We stop to stock on groceries and, as a bonus, we are treated to a scene from HBO’s Big Love. They walk down the aisle of your typical Walmart store. Three women behind a cart: one 40, one 30 and one 20 (or maybe just 16) year old, dressed in prim long dresses and sporting elaborate hairdos. They must be sister wives. Heeding the guidebook’s advice I tried to gawk respectfully. I have nothing against polygamy per se. Obviously I oppose brainwashing women and forcing teenage girls to have sexual relations with older men. And most definitely I condemn religious motivation behind any kind of liaison: catholic monogamous marriage as license to have sex is just as artificial. I do think that separation of church and state means that state should either sanction all types of civil unions or none, instead of enforcing judeo-christian version filtered through Napoleonic divorce laws.
If the land you are crossing is desolated yet captivating, then there is an excellent chance you are in what AAA calls the Indian Country. Misappropriation of the name aside the Indian country is where one comes to see incredible geological formations and to witness the progress of a 200 years experiment in civilizing natives. You may think that the concept of bringing the benefits of Western civilization to autochthons is a thing of the past, offensive to modern sensibilities. But consider the restrictions on alcohol on Navajo reservation. The federal government forbids sale of alcohol on Indian lands unless the tribe allows and the Secretary of Interior certifies it. For the rest of us the default option permits alcohol unless local community curbs it. Which is more common than you think: a waitress in Blanding, UT apologetically remarked it’s a dry town (and not because we were in the middle of the desert) when we tried to order beer with our dinner. The result, an utter lack of your favorite libation, is roughly the same but this is not a subtle distinction. Federal laws treat Indians like children. Just look at the extent of tribal jurisdiction over Indian country: the tribal court can only rule in case when both the victim and the perpetrator are Indians and only when the crime is a misdemeanor. Felonies and crimes affecting non-Indians are deemed to difficult to be left to native judges.
Recently I’ve spent six months without TV. I didn’t think I was depriving myself. Watching TV was never high on my to do list. Besides travelling feels a bit like TV. The difference is that instead of watching the moving pictures firmly planted on a couch, one observes mostly stationary world through the windows of a moving car. That of course does not change the fact that I crave mindless entertainment just as much as the next gal. Point in case: I managed to subject myself to 2 seasons of Prison Break. It’s not TV in its classic sense. Our slightly dusty set serves as a dumb add-on to a streaming Roku box connected to a temporarily unfrozen Netflix account. We get HD (which excites Damian and leaves me unfazed) and no commercial breaks. And of course we can watch it on our own schedule. Assuming the schedule calls for watching couple of years after the show has been aired.
I am reading a sci-fi book about Mars. Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson is a trilogy about terraforming Mars and transforming a population of colonists into an independent society. The book resonates deeply with our recent excursions. Hiking the red rocks of Utah parks reminds me of the Martian landscape. When driving a dirt road in a deep canyon with little plant life I feel the environment is as strange and hostile to life as on Mars. I almost expect to find a Mars rover around the corner. The abundant biosphere of our planet turns out to have clear and surprisingly close boundaries.
September is for seniors. The weather is nice, school vacations are over, prices drop and retirees migrate along the south-north highways individually in RVs and in organized groups. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between a particularly lavish RV or a guided bus tour. Not until the passengers start alighting. If you lose count it’s a group. Unless you are arithmetically challenged in which case you may want to peek inside. Contrary to the popular belief seeing a person offering constant narration is not a fool-proof sign of a guided tour. Some seniors just can’t stop to orate.
The common opinion is that American tourists abroad are a bunch of insufferable ignorants. Supposedly they take their prosaic habits, funny packs, running shoes and a desire to find a McDonald in France and proceed to trample all over the world’s treasures. Well, that may be. But if you hope that European tourists behave better in US you are seriously mistaken. Visiting Utah deservedly famous Canyonlands and Arches National Parks we are being unwillingly subjected to an invasion of German, French and Russian touring groups. Compete with one another in a strangely seductive game of let’s confirm the worst national stereotypes.
After all those mountains, forests and deserts we are craving some urban experience. Sounds easy but it’s Utah. The only city of any respectable size is Salt Lake City. Formerly known as Great Salt Lake City. Well, let’s visit Mormons then. They don’t bite. At least as long as we don’t tell them about our atheistic inclinations. We arrive late afternoon and surprisingly we pay less for a downtown hotel than we’d spent on some two-bit chain motels. Parking garage costs $5. Yes, five dollars for 24 hours! I overhear a guest complaining there is a charge at all. Clearly he’s never been to Boston.