Off the deck and into the wild: when the desert storms.
Tuesday 5/28/13 When the desert storms
Morning dawned gloriously but settled into overcast as Mike and I took off from Moab to find Canyonlands. We’d been under the impression both parks were close, but only Arches actually is—Canyonlands turns out to be about sixty miles south of Moab or 30 miles north. We decided to go south because we wanted to see Newspaper Rock, a famous collection of petroglyphs, so, fueled up on delicious Wicked Brew drive-though coffee, we took off.
Our pattern has been to do something early on coffee only and then have a later breakfast around ten, lunch around two, and dinner around 8:30-9:00 pm after the sunset shoot—a pushback of all our normal times at home and orchestrated around the sunrise/sunset planning.
“We’ll find somewhere to get some breakfast on the way,” Mike said.
However, once we left Moab there was nothing. Nothing. And more whole-lotta-nothing but sage, early spring daisies, and great red sandstone protrusions at intervals. By the time we pulled in to Newspaper Rock, we’d been reduced to eating trail mix from a bag we found under the seat from the beginning of the trip and some beef jerky.
Newspaper Rock was totally worth seeing. Again, I’m so appreciative of things that are accessible, and the Rock is right there: pull off the road, park, walk ten feet, goggle and photograph with the other visitors to the shrine. Modern graffiti has been added/deleted from the site which is a shame, but I loved the humorous, gossipy feeling of this petroglyph site—just like it’s name, early people came through and added their pictures creating a site with a feeling of humor and delight in the human condition.
Even before official entry to Canyonlands I was getting the feeling it’s a HUGE park—and to me the highlight of my visit to its sprawling expanse was right past the Rock, a herd of horses in a pasture on the side of the road. Mike asked me to pull over so he could take a picture of the nearby reservoir, and I did and got out, spellbound by the sight of the band of paint and pinto horses grazing beneath a big orange butte. I called and whistled to them, but they were on the other side of an iron watering machine and just looked at me.
“Let’s go in.” Mike had spotted a place where the barbed wire fence was broken down, and easily stepped over it. I followed him, feeling terribly naughty but thrilled by the possibility of getting a shot of those uniquely Southwestern-looking horses standing in the shadow of the butte—and lo and behold if the beasts didn’t come trotting over to say hi, rubbing me with their velvet noses and posing for us, surrounding me with their warm smell that’s always made me happier than any cologne.
“We can go back now. I got my shot of the day,” I said, but we went on anyway into Canyonlands and did a hike through one of their cavelike formations. Canyonlands is not accessible in the way Arches, Bryce or Zion are. It’s a vast, spawling maze of massive striped corrugated valleys, and many of the formations you can reach easily are sort of like mushrooms—they have crowns of grayish sandstone and softer layers underneath that are scaling away so that there are caves and hollows in the rock. We saw one that completely surrounded the bottom of a massive turtle-shaped formation, with an old cowboy camp inside, walls stained by smoke and marked by cave paintings.
Canyonlands is huge, the hikes are long, and we weren’t able to penetrate much of it in a day—so the word I’d give for this park is convoluted.
We drove back to the motel and napped hard through the afternoon, arising excited around 5 p.m. to do the strenuous hike to Delicate Arch for the sunset. Fueled up on iced coffee, we hurried out toward Arches park (only a mile outside of Moab) and I was shocked that the overcast skies had churned into heavy-bellied, yellowish clouds trailing spatters of rain.
“What the heck?” We were hurrying now, energized by the storm clearly brewing and worried it would steal our last sunset in the park.
I kept up with Mike until we reached the vast, egg-shaped mountain of slickrock we had to ascend about 300 vertical feet, and I started getting a stitch and stopped for some photos while Mike cranked on ahead, clearly in a photographic “get the shot” frenzy.
I was more interested in the storm brewing around us.
The clouds swirled, near enough to touch, and a sieving wind blew me from behind, almost pushing me up the vast slickrock mountain. I was acutely aware of the channels that ran water off the big rock, worn in a series of dry hollows of steep along the cracks. There was no sign of lightning, but spits of rain cooled my hot cheeks and I began to wonder if nylon shorts and a tank top had been the best choice—for “warmth” I’d brought a light cardigan sweater.
The hike was gorgeous, and steep, and varied as all good hikes are, and coming around the corner of the great knoll of slickrock to an ampitheater-like shape culminating in the Delicate Arch literally took my breath away. I simply dropped to my knees on the rim of it in awe, soaking in the vast splendor of the churning sky, expanse of glorious red stone, and the arch, way bigger than I’d thought, delicate and unlikely as a unicorn standing alone in a field.
