The Griswolds

After a few hours of sharing a queen bed with a three year old kick-off-the-covers-in-a-freezing-air-conditioned-room boy, we availed ourselves to the ‘complimentary’ breakfast at the Hotel on the Falls. There is no such thing as a free breakfast, and this buffet confirmed that trueism as I gazed upon bright yellow chunks of egg and slices of bacon and sausage links of questionable origin.

After nibbling on the corners of a cinnamon roll, we declared breakfast over, checked  out The Idaho Falls, and hopped in the Monster. Headed for Utah.

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Save a brief layover at the Salt Lake City Airport, I’ve never been to Utah. As I’m the kind of person who gets excited at the prospect of seeing something new, I was rather excited to see what lay beyond its borders. Since all I know about Utah comes from a couple of Mormon-women blogs I sometimes read. And I vaguely recall something about a winter Olympics a few years ago.

I was certain seeing Utah would change my life. .

I can’t say it did. I mean, maybe there are pockets of awesome in SLC or nearby Provo, but driving along the highway between SLC and Provo, you could be pretty much anywhere. Aside from the copious sightings of LDS churches and ‘We love Elder so-and-so’ signs posted on the overpasses. And the slightly terrible architecture.

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The highlight of that particular stretch was that we spotted an In-N-Out Burger. Two, actually, but we couldn’t make the turn-off for the first one. The professor jumped at the chance to try the popular joint along with the Gort. I held out for the Café Rio I’d seen across the street. (A favorite of the Mormon-girl blogs.)

The burger was pronounced ‘pretty good’, the vanilla shake ‘tastes like McDonalds’ and the fries were crazy-salty. ‘Well, we are in Salt Lake City,’ I speculated. Lots of….salt?

After our inaugural In-N-Out experience, we drove across the street to Café Rio. The Hen and I got out. The Hen and I got back in. Café Rio was closed. We drove back across the street to Noodles Company. The Hen didn’t want to eat anything from there. We drove back across the street to Jimmy Johns. They were closed, too.

You don’t want to go to Utah on a Sunday, it turns out. One hour: gone. Then we drove through Provo to check it out. And, since everything appeared to be closed, we headed to Utah Lake State Park. We paid $10, stared at the water for 30 minutes, then got back in the car.

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Utah Lake? Check. [For the record, we missed the exit for The Great Salt Lake, hence the visit to the lesser lake.]

Back on the highway, the Gort points to a lone white Y affixed to Provo’s mountains. ‘Look Mom, it’s Hollywood,’ he yelled excitedly, ‘I see the Y.’

Yes, all the other letters must have fallen off the mountain.

Just before 4pm, as we turned on to Highway 6, weak and headachy from an entire day without coffee, we spotted our first Starbucks. Oh, we’d seen the green and white sign several times, but never the actual coffee shop; leading us to speculate that all Utah’s signs for Starbucks lead to one lone store in the caffeine-averse state.

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After purchasing iced coffee and the Sunday issue of the New York Times (which we’ll leave in the car for the duration of our trip without actually reading any of it), we headed for Moab. Shortly afterwards, all three of the boys had climbed into the back row. ‘All that and they’re still sitting in the same row,’ the professor muttered, referring to our supposed ‘need’ for a seven-passenger vehicle. ‘Yes, but at least there’s a row between us,’ I offered. And then, Percy bit his oldest brother, and just like that, the lovefest was over and the middle row was once again occupied.

Eventually, long after the Gort had forlornly asked ‘Dad, when are we getting to an actual city,’ we made it to Arches National Park; the main reason for this year’s seven-hour detour. As it was after 7, we didn’t drive far into the park; stopping at the first lookout point.

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The red rock scenery was simply spectacular and the boys were elated to be out of the car. ‘Worth it,’ I thought to myself as Percy led the pack, yelling ‘I’M THE LEADER’ to any family member who dared to cut in front of him. It was a glorious hour. Without a doubt the highlight of the trip. Though even at the late hour, the heat was still considerable, especially for this family who sweats when the temperature dips into the seventies.

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Afterwards we stopped in Moab for some groceries and to begin the 57-mile drive to our night’s accommodations. Apparently ‘objects appear closer than they actually are’ on Priceline, which is how the professor booked a hotel in not-nearby Monticello. As we drove through the desert in search of our accommodations, the Gort mused rather unhappily about how we’d spent ‘three-quarters of the day driving through the desert.’ ‘And we have less than half a tank of gas,’ he worried; clearly keeping an eye on the gas needle after ‘The Vaughn Incident.’

‘You can get pretty far on half a tank of gas,’ the professor assured him.

‘I said LESS than half a tank,’ the boy corrected. The same boy who, upon seeing a couple of American flags remarked: ‘there sure are a lot of American flags here, are we in Texas?’

Just before 10pm, we arrived at Monticello’s Blue Mountain Horsehead Inn. Its sign boasting ‘clean rooms’, which failed to set me at ease about the grubby place where each car parks directly in front of its room. Upon entering, I determined the room was like something out of a movie. The kind of movie where people are running away from something; dyeing their hair and staying in terrible motels to remain incognito.

As I lay in my slightly-scary bed, I thought about the day’s details: the 57-miles-away lodging, the room, the quirky parents and the skeptical pre-teen son. I burst out laughing. ‘What,’ the leery professor asked.

‘The detour. This room,’ I began. ‘We are the Griswolds.’

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