In conclusion…

Long before Earl and Barbara set off on July 4th to cruise the country, Earl sent Barbara and me a detailed itinerary prefaced by a cover letter. A portion of that letter reads:

The trip includes majestic mountains, fantastic forests, limpid lakes, gorgeous geology, ancestral abodes, shifting sands, restless relatives, and a liberal dose of America Deserta – central Nevada. It should be fun.

Mountains. Upon my arrival we dove headlong into the Gallatins, Big Belt, Bitterroot, and the Cascades. Down the road we found the Coastal Range, the Basin and Range, the Colorado Plateau, the San Juans, Colorado Rockies, to name very, very few. Each majestic indeed.

And the forests! The subalpine forests with their lush understory of ferns just daring the firs to block out the sunlight. The alpine forests whose moist but crunchy bed of decomposed needles and cones crinkle and sink under your feet at the same time. The severe ridges and valleys of the Great Basin host sagebrush, needlegrass, and pinyon pines that look thousands of years old. You wonder where they get the water that sustains them, and then you realize that only the human race lives but on the surface of the planet, with little idea of what lies under foot.

Lakes that make you tear up they’re so beautiful. Lake McGregor in MT has not one house, dock, or tire swing among it. It makes you want to have one of each just to yourself. Pend Oreille Lake in ID teems with activity, but its restless beauty is not diminished in the slightest. Crater Lake in OR typifies that the most violent acts in nature often inspire photographs that we use to soothe our spirits. Lake Powell, one of the innumerable man-made lakes provides for millions. Yet how many treasures have we lost in the canyon country as a result of its capture?

Geology. Don’t get me started.

The ancestral abodes of the clan Monroe. Ours, like many families, is peppered with delightful stories and terribly sad ones. The interweaving of these is what makes families stick together, split apart, empathize and criticize. But in the end, each home, apartment, office building, boarding house, scout camp, airstrip, college campus, medical practice, ranch house, and Quonset hut that the Monroe boys and their parents called home adds its own ingredient the unique Monroe flavor.

The shifting sands of the Columbia and the San Juan Islands are just a prelude to what you see in the Desert Southwest of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. You see these shores in the rock record from the California Sierras all the way to the ancient, eroded, folded, and faulted Appalachians. The Great Sand Dunes National Park of today is the petrified sand dune of Canyonlands National Park from hundreds of millions of years ago. Is that Elton John’s “Circle of Life” I hear playing in the background?

Restless relatives, after all, are the reason for this excursion in the first place. We’re blessed that we are so fond of each other that we come back, whether it’s three or five years, every time the clarion calls for another Monroe Reunion. Let’s consider Earl’s plea to focus less on the day trips (guilty as charged) and more on spending time as community, cooking and eating, reminiscing or getting to know one another, enjoying memories of the past, but also focusing on one another’s present and future. Monroe Reunion 2013 is just around the corner. Work on your GORP recipe. We’re going camping.

Earl looked for a specific subset of people to join him on this enterprise. He didn’t pick Barbara and me because he likes us. He picked us because we’re unemployed (me during the summer and Mom until the dividends stop paying). So, you could say that we are in a special position to take this sort of trip where others are limited to vacations of limited duration. Whatever your case, if you’re ever offered the opportunity to criss-cross the country with family, my advice is to not think twice. Just go. I never imagined myself being able to have a three-hour conversation with my grandfather that ranged from the stock market to differential erosion, but by God, it happened, and it kept me up way past my bedtime! And it was great!

In Earl’s cover letter to us, he also mentioned the “meek and manicured West.” I must respectfully disagree with my grandfather on this point. The west that I’ve come to know both on this trip as well as while teaching the Field Geology course, is anything but meek. In fact many parts of it are coiled in suspended animation. We put up sign posts and build catwalks and fences in the name of safety and stewardship. But it is not at all difficult to imagine this land as raw and undressed and primordially violent as it once was, and no doubt will eventually be again. After all, as our friend on the DVDs Dr. James Renton is fond of saying, “in geologic time, time is irrelevant.” So, though it may be a bit manicured, to me it’s still the “bold and bountiful” west, the “pure and powerful” west, the “noble and natural” west.

