A Tale of Two Motels

A Tale of Two Motels

A Story by JohnL

In drama, much maligned, often seedy but in reality, a place of convenience and often pleasure (in the nicest possible way, of course). Here are some happy memories.


Red River Valley Motel - Rifle, Colorado.

It was our second time in USA. On our first visit, we had seen Boston and Cape Cod. Wonderful, but this time was to be different. For "high sand dunes" read "Rocky Mountains" and for "sea-shore" read ski slopes"

We landed at what must be one of the world's most beautiful airports, Denver, with its pinnacles of white fabric seeming to emulate the back- ground of the Rockies and were soon heading north for Estes Park and the start of the 'Rocky Mountain Ridge Trail', designated one of America's most elevated and scenic routes. It was closed due to early snow! So, we diverted onto Route 7, also scenic, but to us an anticlimax. The snow thickened as we dropped down towards a road we had not intended to travel, and were forced to take Highway 70 across toward Utah instead of the less busy roads we had planned. Still fine scenery, but never the same when seen from a fast, busy, arterial, six lane highway, is it?

We needed a bed for the night, and made it to a small town called Rifle, where we found the Red River Motel, nothing fancy, but it was next door to a Chinese Restaurant, which had to be good. It was, and we returned to the Motel feeling a lot better, and ready to plan some changes having missed the first of the planned treats. We had never before stayed in an American Motel, so the Pick-up trucks and the burly travelling workers, tourists, and mysterious "I wonder what they're doing" types, were all new to us, as was the seemingly laid back attitude of people who came and went as though it was home. New sounds, new accents, new atmosphere were all around us. All rather ordinary really, I suppose, but to us, fascinating and never before experienced.

So why do I choose to write about it? Because here was planned the most fascinating holiday we had ever taken. We were only one day out, but for some reason changed much of our itinerary, quite unnecessarily, it seems in retrospect. We had a full week in Salt lake City, and then overcame the loss of the 'Rockies Ridge' with a week in the Wasatch, South Utah, gasping for breath at times at 11,300 feet, walking a lot in the Autumn - sorry - Fall colours, flying over the Grand and Bryce Canyons, and others in a 4 hour flight in a 4 seater Cessna, and so much more.

Having paid on entry, there was nothing to stop us moving on as soon as we woke, so before dawn, on a morning when it took us 20 minutes to clear the ice off the car, we were on route 13, dead straight for 36 miles and into the dawn. There was a lot of road-kill, and lots of scavengers as we drove into the dawn, the road, though straight, interestingly undulating, and so devoid of traffic, it was a joy.

On we journeyed, through Meeker, Rangely, (where we were introduced to the pleasures of service station 'free coffee' and fast food), Dinosaur and eventually Park City and Salt Lake City UT. We were to have 5 weeks of this itinerant freedom, to wander, using motels in Fort Stockton, Texas, Santa Fé, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and some which appeared out of nowhere. Heaven only knows where they were.

None however gave us the atmosphere of that first, ordinary, comfortable 'Red River Motel', Rifle, which 'fired' our imagination and where the carefully prepared plans were redrafted, albeit sketchily, and the new wonderful tour planned. What a great country America is!!


Whispering Sands Motel at Hanksville, UT - Oct 5, 1996

A Motel is more than just somewhere to lay your head at night, rather it the place where, resting at the end of the day, your mind reflects upon the scenery and events of the day's driving. If it has a fine sounding name which conjures up pictures of the desert stretching into infinity, with blowing sand wreathing across its face, then so much the better. When planning the holiday and the route we should take, for some unknown reason Hanksville loomed large in my imagination. Not a grand name you may say but "Whispering Sands", well that's different.

