Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Moab Monday

Above left: Leaving Moab. Above right: Colorado River from the bike/pedestrian bridge

Monday in Moab. The desert morning was crystal clear. The temperature was in the low 70's and even felt a little chilly with the low humidity. All I know for sure is that I have to be at Denver International Airport to board a flight to Portland, Oregon at 6pm tomorrow.

In the meantime, Colorado springs was 422 miles away and I definitely wanted to check out some book stores there; Denver, another 71 miles north of that. I had 493 miles to ride and lots of sights to see before 4pm tomorrow. It would be a hard drivin' couple o' days.

First things first. A hearty breakfast was in order and I had noticed what looked like the perfect spot on the way into town the day before. Luckily, with a little early morning focus, I was able to find it again.

Above Left: Eklecticafe for breakfast is a great choice. Above right: Eklecticafe's beautiful garden setting.

The Eklecticafe, near the north end of main street, has a terrific breakfast and fresh baked pastry selection plus a beautiful garden seating area that's totally chill. You order at the counter inside and they bring the food out to your table. In the meantime, you can refill coffee to your heart's pounding content at their self-service beverage bar.

After a superb and satiating breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes and toast with plenty of orange juice and coffee, I grabbed a couple of fresh pastries at the counter, paid and was on my way. Before leaving town, I snapped a couple of photos of the Colorado River as it carves its way through the red rock canyon from the dedicated pedestrian/bicycle bridge north of town . It was a beautiful last look at this oasis of fun in the desert.

From there it was back up the Moab Fault, retracing my steps north along highway 191 to the intersection with interstate 70. Crossing the plain, I got one last, distant look at the otherworldly rock formations of Arches National Park on the eastern horizon.

It's hard to imagine what the living and traveling conditions must have been like for early settlers in these harsh environments. Admiring the landscape from inside my environmentally controlled vehicle, I marveled at their resiliency as I crossed the scorching plains in temperature controlled comfort, drinking a cold bottle of water and listening to my favorite tunes on the 8-speaker sound system.

I was headed back in to Colorado. First stop: the city of Grand Junction, the largest city on the western slope of the Rockies, roughly 112 miles west-northwest of Moab. This unheralded city lies at the junction of the Gunnison and Colorado rivers, in the middle of the 30-mile long farming oasis known as Grand Valley, just to the north of the beautiful, Grand Canyon like Colorado National Monument.

With over 100,000 residents in the city and surrounding municipalities, Grand Junction is the largest population center between Denver and Las Vegas (over 500 miles to the southwest) and Salt Lake City (nearly 300 miles to the northwest). Towering over the city is the imposing 11,000 foot high, 500 square mile Grand Mesa, the largest table-top mountain in the world. As you approach from the west it provides a formidable backdrop to the farms and orchards of the lush green valley.

Grand Junction is a much bigger, working man's version of Moab. Mountain bikers and hikers are joined by hunters and fishermen; river and back country guides by farmers and roughnecks; trendy boutiques by Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Best Buy. Still, with its work-a-day attitude, western setting and architecture, Grand Junction has a unique style all its own.

Above left: Main Street, Grand Junction, Co. Above right: Johnny Winter, coming soon to the Mesa

I made a beeline for quaint, tree-lined Main Street, the beautifully western looking shopping and hang out district in the heart of town. The street is lined with an interesting array of eclectic retailers. Western outfitters and saddle shops, hardware and drug stores can be found right next to tourist stores, high-priced art galleries, low-priced antique shops and a full range of restaurants and bars from fast food to uber-trendy sushi.

Here, just a few doors down from Champion Boots I made a stop at Author's Gallery Books, a used book cornucopia that's been a mainstay of Main Street for over 18 years. Hard working owner Marge Rupp took over the store four years ago from the original owner and founder and is working to keep her 40,000 book plus inventory under control as a constant flow of gently used books comes in the front door.

Above Left: Author's Gallery Bookstore. Above right: Marge and Cinnamon (he's sooo cute!)