The weather had greatly thinned the usual sunset crowd, and right in the middle of the ampitheater, setting up his shot of the arch, was Mike.
I took one picture, two pictures, and it started raining. Really raining. I pulled back into the shelter of the knoll’s crown, wondering what to do, and Mike pulled his gear back into a more sheltered area. I shouted to him, “it’s getting dark, I think I better go back. Want to come with me?”
“I have a headlamp. See you at the car.” He tossed me the keys.
“Don’t get hit by lightning,” I said, and left, turning my face into the fierce wind and slicing bits of rain. There were several remaining photographers besides Mike, all of them not moving an inch except to cover their gear with waterproofing.
I felt exultation rise up. I’ve always liked storms—on Kauai where I grew up, they usually involve surf, rain and wind and are frequent visitors. On Maui where I live now, we don’t get enough rain so I love when they come. We’ve seldom worn raingear let alone carried umbrellas.I hiked briskly back around the carved stone walkway around the knoll, smiling as the wind pushed against me like a hand, and stopping to take a picture as I began the trek down the giant slickrock mountain, creamy and smooth as the side of a vast dinosaur egg.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Another hiker, a man with a pole and a parka, had followed me from the arch ampitheater.
“I love storms,” I said, pocketing my cameraphone in my inadequate cardigan. We trekked down together, and I felt a little better for the company as we chatted about the parks and our travels. We waved goodbye at the parking lot, and I got in the Jeep—and the rain broke, beginning a steady pour as the darkness fell—and as always, just a little past when I’d wish he’d returned, Mike loomed out of the rain, grinning and unfazed, tossing his backpack into the back.
“Did you get the shot?” I asked, turning on the Jeep and handing him a bottled Gatorade.
“What there was, I got,” he said. “That was fun.”
“The colors are going to be so bright tomorrow after the washdown.”
And so they are, this morning, as every plant in the desert sings a paen of praise to the heavenly flush they’d just had and we get on the road for Nevada.
Love this blog post, Toby. The photo of Delicate Arch poised on the opposite lip of the amphitheater bowl and your description of and reaction to first seeing it in that setting almost exactly match my own all those years ago. My entire experience around Delicate Arch was one of the most spiritually uplifting of my entire life. So fun for me to know you’ve been there, too, and really understand the power of that place.
It was incredible.
I love the smell of horses too, lovely creatures. That is so cool they came up to greet you.
Well, only a few more days and you will be home yes, the 5th you are leaving? Thanks for the memories, your pal, Jacquelyn – hey to Mike.
It was such an important part of our trip to meet you, Jak!
Horses are the best animals ever. Period. Riding has always been the highlight of my life, pure and simple. In fact, the cards I turn to now for insight are “Horse Wisdom” cards, and they resonate with me more than any other kinds.
“We’ve seldom worn raingear let alone carried umbrellas.”
Why, you could be Pacific Northwesterners! 😉 I was at an outdoor wedding a few weeks back where it was raining and we did break down and resort to umbrellas because, well, fancy clothes and a fairly long period of time sitting in the rain while the ceremony was going on and… yeah. However, aside from the wedding, I honestly can’t remember the last time I had an umbrella out. I was holding a large one for myself, my two friends, and their baby (9 months old, I think), and he was FASCINATED with the umbrella. I suddenly realized that he’s probably never seen one before in his life… I do wish we got some more decent thunderstorms up here rather than just the rain, thunderstorms are *amazing*.
So glad you made it to Arches & Canyonlands, Toby! My 2nd fav. place on Earth – after Maui – both very magical places. I remember the very WARM hike to Delicate Arch in June – trying to keep up with my sons! Worth every step, obviously. Wondering if you were able to stop at Dead Horse Point on your trip to Canyonlands? There’s a breathtaking overlook there, similar to Horseshoe Bend, AZ. I was amazed at the wonders to be found in the area, with a lot of driving in between, from spot to spot, at very high speeds! We found everyone out there to be very friendly, too. Our “cowboy dinner” and boat trip up the Colorado from Moab was unbelievable, as they shined powerful spotlights onto the canyon walls – we were in awe! Great memories, right? Enjoy the balance of your adventure! Aloha!
So sorry we missed Dead Horse Point, didn’t know about it! Sounds like you had an amazing time too!