Utah is not like anywhere else. It goes on and on forever in a seemingly endless mass of rock that lies in exposed layers before your eyes. Red, white, black, brown, yellow layers representing millions of years in earth's history. Making one very aware of the blip in time our own existence represents. I found myself wondering if our period in time would be a rainbow stripe of plastic a millions years from now. Instead of the Holocene period maybe it should be called the Plasticene period?
A 2 week excursion of exploration and for me, image hunting, began with 14 hours of driving overnight through the California and Nevada desert putting us Monday morning the 26th of April in Zion National Park. We were here to get the best views of rock, water and sky that we could manage and in Zion the view from Angel's Landing is just one of those. Like a lot of spectacular out of the way views this one comes with some hard work to get there. The last half of the hike is on a narrow fin of rock with sheer cliff drops on either side. Just you and the rock and a bit of nerve. The payout at the end worth it with breathtaking views in very direction. This is what we had come for.
From Zion we continued to Bryce Canyon National Park where a 2 day backcountry hike on the Under the Rim trail became one of the more intense backpacking experiences I've ever had. Day 1 was a casual 10 mile hike through wide canyons, sand dunes and chasms where earth was just swept away in what must have been colossal landslides. A hoodoo is what you call the formations that are characteristic of Bryce. Rocks perched atop yet more columns of rock with names like The Hatshop and the Pink Cliffs.
It was all quite quaint until day 2 when Bryce decided it wanted to remind us who was boss in the wild. With 13 miles ahead of us and a snow storm coming in we had a lot of ground to cover. That was fine but when we discovered that the southern end of the park was under considerably more snow than anticipated we knew then it wasn't going to be easy. Hiking our way through snow drifts that had all but swallowed the trail up we were depending completely on the Topo map. A quick exit through an adjoining trail was abandoned upon realizing that digging through snow while on steep cliffs was probably not the best idea. The short way out could cost us our lives. It was going to be the long way round. I'd put my camera away. I wasn't relaxed enough to shoot. Besides the wind was gusting at about 35mph on the ridge I was standing on. I was trying to stay on my feet. Photos weren't important at that time and I was a little concerned. We'd still 4 miles to go and most of it through snow clambering up slopes to get a lay of the land as we progressed. It's times like this when energy is all but depleted that you know you've no choice but to give it every ounce of what you've got left. It was time to dig deep.
Times like this too when you realize the importance of a good experienced wilderness hiking partner. And I had one in my friend Miles. He drove the pace and never once made me think we wouldn't get out that evening. A half hour before sunset we walked out of the wild and into the carpark at 9115ft at Rainbow Point with a storm on our heels. When it snowed on me that night I didn't care. We were safe in our sleeping bags and tent . Like Yvon Chouinard says 'It's not an adventure until something goes wrong".
The rest of the trip took us through the Grand Staircase of the Escalante where I made new friends and ran into old ones by the side of the road, Carol and Mike from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Our group was expanding.Together we explored and clambered around some of our first slot canyons like Peek a Boo and Spooky in the Escalante. Spaces so narrow you could rub your nose off the rock as you squeezed through sideways.We hiked through valleys where Anasazi Indian ruins surrounded us. We scrambled up scree slopes and jumped across streams to get better views of Indian petroglyphs. We stood in awe of waterfalls and rock walls.
In Capitol Reef National Park we ran up the Golden Throne trail so we'd catch the rock in time for sunset. We drew attention to ourselves when the RV campers, mostly retirees wondered how we had rigged a shower station using our solar showers and our tent flys. We mused over whether people had forgotten how to really camp. With work commitments to stay apace of, my personal challenge somedays was finding internet. For Carol and Mike it was not making a mess when you filled the tank of the camper with vegetable oil. For Miles it was figuring out how he was going to get his meat for the day when dinner was vegetarian.
In the San Rafael Swell a vast area of wilderness in the Northest corner of the Colorado Plateau, a seemingly endless landscape of canyons, sky and buttes was upon us. If you want a perfect wide open sky with a few puffy clouds chances are you'll find it in Utah. Beer is different. You won't see billboards for beer ads and chances are when you go to find some alcohol to purchase you're scavenging around in the back of a gift shop buying wine covertly over a counter. My wine habit had gone underground.
Time always runs out. Goodbyes to friends I was never good at. I'll see you in the Tetons, I promised as I drove away choked up with tears and the desert dust blew in the car window. With that we left the Swell behind and headed to Moab.
Arches National Park is a veritable mind boggling experience of natural arches in nature. Rock is architecture everywhere in Utah with formations that look like temples, fortresses and castles but sights such as Delicate arch and Landscape arch are like Gaudi in Barcelona.
Just as our trip began it ended by driving all night through the Nevada desert till we reached the mountains of California and watched as the sun brightened a new Sierra Nevada day. Almost 16 hrs after we had left Moab and the red rock of Utah behind, we were back in the San Francisco bay. Experiences always have a purpose but sometimes the purpose doesn't reveal itself fully until you've embarked upon it. I said goodbye to Miles, closed the door to my apartment and thought about it. The purpose of this was to remind me that nothing is ever a coincidence.