Luckily, she has the help of her assistant and constant companion, Cinnamon, possibly the cutest toy poodle ever. Cinnamon is one of those dogs that you immediately want to take home with you. However, seeing he plays such a key role in store security, I kept my dreams of dog napping at bay for the time being. Author's Gallery Books has a huge selection with many out-of-print and hard-to-find titles available at great prices. If you stop by, tell marge the Booktraveler sent you!

After visiting with Marge and Cinnamon, I headed across the street to a great looking antique store, which I mention only because the prices on antiques were so good here. I honestly thought of hiring a u-haul to fill up and drive back. I could pay for the trip three times over with the profits. But I digress. On a final note, I was glad to see that famed rock-blues guitar man Johnny Winter was "still alive and well" and headed to Grand Junction to play at the famed Mesa Theater on Main Street. Not such a cultural backwater after all it seems!

Above: Twice Upon a Time Bookshop inside and out.

Moving along I hit the the big box strip mall drag along North Avenue on the way out of town, where I had the pleasure of stopping at a beautiful new and used indie nestled comfortably between the Best Buys, Dollar Stores, K-marts and MacDonald's that populate the avenue. Twice Upon a Time Bookshop has been a standout independent bookstore in the same location for over 12 years.

Owner Margie Wilson took over the store 2 years ago, and has since honed the interior decor, store layout and inventory to produce a gem of a bookstore with a great selection of local and western literature to compliment a broad selection of main stream titles, unique cards and gifts. It's a great little store and together with Author's Gallery Books, makes Grand Junction a choice destination for any Booktraveler.

With so many miles to travel, I held off on lunch and continued on into the Rockies from the west, following I-70 as it meanders its way into the high country along the scenic Colorado River. I continued through historic Glenwood Springs, home of the famous Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, the largest natural hot springs pool in the world, turning south on highway 82 for the scenic climb into Aspen.

Aspen Mountain, looking south down Mill Street. Think snow!

I stopped in this most appealing and quaint of jet setter towns to enjoy enchiladas and a margarita (or two) at the Cantina restaurant on Main Street. This was followed by an even more enjoyable late afternoon walk through town, punctuated with a quick stop at the Ben & Jerry's across from Wagner Park for ice cream and coffee.

Aspen, for all its star-studded hoopla, is an amazingly quaint little town that somehow manages to retain a distinctly small town look and feel. The cost of housing does tend the keep the riffraff out, but walking up Mill street, breathing in the cool high mountain air and dreaming of snow while gazing up at the inviting runs of Aspen Mountain, you can't help but be amazed at the difference between this and the oppressive, runaway development at resorts like Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge.

It was getting late and I wanted to make my way over nearby Independence Pass before dark. This amazing pass reaches a height of 12,098 feet, nearly a thousand feet above treeline, as it crosses a high mountain shoulder just south of Mt. Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado and the second highest peak in the contiguous United States. At 14, 443 feet, it's just 60 feet shorter than California's Mt. Whitney. Mt. Elbert is the highest of Colorado's fifty-two 14,000 foot plus peaks, fifteen of which are in the same Sawatch Range which runs 70 miles from north to south.

The narrow and nearly deserted paved road, which is closed during the long winter, twists and turns its way up a pine filled valley above a breathtaking high country meadow framed by towering peaks above. Near the top of the pass at nearly 11,000 feet is the ghost mining town of Independence, from which the pass gets its name. Hard to imaging life up here back in the late 1800's, but the if the lure of gold could drive men to live in the endless night of the Yukon winter, wintering at 11,000 feet in Colorado was probably not so bad by comparison, with very little in the way of cannibalism.

Above left: Mount Elbert (left), highest mountain in CO. Above right: moonrise over La Plata.
Believe me, pictures alone don't do it justice.

