THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO RECREATIONAL TRAVEL AND OTHER UNNATURAL ACTS PART II by Spencer O’Connor

There are many scenic wonders in Utah. Fortunately for the traveler, you can see most of them without leaving the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle. It’s fortunate because Utah is surprisingly hot during the daylight hours, which is unfortunately the best time to actually see the many scenic wonders. Yes, it is true what the tourist bureau will tell you about how it’s a dry heat and that it’s quite comfortable in the shade. What they don’t tell you is that there is no shade. There’s no shade because the Mormons use what little water there is in Utah to grow alfalfa which, like tourism is a major cash crop, but unlike tourism doesn’t ask embarrassing questions like, How many wives do you have, and how do you decide which one to nail on any particular night? Besides which, they’re industrious people, and if somebody planted a tree, somebody else would be tempted to sit under it.
Anyway, the locals seem to get real defensive when you question them about why their parks don’t have things that use water, like trees and showers. You’d have thought I was suggesting that they install a few dozen mangrove swamps. Closer inspection revealed why they found my questions so upsetting: With the exception of that one lake with all the salt in it — which as we know is good for margaritas and little else — Utah doesn’t have any water of its own. All the water that was in Utah at the time of my visit was on its way somewhere else.
My first day in Utah I was fortunate enough to arrive at the shower-less park campground early enough to choose from among most of the campsites. I selected the one with the tallest vegetation, which the park brochure identified as juniper trees, and set up camp. Later as I sat under the largest of the trees — or shrubs as they’re called back home — I discovered that by supplementing the cooling canopy of the tree with my own sombrero and serape I could manage to protect myself completely from the sun as long as I stayed in an upright fetal position. Unfortunately, this proved to be difficult, since various authorities were continually stopping by and asking to see my green card. The end result was that it wasn’t long before I began to turn the same color as the landscape — red.
Everything in Utah is red. If the state were a painting it would be called “Still Life With Sunburn.” Even the ants in my camp appeared to be suffering from the sun, hotfooting it right past the food scraps to assemble at a discarded bottle of Solarcain. Even the vegetation wasn’t immune to the punishment. While some of the shrubs did appear to the naked eye to be green, closer inspection revealed that the majority had been painted. Oddly, most at home in the inferno seemed to be tourists from the colder climes of Europe, many of whom removed their bikini tops in order to celebrate the sun. Although this is clearly not our way in the U.S., I encouraged many of my fellow countrymen to exercise tolerance in this regard, at least until Heidi in the neighboring campsite had evened out her tan line.
From a distance the mountains are awe-inspiring. Of course from a distance is the only way you can see them, because if you’re actually in them they don’t look much different than any hilly place that doesn’t have houses or showers. For this reason I can’t absolutely swear that what I saw were, in fact, mountains. It could have been a really ambitious mural.
The rock formations, on the other hand, were often very close, possibly because since they don’t require water the Mormons have no objection if they’re grown for shade. I saw many interesting formations. One resembled a whole school of dolphins. Directly behind it was what appeared to be a Japanese sailor with a net. There were also many arches of every imaginable shape, some reminiscent of windows, some of doors, a few of hamburgers.
The flora of the state, aside from the aforementioned painted shrubs and shade rocks, is limited. There was an abundance of cacti, all of it of insignificant size. While some of this is probably due to the arid climate, it’s also likely that many of them are making a conscious effort to remain inconspicuous so as to avoid being eaten or painted.
In the center of the state there’s a vast empty area. There was no water that was on its way somewhere else and no people to plant shade rocks. A road does go through this area, but it could be a trap. Avoid if possible.
There was a surprising abundance of wildlife. There were many deer and elk, all very sweaty and very thirsty. There were also many squirrels and chipmunks, although their range appeared to be limited to campground areas and near the Granola factory. Hawks and eagles abound. They live off the squirrels, chipmunks and small campers in the area. Other birds were of consequence only to themselves and their immediate families.
