First thing in the morning I went to Edge of the Cedars, which is a fantastic museum and a pretty interesting site as well. One of the kivas has been reconstructed and you can go into it. I spent pretty much all morning there.
When I was done at Edge of the Cedars, I took a few pictures of Blanding then headed south. My first stop was at Westwater Ruin, which is a cliff dwelling just south of Blanding. It’s pretty obscure and seems to be virtually unknown outside of Blanding and the immediate area, and there are no signs for it at all. Indeed, it took a while for me to find it. It was worth it, though.
After Westwater, I continued south to Utah Highway 95 and headed west. There’s a bunch of cool stuff along 95. I stopped at Butler Wash, which is an interesting cliff dwelling, then at Mule Canyon, which is an open site, contemporaneous with Chaco, that has been excavated, stabilized and partially reconstructed. There’s a lot to see there and it’s right off the highway, but it doesn’t seem to be very well-known or frequently visited.
Next up was Natural Bridges National Monument. The bridges were interesting in their way, but I was perhaps more intrigued by Horsecollar Ruin, which is visible from an overlook along the loop road. Like many cliff dwellings in southeastern Utah, it shows signs of both Mesa Verde and Kayenta influence, and it also has that weird horsecollar thing, a pair of oddly shaped rooms which are unique as far as I know.
From Natural Bridges I headed northwest, crossed the Colorado River at Hite, and went through the rugged canyon country up to Hanksville, where I stopped for gas and took some pictures. From there I headed west to Bicknell, where I got a room for the night.
This time the story doesn’t end there, however. I noticed when I checked in that the motel had a laundry room that was quite near my room, so I figured this might be a good night to do some laundry. I went in there and it looked decent enough, but it didn’t have a vending machine for detergent, which I need. The motel’s restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays for some reason, so I was going to need to go out to eat anyway, so I figured I’d stop somewhere while I was out and pick up some detergent, then come back to the motel and do laundry.
Sounds simple enough, right? Ah, but this is small-town Utah, so it’s never that simple. I left the motel around 7:45 pm, and as I drove through Bicknell I noticed that all of the convenience stores were closed. I had noticed this to some extent in Blanding too, but it wasn’t as universal there as it was here. There was literally no place in Bicknell to buy anything that late in the evening.
Now, Bicknell’s a very small town, so I decided I might have more luck if I expanded my search to Torrey, which is eight miles east of Bicknell and which I had come through on the way in. I drove out there but found the same thing: all the stores were closed. There were some restaurants open, however, which was not the case in Bicknell, so I figured I could at least stop somewhere to eat once I finally found some detergent.
Not having had any luck to the east, I decided to try to the west, and went as far as Loa, ten miles from Bicknell, but nothing was open there either. More disconcertingly, as I was doing this back and forth among these towns I kept noticing that more and more of the restaurants that had been open when I first went by began closing. I eventually gave up on finding any detergent and decided to just wait on laundry until I was in a larger community with more services, but by that point it had been an hour already and all of the restaurants in all three towns were closed. I had to go all the way to a place east of Torrey, which was the only open restaurant anywhere in the area, but I did finally manage to eat dinner.
So what’s the deal with this? It’s clearly some weird Utah thing, since I’ve never encountered it anywhere else, and I think that points the way to the answer. Most small towns in most parts of the country have restaurants that are open late because they have bars, which are open late as a matter of course, and some of those bars serve food. Small towns in Utah, however, don’t have bars, so their restaurants close whenever they feel dinner time is over, and they apparently feel it’s over by 8:00.
This is not, incidentally, because of legal restrictions; Utah is not actually dry, and while it does have a tangle of onerous regulations about selling alcohol, they’re not really any more onerous or ridiculous than those in many other states. There are plenty of bars in Salt Lake, and, indeed, the place where I ate tonight serves beer (and was pretty busy when I showed up).
Rather, the issue is one of demand. In a small Utah town like Bicknell, everyone is Mormon, and most people take that very seriously, so the potential clientele for a bar is extremely limited. Larger and more cosmopolitan areas have different demographics, of course, and areas that are heavily tourism-dependent are in a different situation, but in general there’s just not much demand for places that serve alcohol and/or stay open late at night. It works for them, I guess, but it can be frustrating for someone like me.