Reaching the top of the pass I took a few minutes to marvel at the exceptional views in the crisp clean evening air. The moon was halfway up in the sky over the imposing La Plata Peak (14,336 feet), which seemed an impossible distance across the darkening valley. I felt incredibly fortunate to have experience all of the natural beauty and wonders during this trip. Standing at 12,000 feet on top of the continental divide as the sun dipped below the horizon, I was struck by the awe-inspiring beauty of the moment, in humble reverence to the timeless forces of nature embodied in these these silent, majestic peaks.

Sunset at 12,098 feet atop Independence Pass.

Night was coming on fast and I kept a close watch for wildlife in the road as it wound its way back down to civilization. Reaching the road junction at Twin Lakes, I turned south on highway 24 and coasted the 20 miles down to the appropriately named Buena Vista (Beautiful View), where I shacked up in the resplendent comforts of the Topaz Lodge ($58).

With a cold beer in hand and another chilling in a plastic ice bucket in the sink, I scrolled back through pictures of the day and ruminated over the incredible range of sights. From the red rock splendors of Moab and the arid fields of Grand Valley to the gentle, tree-lined slopes of Aspen and the high mountain splendors of Independence Pass, the range of sights, climates and micro-climates you can cover in one day makes any trip to the Rocky Mountain West an awe-inspiring journey.

There's no rest for the weary however, and I had almost 100 miles to cover in the morning to reach Colorado Springs, then another 71 miles north to make my 6pm plane to Portland. It's been a long, venturesome trip and I'm looking forward to the final push back to Denver, the unparalleled beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the used book wonderland of Portland, Oregon. Join me won't you?

Next Post: Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods and Regional Reads. Until then-


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Arching through Moab

Even though I woke up later than usual, I was still unable to face the "continental breakfast" provided by the hotel. Instead I grabbed an astringent cup of coffee and a small, tasteless sleeve of powdered donuts at the gas station next to the Travelodge and was on my way.

Leaving the narrow strip of civilization around Salt Lake City, the most western most part of my drive, I was headed back through the Wasatch on highway 6, across the San Rafael Desert to Moab, Utah, 3 hours to the southeast.

The first hour of the drive was beautiful as the ever changing landscapes of the pine covered Wasatch passed by. Descending the eastern slope, the mountains and trees gave way to a landscape of parched valleys bordered by high cliffs and desert plateaus, distinctly beautiful in its own right but I wouldn't want to be caught without a canteen.

I jumped off the highway and took a quick spin through the town of Helper, Utah hoping for some grub. It was not to be. With the exception of the Western Mining and Railroad Museum just south of town, Helper seemed like it was in need of some help itself, with most of the stores, hotels, restaurants and theaters along the picturesque main street long since abandoned.

Above Left: Main Street, Helper Utah. Above Right: Groggs and Pinnacle Brewing Co., Price Utah.

About 10 miles further down the highway, near the town of Price, I followed the signs for Groggs Restaurant/Pinnacle Brewing Company which, it turned out, was well worth the 2 mile detour down North Carbondale Road. A big bowl of their homemade beef chili along with chips and salsa was just what the doctor ordered particularly when washed down with a couple of tasty glasses of their Pinnacle Brewing Company Amber. Sweet!

Jumping back on highway six, I continued another 60 miles through the harshly beautiful and thoroughly depopulated desert to the intersection with Interstate 70, just west of Green River, Utah. From there it was 25 miles along the base of the imposing Book Cliffs which towered over the desert to the north to the turnoff for highway 191 and the descent into Moab.

For those living along the northeast coastal regions who have never been out west and are used to the verdant green of the eastern summer, the vast rocky expanses of the canyon lands surrounding Moab are a world apart. Huge rock formations rise up from the rocky horizon in place of trees while miles long escarpments rise and fall across the desolate landscape, creating and swallowing entire mountains and plunging deep into jagged rocky canyons.

Over this twisted and contorted landscape, volcanic upheavals and millions of years worth of wind and weather erosion, floods and and runoff have shaped and sculpted the rocky promontories, ridges and shelves into towering citadels of multi-colored rock. As you cross the plain above Moab, these distant rock formations are framed by the 12,000 ft plus La Sal Mountains towering over the rocky desert plains 30 miles to the southwest.

