Between the two of us, I am the trip planner. I keep whole spreadsheets on things to do at our potential destinations around the world. I find the best travel deals, and sign us up for websites. It's a great mix, actually, because Jason is the one who wants to wander down streets and find surprises.
When I left the desert-crossing in his hands, boy, did we ever find a surprise. "That's it, I should never plan anything!" he said when we rolled into Wendover, Utah, our stop on Wednesday night. On the map, it looked like this:
To us, that green patch marked "West Wendover Recreation District" meant a state park of some sort. We made reservations to stay at a KOA campground nearby, assuming that while we may share the space with large RVs and loud families, we would be able to go for a little hike in the morning before seeing the Salt Flats down the road.
In reality, "West Wendover Recreation District" is a town chock full of casinos. We arrived after dark to a blaze of neon signs lighting our way to the campground. Our site boarded someone's backyard and we ate dinner by the bluish glow of the Red Garter Casino.
I will say that pitching a tent in the dark has never been so easy. And the Red Garter did turn out to have a $2.99 breakfast special.
How could we have saved ourselves from this farce? Perhaps we should have looked up reviews of the campground. Or maybe we should have researched things to do in "West Wendover Recreational District." Or we should have looked at satellite photos of the area.
But in the end, we were only really looking for a spot to sleep for cheap, and we did, spending only $29. While there was no morning hiking, we were close to the salt flats, which were blindingly bright even at 9 AM.
The Salt Flats are a strange thing. Eons ago the Great Salt Lake stretched hundreds of miles more than it does now. When it dried, salt deposits were left behind. The salt sits in a thin crust atop the earth. The sun bounced off the crystals of salt like it does off of snow, but with greater intensity. How people crossed these flats in the days before UV protection I don't know.
After leaving the Salt Flats, we stopped in Salt Lake City, where we parked and walked around for an hour. Then it was on to the Moab Desert and Arches National Park.
All of the campsites at Arches were full, as we suspected they would be. We asked at the visitors' center which nearby campsites they would suggest. They gave us a map and pointed out two areas, one along a river with several small campsites and one southwest of the park. They advised we try the latter site, because it was crowded that day and getting late so we would be more likely to find a spot there. That was a valid point and we weighed our options, but we really wanted a spot by the river. It was hot and capping off our day with a swim in the river sounded awesome. So though it would potentially mean an extra hour until we pitched our tent if we struck out and had to seek out a site in the other area. The worst-case scenario would have been that we had to stay at a motel in town, paying more money and not experiencing a night in the desert.
We were glad we took the risk. We found a great campsite by the river:
We did indeed swim in the river and slept under the star-filled sky, where we could faintly make out the milky way.
In the morning we drove through Arches National Park and did a little hiking, which was hot and tiring but well worth it. After that, it was on to Denver.
So here you can see the difference in planning versus not planning. We planned the first night carefully, making a reservation in advance and it turned out to not be the kind of place we wanted to stay. The second night we took a risk and found just what we wanted.