Monday, March 19, 2007

An Illustrated Adventure

This is the Cottonwood Mall.

It is haunted.

I haven't verified this. In fact, there aren't really any rumors about this. Come to think of it this is the first I've heard about it.

So maybe it isn't haunted.

Hmmm...maybe the Mall isn't haunted, but I'm certainly haunted by memories of it. (play on words, kapow!)

I took this picture on a recent visit there. I went for no other reason than to check it out, see what has become of the place where I spent so much time from ages 5-18. The mall, once full of life, has fallen on some hard times. Almost all the store fronts are empty, and there is nary a soul to be found there. On this trip I didn't see a single person, though I did hear maniacal, demonic laughter at regular intervels (this is true).

Ususally I visit the mall and the smell of frying corn dogs brings back wave after wave of nostalgia, but on this visit all I got was an erie, empty feeling. It really made me uncomfortable and I got out of there as soon as I could.

Looking at this picture reminds me of another time where I felt the same way, also in a landscape devoid of human life. I had my camera with me that time too. Away we go. All the way back to:

November 2005!

I have this hobby. Actually calling it a hobby is going overboard. "Hobby" makes it sound like I subscribe to magazines and go to conventions. So let's start over.

There's this thing I like to do sometimes, on the rare occasions that I have a lot of free time and nothing to occupy it. I like to pick a direction and drive that way, taking lonely roads I've not yet taken. Now and then I'll find something interesting, but mostly it ends up being a huge waste of time.

It's a warm November Sunday in 2005. The night before I had gotten in an huge fight with my soon to be ex lady-companion. I want to go for a drive, so my brother and I decide to take Road Redwood as far as it will go, and then see where that takes us.

I turn my phone off. When She calls to apologize what, I'm just gonna answer? Come on!

This trip could end in disaster and I don't want to be one of Those Guys. You know, Those Guys that end up dead 50 feet from their car when it breaks down and they look for help, so I pack a case of water in the trunk and some of those aerosal foamey things that you can use to temporarily inflate flat tires.

We get as far as Lehi and then veer Westward. There's an old military encampment called Camp Floyd out there and I'm pretty sure I went there on a field trip when I was but a lad.

Just outside of Camp Floyd we spy this old schoolhouse or church or whatever. I bet it has a storied history, probably involving schooling or churching.

There's a highway that runs due west, into the wilderness. We have found the Old Pony Express Scenic Byway. Because there is nothing more scenic than dead grass and sagebrush.

I turn on my phone and see no new messages. So She hasn't called yet. That's cool.

(the oppresive and turbulent sky in the picture above represents my troubled mind)

This road goes on for what feels like an hour, but is probably really only 55 minutes.

I don't like the grey sky and bland landscape. It makes me feel...weird. Creeped out. Even looking at these pictures now I get the same feeling. Oh well, onward and upward.

We're headed straight for a narrow pass between the hills.

Notice the way the green vegetation abruptly ends. Nature's mystery, or mad science? You decide.

(if you decided mad science then you are correct)

Check out this thing:

I guess in the 1800s instead of Sno-Cone Shacks on every corner they had these little beer shacks. Either that or an un-creative graffiti artist wanted to make his love of beer known to the world.

The paved road ends. This is the last sign of civilization we see for a while.

I'm not sure what it is, but I do know that if I wanted to rob a passing train that I'd probably hide in there.

We pass a sign warning "You are about to enter a High Desert Climate." Also the sign has a skull and crossbones on it. And it's covered with crows. And there's a pile of bones right below it. Good thing I have that case of water.

The environment is indeed unforgiving, as evidenced by this plastic bag. Poor little fella didn't stand a chance.

Lookout Pass. Elevation? Lots.

The view actually isn't that good. The name comes from all the low-flying birds.

Since we are following the Pony Express route, maybe you want to learn more about the Pony Express?

It was the first transcontinental mail system in the U.S. Young, fast riders would carry mail to a station, where they would relay it to a new rider with a fresh horse who would carry it the next station, and so on. Ran from the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast. Although the Pony Express is a legendary part of America's frontier history, the service lasted only ten days before they realized that text messaging was way easier.

I climb a hill looking for treasure, but find none. I have to pee but I'm worried about rattlesnakes and decide to wait.

Here's a view of my car (Betty) from atop the hill.

A low rumble in the distance. A truck climbs slowly up the road, heading right for us. My brother and I joke that the driver is some sort of axe murderer. We have a good laugh until we actually convince ourselves that it is an axe murderer in that truck. We roll down the hill (faster that way), get in the car and lock the doors just in the nick of time.

