Square State Tour

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Day 5
Hell's Revenge

Thu, Oct 4, 2007

10:00 am
1,174 miles from home

Moab, Nevada

We're on our way from Jane & Jim's house to downtown Moab where we'll be taking an off-road excursion into the scenery of Moab.

Laura is ready for some extreme off-roading!

View from Jane & Jim's house

Along the way, Jane and Jim regale us with tales from the ER. Like the guy who shot himself in the foot with a nail gun. Or the other guy who shot himself in his private parts with a nail gun. This leads to the story of the guy who was out mountain biking when his bike seat fell off and he landed on the post. By the time we get there, Robert is barely able to walk.

Of course, all these people are good business for Dr. Jim. He'd like to encourage everyone to come to Moab and get into an accident. "But not one where you actually break anything," he's quick to add, "Just one where you THINK you broke something and you have to get an X-ray to find out."

We also find out that the movie Thelma and Louise was filmed near here. In fact, for the climatic sequence (where the car goes off a cliff) they ran an actual car off an actual cliff into the actual Colorado River. They found one of the dummies, but the car and the other dummy are still in the river (!). Talk about your buried treasure!

Um, also, those "Rocky Mountains" we were talking about yesterday? Well, um, they ARE mountains, and they are rocky, but they aren't THE Rocky Mountains. Turns out those are the LaSalle mountains, which aren't very wide but are still pretty tall at 12,000 feet.

They also have more avalanches per mountain than anywhere else in the world. So many, that at one point they established a school to study avalanches there. Guess what happened to the school (according to our sources)? Yup. Wiped out by an avalanche.

10:15 am

We arrive at "Coyote Land Tours" in downtown Moab. This outfit, owned and operated by John, uses a vehicle called the "Unimog" to go off-road. The Unimog, made by Mercedes-Benz (hey, we travel in style even when we go off-road!) is what the Hummer wants to be when it grows up.

The Unimog has a fancy transmission thingy (a "portal gear") that sets the axles and transmission higher than the tire's centers. No, it baffles us, too. What we CAN say is that the Unimog warps the fabric of time and space so that the laws of gravity are locally suspended.

There're also no windows or roof—just a series of roll bars that pass overhead. And no windshield, so we're certainly well ventilated.

We're the only ones on this tour (it's near the end of the season), so once the four of us show up, we take off.

A Unimog in a rare environment—on flat ground!

Robert is ready to go!

10:30 am

We arrive at the entrance to a trail called "Hell's Revenge," which is about five minutes outside of downtown Moab. Along the way we pass the local dump, which was voted the Most Scenic Landfill in America (and certainly has a heck of a view!).

The Most Scenic Landfill in America

Where Hell gets its revenge

Apparently, off-road trails are rated from one to four, with one being "a pleasant drive in the country with birds singing" and four being Hell's Revenge. John explains that this means there will be lots of pitching and rolling and other fun stuff. We become slightly alarmed.

10:40 am

The very first part of Hell's Revenge is a narrow stretch of rock barely wider than the Unimog that angles upwards at about 45 degrees. On either side is a drop-off with a bottom that's well beyond killing range.


But we make it to the other side in one piece (okay, that's not such a big surprise because otherwise how could we write this, right?). More importantly, it means that John knows what he's doing and that we probably won't die out here.

Of course, if we DID get into an accident and get injured, we could be in trouble, because John's also the local search and rescue guy.

John in his natural environment: a Unimog

After crossing the first obstacle, we cross another feature that's called "Oprah's Ass" (or, if there were little kids on the tour: "Oprah's Fanny"). It's a series of rocky formations that do look like somebody's aft end.

John's dog, Hasbro, rides in the front seat until we get past Oprah's Ass. At John's command, Hasbro leaps from the front seat and takes off along the trail. He follows along for the next five miles having a great time wandering off and exploring. Hasbro has the best dog job in the world.

Watch Hasbro exit the Unimog (Higher resolution Quicktime version)

Habro runs alongside the Unimog as we continue off-road (Higher resolution Quicktime version)

Periodically we see signs that say "NO" spray-painted on the rocks. John explains that there was an over-eager park ranger who wanted to keep off-roaders from getting off the trail, so he started spray- painting arrows to show where the trail went. Where the trail didn't go, he painted "NO."

Don't go here! The annotated trail

Frankly, it looks like graffiti (and John has an even stronger opinion). He finally got the ranger to stop by pointing out that stupid people would mostly cause the problem. Once these stupid people left the trail, when they came back, they'd be looking at all the "NO" signs upside down. What would they say then? That's right, "ON." So he'd actually make the problem worse.