One final note as I leave Utah to follow up rumors of a shower to the north. It was very difficult to get a drink in Utah. The liquor stores are all owned and operated by the state. This means that the convenience of the customer is of absolutely no concern to them. The state is owned and operated by the Mormon church. This means that they don’t think you should be drinking anyway. Consequently, you’ll find a calender very useful in planning your alcoholic purchases, always keeping in mind both state and religious holidays. The stores are almost always open between the hours of one and three on Tuesdays, unless Mercury is in the house of Mars or the Osmonds are in town to do a concert.
Rating ***

 

CAMPFIRE NOTES # 2
CRITTERS

My morning repast was interrupted by both a flock of gnats and one highly suspicious chipmunk. I was more than a little miffed by the attitude of the latter. Up until his arrival I, in cooperation with the Granola people, had fed the known chipmunk population of Utah, and there were rumors of a vast herd pushing south from Canada. I was, quite frankly, relishing the fact that my campsite was the happening place for miles around, at least as far as cute, striped rodents were concerned.
So this particular one, the one who seemingly preferred pine nuts to Granola bars, either had his own agenda or was acutely unskilled in the ways of wilderness survival. Perhaps through the rumor mill he was exposed to slanderous stories concerning animal feed lots, thus assuming that I was attempting to fatten him up for his pelt. A classic case of Napoleon complex on his part, true, but also clearly an instance of how the left-leaning media has inspired mistrust between those of different cultures.
But if he didn’t want my food, what was he doing in my campsite? Could his rejection of my gesture of solidarity be based solely on nutritional incompatibility? Or was there a darker side to this thinly-veiled insult? Might he even be casing the place? As always I kept an open mind, but there was a primitive side to this creature that bore watching.
The gnats purpose was equally as obscure. They didn’t appear to be biting, sucking, or laying eggs. Their sole intent seemed to be to gain access to any opening where they weren’t welcome, which would normally mean that they were either selling something or running for public office. Was there a living in what they were doing? Or were they the insect kingdom’s counterpart of the bored teenager and I was the local parking lot?
After studying the situation further, I felt that I had developed an insight into the intricate psyche of the gnat. My first clue came when I eschewed my customary cigarette in favor of a pipe which I hadn’t smoked in over a year. I did this because, being highly agitated at the moment, I needed to find a way to relax. I tried pipe smoking to begin with because I’d always admired the aura of bliss that seemed to surround practitioners of the art, an almost smugness on their part which led me to believe that, to a man, every one of them received a nightly sponge bath from an attractive nursing student. Look composed, be composed. Give Sherlock Holmes a cigarette instead of his meerschaum, and the Hound of the Baskervilles would be running Parliament.
Miraculously, the hoard of attacking gnats withdrew to a distance only moments after I fired up, apparently baffled by my seeming indifference to them. And mine wasn’t even a meerschaum! Or possibly they’d heard about the dangers of second hand smoke.
I managed to keep them at bay for the three hours and forty-five minutes it took me to smoke the entire pouch of stale Carter Hall. Don’t try this at home. Worse, despite the fact that I was surrounded by little piles of depleted tobacco pellets so pungently toxic that I was shunned even by a group of Jehovahs who were out witnessing, the gnats again found me irresistible.
Deciding to try a different tact, I made an assumption that if you can’t hear, see or feel the gnats, then they don’t exist, I fashioned my second set of paper towel ear plugs — the first set having disintegrated on contact with the ear wax — dressed completely from head to toe, and closed my eyes. After fifteen minutes of this, I noted the following results: I was extremely hot, very bored, and dehydrating rapidly.
Minutes later into the rapidly failing experiment, I reached another conclusion: paper towels ear plugs aren’t that great at keeping out the sound of a mantra being performed by several thousand bugs as they attempt to locate the headwaters of your ear canal. Then I remembered some cotton stuffing that I’d recently removed from a vitamin bottle. Naturally, despite the fact that the stuffing had been the last deposit in the trash sack, it had managed to burrow its way to the very bottom, like Supersperm in search of Lois Egg. My brilliant idea seeming less inspired by the moment, I maneuvered my way through grease drippings, coffee grounds and the remnants of several things I never would’ve eaten if I’d known what they smelled like a day later until I found the stuffing. It had taken on some chili which I estimated to be about three days old. That was acceptable, being certainly no worse than my ear wax. The bacon grease was another matter. Recalling my basic chemistry, adding grease to the wax that was already in my ear canal would double its combustibility. With cotton hanging out both ears, I could quite possibly go up like a Molotoff cocktail the first time I lit a cigarette.
