (or 9:00).

Our only concern when we left Burger King was whether to take Indian Route 15 through the tiny town of Greasewood, a shortcut that chops about half an hour off the trip. I remembered when we'd used that route four days earlier that there were signs warning "Flash Flood Zone." We'd just been through the type of rain that creates flash floods, and I hated to get all that way just to be stopped by flooding, then have to turn around and take the longer route anyway. 

I asked a worker at Burger King about it. She told us that no one puts up barriers when it floods, and no one puts up warning signs at the turn-off to that road. Great. So we took a chance and, thankfully, there were no floods in those low-lying areas when we drove through.

It was a little before 11:00 p.m. Arizona time when we finally arrived back at my house. However, we didn't arrive without a nice dose of irony first. As I've mentioned earlier, Dylan's new LaCrosse had a damaged taillight from being rear-ended by another car while Jacob owned it. We had gone to great lengths to make the taillight safe enough for the trip, so it would at least light up after dark, although the brake light and turn signal on that left side didn't work. Dylan has plans to get it repaired; we just needed to get the car safely home to Arizona.

Irony. Jacob and his mother-in-law Julie had driven the car all over their town for a few days without issues before we picked it up. We drove almost 600 miles for 10 hours, passing a few law enforcement officers along the way, and never had a problem. Then, when we were literally two blocks from my house, we passed a sheriff's deputy on the opposite side of the road. We'd barely passed him when he was on Dylan like white on rice. I'd told Julie that deputies and police officers in our neck of the woods have no tolerance for defective equipment, and I wasn't even kidding. Fortunately, the officer only gave Dylan a warning and told him not to drive the car until the light is repaired.

It was a comical ending to our long trip, but we were all glad to be home again. Sarah jumped into her Jeep and rushed home to see her hubby Chris and their dog Diego and guinea pig Frodo. She had to be at work by 9:00 the next morning. Dylan also had to be at work by 9:00 and Jake had a morning meeting at work, so they hopped into their old Buick Century (leaving the LaCrosse in my driveway) and headed to their apartment. As for me, I got everything unpacked and put away before I retired for the night.

It's true what they say: There's no place like home. And there's no bed quite as comfortable as my own!

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