So, there it is. The Monroetorhome 2008 blog has come to an end. The next reunion will be on the East Coast, so it is doubtful that I will be saddling up for another cross country motorhome trip for the next one, that is unless I feel like taking the long way to NC, or VA, or wherever it takes us. Oh, wait. Mom and I are planning the next one. Well, I guess I’d better wrap this up and call Mom. Thanks for tuning in, all three of you! It was a pleasure recounting our travels, and thank you for allowing me my indulgences, as faulty and inaccurate as many of them may be. Maybe for the 2013 Monroe Reunion we can set up a wiki, that is, a blog in which all participants post (instead of being relegated to the “Comments” section). We’ll see. We’ve got five years to come up with ideas.

Another talent show anyone?

And the winner is…

Congratulations to the Cerar’s on their Gold and Silver medal finish in this, the first and final competition of the Monroetorhome 2008 Blog Inane Trivia Contest. Since there was no Bronze medal finisher, I declare myself the 2nd runner-up, and therefore keep the highly valued third place prize, the blazed orange Parking Violation warning sticker that the National Park Service places on all illegally parked vehicles at scenic overlooks. Yes, the Monroetorhomers were virtual outlaws, terrorizing Bryce Canyon National Park visitors by parking in parking spaces reserved for TOURIST BUSES. Have they no sense of decency??

However, after 15 rounds of arduous testing, the 1st runner-up, having answered 7 of the 15 questions correctly, is Jean Cerar. [applause]

And the winner of the Monroetorhome 2008 trivia contest, scoring 9 of 15 possible points, Charlie Cerar!!! [ovations and laurels descend toward the rostrum]

Jean and Charlie will receive prizes for their efforts just as soon as the Prize Selection Committee can convene to determine what those prizes are, just as soon as he finishes grading this set of quizzes sitting next to him.

Now, given my obtuse testing format, it’ll probably be easier for all if I adopt Jean and Charlie’s scoring method to show the correct answers.

Before I divulge the answers, might I mention how impressed I was that both respondents answered correctly that Barbara (and not Ted) is the one drinking “Moose Drool” beer during cocktail hour. This goes to show you how well they know their cousin Barbara as the bourgeois, ignoble, beer-swilling delinquent that we all know her to be. Either that or they just think that I’m an east-coast, gin and tonic, private school, fancy pants liberal.

Either way, they couldn’t be more right.

The correct answers are as follows:

#1 The morning begins

#2 Start the morning

#3 Indulge in

#4 Following breakfast

#5 Before departing
B & T, E

#6 At the wheel

#7 Always with a sense of

#8 As a passenger

#9 I take

#10 I wear

#11 I enjoy

#12 Following lunch

#13 I sit down and enjoy my

#14 During which I

#15 As the final geology lecture ends I

I will give you a day or two to soak in the correct answers. I will return in a few days with some final thoughts, and officially conclude the blog.

Last chance for FREE STUFF!!

Well, things have settled down enough for me to at least upload the remaining “best of” pics, and to share with you this last bit of “life in the motorhome with an Old Fogey, a Yahoo, and a Whipper Snapper.” But there’s a catch…

Now’s your chance to show how much you know about your relatives, the Monroetorhomers. You are about to read an account of a typical day on the Roaming Ranchette. You will find that the narrative is periodically interrupted by three choices in parentheses. One applies to Earl, the other to Barbara, the other to Ted. In some cases, one answer will apply to multiple people, in which case, only two choices exist. If you guess the most, you win the prize. Read the first comment for instructions on how to answer. Then, to submit your answers, post a comment. Submit answers in the following fashion:

Where E=Earl, B=Barbara, T=Ted, designate initial in the order in which it appears in the parentheses, for example number 1 might be (E, B, T) while number two might be (T, E, B). If there are only two answers, indicate a shared answer with an ampersand (&). For example, since #5 only has two answers, you might indicate (E & B, T).

Game on.

The morning begins (at the crack of dawn / whenever I feel like it / when everyone else starts making noise). I start the morning with (calisthenics / a 2-3 mile run / a 15 minute walk) followed by a light breakfast. Typically I indulge in (yogurt and cereal / oatmeal / raisin bread) which tides me over until lunch. Following breakfast I (spy on neighboring campers through my binoculars / read literature on the sites of the day / recharge electronics) until it is time to shove off. Before departing I (unhook water, electric, and sewer / retract the leveling jacks).

Once on the road, we take turns driving. For my part, when I’m at the wheel I drive (without glasses / with glasses / with sunglasses) and always with a sense of (confidence / purpose / nervous caution). As a passenger I typically (look out the window with awe / follow the map wondering, “Where does that river lead to” / read road signs aloud). When we stop at a particular site of interest, I take (pictures / video / my time), enjoying the scenery. During most of the day, I wear (flip flops / sneakers / walking shoes), except on challenging terrain.