Moab itself is situated at the base of a broad valley, carved from mountains of red sandstone by the Colorado River. Here the river makes a sweeping turn south that forms a wide flat valley, creating a green oasis between the soaring red cliffs. This outdoor wonderland is a paradise for rafters, kayakers, climbers, mountain bikers and tourists, and provides easy access to two nearby national parks: Arches and Canyonlands.

I wouldn't have time to visit both parks, so I opted for the more popular and easily accessible Arches National Park. After passing the entrance to Canyonlands National Park, the highway starts down through a steep ravine of red sandstone known as the Moab Fault.

The entrance to the Arches National Park lies at the bottom of the Fault where the soaring sandstone cliffs open to form a semi-circular ravine which houses the swank Visitor Center. After paying the $20 entrance fee (which, incidentally, is NOT valid for the nearby Canyonlands National Park) I stopped at the Visitor Center to get my bearings, a map and some water.

Being late in the afternoon, the temperature at the Visitor Center had dropped precipitously from 120 degrees to a pleasant 110 in the shade, which hit you like a brick wall when you opened the car door. The sun was starting to get low and casting deep shadows across the valley, which I guess this was prime time for visiting the park as cars, buses and RV's were arriving by the truckload.

Above: Arches National Park. Left: Park Ave. Viewpoint. Right: Balanced Rock

Continuing on from the Visitor Center I followed the nicely maintained park road up and out of the fault, stopping to view some of the park's signature sights. I stopped at the monumental Park Avenue Viewpoint, continued past the towering Three Gossips and grabbed a photo at the teed up golf ball known as Balanced Rock.

Arches National Park. Left: View up Park Ave. Right: Three Gossips (left) and Courthouse Rock (right)

I stopped at the sign for "The Organ" but many of the rocks had a distinctly male organ look to them and I couldn't tell which one was which...or maybe that's not what they meant. Moving right along, I took the turnoff leading to the Cove of Caves and took a walk along the well groomed and popular paths up to The Windows and Turret arches, then back down and across to the gapingly huge Double Arch.

Arches National Park. Left: North Window Arch. Right: Turret Arch

"The Organ" notwithstanding, many of the formations had an organic look to them, which gave the park a distinctly different "Planet of the Apes" look and feel. Luckily, once you were up above the Visitor Center, a robust wind kept the searing temperature from feeling too oppressive.

Arches National Park. Above: Double Arch (note: small dots at bottom are people)

Having seen enough arches for the day and more than a little worried about securing a hotel room in town, I retraced my steps back down to the park entrance, jumped back on 191 and headed across the Colorado River into Moab.

First item on the agenda was a hotel. I parked in the middle of town and walked to a couple of hotels along main street, which were expensive and full. Taking to the lesser and uniquely named hotels along the backstreets, I found a room in The Virginian Motel based on a tip from another budget Motel a couple of streets over. Perfect! $58 a night, right in the center of town, quiet and off the main drag.

Moab, Utah. Left: The Virginian Motel. Right: Miguel's Baja Grill (ohhhh the margs!)

The next item on the agenda was food, and based on another lucky tip from a local coffee shop patron, I headed to Miguel's Baja Grill on Main Street for "Fine Mexican Food". They delivered better than advertised with a superb fresh enchilada plate and the best margaritas I'd had on the whole trip (sorry Rio Grande in Boulder). The first marg went down so easily the waiter apologized for giving me the glass with the hole in it...very funny.

Moab, Utah. Left: Back of Beyond Books. Right: Owner Andy Nettell

Anyway after stuffing myself on enchiladas washed down with a couple of stupendous margaritas I was off to the next and final item on the agenda: bookstores! The first store I visited, just a couple of doors down from Miguel's Baja Grill, was Back of Beyond Books. This great little new and used indie specializes in local natural history and environmental literature, guidebooks & maps, Native American and Western history along with a distinct and interesting assortment of general fiction and non-fiction.