The roads over which we had driven that day were some of the most beautiful and dramatic that I had ever taken. In fact, my notes for the day say "It must be that route 12 is one of the world's most scenic highways . . . . A wealth of viewing from recognised viewpoints was amazing but the whole journey, even as you drove was spectacularly beautiful". As we drove further, the scenery changed and became the Capitol Reef and we took a right turn onto Highway 24. What had been high and verdant became sparser as we entered the rocky bastions of the Capitol Reef National Park. Now followed a 70 mile drive along the Fremont River following a canyon in desert conditions with a wall of rock on either side of us configured into shapes which led my notes to use statements such as "Walls of Jerusalem, pillars, cathedrals, cities, ramparts, and fortresses". Then, behold, a sign saying, "Whispering Sands Motel, Clean, New rooms". At that stage we had 26 Miles to drive to reach Hanksville and we were driving through the legendary country of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. You could well imagine it too, as you drove through this land of cliffs, rocks and rivers. Reaching Hanksville we had to drive right through the town, nothing like my mental picture, to reach the Motel which truly was new and externally, at any rate looked very clean. It stood behind a large parking area of rough desert sand and opposite a ‘cafi’ which rejoiced in the name of "Blondie's Cafi". The office was in the charge of a rather ample young man who happily let me inspect the room which turned out also to be "clean and new" so in we moved. Oh the wonders of modern science as he tried to swipe my Mastercard, and had to ring 'Auntie' who was really in charge to find out how to work the machine. It took me half an hour just to book in.

Time for reflection as we lay looking out at a clear desert sky filling with the rich colours of evening and thinking how wonderful some of the views we had overlooked that day would be in this rich light. We had passed through Torrey earlier and remembered with sadness the sunken 'Torrey Canyon', an early super-tanker which had discharged oil all over South West England. I had never dreamed that one day I should look over the canyon which gave a name to that ill-fated ship. Later we looked out over a vast area of the Capitol Reef National Park and what I took to be the Glen canyon in the distance. This was where I could see in one panorama, almost every type of terrain short of arctic. Mountains, rock, pasture, forest, river and lake, vast distance and space with wonderful cloudscapes spread before us. I saw it all again in my mind's eye, from the simple motel room in which I now lay 'reflecting' and had to rise and brew tea to help me through the wonder of it all.

Food beckoned and we went up the road to a campsite shop and restaurant for what turned out to be a mediocre meal, returning on foot to the 'Whispering Sands, by starlight for a good night's sleep.

An early rise, the sky still a dark, irridescent blue with a stripe of amber to the east, frost on the car and 'Blondie's Cafi' inviting us from across the road. Looking back at the Whispering Sands, a car stood outside every room proving that we were lucky to arrive early. Behind it a backdrop of strangely shaped rock formations upon which the rising sun was working its magic with a constantly changing panoply of colour and texture. Deep blues and purples were drifting into oranges and reds then on into pinks and the palest of blues, while the earlier stripe of amber was now radiant gold. All this, reflecting on the rather mundane face of our Motel was transforming it into great architecture. What a wonderful setting for a breakfast which would last us all day and a memory that would last us for life.

As we rode . . sorry! drove out into the new day, we were Butch and Sundance, but not planning to dive the car from a cliff into the river beneath. Soon we had cliffs, escarpments, coloured sand all around us, now on Route 95.

I quote the Rough Guide to the USA: "Route 95, underrated in its scenic beauty". I have no quarrel with that.


© 2010 JohnL

Author's Note

Not meant to be great literature - just a bit of objective description with a subjective insertion or two to keep it interesting.

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I take it you didn't end up robbing any banks in any Andean towns? Though I suppose that would also make for some interesting observations...

The first motel and your descriptions of the snow have made me want to go skiing. It's been far too long! Even thought the USA doesn't really appeal to me as a travel destination, you kept me reading and maybe piqued a little interest in me so that's something

Posted 13 Years Ago

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A very informative journalistic piece. I enjoyed reading it, I like how you have limited it to an "objective description with a subjective insertion or two to keep it interesting." I believe this keeps a higher degree of honesty in the writing especially if the reader has a base knowledge of the subject. I haven't visited the exact location you mention and this piece bought back some delightful memories. Keep it coming.

Posted 13 Years Ago

Having driven down that particular stretch of straight road (spoken of the in first section) with my own family, this piece brought forth fond memories; that airport at Denver is truly awe-inspiring indeed. Nothing like the usual journal entry, this possessed some poetry and the pleasant tone of a wandering observer... with a fair companion. Nicely done.

Posted 13 Years Ago

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4 Reviews
Added on January 14, 2010
Last Updated on January 14, 2010
Tags: motels, touring, scenery, travel



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