Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Arches, Canyonlands, & Capitol Reef, Utah

Made it to sunny Utah!
Goodbye Colorado, hello Utah.

The past five (I think it's been five...) days have been a whirlwind of three states, 1,200 miles, five national parks, and more awe and beauty than I could ask for. As I write this from my cozy airbnb in Sedona, Arizona, I think about all I can handle at the moment is a recap of the first leg of the journey, so here it is. 
Park no. 1 of 5
Backstory, for those not up to speed: I came to Colorado in January- for a change of pace, a change of scenery; to focus on and make more art, and basically, to live a little. During my 8 month stay, working at the YMCA of the Rockies, I met many lovely and wonderful people, including Joyce, the nurse, and my partner in crime the past few days. 

Joyce lives in Arizona, and I wanted to take a road trip, so we thought what the heck, let's take the scenic route and hit Utah's Mighty Five: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park. Both of our work agreements were up last week, so we hit the road early last Saturday and left Zion, our last stop, yesterday.
Driving through Arches in the evening
Our first stop was Arches National Park, just outside of Moab, Utah. After a haul from Estes Park, we arrived in Moab about seven hours later, and wasted no time. In the hot desert sun (finally!), Joyce drove through the park and I hiked the iconic Delicate Arch.

I'm not sure if it's because I've been living in high elevation for the past few months or because of my Mediterranean/Middle Eastern heritage (or because I'm from Chicago and am o-v-e-r cold weather) but I really, really love the heat. So far I've loved every minute of the hiking, running, and basking in the 90+ degree, dry weather of Utah and Arizona, a welcome change from the Colorado cold and wind. 
A little creative sketchbook session at Delicate Arch
That said, the past few days have taught me that if you can hike, drive, or breathe in Rocky Mountain National Park, you can hike, drive, or breathe anywhere. Adjusting to the heat was nothing compared adjusting to living at 9,000+ feet above sea level, and driving on Trail Ridge Road is officially scarier than driving any other scenic route I've hit so far. Also, as I'm sure my friends who've lived in Rocky can attest to, any hike under three miles that gains less than 1,000 feet in elevation feels like nothing!

Delicate was three miles roundtrip on a well-marked trail of slickrock and sand- which was cool to experience after being in the mountains. I've loved living in Rocky, but it's been great to experience other parks this week and re-open my eyes to new wonders. You never take nature for granted, of course, but I think exposure to new beauty just sort of revives that passion in our souls for the seeing of new, wonderful things.
To Delicate Arch
As the sun sets in Arches 
Arches was really stunning; between the rock formations and the almost-full moon, I had some phenomenal photo opportunities and constantly vibrant, brilliant colors all around. 

After our Saturday excursion, I got up early on Sunday and ran from the town of Moab to the park (about 8 miles round trip). I stopped at the visitors center and, of all things, ran into a former boss from my days as an intern at Fermilab in Illinois (yep, it's true: I spent the better part of my college years writing articles about physics). Pretty crazy but awesome timing to run into her again! 

On Sunday Joyce and I headed from Arches to Canyonlands, but first made a stop at Dead Horse Point State Park, well worth the $10 entrance fee. I highly recommend this place if you're in the area: we had stunning views of the Colorado River and some incredible geography to gaze out at for miles and miles. 
The Colorado River from Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
Next stop: Canyonlands
Rock cairns at Canyonlands 
In Canyonlands, I hiked the Aztec Butte trail in the Island in the Sky region of the park, which offered great views and some crazy sandstone slickrock climbing (and improvising; in all honesty, this probably would have been safer to do with a partner or two. Oops.) One thing I noticed about both Arches and Canyonlands, compared to Rocky, was that the trails were well and often marked with cairns, making them pleasantly difficult to lose. 
Aztec Butte trail, my solo hike in Canyonlands
On the way, Aztec Butte Trail
By Sunday evening we were on the road again, headed about three hours west to Capitol Reef, where we stayed in the quiet little town of Torrey, Utah, just west of the park. It was early to bed and an early rise to explore this one, which turned out to be an unexpectedly amazing experience. 

I didn't know what to expect of Capitol Reef, but I wound up really loving it. The desert morning air was cold but quickly heated up by midday, in time for our hike to Hickman Bridge, a short little 2-miler to a 133 foot natural bridge with canyon views.  
Capitol Reef! The park that really surprised me and has become a favorite
Hickman Bridge Hike
There wasn't a ton of time to explore this place before we had to head out to Bryce and Zion, but I managed to hit some of the nearby Cohab Canyon trail (which was pleasantly void of people when I went), save for one other solo female traveler in her 50s, with whom I had a wonderful and life-giving conversation. And in the trailhead parking lot I also met a fellow Illinois-born, Colorado-based traveler with whom I planned to meet up in the Narrows at Zion, but he got tied up in obtaining a permit so we couldn't pull it off.

Maybe I liked Capitol Reef for these reasons too: that no matter how beautiful this world is, it is always how we relate to each other that makes or breaks any experience. Sure, as a solo female traveler I've heard from more people than just my mom not to talk to strangers, never to be alone, and to be cautious. And while I agree with safety and discretion, I don't agree with fear: unfairly presupposing peoples' badness without the conviction to believe in- and bring out- their goodness. 
Cohab Canyon trail, my solo hike in Capitol Reef
There is a difference between using caution and looking at a fellow human being with suspicion and unlove- and that, I have learned, I want no part of in this lifetime. I talk constantly to strangers: that's how we relate- and how we cease to be estranged, right? In a world where half of the time we preach the importance of love and the other half we go around hiding from one another, I've decided to eliminate that dichotomy from my life. Love starts with us seeing one another, and knowing one another- and kindness isn't real with skepticism behind it. 

There's a powerful reality to looking at each other- daily, really- through the eyes of God, seeing others with the unconditional love with which God sees us- and I've found that it's transformative and it really eliminates fear. It really allows us to be free and go places with the assumption that God in his goodness is with us, intimately walking with us, providing as we need.

You can bring love with you wherever you go, and that- no matter how beautiful this world is- is the very best thing about being here. 

More to come.
A special find on the Cohab Canyon trail 

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