We break for lunch at some time around noon, and stop at a rest area, park or other such spot. I enjoy (a salad / a sandwich with cold cuts / 1 cup cottage cheese and one half banana). Following lunch I (wash dishes / dry dishes / watch while cracking jokes about having hired help) and continue to enjoy the scenery for a short while. At some point in the afternoon, after four to six hours of driving, we arrive at our destination. After hooking up the motorhome, cocktail hour begins! I sit down and enjoy my (martini / gin and tonic / “Moose Drool” beer) and we all chat about the day’s events, scenery, or family history. Some nights we decide to watch another episode of the geology lectures, during which I (nod in and out / fall fast asleep / remain awake and alert).

Finally, as the final geology lecture ends I (fall into my ready-made queen size bed / convert the sofa to my full size bed / convert the dinette to my full size bed) and drift away to sleep. In the morning we repeat the process all over again.

Due to my prolonged silence, many may have assumed that I’ve abandoned the blog. So, we will give several days for you to post your response. I’ll be back next weekend to give the answers, announce the winners, and give my final thoughts on the Monroetorhome trip, the family reunion, and the American West.

Ehem…check, check…

So, I thought that once I got back to civilization, I would be able to resume with business as usual. However, it turns out that after a month’s absence, our internet connection has gone dormant. It requires speaking with a representative at AT&T, so I guess I’ll see you guys at the next reunion.

Truth be told, I’ve come to the end of my voyage. I flew home on Friday and Julie and I spent a relaxing weekend doing as little as possible. However, I do want to put a Coda on the Monroetorhome blog. School started up today; completing the entries, of which I imagine three remain, may take a few days. So, check in from time to time.


It’s been some time since we’ve been heard from.I suppose one goes to southern Utah or northern Arizona in order to not be found, so why bother with things like WiFi and cell phone.I can dig that.So, as the title indicates, we have been M.I.A. for some days.That is, Motorhoming In Arizona.

Some thoughts from the last few days:

Take an overripe tomato out of your fridge.Step on it.Set it on fire.Once the heat has sucked all the moisture out of the crispy pulp and flake of the tomato, stomp on it again.Congratulations.You’ve just recreated a scale model of southern Utah.

We’ve had quite a time making our way around the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.It took us about two days and 50,000 feet of vertical displacement, but we made it to Mexican Hat, UT near the border with Arizona.On the 4th we left Bryce Canyon bound for Torrey, near the northern end of the Escalante. The ups and downs of this terrain, a jumble of sandstones and shales with the occasional volcanic remnant, rival the eastern Washington whatever-the-hell-that-was in terms of the topography.(Actually, you would do yourself a service by reading Jean’s comment from several days ago.She corrects my false assumption about how the landscape was formed.She even footnotes her stuff, whereas I just make mine up.Thanks for the info, Jean.)We enjoyed stunning scenery of a new breed of sandstone.Wait, wait.Don’t “X” out yet, this geology lecture will be S-H-O-R-T.

The sandstones we traveled through in these areas showed evidence of cross-bedding, a curious trait you will find if you were to cut a vertical slice out of a sand dune on the beach.Indicative of shifting winds and their effects on sand deposits, cross-bedding looks similar to a series of random brush strokes, perhaps that faux paint effect you tried out in your guest bathroom.Yes, we were driving through miles upon miles of petrified sand dunes, some of which were (when they were still sand rather than sandstone) up to 3000 ft tall.In comparison, the tallest sand dunes of the day are between 150 and 300 ft tall, some character said on one of the movies or tour buses, or something or other.Not sure if it’s true.Throughout the drive I pushed back the urge to sing “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys.It would have been embarrassingly anachronistic.After all, those guys are way older than these sand dunes.

End of geo-spat.See, that wasn’t too painful, was it?

So, we twisted and turned and became well-acquainted with our two lower gears until we arrived at the town of Torrey.We found a delightful oasis in which to park the RV, and the next morning had our brakes checked because we heard a curious sound toward the end of the day of driving.The RV park had a service center attached to it, so a gentleman by the name of “Biggie” checked out our brakes, and gave us a clean bill of health.Yes, I said that his name was “Biggie.”It’s not a typo.

