Voldemort, Heat, A Big Hole, and an Impressive Thermometer: Utah, Arizona, Vegas, and Baker, CA

It’s Monday afternoon, and as I write this we are flying down route Rt. 66 (now called I-15) with the air conditioner pushed to its very limit. It’s 108 degrees just outside of Baker, CA and we’re on our way to L.A., passing through the edge of Death Valley. Death as in nothing grows here. It’s dry and hot and we’re blasting the soundtrack to High School Musical for the zillionth time, and all of us our singing along at the tops of our lungs. 

Let’s catch up.


So, on Friday evening we arrived in Mapleton, Utah, just south of Provo, to visit my friend Tyler and his family. After ten hours of driving we were there at 11:50 PM, disappointed that leaving Boulder later than planned meant we’d arrived too late to join in any Harry Potter hoopla. But it turned out that Tyler and his daughter Johanna weren’t even home after all—they were in line at a Borders in Provo to purchase HP7. It was 30 minutes more driving, but we tore up the highway to join them. Here we are meeting Tyler at the store.

We were all exhausted, but even the kids were excited—as excited about Harry as Karen and I were. Even though it was about 12:20 A.M., it was still a mad house—crowds, costumes, lines. At about 1:15 A.M., we finally got our copy. 🙂 

We stayed with Tyler that night, and the next day we met the rest of his lovely family. Tyler, Lori, Jaelise, Johanna, John, and Josh were so kind to us, taking us in feeding us two home-cooked meals, and showing us around. They had more keyboards and other musical instruments than I could count, which makes them my kind of people! Then, we felt privileged to be shown the beautiful Provo LDS Temple, which was soon followed up with an ice cream at Brigham Young University. Thanks, Jensen family, for a much-needed family stop!

Utah is an impressive place. In parts dry and empty with desert brush and a whole lotta nothin’, but also filled with stunning mesas and canyons of red, red rock. In Cedar City we saw one of the loveliest sunsets ever. 


(Check out the sign in front of this gas station. We really aren’t in Massachusetts anymore.) 

So, it turned out that taking the side-trip to see the Grand Canyon added about five additional round-trip hours of driving to our already long journey from Cedar City, UT to Las Vegas. But in the end we figured, hey, it’s the Grand Canyon. Even if it’s just okay, how can we not go see it?

Well. Let me tell you. They don’t call it grand for nothing. 

I have to admit, I thought I’d ooh and ahh for ten minutes or so and then be ready to move on. As it turned out, I was far more affected by the canyon than I ever thought I would be. Looking down into it, I actually got choked up. The thing is huge. And far more impressive than I can relate here, or than my little camera could possibly capture. We were on the north rim, and we followed a long, long footpath that snaked across a dramatic finger of red rock that jutted over the canyon. There were points where we were standing a mile high over a sheer cliff that dropped straight down on either side of us. Thank god for the hand-rails. Anyway, I’ll stop gushing about the canyon. It was something special. ‘Nuff said.

A few months before we were married, Karen and I spent twenty-four fun-filled hours in Las Vegas. We’re not gamblers, but we were thrilled to run into a few Elvises, take in the Liberace museum, visit a couple of all-you-can eat buffets, and see a whole lotta other cool weird stuff. Coming back with three kids, however, was a whole nuther kettle of candelabras. I don’t think of myself as a particularly prudish guy or anything, but holy g-strings, Batman! Get that poor ad-girl something to wear! Didn’t her momma teach her how to act in front of children? Jeez. All I can say is, thank goodness our kids are sometimes completely oblivious to the world around them.

The NeverEnding Story

At the other end of Las Vegas, where actual people live actual lives, is a truly marvelous bookstore called The NeverEnding Story. They’ve only been around for a couple of years, but owners Kimberly Diehm and Jennifer Graves have already created a loyal following among teachers and readers of quality kid’s books. The store is colorful and comfortable, with high ceilings a terrific reading area at the back, which is where they served lemonade for my visit. Here I am with Jennifer and Kim, as well as bookseller Ani Tomasic, and Kim’s son Lukas. Ani, at sixteen-years-old, is working on becoming a famous film director someday—and after spending time talking with her, I truly believe she’ll make it happen. Thanks, guys, for a fun stop!
And a special hello to Judy the Librarian, who came across town just to see me. It was lovely to meet you! Thanks for your support, and a big wave to all your librarian friends! 🙂

And then we came to California…

A few minutes ago we stopped in the fabulously weird Baker, California—gateway to Death Vally and, for most, a mere pit stop on the road between Las Vegas and L.A. But Baker’s coolness runs deep. It’s the home not only of U.F.O. sightings, but also of the tallest thermometer in the world. It’s 134 feet tall, and when we were there it confirmed that it was hot like you read about. 108 degrees.

…but it’s a dry heat.


We’re still driving on I-15 … Next stop, Los Angeles! 🙂

LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)



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