Let's see, where to next? Simpson Springs, check. Lookout Pass Station, check. Pet Cemetery, ch---wha? Well this requires further investigation.

The Pet Cemetery is somewhat disappointing. The name plaques on the gravestones seem to have been looted (probably by punk-ass teenagers) and the whole are is overgrown with weeds.

Nevertheless, it is a tasty mystery. Why is there a Pet Cemetery out here in the middle of nowhere? There aren't any houses or farms for miles. Who's pets are these? Did they or did they not come back to life? If they did, where are they now?

The sun sets, and it occurs to me that I have exercised poor judgement. When venturing into the desert, following a dirt road in an area with minimal traffic and no civilization or streetlights, perhaps one should start this journey more than three hours before the sun goes down.

We're about 200 miles from home. If we keep going we will end up in Nevada, where we'll have to cut North and hook up with I-80 in Wendover. I have no idea how long it takes to do that, but from there it's another two hours to home. I just want to be home now.

That's the problem with road trips. Getting there is fun and exciting but you don't realize that you'll have to drive back too.

We decide to tough it out and head to the next station, Fish Springs. It's only a few miles away. We can look at some fish then make our way back.

Something goes wrong.

We drive for miles and miles and it gets darker and darker. There are no more signs for Fish Springs. Clearly I have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Behold! Distant lights!

The closer we get the more lights are revealed. Is it a city? Impossible! There are no cities out here. Unless somehow I've hooked around and I'm looking down at Tooele...

Suddenly a bright green light flashes. "Did you see that?" I exclaim. It flashes again, and continues to do so at odd intervals. It appears to be on top of some sort of tower.

I realize what we're dealing with. The Dugway Proving Ground. A not so secret military installation. No one really knows what they do out there, but there are rumors aplenty. Chemical warfare tests, radiation beam experiments, and other general tomfoolery. There are a lot of UFO sightings out here too. Probably what the green light is for. Guiding the UFOs in to land.

Not that I believe in that stuff.

I turn off the main road onto another path. Eventually we come across a gate saying "Danger! Unexploded ordnance in this area. Turn back!" In the hills all around us we see small lights darting about. Probably military guys doing military stuff, locking the sights of their bazookas on my poor car and the people inside of it.

Fearing reprisal from government thugs, I don't take a picture of this. We turn tail and run, driving back the way we came at inadvisable speeds, dodging rabbits and elk all the while. After a few wrong turns we end up in the town of Vernon.

Another spooky old town. We drive round in circles through lonely neighborhoods, full of houses with no lights in the windows. It's unsettling. I'm hoping to find a place to ask for directions but there is nothing. Where do these people go for groceries or gasonline? Why do they live in such a silly place?

We finally find a way out. Across Utah Lake I see the friendly lights of American Fork, where my soon to be ex lady companion resides. I turn on my phone. No messages.

So there you have it. An fairly interesting day, made memorable by the werewolf attack.

Wait, did I forget to mention the werewolf attack? Oh man, that was the best part. Unfortunately I'm out of time now.


  1. Cool road trip. Very cool indeed.

    I used to do that sort of stuff here too, but in Oz, sooner or later, you run out of places to go.

    And we don't have military proving grounds in driving distance from anywhere. All the fun UFO stuff therefore happens at "joint facilities" (which is just another name for "more secret US bases that the Americans needed to put somewhere out of the way, so they picked Australia"). These places are in the middle of the REAL desert, and helicopters are out of my budget range.

  2. Your picture of the "Proving Grounds" look strangely similar to a "photo" you "took" of Cuba in another of your "adventures". I'm starting to "wonder" if you really are the "accomplished world traveler" you claim to be, or just some charlatan scouring the web for images to claim as your own.

  3. Very interesting that you would try to discredit me, BR (if those are your real initials). Especially that you're trying to discredit me about the Proving Grounds and Cuba, two subjects that cause much embarrassment to a certain United States. I'm on to you pal! You're nothing more than a government thug trying to shut me up through intimidation. I will not be silenced! I will not go quitely into the night!

  4. Chester - coincidentally one of my favorite books is about a road trip around Australia. It's called "Sean and David's Long Drive," by a fella named Sean Condon. I really had fun reading that one.

  5. Was that Cottonwood mall? Please tell me the bead connection is still there! And Woolworths? And, and, and, B. Dalton books? And, and, Sam Goody?