Owner Andy Nettell is a big Edward Abbey fan and among his three cases of rare and collectible books you'll find an entire case devoted to Edward Abbey. Directly across the street from Back of Beyond Books is the equally cool Arches Book Company, featuring a great selection of general new and used titles, a great coffee bar and a diverse offering of maps, local guidebooks and books by local authors. Last but certainly not least is ABC & Beyond Used books, just a couple of blocks south on Main Street, which offers a broad selection of general used titles at great prices.

Moab Utah. Left: Arches Book company. Right: Arches Book Company coffee bar.

All three of these interesting and diverse stores are owned by Andy, making him Moab's one man media marvel. He's also a major sponsor of the Moab Confluence Literary Festival: A Celebration of Eating and Writing, to be held October 22-25 in Moab. If you 're going to be in the neighborhood, you won't want to miss it!

Moab Utah. :Above: ABC & Beyond Used Books, outside and in.

Another day, another dollar spent. Salt Lake City is already a distant dream and tomorrow it's back to Colorado. I headed back to my room at the Virginian Motel a little earlier than usual to catch up on some writing, reading and well deserved rest. It was a great day in Arches and Moab and the unique landscape combined with the plethora of activities available make it a truly one-of-a-kind destination.

Join me on my next post as I head back to Colorado, sampling the bookstores of Grand Junction, dinner in Aspen and a drive over the 12,000 foot Independence Pass.

Until then-


Monday, August 17, 2009

Fast Times in the Land of Mormon

Above: Three River Motel reprised.

Being on the road offers an abundance of rich and rewarding experiences. Waking up to the faded splendor of the Three Rivers Motel in Alpine, Wyoming...priceless!

I removed the tilted chair wedged under the single-lock door knob and walked outside into the bright, unfiltered morning. An oppressive sun already beat down from the azure skies above the eastern mountains. It was gonna be a hot time in Alpine today!

I didn't have to look far for place to eat. Directly next door to the Three Rivers Motel, as the vulture flies, stood Yankee Doodle's Cafe which was attached to the Red, White & Brew Bar & Lounge. Both displayed a welcoming OPEN sign, but seeing as it was going to be a long, hard day on the road, and was only 8:30 AM, I opted for the Cafe.

Above: Yankee Doodle's Cafe and the Red,White & Brew Bar & Lounge

Now THIS was America! Stepping through the entrance of Yankee Doodle's Cafe one entered a veritable playground of patriotic paraphernalia. Vintage posters, placards, banners, toys, pictures, "souvenir" firearms and figurines adorned virtually every wall and shelf. All of it was USA themed, many featuring quips and quotations reflecting a distinctly quaint right-leaning point of view. Overhead, a wide screen TV beamed the political pontificates of Fox News into the packed restaurant.

Compared to the pleasant crowd seated around the sunny dining room and counter, politically, I was probably somewhere just to left of Noam Chomsky. This was of no concern whatsoever on this most magnanimous of mornings however, as eggs and bacon, grits and pancakes, washed down with a pot full of jet black coffee gave me a deep and abiding love for everything and everyone American with just a few minor exceptions.

Stimulated and satisfied by this most American of morning meals, I kicked up a roiling cloud of dust as I thundered across the dirt parking lot and skidded back on to the highway. I pointed the car south and headed toward the Land of Mormon, still warmed by vestigial feelings of patriotic fervency.

Above: "The World's Larges Elkhorn Arch" Afton, WY.

Roughly 35 miles south of Alpine, the highway passes through the town of Afton, WY where I stopped to view "The world's largest Elkhorn Arch" spanning Washington Street right in the middle of town. A couple of blocks further on I happened happily upon Dog-Eared Books, a remarkably cool "new and used" indie in this most surprising and remote of locations.

