Ten months is a really long time to be anywhere, especially home, when all you want to do is travel. The first seven months were doable, enjoying exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior, the cities of Duluth and Minneapolis, attending events and checking out local spots with my friends, and most importantly – spending all the time I could with my family. But when winter moved in, my happiness moved out. Some people are just affected too much by the weather, and my body and mind just hate the cold dreariness of winters up north. So needless to say, when my job ended and I could take off for a month or so, I was ECSTATIC to hit the road again!
I was so happy to be road tripping out west again, that I did not mind driving through Iowa and Nebraska (if you’ve ever driven through them, you know this is a big deal). Although the drive wasn’t boring because I had to dodge the many semis drifting into my lane or pulling out at inopportune moments to pass an equally slow semi. But I survived and stayed in North Platte, NE my first night, meandering over to Buffalo Bill’s 1886 ranch home for a few pictures. I finally got myself a legit camera, so I can share high quality photos with you all.
When I hit the road on Wednesday morning, I witnessed the blue moon/blood moon solar eclipse, although at the time I thought there were clouds in front of the moon – whoops! Pretty cool start to the day. I spent half the day driving through all of Colorado, swinging past Denver and into the mountains. I love checking out all the mountain and ski towns along the way, making a pit stop in my favorite little city of Georgetown. Although I enjoyed weaving in and out of mountain peaks and over the Colorado River, I was eager to get to one of my favorite states of all time – Utah.
I arrived to Moab, UT early in the afternoon, checking into my favorite budget motel – The Inca Inn – and then headed over to Arches National Park. The visitor services associate was not nearly excited as I was about my purchase of the America the Beautiful pass (the key to all the national parks), but agreed it was cool I was getting my second pass from the park that made me fall in love with national parks. I stopped at a few short trails, including The Windows arches, eventually making my way to The Devil’s Garden. This is a loop trail with 7 arches, and an option to take a primitive trail labeled as “difficult hiking.” I enjoyed a few miles of it, checking out the Landscape Arch at 306 feet long (one of the largest natural spans in the world), the Wall Arch, and the Navajo Arch. The trail had some rock scrambling and was an enjoyable first hike. I lost track of time exploring though, and had to run back to my car to find a spot to catch the sunset.
The next morning I woke early and headed over to my favorite park for views, Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky. I greeted the sunrise with yoga and meditation on the edge of the canyon – with the best balance I’ve had so far. I inspected rocks with strange circle indents, including a marking that may be remnants of an underwater shell. Next I headed over to an overlook, being greeted by a female bighorn sheep at the base of the trail. She looked at me, I looked at her. She kept munching on a delectable piece of shrubbery, and didn’t mind as I inched closer for pictures and observation. I hung out with my new friend for ten minutes, and then headed to the viewpoint for photos.
Canyonlands really is awe-some, taking my breath away because of how beautiful and vast it is. Standing on the edge of the cliff, I could see over 100 miles away. I soaked it all in, and then decided I wanted to hike to the bottom of the canyon to experience it from both angles. I decided on the Lathrop Trail, a 13 mile round trip through a grassland prairie, over large rock, and then down the mesa/canyon. The first few miles of the hike were easy, passing through the grassland shrubbery and walking over beautiful, wavy rocks. The rocks in the part of Canyonlands reminded me of Utah’s most famed park, Zion National Park. Eventually the hike leads to the edge of the mesa, and begins the descent down the 1500+ foot canyon.
The switchbacks down the canyon were extremely physically demanding, as they are part of a giant rock pile. Each step must be carefully placed, as the “stairs” are just staggered rocks winding back and forth. I can honestly say the descent and ascent were more difficult than my hike in the Grand Canyon. This trail is not frequented often and is very remote and natural. It was easy to feel like the first explorer of this part of the park, as the silence was deafening. I realized I was the only person in the world in this very spot, and the closest human to me was several miles away, as no-one else was on this trail. Although it was a freeing thought, it made me realize the extreme importance to not get injured or lost since no one was there to save me.
While making my way down the canyon, I spotted a few caves. Curious, I planned to check them out when I reached the bottom. When I got to the turn in the path where I could follow the rock piles the correct way, or go check out the caves, I spotted a pile of fur and bones at the bottom of a creek bed. Closer examination found that they were the remains of a male bighorn sheep, and the smell of rot and buzzing flies made me think it must be a few days old. Until this point, I was enjoying being alone. But. When you find the remains of a powerful animal in a place where you’re vulnerable, it’s not enjoyable anymore. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I looked all around me, now imagining what must be living in those caves – a cougar? a group of wild people? a giant tarantula? What even lives in this part of Utah anyways? Needless to say, I continued looking over my shoulder for the remainder of the hike.
I looked at the time and concluded I should head back, because I always try to be close to my car well before sunset. And if I were to say, get injured and have to drag myself back to my car, it’s good to have a few extra hours of wiggle-time. I plan for everything. I took my final photos of the tall, steep mesa walls, the vast desert leading to the Green River, and the mountains and rock formations I could see way in the distance, and headed back up the canyon. Now, as I was headed down the switchbacks, one of my hip-flexors started aching. It acts up every now and then, so I decided it wouldn’t be an issue. Then my other hip-flexor started having shooting pain every few steps down. I’m familiar with this kind of pain, and decided I could hike through it. When I was headed up the canyon though, it became difficult to lift one of my legs, as the hip-flexor was done for. I reminded myself I had two options: either force myself to hike through it, or spend the night in the canyon with whatever ate that sheep. So. Up the canyon I went, thinking about all the horrific things that could live in that cave, forcing myself to keep moving.
Finally I reached the top of the canyon, hurray! But then I remembered, I still had about 3 more miles before I reach my car. Somehow I made it over the giant rocks and to the prairie, but at this point my legs are screaming in pain. Have you ever seen a track or long-distance runner wipe out, and hobble the last stretch to the finish line? I decided that was my best bet, so I did the most pathetic jog of my life through the last mile and a half back to my car. I collapsed into my front seat, lifting one leg into the vehicle and then the other, just like my grandma has to do when her knee is acting up. I sat there for a while before driving to an overlook, where I drug myself to the fence only to realize I had a better view already on my hike, and it was time to go back to the motel. After showering and eating a good meal, my legs decided to work again. Today the hip-flexors are a little sore, but I’m in much better shape than I thought I would be.
Lessons learned: 1. Listen to your body when it says, “That hurts” 2. Hip-flexors are stupid 3. My stubbornness and determination will get me places, like out of a canyon and into my car.
Although this hike was the most physically challenging one so far, it was my favorite. I learned valuable things about the limitations of my body and strength of my mind, and I am still so in love with Canyonlands. I don’t want to tell everyone how absolutely breath-taking this park is, because part of the beauty is that it isn’t a zoo like the more popular parks, but it’s important for people to experience places to understand the importance of preserving them. On that note, I am headed to Bears Ear National Monument, one of the protected lands on the chopping block so our country can mine more resources. I want to see the natural and ancient beauty we’ll be losing in the name of industry.
Canyonlands – Island in the Sky