Miles Today: 86.4
Total Miles: 11,990
Days on the Road: 200
You Know Those Rainbows That Are, Like, Double Rainbows?
It's Like One State, Only Four
* By the by.. Mars will be as close to Earth as it has been in something a zillion years on August 27th. They say that with a decent telescope, you'll be able to see the polar ice caps. Cool.
Hello? Hello? ... Hello?
We briefly considered skipping Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and heading directly for Bryce Canyon and Zion, a more direct route, and one which would have mercifully shaved a day or two off of our time driving through the hottest part of the country at the hottest time of the year in a car that doesn't like the heat, no sir, not one bit. We made the right decision though, sacrificing our bodies and our car to visit two of the most spectacular parks in the country.
Now before we get a lot of email, we're not saying the other parks aren't cool, we're not saying the desert is better than the mountains, or that Utah is in any other way interesting at all. We're just living in the moment, people. As far as we're concerned, this is the greatest place on earth.
First stop, Canyonlands. The word 'otherworldly' is thrown around a lot in these parts, and with good reason. We can't imagine that walking around Mars* would be much more bizarre. No matter how long you look at these landscapes, it never really quite registers that it's real. It's like walking around in a surrealist painting. Time seems to stand completely still in the canyons, with nothing moving, not a whiff of breeze, nothing. Maybe a tiny lizard scampers across a rock as you pass by, or one or two birds ride the thermals, circling in the deepest blue, most cloud-free sky you've ever seen. The pictures here, they're not juiced up, the sky is really that blue.
Canyonlands is divided into three distinct sections, with travel between any two requiring at least a 100 mile drive. One section, The Maze, has no paved roads whatsoever and is accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles or insane hikers. The most popular section is Island in the Sky, where one can drive a nice loop road with spectacular overlooks and so on. The last section is The Needles, somewhere between the other two, pretty easy to get to, but requiring some hiking to really appreciate, and quite a bit less crowded than Island in the Sky due to its distance from the Interstate. We chose The Needles.
We spent the night in the spectacular campground, arose at sunrise and set out for a 10 mile hike at 7:15 a.m. This is completely necessary at this time of year, since we surely would have died otherwise. As it was, we went through all of our 2 gallon water supply easily and Anthony had to resort to a really pretty gay wet bandana around his neck to try to dissipate the heat. We emerged from the rocks at around 1 p.m., and nursed splitting dehydration headaches for the rest of the day. Oh, but the hike was amazing. We only saw 5 other people, and those all on our way back out, as they headed in. For the first 4 hours we were completely alone, easily convinced that there wasn't another person on the planet, whatever planet it was.
A big story lately in the outdoor enthusiast press has been that of Aron Rolston, the hiker who sawed his own arm off after having his hand pinned under an 800-pound boulder for four days. This is the park where this happened. Thankfully, we stayed on a somewhat beaten path, carried two very sharp knives (Aron had only one, cheap, quite dull knife) and didn't go in alone. Though we were quite careful, it's hard not to think of a story like that as you clamber over boulders and through narrow fissures. The big question is always, "Could I cut my own arm off to save myself?" It's still a question, and frankly, we hope it always will be.
An older gentleman we met at an overlook in the Rockies laid this gem on us, "Looking at this view, it's almost enough to make you believe in geology." We don't know where this quote comes from, but we really like it. It really captures the feeling of being in an area so shaped by nature and basically unaltered, and hopefully unalterable, by humans. We've learned about the processes that create these landscapes, and on some level we understand them. Ancient seas, sand compacted into sandstone, volcanic uplifts, eons of wind and rain, the cutting power of a relentless river; these things make sense. The mind reels, however, when forced to contemplate the time involved. It's the time that's impossible to grasp. Looking up at millions of stars each night, the pale wash of the Milky Way clearly visible from horizon to horizon, it's the same feeling: It's almost enough to make you believe in Astronomy.
Oh yeah.. there's more.
© 2002, 2003 Anthony Hecht and Liz Jones. All rights reserved.