Rocks Remember – Utah Adventure Part I

Prelude

When you see rocks, what do you think of? River rocks, granite cliffs, building materials, boulders which need to be moved for new structures… Rocks serve an important purpose, and a source of headache for all mankind. Are rocks beautiful? Perhaps some of the cliffs are, but not nearly so much as other land forms we see here in New England.

I want you to imagine a place where the rock formations are more beautiful than your favorite painting. Besides desert sands, all you see are rocks as grand and majestic as the mountains so dear to us. This place exist, it captured my heart unlike anything I have ever seen before.

April 20, 2018 – Boston, MA to Salt Lake City, UT

Last April I had all four wisdom teeth removed, and I was wide awake for the entire procedure with only localized anesthetic. I endured twelve Novocaine shots to the mouth, and forty five minutes of two dentists chiseling away at my teeth. I was less afraid during the wisdom teeth removal, than I was for this flight. I hate flying, and usually get extremely ill during the ordeal. Thanks to fear instilled in me by those closest to me (thanks mom), I’m terrified of it.

On the other hand, there is nothing I love more than traveling. If I could have a superpower it would be teleportation. I am constantly wanderlusting. In this case, I don’t let my fears control me.

I obtained prescription motion sickness patches, but for some completely insane reason chose not to wear one. Mistake number one on this trip. Somewhere over Wyoming I started feeling like I was going to die. While landing I got violently ill. Anton tried comforting me, the other guy next to me looked on in disgust as if he was a victim in this situation. Finally the plane touched down in Salt Lake City just before midnight.

The worst part of the trip was over, now I could start having fun.

April 21, 2018 – Canyonlands, Arches, Moab, & Capitol Reef

Anton drove our rental SUV through the night, while I went in and out of a restless sleep. Whenever I woke I would look out at the stars. The stars winked at me as if they had a secret they were dying to share. Under the cloak of night I did not see the wild beauty which surrounded us, that was the secret of the stars. We arrived in Canyonlands National Park around 6am, a purple glow began to brighten the world around us. As we walked the short path to Mesa Arch for sunrise the vegetation around us showed itself for the first time. Even the common prickly pear cactus was mesmerizing. This was all new to me, I’ve never seen anything like it in person. The furthest west I have ever traveled was Ohio when I was nine years old.

A group of professional and amateur photographers surrounded Mesa Arch. They were preparing for one of nature’s most incredible shows. Beyond the arch was a canyon and a valley, which made my eyes well up with tears of joy. As the sun rose over the valley the symphony of camera shutters started to crescendo. Mesa Arch was my first site of Utah, and I was instantly smitten.

After sunrise we continued down the road out of Canyonlands. We never planned to spend a lot of time there, a couple hours of sight-seeing. Twenty minutes later we arrived in Arches National Park at the trailhead to Delicate Arch. The heat started to set in as we gobbled down a quick breakfast. I barely downed a yogurt, my stomach was not yet settled from the plane. I was so exhausted I could barely think straight. I wore warm leggings, a long sleeve shirt, and forgot a water bottle. It was already 72 degrees. The hike was easy by our standards, and when we reached Delicate Arch it was crowded with people, and for good reason. The arch was stunning, I quickly forgot my state of exhaustion.

The drive out of Arches was rocks and sand, who knew it could be so scenic? On our way to the town of Moab we stopped at the visitor’s center to get water. Water here is precious, it also tastes awful. The only way to describe it is basic. Moab was a town I could be happy in, set in the desert, but just miles from a gorgeous mountain range. Adventurous with a touch of artsy, what more could I want?

After lunch we started the three hour drive to Capitol Reef National Park. Once in a great while we would see a small town or a building off the highway, but otherwise it was desolate. Eventually rock formations came into view, the beginning of Capitol Reef. I was amazed at how big the sky looked in the desert. Along with the growing scenery, our cell service became non-existent. We were remote, and I loved it.

When we entered Capitol Reef mesas of red sandstone, and sweeping views greeted us as we drove to Fruita campground. Orchards from the early Mormon settlers dotted the lands near the river, and the cottonwoods were in abundance. After setting up camp we drove down the road to the Rim Overlook trail. The 2.6 mile trail brought us up to the top of a 1,200 foot (estimated height) cliff perfect for viewing the sunset. The dimming light gave the rocks a magenta glow. On the hike back the real adventure began. We kept losing the trail, then finding it again. At one point Anton abruptly turned, he thought he heard something. I brushed it off as the wind or another hiker in the distance, then I started hearing it too. Something was following us closely. The fact that it wasn’t a someone terrified me more. At one point I turned around to see the silhouette of an animal on all fours, it moved toward us. We clapped, shouted, and picked up our pace. About fifty feet from our car Anton shouted from behind, “It’s chasing us!” I don’t think there is a runner alive today who ran faster than I did. When I didn’t hear Anton behind me I looked back to see him laughing with a huge grin across his face. I cannot believe I fell for that, I will have my revenge.

April 22, 2018 – Capitol Reef

The next day began with a ranger talk at the visitor’s center. The volunteer who spoke was so passionate about the park, it was infectious. Geology has always fascinated me, and Capitol Reef is geology heaven. There are many exposed layers in this park which was once a shallow sea. A ranger pointed out an off-road adventure to see the Temples of the Sun and Moon. Shortly down the road we encountered a river ford, luckily we had high ground clearance and four-wheel drive so it was a piece of cake.

We raced around corners, stopping once and a while for photo-ops. This part of the park reminded me of the Australian Outback, or at least pictures I’ve seen of the Outback.

Eventually we made it to a little parking area. We couldn’t find a trail, but could clearly see our destination a mile across the desert. I did not appreciate being off-trail as a result of my fear of snakes. I really wanted to turn back, but kept going anyway with the destination in clear view. Right before hiking up the hill we spotted a few cairns which linked us to the trail. My nerves calmed, it didn’t make a difference, if a snake was going to say “hi” he would have cared less about the trail. The Temple of the Sun looked as if aliens placed it there.

On the way back we stayed with the trail. How in the world did we miss the trailhead? We drove out the same way as we went in, our poor rental vehicle got very dirty. The wheel alignment will never again be the same on this car.

For our next adventure we went to a trail with slot canyons! This is something I have been dying to do for years. The trail began outside the park, but that didn’t make it less beautiful. On the contrary the canyon was just as interesting to me.

Once we entered the “slotty” part of the canyon I became entranced. I felt like an explorer climbing over the boulders. This canyon was rather small so we continued on hoping to find another slot canyon, but to no avail. Eventually we turned around and headed back to camp. My first slot canyon experience can only be described as magical, every moment was unforgettable.

Capitol Reef isn’t well traveled as a result of being so remote, and having fewer activities than other Utah parks. To me it is a special place, unique in every way. Seeing the bottom of a sea usually requires a submarine and a lot of money. You can experience the bottom of a sea by visiting Capitol Reef. It is ancient and magnificent. A geologist will tell you that “rocks remember”, meaning that the layers we see in the rock formations will tell you the history of the world.

Trail Tips: I am so glad I listened to Anton on the gaiters. You need gaiters, there is so much dust in the desert. Also, get a cap for the bite valve on your hydration pack. I didn’t have one, I was eating sand all week. Gross.