Above: Dog-Eared Books, Afton, WY

The great decor of this little gem provides a perfect compliment to the exceptional selection of new, used, local interest and kid's titles, while their extraordinarily cozy reading nooks are enough to stop even the most seasoned Booktraveler in their tracks. I mean if for any reason you ever find yourself in Afton, WY, say for instance: to see "The World's Largest Elkhorn Arch", this would be a great place to spend the afternoon.

There's no rest for the weary however and I was soon off again, crossing the border into southern Idaho at the hamlet of Geneva, then continuing on through the town of Montpelier toward Bear Lake. Now while Bear Lake may look small on the map, this is the second largest natural freshwater lake in Utah and, unbeknownst to me, a thriving summertime tourist metropolis a mere 80 miles north of Salt Lake City.

Approaching the lakefront resort town of Garden City, I became part of an automotive gridlock that would make 'Jersey Shore day trippers blush. Jammed in between SUV's and pickups towing the latest wake boarding boats and PWC's, I marveled at the people playing mini-golf, eating ice cream and strolling around in the 110 plus degree heat.

Making my escape down a side road, I was soon continuing onward and upward over Beaver Mountain and down into real Mormon country. My first stop was the college town of Logan, UT, home of Utah State University (Go Aggies!). Descending the western slope of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest I passed through the university campus which sits atop a grand promontory nearly a thousand feet above and 20 degrees cooler than Logan itself.

Above: Books of Yesteryear; clockwise from top left: store front, main floor, main floor again, and basement (lower left).

Descending into the town, highway 89 turns on to scenic Main Street, where I stopped to check out a couple of interesting local bookstores. The first, located across from Zions Bank and just down the road from Cache Stake Tabernacle, was the huge and I mean HUGE Books of Yesteryear. It featured used books and movies, including movies for rent, on two sprawling floors that must have been over 15,000 square feet each.

There must have been over 300,000 used books in there, everything you can possibly imagine and a few things you couldn't, including vast lots of out-of-print Mormon/LDS (Church of Latter Day Saints) titles and a whole host of books predating the Roosevelt administration (the first one that is). They also had a gigantic collection of movies for sale or rent.

There were only a few people spread around this labyrinthine store on this absolutely scorching hot Saturday afternoon. I can only imagine what it must be like when the college gets in.

Above: Books of Yesteryear sister store: The Book Table. Great place to buy books, pianos, guitars, sheet music, art supplies, toys, maps of

Just down the street from The Books of Yesteryear is its gigantic sister store: The Book Table. This unique new book store has copies of every Mormon/LDS book ever printed, along with a host of interesting LDS sidelines like maps of Zarahemla from the Book of Mormon.

The store features a robust selection of general interest and kid's titles, however, what makes this LDS-centric bookstore oh so interesting, is that is also a musical instrument store, music school, toy store, art & crafts store, framing store, educational store and lord knows what else. It too is over 50,000 square feet so the piano's didn't seem entirely out of place.

Perusing the vast selection of Mormon books certainly made me want to learn more about The Church of Latter Day Saints. Think I'll read Jon Krakauer's "Under The Banner of Heaven" when I get back. One final note before moving along, Logan had its own Opera House and company: The Utah Festival Opera, which I thought was pretty cool. This year's schedule includes The Mikado, Camelot, and I Pagliacci among others.

Continuing on toward Salt Lake City, and I was determined to swim in Great Salt Lake, #894 on my 1000 things to do before I die list. Reading up on it while I was on my way down, it seemed Antelope Island State Park was the place to go if you wanted a swim.

Above: The Booktraveler Rent-a-car on the Antelope Island Causeway over Great Salt Lake

I turned off the highway between Odgen and Salt Lake City, and headed west through a suburban box store wasteland of ubiquitous Wal-Marts, Home Depots and Big K's to reach the park entrance (stopping at a dollar store along the way buy a towel). After paying the modest $9 day fee, I continued on across the desolate causeway that joins the island to the mainland.

Above: Antelope Island rises from Great Salt Lake.

