Thursday, June 4, 2015


We decided to go to Moab over Memorial Day weekend because Utah seemed like a place where it might not be raining.  After a month of unrelenting gray days and cold rain in Colorado, we were all pretty desperate for a place where it was warm and dry.

We spent about 5 hours on Friday night packing for the camping trip.  We eat well when we travel-- hummus wraps and fruit and vegetables and even leftover homemade vegan pizza that we put in the cooler and would eat for the next couple of days on the road.

We left at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning.  The drive, about 6 hours, was beautiful.  I liked watching the transition from the gray and rainy foothills, to the snowcapped big mountains, to the brown and expansive openness of Utah as we continued west on I-70.

Rob had been to Utah once before, in February when he ran the Red Hot 55K (which has left him with an injury he may just now finally be shaking).  I had really wanted to go with him, but I figured the school district would dislike me even more if I pulled Will out of kindergarten to go crew his father in an ultra.  And although I'm sure my own students would have been thrilled if I'd cancelled class on Valentine's Day, I wasn't sure how the head of the department would have felt about it.  So I stayed behind, and Rob had promised that we'd all go back together one day.

There was definitely a different vibe as soon as we crossed the state line.  As well as a preponderance of people driving ATV's along the rocky terrain that bordered the highway.  I was soon to learn that in Utah, unless there is a specific sign prohibiting vehicles, anything counts as a road.

Rob had bought some kind of self-published Utah camping guidebook, which led us down a ragged dirt road (that seemed more like a deer path) to some semi-ancient paintings on a canyon wall.  I'm a fan of rock art.

We pulled into a rutted out dirt "parking lot" beside the paintings, right next to a jeep that was completely encased in mud.  I mean, completely.  There wasn't a mud-free spot on the entire jeep, not even on the top of it.  I wondered what on earth these people had been doing, and moreover, why they had been doing it.

"Utah confuses me," I muttered as we got out of the car.

"Yeah," Rob nodded emphatically.  "You're going to have a lot of that." 

As we returned to the "road" (keep in mind, I am using this term generously), the guidebook continued to direct us toward a trail that would lead us to a swath of dinosaur footprints.  We thought Will would enjoy this, and the guidebook made it sound so easy, so we set forth.  But once we got there, we were like, The dinosaur footprints are... where?  Finally we found some depressions in the rock that could have been anything, really, but we proclaimed these to be real, actual Tyranosaurus tracks, and Will was pleased.  Then it started to rain.

Dinosaur tracks

Only a few fat raindrops turned the dirt "road" back to the highway into a rivulet of mud, and I thought for sure we would get stuck, but by the skin of our teeth we made it back down.

Hole in the rock.  Utah.
There it is: an Arch.

We continued westward towards Moab, the lone station wagon in a long line of dirt covered jeeps and pick-up trucks, with the intention of going into Arches National Park.  And now here is a word of warning: do not attempt to go to Arches on Memorial Day weekend.  As we got to the park entrance, we saw police cars and flashing lights and angry looking officers standing along the road.  We had no idea what was going on.  We'd seen evidence of a bike race earlier, and we wondered if the park was the start/finish area.  Or was it more serious-- had there been an accident or emergency the park?  

As we approached (still in a long line of slowly moving traffic), we merely glanced toward the park entrance, and a police officer raged at us and spastically waved his arms.  So we had driven 6 hours, and with absolutely no explanation, we weren't getting into Arches National Park.  Happy fucking Memorial Day to you, too, asshole.

There was literally nothing else we could do but continue to Moab, which was vaguely like Estes Park, but instead of fresh, crisp, alpine air, it was hot and brown and dusty and full of mountain bikers.  Two of us were carsick, but we saw no reason to stay in the town, so we slowly crawled along in a seemingly endless line of jeeps and camper vans and pick-ups who had also not been allowed into Arches and for lack of any other option, had kept heading this way.

"I am not impressed with Utah," I said, willing my anti-nausea wristbands to do their job.

When we finally made it out of the Moab congestion we continued on to Canyonlands, which in all honestly, I had been more excited about seeing.  

By this point, it was late in the day, and finding a campsite was becoming fairly urgent.  All the campgrounds inside the park had been reserved since January, and what was left was Bureau of Land Management sites that were available on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Everything we investigated was full.

Eventually we found a trailhead with no obvious "no camping" signs and decided this was our best option.  