On to Capitol Reef NP, where Barbara and I asked a ranger a series of questions (freshly confident from our recent geology lessons on DVD).By our questions, she realized we had no idea what we were talking about, and she sort of gave up on us.She walked us toward the raised relief model, then ran off to help someone else.We just don’t get it.The park is here mainly because of a formation called the Waterpocket Fold, a 100 mile “wrinkle” in the Earth’s crust.We tried to get our heads around it, but we couldn’t, and the questions we were asking didn’t seem to make much sense to the lady.So we greedily stamped our National Parks Service passports and ran away, counting coup on yet another national park.

The next few hours of driving were decent and swift, but about 30 miles south of Hanksville, UT on US-95, we began to hear scraping again.But it wasn’t our brakes.It was our jaws dragging along the ground as we looked out at an indescribable combination of landscapes that left us all agog.First more red sandstone cliffs, but more a vermillion color than before-some sections reminiscent of Zion, others of Arches.This terrain led us down to Lake Powell and the Colorado River, and upon climbing out of the canyon, we entered into another formation of petrified sand dunes called White Canyon.More cross-bedded sandstones, these rock had been effectively scoured by what we assume to be the White River, and in the process created canyons, gulleys, ravines, and washes that tickle the imagination (what you’re imagining, of course is you intrepidly exploring these things for days and days…with a helicopter resupply crew following your every move so you don’t die of heat exhaustion, dehydration, desert mania, scorpion stings, rattlesnake bites, javelina attacks, or simply, starvation).

So, we plodded through the Colorado River Valley and all of its subsequent canyons, and some hours later came to a sign: “CAUTION!10% Grade, Gravel with Switchbacks.”We had come upon some monstrosity called the “Moki Dugway.”I assume that this road, if I can call it that, was originally constructed, if I can call it that, for horses.However, between then and the invention of the combustion engine, no one thought to update it for vehicle traffic.I exaggerate, it was plenty wide for our coach to make the switchback turns, but not wide enough for two-way traffic.Fortunately, there was little two-way traffic at this time in the Utah desert.Surprise, surprise.I happened to be on shift for this leg of the journey, so I got to wiggle the Ranchette down the road while Earl and Barbara informed me when it was safe to traverse the next switchback.

After completing the climb down some 1000 feet of sheer, vertical cliff, Barbara exhaled, and we continued on to Mexican Hat, UT, so named because of the hoodoo bearing the appearance of a sombrero that is located nearby.Before we arrived in town for the evening, however, we made a stop to Goosenecks State Park.Earl has fond memories of flying over these formations in his Prescott days, and wanted to see them from the ground.The San Juan River once meandered through this countryside much like the Mississippi does in her own valley back East.When the Colorado Plateau uplifted, the San Juan began digging toward sea level, as rivers do, and so the river is now “entrenched” in its same course from 60 million some years ago.Logically, this kind of feature is called an “entrenched meander.”

While in Mexican Hat (population 40 or 42, they’re not sure) we indulged in three geology lectures and talked for about an hour about the mountain ridge that stood outside our west-facing window.It’s a stunning, vexing piece of rock that we’re all dying to find out about. (Christmas gift idea!!: Roadside Geology of Utah).

The next day we packed up and headed for Arizona, whose only destination on the itinerary is Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, AZ.Unlike several of the previous days, the drive itself was only about two hours.So, we explored the north and south rims of the canyon, and of course the Visitor Center to stamp our passports, then headed next door for the National Park Service’s campsite.The campsite itself was a charming jumble of boulders (delineating sites and roads) with huge cottonwood trees providing shade to almost every site.As dusk fell, wild dogs began to populate the campground.The monument and this campground, like anything within 50-100 miles, is on the Navajo Reservation.The Navajo Nation does not allow the penning of animals, so cows and sheep wander along roadways downtown, and in the case of this campground, dogs come to lay in the sun and chase one another through the tall grasses.After taking a walk, I heard barking and howling, followed by a higher pitched bark coming from our motorhome.Upon returning to the RV, it was confirmed that Earl was “communicating with nature” from the dinette table.It made for interesting after-dinner conversation.Then the intermittent rains came, and the campground became dreamlike.It’s great when your day ends on a note like that.

That brings us to today, Thursday, July 7.I’m exhausted, so I’ll leave that for tomorrow.

You may be wondering where all the recent pictures are.The last few internet connections were bunk.I barely got the blog posted.So, when I get home (3:00 tomorrow afternoon), I’ll re-introduce my trusty little laptop to a DSL connection.