It's an area that's hard to describe. Obscenely hot and completely devoid of trees, Antelope Island rises like a specter from the lake, whose waters have the appearance of liquid mercury. Getting out into the stupefying heat to take a couple of photos, I had distinct impression of what it would be like on Mars during early terraforming. This was even more true when I stopped at the "beach" to take a dip, or a float, as the case may be.

The waters of Great Salt Lake have a salinity content 4-5 times higher on average than the world's oceans, due to constant evaporation of the mineral filled waters that feed it. From the oppressive heat of the parking lot, it was a 200 yard death march across the blistering desert sands to reach the mercury-like water. A sparse crowd of fellow travelers walked back and forth across the burning expanse.

Above: joining the 200 yard death march across the blistering sand down to the water's edge.

Upon finally reaching the "beach", the smell of briny decay was too much for some, who immediately began the trip back across the sandy wasteland. I had come too far to turn back now. Millions upon millions of tiny black flies lightly covered the surface of the lake, here and there forming eddies of blackness where the currents converged. Besides the flies and the birds that fed on them and the crazy humans floating in the salty waters, the lake seemed completely devoid of life.

Above: Great Salt Lake. Surreal swimming for those brave enough to journey across 200 yards of scorching desert sand and into the tepid, fly covered waters.

You had to wade out 60 or 70 yards to get deep enough to lift your feet. The top layer of water down to about three feet was extremely warm, the layer below a good 20 degrees colder. Reaching the appropriate depth I laid back, spread my arms wide, lifted my legs and floated as effortlessly as a corpse below the scorching, stagnant air on the surface of a sea of flies. It was a unique experience to say the least.

The cool freshwater showers back at the parking lot were a welcome relief after the shimmering 200 yard death march back from the water's edge. I was crusted from head to toe with salt causing every small cut on my body to burn slightly. I had wanted to float in Great Salt Lake since I was a kid, seeing it done in a National Geographic photo many years ago. It was getting late and as I crossed the burning hot parking lot back to the car, I felt sublimely satisfied, believe it or not, by the entire unearthly experience. I would definitely do it again, probably in April or October.

Above: Central Book Exchange, Salt lake City, UT.

Moving on I reached Salt Lake City in late afternoon. The State Capitol Building gleamed high on Capitol Hill against the backdrop of the nearby Wasatch range. I stopped by the Central Book Exchange in the Sugarhouse district south of downtown in the hopes of finding something unique to read. Unfortunately, this well known reader's delight of a store had already shut down for the evening. Looking in the window at some of the great titles on display, I pondered what could have been.

Above: two views of the Mormon Tabernacle, centerpiece of the Church of Latter Day Saints' city-like complex.

Before leaving town I had to stop by the Mormon Tabernacle. The Church of Latter Day Saints complex is right in the middle of town, just below the state capitol building. I took a leisurely stroll around the famed tabernacle, as well as the smaller church and convention hall on the western end of the building. I met more than a few extremely friendly, broadly smiling people wearing name tags from all over the world who were more than willing to answer any questions I had, and even a few I didn't have, about the church.

Above: Utah State Capitol building in the late afternoon sun.

Leaving the tabernacle, I walked back through the sprawling highrise business office complex of the church before heading up to catch the evening view from the top of Capitol Hill. As the sun set over Great Salt Lake Desert to the west, the late afternoon panorama was stunning. It truly is a beautiful and unique city in a great location.

Above: two views from the top of Capitol Hill, Salt Lake City, UT.

I would like to return when I have more time. In the meantime, I loaded up on tacos and a couple of Dos Equis ambers up by the university and headed south through Provo before shacking up for the night at a local Econolodge ($48) at the intersection of Interstate 15 and highway 6.

Tomorrow, it's on to Moab Utah and Arches National Park. From there it's back through the Rockies with a stop in Colorado Springs before flying out of Denver to Portland, Oregon to sample the bookstores and byways of the great northwest. Join me, won't you?

Until my next post