"This is not a campground," I said, but Rob assured me that everything was going to be fine.  The camping situation was much like the "road" situation in Utah.  Anything goes.

Not a shabby place to camp

We popped up the car-top camper and ate the dinner I had packed.  It was going to be a beautiful place to sleep.


Utah golden hour

Utah golden hour

No one came and yelled at us in the night, telling us that we would need to move to a real campsite (all of which were full anyway).  Several people passing by the trailhead that evening did stop to ask us questions about our car-top camper, though.  One guy was so impressed, he even asked to take a picture of it.

After a fairly restless night, the sun rose.

All of us were dehydrated (hello, Utah!), and Will said he didn't feel good, but some water and a quick game of baseball with his father helped rally his spirits.

The air was cool and lovely.  The pictures don't do it justice, but it was the most beautiful place I'd ever woken up.  I remembered back in college and all the traveling I'd done around Europe and how those trips had focused on visiting museums and cathedrals.  By the time I got to Ireland to see my friend Amy, all I wanted was to be in the landscape.  She arranged for this by jettisoning us off a bus somewhere in the countryside and running around in what was probably some farmer's field.  We didn't get in trouble, and it was great.  Now here I was.  In Utah.  In the landscape.

We headed on to Canyonlands National Park, which was beautiful and not crowded at all, at least not that early in the morning.




Whenever we visit a beautiful place, all I can think of is, "Eduardo, I wish you were here."

Taking a break
I love the expression on Will's face.
I gave up trying to take pictures because photos really can't capture the magnitude of it.  And besides, Rob's photos are always way better than mine anyway.  I'd seen all the photos he had taken in February, and I'd been kind of like, "Meh, that's nice.  Let's go to the big, snow-capped mountains in RMNP instead."  But being here was totally different and awe-inspiring and made me feel very small, yet also somehow significant to the universe in a meaningful way.




We did a couple of very short, easy hikes, but Will still didn't feel good.

Feeling sick

We decided to leave Canyonlands, even though we'd only barely scratched the surface, to let Will sleep in the car as we drove to Islands in the Sky.  Except I kept calling it Islands in the Stream, confusing the name with the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers song popular in the 1980s.  Then I got the song stuck in my head, but I could only remember fragments of the chorus: "Islands in the stream, that is what we are, something something something... Sail away with me, something something, uh huh..."  I became annoyed with myself very quickly.

By the time we made it to Moab, Will threw up and was white as a sheet.  He said his head hurt and begged for Tylenol, which we didn't have.  We stopped at a Safeway that was crowded with bandana-wearing, mud covered tourists and the employees who glared at them.  I had to elbow a janitor out of my way to get Will into the bathroom for a fairly emergent gastro-intestinal situation, and the entire time we were in there, the janitor audibly voiced his frustration that we were delaying his cleaning schedule.  When we finally exited, I had to restrain myself from spitting in his face.  I was not impressed with Utah.

Will threw up the Tylenol as soon as we gave it to him, and we decided really the only thing we could do was get out of this god-forsaken state and back to civilization.  I thought maybe we could stay the night in a real, actual hotel in Grand Junction if we couldn't make it home.

We passed Arches after leaving Moab and again there were police cars and flashing lights and police officers, although this set did not seem angry.  There was also a large sign saying ARCHES FULL NO ENTRANCE.  That kind of sign would have been helpful when we'd been coming from the other direction yesterday.  Or a warning on the website that maybe you should just stay away.  The sheer audacity of us for trying to visit a national park on a holiday weekend.  Happy Memorial Day.

Will fell asleep soon after we left Moab, and he stayed asleep until Denver.  We just kept driving.  No point in stopping in Grand Junction if he was sleeping.  When he finally woke up, he appeared to have made a full recovery.  He was chipper and joyful and didn't even have a headache anymore.  Huzzah.

It was good to be home again, although disappointing that our trip to Utah had ended abruptly and involved vomit.  And we didn't even make it to Arches or the thousands of other beautiful things we had hoped to see.

"We'll go back again someday," Rob promised.  But not on Memorial Day weekend.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

so sorry for,your discombulated trip!! but in spite of all that, your pictures are incredible!!!! POOR WILL. so sorry he didn't feel well! but glad he recovered fairly quickly!!! thanks for,sharing YOUR thoughts on Utah!!! luv and hugs mama