Ultimate Utah...at Last

Saturday, April 22, 2017 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Ultimate Utah, Day 1:  Home to Flagstaff, AZ

Since we drove across Utah's midsection on I-70 in 2012, taking in one spectacular scene after another, we have been yearning to return and see more of the state we gushingly called Be-UTAH-ful!  Finally we have carved out three weeks of what we hope will be an epic road trip through some of the state's best natural offerings.

With all the chaos afflicting Atlanta's work week traffic after last month's bridge collapse on I-85, we opted to fly in and out of the city on weekend days.  Since we moved north of Atlanta last summer, we find ourselves giving much more consideration to airport commute time than we did when we lived just half an hour south of the facility that continues to be the world's busiest airport.  This morning's trip was relatively smooth and we arrived in just under an hour.

Inside the terminal lines were delightfully short and we breezed through the TSA Pre✓ line to the document review station.  Four agents were on duty at four desks.  One agent was checking passenger documents; three were socializing with each other and ignoring passengers waiting in line in front of them.
These "innovation lanes" installed by Delta are meant to speed the bag screening process.  (photo from CNN)
After our documents were reviewed, we had our introduction to the automated bag screening conveyor belts installed in just two lanes.  Though we've flown numerous times since the advent of this "improvement," we had never been through these particular lanes.  Obviously bewildered, we and other passengers tried to read the directions and figure out the proper procedure.  To assist us, TSA agents working the line impatiently barked orders to read the signs, adding to the confusion and stress.

Finally done with our most unpleasant experience to date with Atlanta's notoriously rude TSA agents, we retreated down the tall escalators to the transportation mall for a ride to concourse A.  As we boarded the train, a burly TSA agent got on behind us, taking up position at the grab pole next to ours and giving us a close look at the embroidered arm patch on his uniform.
"Integrity.  Team Spirit.  Innovation" the insignia promoted.  Wait, what?!?  How about "Protection.  Security.  Service"?  Foolishly, we thought those were the missions of the Transportation Security Administration.  We can't speak to the integrity of the agents we encountered today, but we saw how incompetently they dealt with innovation in their failure to assist passengers in learning the new bag screening system.  On the other hand, we can certainly attest to their tireless efforts to promote team spirit as they chatted happily with each other while pesky, unnecessary passengers waited to be helped interfere with the agents' mandated focus on developing camaraderie in their ranks.
Passing time
Thankfully, Delta's flight crew and passengers were congenial, and we're happy to report that no passenger was hit with a stroller or dragged off the plane before (or after) departure.  The four-hour flight went by surprisingly quickly and we were soon in Phoenix boarding a bus to the rental car center.  Yes, Phoenix.  Since our journey will begin in southern Utah, Phoenix was the most logical jumping off point, giving us an opportunity to drop by the Grand Canyon again for the first time in some 30 years.
Our 2017 Nissan Rogue
When booking our rental car last week, we discovered that Enterprise had a rate one-third of that offered by Hertz and Avis.  They made us an offer we couldn't refuse, so it was with a bit of trepidation that we went to the Enterprise desk this afternoon to check in and pick up our keys.  Picturing a 2009 beater like one we rented in a tiny Alaska town last year, Ken nervously asked the agent "How many miles are on the car?"  Not to worry.  We were given the keys for a 2017 Nissan Rogue with just 5,400 miles under its belts.

We drove away wondering how they could make a profit renting at less than $20/day.  As we examined the car's features (and lack of same), we realized that it matches its no frills rental rate.  It is a pretty quiet ride though and promises 30 or more mpg on the highway.  Too bad they didn't spring for some shock absorbers, but at this price, you can't expect to have everything.  And, hey, they did include four tires.  Let's not get greedy!
As we drove north on I-17, we were happy to be back in saguaro country, even briefly.  There's just something about those big anthropomorphic fellows we find appealing.  It wasn't long before we were too far north and the elevation too high for the heat-loving cacti to survive and we left the desert behind, entering evergreen forests.  By the time we reached Flagstaff, some 150 miles north of Phoenix, the temperature had kindly dropped 30 degrees to the mid-sixties.

Arriving at the Hilton Garden Inn, we belatedly recognized it as the place we had stayed when we passed through the city in the winter of 2013.  Snow was falling that night but not this one.  After a quick dinner at the predictable Olive Garden nearby, we retired to rest up for the Grand Canyon tomorrow.


    •  Started in:  Atlanta
    •  Ended in:  Flagstaff
    •  Miles:  1,752
    •  Weather:  Clear, 65° to 96°
    •  Polite and helpful TSA agents:  1
    •  TSA agents encountered:  27
    •  Saguaros:  6,241
    •  Elk on the road:  0, despite numerous warning signs

Loved:  Seeing our friends, the saguaros, again.

Lacking:  Competence in Atlanta's TSA crew.

Learned:  Enterprise is renting cheap!  Thanks, big E.