23 May 2011
'A Different Kind of Rock...'Las Vegas - Salt Lake City. Road trip.
The U2 360 crew is setting up in Salt Lake whilst the band party has gone to Los Angeles. I didn’t really fancy either of these options so decided to jump ship for a day. I rounded up three other compadres whose presence was not required in either of these other places. We had approximately 36 hours to get from the Hotel Fabulous in Las Vegas to Rice-Eccles stadium in Salt Lake City, an itinerary that just screamed ‘road trip’, so by mid-morning we were breezing north on route 15 in a gigantic black SUV piled high with all our baggage.
Driving out of (or more particularly into) Las Vegas redoubles the sense of incredulity about the place. Twenty minutes outside this surreal adult trash-Disneyland and you’re driving through a vast arid desert complete with tumbleweed and, appropriately, Joshua trees. Meanwhile Vegas sucks water and electricity like there’s no tomorrow and you can’t help but feel a sense of inevitable, eventual catastrophe.
Having taken some tips from those in the know, we aimed for Zion Park and Bryce Canyon. The land grew redder as the sky grew bigger and it was the perfect day for joyriding – not too hot, blue skies filled up with over-scale, fluffy white clouds. We made a point of taking frequent brief stops at whatever landmarks and attractions we ran into en route. There was a faux prospectors ranch, complete with gift shop and petting zoo, various truck stops, a diner where we paused to ingest burgers bigger than our heads and we couldn’t resist pulling over into a place with a sign that advertised “Snacks. Souvenirs. Digital Media.”
Having grown up on a small island, the scale of a large continent always comes as a shock. Having seen most of the world on rock'n'roll tours, inevitably I have generally only visited cities, and with countries that I visit regularly it is easy to forget that there is anything in between the urban areas. Even a modest drive like this is a fantastic reminder that not only are the wide-open spaces there but in fact they occupy the vast majority of the land mass. We wound our way through Zion Park, craning our necks up at the red cliffs, whilst feeling increasingly petite. We laughed and reminded each other about high school geography, with talk of rock strata, erosion, meanders and ox-bow lakes. If only our education had been like this.
The highlight was Bryce Canyon, something of a topographical anomaly where limestone and sandstone erosion has created fantastically intricate cathedral-like sculptures of rock pillars of a scale and multiplicity that is hard to take in. I was also aware that I had something before my eyes that I would remember for the rest of my life. It’s one of the most extraordinary natural wonders that I’ve ever seen. Oh, and it’s also “one hell of a place to lose a cow”, according to a Mormon chappie who first settled here.
On we drove, the weather becoming cooler and damper all the while. Night eventually fell and our minds turned once again to nourishment. It was clear we wouldn’t be swimming in culinary options out here but the next town of any size, Nephi, looked promising (on the map anyway). By the time we got there it was fully dark and we were now officially ravenous. Imagine our dismay then, when Main St., Nephi, UT, turned up nothing more than Burger King, a convenience store and a very tiny, very tatty Chinese restaurant. Opting for the latter we crossed our fingers and headed in and, happily, we were greeted like lost cousins and fed like kings. I’m not imagining there’s a huge Chinese community in this neck of the woods but we were very happy to find them.
It was close on midnight by the time we rolled up outside the Hotel Fabulous in Salt Lake City, just in time to catch last orders in a state where getting a drink can be a complicated business. We toasted absent friends and took a moment to appreciate our good fortune at having had such a revitalising, mind-expanding day away from rock and roll madness. Mental images of the vast, intricate red carvings of Bryce Canyon floating through my mind as I drifted off to sleep, the power of a different kind of rock altogether.