A Scrape in Utah

I got my driver's license in 1979, the summer after I graduated from high school. I was always ill at ease with driving. It seemed beyond my capabilities, somehow. I never drove that summer, and in the fall I went to college in New York, where a car was thankfully unnecessary. I lived there for twenty-one years, and in that span I only drove once. This was at the New Jersey shore; some friends of mine went for a walk, and got caught in a summer downpour, and asked me to pick them up at the supermarket. I drove to the supermarket, but I was afraid I wouldn't be able to negotiate the parking lot, so I parked on a quiet avenue several blocks away. My friends got tired of waiting for me and I found them walking down the street, drenched.

Recently I went on vacation with CN. We decided to go to the Southwest and drive around, looking at birds, flowers and Indian ruins and rock paintings. We decided that CN would do all the driving, but I would take over in remote areas where there was little chance of encountering other traffic. I drove at a bird sanctuary and in the Saguaro cactus park, without event.

In Utah, we really wanted to go to the Barrier Canyon, where there are some ancient Indian paintings. I drove along a winding dirt road for an hour before arriving at the canyon entrance. It was terribly hot and we didn't have the recommended amount of water, but we descended (on foot) anyway. When you get to the bottom of the canyon, there's a long dry riverbed, with the path to the paintings marked off by little piles of stones. You walk for a couple of hours and then arrive at a great stone wall covered with images - humanoid figures, fifty or sixty of them, in a broken row about 200 feet wide. They are painted in brownish red, like dried blood, and their shapes are simple and shroud-like. They are legless and give the impression of drifting helplessly toward the sky. Most are faceless, but a few have big vacant eyes. Some have horns or antennae or skinny arms.

CN and I left the canyon towards sundown. I drove again, over CN's objections. Birds and rabbits kept leaping in front of the car, making us jumpy. Periodically a fat insect would snap against the windshield, and all the time I had to avoid rocks in the road, which seemed to have miraculously multiplied from the trip in. A herd of cows ambled into our path. I enjoyed the spurt of panicked energy they had when I honked the horn at them.

Now it was completely dark. One of the many rocks in the road was a brick-like fellow, about eight inches tall, and standing improbably on its end. CN pointed it out to me, with a yelp, but I thought I could glide right over it. There was a horrible scraping sound. CN got out and looked under the car; the rock had bent some piece of metal on the underside of the car, making a jagged flap that hovered just inches from the road surface. We still had a long stretch of dirt road to travel, and many more panicked animals. When we got to the highway CN started crying with relief.

We drove around for another week. Occasionally the metal flap would scrape the road, but only when we went over especially pronounced bumps or dips. All in all we put 3200 miles on the car. We returned it to the Denver outfit that had rented it to us, but they didn't notice the damage. In any case, they never charged us for it.


- Jim Trainor