It was while I was pondering this that I saw them. They’d been in the sack all along, lurking, waiting patiently for just the right moment to attack and perform their unspeakable deeds! I am speaking of a creature that is even more cunning, insidious and terrible than the gnat– the ant! Hyperbole, you might think, but Indians never tortured their enemies by burying them in a gnat hill.
I now had two adversaries to deal with, and one of them was as silent as death. Ants make no noise. If you were being attacked by ants it would be absolutely pointless to insert ear plugs. More sobering is what is believed to be the reason for their silence. Entomologists, or at least the one I went to college with, Freddie Spudderman, suspect that since almost all ants are male and almost none of them get to mate, they have absolutely nothing to talk about. They remain perpetually in a state that Freddie says has a technical term but means pretty much the same as “surly.” Gnats, on the other hand, have to stay in constant communication with their flight leader who makes sure that all five million of them don’t collide in mid air by all heading for the same orifice at once. To their credit, ants, unlike gnats, have seemingly accepted humans and the role that we play in nature –large pack animals that frequently lose edible provisions over the side.
Having bathed in insect repellant and stuffed my ears yet again with paper towels, I proceeded to encase myself tightly with some six layers of mosquito netting. The cloud of gnats seemed either to be dismayed by my new strategy or highly amused by the spectacle. It was difficult to tell from their expressions.
For the moment, I appeared to have the upper hand. Unfortunately, I was unable to use it, or more accurately, them — the hands. In order to get a good tight seal with the netting, I’d rolled myself into it, ending at the bottom of an incline and against a rock. Bound by the netting and unable to roll in either direction, I was solidly lodged there between a rock and a high place. My first instinct was to panic, so I went with it. I called for help. At least I think that’s what I called for, as my ears were plugged and I couldn’t hear what I was saying. In addition, I was speaking into a dark hole which suddenly developed a large pair of eyes. After briefly apologizing for the interruption, I fell silent.
I began to consider my options, disappointed that it required so little time to do so. I sensed that some time had passed in this predicament and that the sun was now high in the sky. The primary clue to this was I was sweating so profusely that my jogging suit had begun to rot. Mr. Eyes continued to stare at me with an intensity usually reserved for either a first love or an overdue meal, one seeming only moderately preferable to the other. The wind suddenly shifted, turning a hot breeze into a chilly gale. It also turned my ear plugs into stereophonic kazoos. None of this had been covered in Boy Scouts.
I felt my soggy warm-ups developing a dry crust, sparking momentary relief that I had apparently been spared from dehydration. The down side to this development was that I also had been transformed into one of the larger salt licks to be found in the region. And found I was. In what seemed only minutes all of my fantasies involving tongues were indelibly altered forever. A seeming multitude of the large, grainy organs roamed freely over my body in maddening monotony, my only respite coming from one undetermined creature that was doing something surprisingly interesting with its teeth. My mind raced to recall any useful information regarding sexual assault. All the recommendations I could recall, however, were contingent upon knowing the species of your assailant.
As I was about to give in to despair, I was discovered by fellow campers who’d been attracted by the large concentration of deer. There ensued a far too lengthy debate involving both what I might be and whether I should be rescued or considered as a viable link in the food chain. My rescue was finally effected by a scholarly-looking man who suggested that, given my somewhat human shape, the group was compelled either to investigate or to live with the remorse if I turned out to be something significant such as an archeological artifact. They were, of course, disappointed by what they found, save for one individual who insisted that he recognized me as a supporting mummy from the film The Pharaoh’s Curse. I was eventually able to placate him with an autograph.
It had been a harrowing experience, one that had fully put to test my courage, composure and survival skills. I set about to chronicle the escapade, intent on warning others who’d almost certainly duplicate my miscalculations. It was at this moment, pen and paper in hand, that I saw them. Like something out of a Hitchcock film, the gnats were back.