On Walmart and Arches National Park

May 27, 2013 On the road to Moab

Writing while driving, the laptop open on my lap and bouncing with the rough freeway leading out of Colorado into Utah. We’re doing 75 mph, the speed limit, and the Jeep starts to levitate when it hits the lumps and bumps—but if we go slower, the big rigs haul up on us and rattle us as they pass. I’m driven to try writing while driving for the first time on this trip, driven to it by the boredom of the wide open desert plains between our oasis of Ouray, Colorado (pronounced ‘You-ray’) and Moab, Utah where we are headed.

While leaning my chin on my hand and gazing out the window, I reflected on my newfound affection for Walmart, and had a little travel-related insight about it.

Anyone who knows me knows I hate Walmart on principle, and really hate it specifically on Maui. I dislike big box stores in general for the following reasons:

  1. They hurt small, local businesses.
  2. Often products are lower quality.
  3. Walmart is known to have unfair employee and other practices.
  4. There are too many choices and I end up wasting time shopping.

I’ve never liked shopping. It clutters my brain with little choices that take up mental bandwidth, like what brand to toothpaste to buy. I like Costco, even though it’s a big box store, because products are good quality, they try to help local and help third world, and there is only one of each product, reducing decisionmaking to a simple choice: do I want it or not?

Anyway, all that to say that Walmart has been a godsend on this trip and I’ve come to have a big ol’ soft spot in my heart for that hideous megastore.

the rash I've been whingeing about. Quite painful and unresponsive to any remedies.

the rash I've been whingeing about. Quite painful and unresponsive to any remedies.

I first noticed my attitude change in Prescott, Arizona, when my rash was acting up and I knew Walmart would have an answer. I went inside and found the pharmacy section—down the entry aisle and to the left, for anyone wanting to know—and discovered several types of skin potions, all cheaper than anywhere else. (Disliking decisionmaking, I bought them all.)

Later, in Utah, we needed snacks, drinks and batteries, and spotted a Walmart. We’d reconned that section before, and were able to make a beeline to this one and buy our items… because, even if Walmart is huge, every one in every state is laid out much the same.

I’m discovering that universal human trait of craving familiarity. Our brains get tired of assessing, choosing, deciding about every little thing all the time, as we have to do when traveling—hence the proliferation of chain restaurants and inns on travel routes—we crave the familiar, because it’s less work for our overloaded systems.

I just ran into a Walmart in Sunnyside, Colorado for more skin stuff and felt happy and confident going into a known entity, turning left, and finding the skin stuff right next to the cold remedies just like the Walmart in Prescott, and just like every other Walmart.

Cruising the aisles at 9:00 a.m. on a weekday are people with disabilities and their caregivers, old ladies driving wheelchair shopping baskets, young moms with toddlers. Walmart is the “community outing” destination for so many elderly and disabled people—and as I checked out, the woman with a clubfoot in front of me discussed an upcoming operation with the mostly-deaf clerk in shouted detail and I felt right at home. A woman with a shrieking toddler “gimme candy! Gimme candy!” moved in behind me and I grinned at her in sympathy. Yep, Walmart. Same across all the states.

Familiarity breeds fondness in a foreign world.

I now can pack or unpack in 5 minutes flat.

Wheel suitcase into room, unzip and put bathroom bag on counter. Plug in phone and laptop. Take all pillows and crap off bed, put my own pillow out of suitcase on my side (whichever one has a lamp) and put out my row of skin unguents and Kindle on bedside table. Voila—unpacked. Leaving is a reverse of this process) Camping is more involved, but consists of both of us putting up the tent (I fit together tent supports while Mike stakes it out, we assemble together, then I inflate beds INSIDE tent (did it outside once and learned that wasn’t good) while Mike unpacks the car and sets up cooking area. Sleeping bags in, and we’re golden in about 20 minutes without an unnecessary word.

Anyway, once underway today we did a drive-through of the lovely Black Canyon National Park outside Sunnyside Colorado; it was where we’d been heading when we pulled up at Ouray. We really needed the rest and downtime Ouray provided, and I’m still glad we stopped there because Black Canyon, while lovely, had very few facilities and would have meant camping for sure and I was in no shape for that. It’s a steep, rocky valley with the Gunnison River, smooth and jade green at the bottom, promising great fishing. “See, this was what I thought a river float was about,” I told Mike.

“Thank God that wasn’t what it was,” he said.

LATER: very late evening

Got home from Arches National Park at 10:00 p.m, gritty, sweaty and exalted.

We rolled into Moab in the afternoon, going against a heavy flow of Memorial Day departure traffic, and plonked our stuff into a motel and zoomed back to Arches to get the sunset.

Being on a photography mission, this meant assessing the whole park for proper lighting angles, then targeting where we’d go for the sunset shoot. We pep-stepped to view the Delicate Arch from viewpoint lookout and decided to do the longer hike to that the next day, and went back to the formation known as Windows.

I felt that same craze that had overcome me at Antelope take me over again. I bounded and climbed all over several trails and multiple gigantic rock protrusions to try capture the incredible formations in the waning, changing light of the passing day. As I was able to get some good shots (again, it’s hard to explain the frenzy but other photographers know what I mean) I began to calm down, to breathe in the warm, ochre-colored air, my eyes wandering over the rounded, visually-pleasing shapes filled with orbits, circles, triangles, and spirals.

Arches is made of sandstone in brittle, grainy layers like a hard, red sugar frosting. It’s so interesting how each sandstone park has a unique character and feeling to it—and the feeling of Arches is celestial, the “arches” or windows in the rock framing wide-open deep blue, as if they were settings for the most beautiful stone of all—the moving, contrasting, changeable Utah sky.

Like Zion, Arches is accessible and immediate gratification. You get out of your car and walk a few hundred feet and can stand under red rock rainbows and truly feel immersed in the experience of the park. When my frenzy had abated I climbed a huge shoulder of sliderock and sat, feeling like a menehune on the shoulder of a friendly giant. A warm desert breeze carried the scent of desert lavender and sage, and I watched the sunset fold itself in a cloak of gold, yellow and vermilion over the towers, peaks and crenellations around me. People had melted away in the vastness and I heard nothing but the sweet song of a desert meadowlark. It’s that amazing.

Utah is officially my favorite state for its natural glories.


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