A side trip to the Sahara

After our crepe lunch, we stopped to gawk at the ‘best dam view in town’ (side note: small towns with hydroelectric monuments should be banned from making puns about them. There were two entire pages of ads in the hotel room binder for “the best dam restaurant in town” “the biggest dam shopping center” etc, and I love puns very much but even I sighed out loud over these). Glen Canyon Dam was one of the last large dams built in the US, and it created the second largest man-made lake in the country.

Unfortunately, in order to do so it filled up what was apparently an extremely beautiful canyon, full of birds and pretty rock formations. On the plus side, though, those rock formations extend out of the water (especially when the lake level is low), which is quite pretty too.

The lake goes back quite a distance, with a very irregular coastline

And to be fair, the canyon it filled up and turned into a lake used to be part of a huge inland sea (all that sandstone had to come from somewhere).

This is the part of the canyon that doesn’t have a lake in it

After leaving Lake Powell we headed north. We detoured into a red canyon for a little hiking along a creekbed, and a bit later on we stopped in Kanab, Utah at a drugstore soda fountain (so retro! Milkshakes!), and kept driving. After a few miles, we spotted a sign for sand dunes, and in keeping with my master plan to visit anything that looked interesting along the way while driving, we turned. We drove through the forest on narrow roads for miles, crossed multiple cattle guards, and drove through a herd of cattle grazing along the road. It wasn’t the sort of place you’d expect to find sand dunes, mostly just trees. We considered giving up, but we weren’t in a hurry, the drive was pleasant, and we were curious.

When I picture sand dunes, I think of this:

Thanks for the free stock photo, internet!

You know, little hills, usually on a beach, covered with dune grass and probably some sand fleas. Not the most interesting things, but since I knew there weren’t any large bodies of water in the area, I was curious what sort of a sand dune could exist.

I was in for a surprise.

Here are the ingredients for a magical desert in the middle of a forest:

  1. Lots of lots of sandstone a.k.a. former sand
  2. Lots of wind to erode said sandstone back into its original form
  3. A notch between mountains that funnels the wind (like a river going through a narrow canyon) and causes it to pick up speed
  4. A valley on the other side of the crack in the mountain, to give the wind a place to spread out and slow down
The wind blows around and erodes the sandstone, moves the sand around a bit, and then gets to the crack in the rock. As the wind speeds up, it gets strong enough to pick up the sand and carry it. When it gets to the valley and slows down, it drops it.
After a few thousand years of this, your 6,000-foot-high valley in the middle of the forest becomes a 3,000-plus-acre surprise desert playground in the middle of the forest. Welcome to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park:


I only had to walk about five feet out onto the sand before deciding to go barefoot. It was the softest sand I’ve ever felt, and it was a cloudy day so it was cool to the touch. I knew I definitely had to climb up to the top of the tallest dune. I didn’t realize that when I got to the top it would immediately become necessary to drop everything, lay down on my belly in the sand, and crawl around pretending to be in every desert scene in every possible movie. It was unavoidable, though, and it was SO MUCH FUN.

I also jumped off the top of the dune to see what would happen (I sank into the steep side of it, again, SO FUN), pretended to swim in the sand (EXCELLENT), and re-enacted two key scenes from the original Kung Fu (childhood dreams: fulfilled). I mean, with sand that looks like this, how could you NOT do these things?!

There are no sand fleas, in fact hardly any bugs at all. There are tiger beetles that are unique to the area, but I didn’t see any of those. The only bug I found was kinda cute, and had made a squiggly little trail in the sand:
I found a dune grass! This little guy found it too!
It was the best time I’ve had in ages, and it was 100% worth finding sand *everywhere* for the next three days.
Finally I dragged myself away from pretending to be Lawrence of Arabia and from performing entire sections of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and we continued on our way.
Our final destination for the day was a highlight of the trip, one I’d been looking forward to for weeks; a stay at Galaxy of Hatch, a tiny motorcycle-themed and biker-owned motel and 50’s-style diner in the town of Hatch, Utah (pop. 127). It was everything I wanted it to be and more. I mean, for real, read this and try not to choke up. It was perfect (and at breakfast the next day I met the owner, who is exactly how you’d picture him).
And did I mention that you don’t pay for your room when you reserve? You just send them a note and tell them when you’re coming, and they hold a room for you on the honor system. I mean. I just. This is magic. What year is this? I love it here.
We checked in at the diner and got our room key and the remote for the ceiling fan. The girl at the counter mentioned that dinner was served until 9pm and that there were no other restaurants open in town; she also assured us that we’d like our room, because it was very clean (I got the impression that she was possibly also the maid). She was right — the room was spotless, and cozy, and completely dedicated to the theme. I. LOVED. IT.

After settling in and giving me enough time to coo over every aspect of the room, we headed next door to the diner for dinner. It was everything I imagined. My mom attempted to order the pork loin roast:

Mom: “I’ll have the pork loin, please.”
Waitress: “No. It’s not good. Get something else.”
Mom: “Ok….. how about the salmon?”
Waitress: “No. We don’t have that.”
[like, ever? possibly ever.]
Mom: “…..the pulled pork sandwich?”
Waitress: “Yes. Ok. You’ll like that, it’s good.”

I went with chicken strips and fries. I also asked for a side of Ranch dressing and received an entire bottle, a practice I fully approve.

I love diners.

We slept well, and then went back to the diner for breakfast, which is included with the room. It was equally amazing, served by the owner in between chatting with a few bikers on their way through town. I didn’t want to leave, but we had more sights to see…

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