Driving along Hells Revenge in the Unimog (Higher resolution Quicktime version)

11:15 am

We stop at the top of part of the trail where we can look out over the nearby area. One of the amazing things about being out here is that you don't see any signs of buildings or anything. Everywhere you look, for as far as you can see, you just see landscape. No roads, no buildings, no water towers, no wires.

The landscape itself is mostly hard red rock, which has been eroded by wind and water for millions of years, making the most amazingly beautiful and varied shapes. We are witnessing erosion as we stand here, because it's so windy we can barely stay standing. The erosion product, a very fine grit, mixes nicely with our sunscreen.

A panoramic view of the local terrain

There are periodically holes in the rock that go from five feet to 20 feet deep. These holes catch rainwater and have their very own biosystems (you can see algae growing in some of them). John shows us how to get out of one if we happen to get fall in: just run around the sides faster and faster and run out.

John demonstrates how to get out of a hole (Higher resolution Quicktime version)

After stopping for a while, we continue driving along the trail, which has parts that go straight up. Somehow—probably using its patented Fabric of Space Warp—the Unimog doesn't tip over backwards, even though all you can see out the front is blue sky.

Up, up to the sky (Higher resolution Quicktime version)

Along the way, John entertains us with a series of jokes (sample punchline: "Still no-eye deer?"). At one point, he pulls out a harmonica and performs the "Homeless in Salem Blues in C-minor" (we'd told him that Robert works in a homeless shelter). It was actually pretty darn good.


12:10 pm

We stop near an overlook of the Colorado River and hike for about 100 yards to get closer. From here, we look down on the Colorado River way down at the bottom as it winds its way south. On the other side, we can see Arches Park, which is a famous park (so we hear) with lots of arched rock formations on it.

John proclaims that "This is Moab!" and launches into a 10-minute monologue/diatribe about how too many tourists just spend a day going through Moab and think they've seen everything. He recommends spending an entire two-week vacation just going through one-third of Canyonlands.

We nod and smile politely, while thinking "Yeah, right. Maybe on your planet." He has a good point (it would be nice to see things in more depth), but most people have neither the time nor inclination to spend that much time on each attraction along the way.

John harangues Jim while the Colorado river flows by with Arches Park in the background

Hasbro has seen a lizard nearby and spends his time racing around trying to find it. He has no chance of catching it, of course, because the lizards are just streaks that you can barely see as they zip by. This doesn't dissuade Hasbro, though, as he has all the sense that you'd expect from a dog.

The "J" collection: John, Jane, and Jim

While we're out there, gazing out over the Colorado, John gets a call on his cell phone. Seems he's also a bail bondsman and one of his clients is paying off a $1,000 bond by doing yardwork. John explains that he's at work and can't really talk and the guy should call him back in a couple of hours.

12:55 pm

We mount up again (and "up" is the right word—the doors are about eight feet from the ground) and head back. This is the 756th trip that John has taken along Hell's Revenge, so he's pretty familiar with it.

On the way out, we specialized in bending the laws of physics by going mostly straight up in the air and straight down. On the way back, most of the trail is composed of boulders and giant rocks that the Unimog casually crashes over.

More crashing—this time downhill (Higher resolution Quicktime version)

1:30 pm

We stop at the head of a canyon that looks down a picturesque valley. Apparently, last winter there were flash floods in the Moab area, where they got nine inches of rain in three days.

John was out at this point when one of the floods hit. Since all the terrain around us is rock, the water doesn't have many places to go, so it all gets together and races around, trying to find a low spot. Which would involve passing right through this spot.

Later on, John showed us pictures of what it looked like, and we're very glad that it's nice and dry today.

2:15 pm

We're back at the end/beginning of Hell's Revenge and John thanks the trail for allowing us to emerge. He points out that more people begin the trail than finish it and today we're among the finishers and that's a pretty good place to be.

The end of the trail! (Higher resolution Quicktime version)

Robert asks him later about how many people get into trouble on Hell's Revenge and John says about 10 people per year need rescue of some sort or another.

We heartily recommend taking this tour if you're in Moab. Heck, you might want to consider visiting Moab just to take the tour! You can get all the contact info at http://www.coyoteshuttle.com/landtours.html.

Laura thought it was pretty funny that this car was labeled "Eep"

2:35 pm

Our stomachs are well aware that we've put off lunch while we were lurching around the back hills of Moab, so it's time to remedy that. We head for Milt's Stop & Eat, a burger joint that all the locals go to.

One of the things we always find amazing about Salem (Oregon) is that we run into people we know. We'll be in the grocery store buying groceries and—hey! Howya doing! This is weird to us, because it almost never happened in Seattle. We thought this was very "small town."

Now we see what REAL small town is. We walk up to the order window (behind another customer who's ordering) and the lady behind the counter hands Jim a soft-serve ice cream cone and says "Howdy Jim! Hi Jane!"

