Ok, so I know I boisterously proclaimed my love for "the mountains, the mountains" in my first ever post, and I stand by my love for those chunks of earth that point skyward, but there's a new babe in town and I'm smitten.
Let me back up because this wasn't exactly love at first sight, more of a budding romance.
In the weeks leading up to our Moab trip my anticipation and expectations were incredibly (unreasonably) high. Coming from the PNW I am accustomed to being surrounded by lush, wild forests with cascading waterfalls and mossy boulders. I had this idea in my head that I would step onto the red sand of Southern Utah and become a born again desert worshiper. That wasn't exactly the case for me.
My first venture into this foreign land started at Corona Arch. The Jurassic-era rock formations were at least 80 billion shades of red with vertical dark streaks slicing through them. They were smooth in appearance but gritty to the touch. The shrubbery was unforgiving to the flesh on my shins and ankles. Do you remember picking up wet sand on the beach and letting it slowly fall through your fingers, forming clumpy, rounded pillars of sand beneath your hand? That is exactly how I imagine the large towers of sandstone were formed. The untamed landscape was interesting to me, and of course fucking BEAUTIFUL. Though I didn't get a sense of homecoming that I originally anticipated my appreciation began to grow.
We cruised over to Arches National Park to catch sunset at Delicate Arch. It felt like a "can't be missed" attraction because, after all, it has been staring at me from every Utah license plate for the last three months. To be perfectly honest, the seemingly never-ending line of tourists we encountered was a total turnoff. I walked towards the final destination of our hike with a sense of disappointment as we dodged other onlookers. Then, just as I rounded the corner of a well-worn trail cut into the side of the rock, a spiny ferocious bolt of lightning darted across the apocalyptic sky. I was delighted to see folks turn on their heels and head, wisely, for the parking lot. After enjoying the light show we headed back ourselves with light rain falling around us, using the moon to light our path. Alright, Southern Utah, you have my attention.
I greeted the next morning and conceded that maybe I had built this place up too much. It's a beautiful hunk of land, no doubt, but what was I really expecting? Some kind of awakening? Maybe you really can't take a gal out of the mountains. I had accepted that I would be appreciative of, but not infatuated with, the desert, and off to Canyonlands I went.
As we crawled along the winding paved road perched atop a, by stark contrast, undomesticated sprawling land, I found myself referencing Tombstone and Westworld in my mind (actually I think I referenced it aloud as I quoted the best of Dr. Robert Ford). The dramatic landscape of the plunging canyons was so alien to me it seemed more likely that I was staring at a set backdrop than our actual earth. We cruised down a short, one mile trail watching lizards scurry from our footsteps and ravens gliding overhead. I sat on the ledge of one of the many, many canyons, I'm talking canyons ON TOP of canyons, that make up Canyonlands and stared off into the distance wistfully, mimicking a pose I'd seen an eye-roll-worthy amount of times on adventure Instagram posts. My satirical approach led to the profound moment I experienced while sitting at a safe distance from a thousand plus foot drop off. I admired the way the Green River cut away at the land with no motive behind it's route other than to proceed forward. I marveled at the rock "islands" that rose from the ground like pillars of an ancient Greek coliseum. I shared the moment with the gentle breeze that passed through the Utah junipers and the curious chipmunks that darted along the rock's edge.
Our next stop was the Colorado River. For the last two days every time our path neared this muddy body of water I pressed my face against the car window like a child lusting after gumdrops in a candy shop. Finally we pulled into the parking lot of an access point. I walked hurriedly toward the water, so much so that I'm sure my family assumed I was faking excitement to submerge in the water as a cover for a bathroom break. My husband and dogs hit the water at the same moment as I did but we had very different, very telling responses. The reaction of my family was to retreat while mine was to dive in headfirst. The current was rapid, the temperature freezing. I welcomed these sensations and absorbed them into my soul. I dove in again. The icy water beat against my eardrums and the muck of the river floor embedded itself under my fingernails. I popped my head out only long enough to admire the riverbank and red rock towering above me. My husband looked at me with curious amazement as he shivered on the boat ramp. He saw what I felt, complete freedom. It took him several tries but he was finally able to convince me to clamber up the shore and part ways with the Colorado.
As I walked away, throwing a few last glances over my shoulder, I could still taste the mud on my lips. The Colorado River was my desert baptism.
I spent desert day three completing the Devils Garden 8 mile trek. I toggled between silently sobbing and squealing gleefully. Once I stopped searching for my 'aha' moment, I found it.
I have read before that we can love a place, a moment, so much that we leave piece of our heart right there. I can't wait to visit the piece that I left on the banks of the Colorado River.