While we wait for our food, we watch Nelly (the owner) prepare it. She is also an "Extreme Runner." This is a person who goes out and runs along the types of trail we just drove across (rocky, remote, and lots of up and down).

Last winter, she was out for a run and fell. She was stuck in the nowhere with a crushed pelvis and broken leg, until a neighbor noticed she hadn't returned that night ("In fact, it's that lady right there at the other end of the counter—howdy Janet!"). It took a couple of days to find her (and her dog helped lead the rescuers).

She's all healed up now and is cooking non-stop the whole time we're talking to her.

Laura, who's got a discerning burger palate, has high praise for Milt's (in business since 1954). She definitely recommends them to anybody visiting Moab.

You can find Milt's at:

365 Mill Creek Dr.
Moab, UT

Oh, we also find out that people who live in Utah are known as "Utahans" and people from Moab are "Moabites." No, we don't know who comes up with this stuff.

4:00 pm

We're now somewhat north of town at Mills Canyon (near where the mill used to be!), looking for dinosaur bones. We eventually find the interpretive hiking trail (after driving down some very sandy "roads").

Sure enough, there's about a dozen spots where various bones are visible in the sandstone. Rather than dig them out and mount them, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has decided to let people see them in their natural surroundings.

(We've gone on a dinosaur bone dig and we agree with the BLM. These bones are too fragmented and would be a real pain to excavate. Plus, it's pretty clear that they were swept by a stream to this area, as they're all intermingled so you wouldn't learn much about relative positions from them.)

At each spot, there's a little plaque that explains about what kind of bones you're seeing and what type of dinosaur they belong to. It's a pretty cool exhibit.

From the plaque:
Sauropod Tail Bones
Three feet directly in front of this sign (under the overhang) are tail vertebrae of an unidentified sauropod (perhaps a Camarasaurus).
Camarasaurus weight up to 20 tons. Parts of four V-shaped bones remain as the only evidence of a vandalized tail.

Some people have responded to this unique exhibit by stealing the bones (there's one plaque that shows where a bone used to be), but it seems that most people appreciate the place and don't make off with the bones.

Where the bones aren't: the impression of a bone is all that's left after idiots stole the bones that were here

6:30 pm

We arrive at the Bar M Chuckwagon, just north of Moab. This is a hokey, touristy western thing that suits us to a T! There're lots of little old people and a few younger folks, and we're all milling around outside waiting for the gunfight ("Starts about 7:00").

At one point, one little old lady calls to her little old man: "Hurry up, Pa! We don't want to be late for the gunfight!"

Robert pours a cup of cowboy coffee for Laura while R's sister Jane stands by

7:10 pm

The sheriff confronts the bad guys, in which is really more of a funfight than a gunfight—bad jokes, a rubber chicken, clowning around and at the end, the bad guys rise from the dead and argue about who gets to play the sheriff next time.

7:30 pm

Dinner is served on authentic cowboy plates made of metal. This has the drawback that if hot food is served on them, it gets hard to hold onto the plate. So they make sure that one of the foods served is cold applesauce (a traditional cowboy favorite, apparently) and it's suggested that you hold onto the plate under the applesauce part.

The meal includes barbecued chicken (or beef—your choice), applesauce, beans, a baked potato, a biscuit, and applesauce cake (seems cowboys had more apples than they knew what to do with). The chow's pretty good.

After dinner, Dr. Jim has to leave the table to look after some guy who's choking on a piece of meat.

The Bar M spread (ranch house/dining area is at the left)

8:30 pm

The "Band" gets up on stage and starts to play. Turns out they're the same folks who played the sheriff and bad guys outside and who also cooked and served dinner and own the place. It's a five-piece cowboy band (bass, fiddle, pedal steel guitar, mandolin and guitar) and they do a pretty respectable job of singing cowboy songs old and new (and a couple of Elvis numbers, too).

Laura is impressed that they found a cute way to do "Ghost Riders in the Sky," not usually a fun number sure to please the whole family.

Dr. Jim finally gets back for the last part of the show and reports that the choking guy will be okay. (He later admits that it does get a bit old always having to deal with things like that. "Especially stopping for accidents.")

After singing "Happy Trails" (and urging us to buy their CDs) the band leaves the stage, we leave the building, and our car leaves the parking lot.

9:30 pm

One of Jane's cats, Lou, likes to pull socks out of the drawer and scatter them around the house. Tonight, it's a three-sock night as there're three pairs of socks on the floor.

"At least she's doing them in pairs, now. I hate it when she pulls them out one at a time," says Jane.

We've had a three-sock day ourselves, and so we collapse into bed and start snoring before our heads hit the pillow.

Tomorrow: On the road, again?

Robert & Laura
Square State Tour

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