Sunday, May 30, 2010

Adventures in National Park-Hopping, Day 5: March 31, 2010

On day 5, we awoke outside of Torrey, UT to a day of wind gusting through the rocks and trailing long bands of gray clouds in toward us. We heard on the news and from other travelers that a storm was approaching that may bring rain or even snow, and we wavered on whether or not to continue our trip to Moab or just try to beat the snow across the mountains in Colorado.

Either way, we decided that we did still have time to see some of Capital Reef National Park, which ended up being the place on our trip that awed me the most.

It was a fairly common sight to see arch shapes inscribed on the faces of rocks, and that's one of the first things I was amazed by as we approached the park on Route 24.
There is a scenic drive that runs south through the park and we decided to take that as an easy way to see some sights without having to be too worried about the weather. Everything that showed itself around each corner of the road made me feel reverence for the powers of earth, wind, and water, and I wished I could see a slow-motion movie of how each formation was created.
The rocks in some parts of the park were predominantly a bright red-orange, which stood out bathed in sunlight against the incoming gray clouds.
Other areas had strong bands of grays and yellows. It's so interesting to see the hardness of different layers of rocks, how some become sheer verticals while others disintegrate into sand, and others still become rock shards and fragments.
In some areas, we were able to see the rocks against the pieces of blue sky that still remained above us, and I think those were my favorite.
Rock lace sounds like an impossibility but when faced with it, fragile and delicate, I couldn't think of a better name myself.
During the drive, we took a side road into a canyon that warned us not to enter if rain was threatening, as we could end up in a flash flood and die. While this worried us somewhat with the approaching storm, we decided the skies looked clear enough for now and ventured down the road.
Massive walls of rocks like this are what awe me about the west:
I had a dream last night in which I was Alice in Wonderland. As my brain processed my dream in a state of half-wakefulness this morning, I realized that the reason I like traveling so much is that it reminds me of how small I am, or how big, how simple and how complicated. It makes me remember why I love being alive and why I love being myself.
My different experiences allow me to feel soft and strong, peaceful and exhilarated, and most importantly: ALIVE. My regular life, my regular job and doing regular things is just living.
There was a green-gray band of rock that was visible at times in the park, and it brought me back to the flowing green-gray river of trees through the canyon on Route 12, and the green-gray of budding life that flowed through the center of Zion.
The red rock formation on the left is called the Egyptian Temple:
As we drove back north out of the park, we came to a downhill area of the road that presented us with a view of wave after wave of beautiful rock formations jutting out to the west:
In the distance we could see snow, though the land around us was entirely desert.
We rejoined Route 24 and continued east toward a hike we decided to take, and found the original old town schoolhouse on the way:
Another turn-around area off the road showed us petroglyphs etched into the red rock walls. Previously, I had only seen petroglyphs of abstract symbols at Chaco Canyon and Bandelier National Monument. At Capital Reef, the human figures were less abstract, and I felt overwhelmed to see such interesting representations of humans drawn hundreds of years ago.
An orchard flourished on a narrow strip between the rock face and the highway:
We stopped for our hike to a natural bridge and found ourselves in a sea of black rocks strewn around the ground. We couldn't decide if they were volcanic or just charred from a fire.
The bridge was beautiful and managed to look both solid and delicate at the same time. Our hike took us through the center of the bridge and back around the other side.
Some of the rocks on this hike looked like layers of mud pressed down together over thousands of years.
We were sheltered for most of the hike from the wind by the rock walls around us, but as we emerged and began descending once again toward the car we found ourselves once again exposed.

Taking note of the strength of the wind and the progression of the clouds, we decided not to stop at Arches National Park but continue straight home and hope to beat the storm to the mountains. As we drove, the beautiful random snowy peaks that thrust up from the desert, one of my favorite things about Utah, were half-covered in the wispy bottoms of storm clouds.
We continued to see beautiful rock formations along the way as we took Route 24 back to I-70.
We had heard about a sand storm that was going on but hadn't yet seen it. It finally showed itself to us as the road turned and we headed north, a hazy band of red dirt swirling around on the horizon:
Most of the exits along I-70 in eastern Utah are called "Ranch Exit", and we began making jokes about them as we passed them. It doesn't really feel like you're getting anywhere when you continue to pass the same exit over and over, and sometimes that's what life feels like for me right now:
I want to find an exit that excites me, that promises adventures and learning and Alice in Wonderland-type experiences. I want to find an exit for ALIVE, not for life. I wonder if this is an exit that all people seek or if some have actually found it and are able to live their lives there.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Adventures in National Park-Hopping, Day 4: March 30, 2010

The morning of Day 4 found us warm and clean in a hotel, and we woke up early, excited to see Bryce Canyon in the morning light. (We do, however, greatly enjoy sleeping in so though it was around sunrise time we didn't get to see the actual sunrise).

I think I actually prefer the hoodoos illuminated by the fresh light of sunrise.
This picture was taken of the view looking toward the sun. Although the hoodoos don't stand out as dramatically against their shadows, I actually like that this group doesn't have shadows. The variation in the light is much more subtle and the rocks appeared to glow warmly from their own hearts, rather than being illuminated by a harsh spotlight cast on them.
After saying our goodbyes to Bryce Canyon, we hit the road again and continued East on Route 12 toward Kodachrome Basin State Park. Although we left the park, we continued to see beautiful red rock formations all around the area as we passed through.
This picture just epitomizes the area we drove through and looks like my old stereotype of "The West".
As I researched places I wanted to go for this trip, I randomly noticed this little state park nestled between Bryce Canyon and Capital Reef National Monument. The name "Kodachrome" intrigued me as I could only imagine it as a vibrant and colorful place. As we approached the park, the rocks promised to deliver with their beautiful bands of color.
We left the car and took our first hike through the park, a loop around the northern end that took us up onto a rock formation.
I was surprised to observe that the red and white colors were actually coming from the same rock formations, with the white rock located at higher elevations and the red rock exposed further down.
We were also surprised to observe that we could see Bryce Canyon clearly from many areas of Kodachrome! You can see Bryce in the background in this picture. It was fun seeing it as a bright orange band of rock that zipped across the horizon.
I loved this beautiful rock with its swirling lines and colors.
Is it just me, or does this fallen tree look like it's taking a nap wearing a rock hat?
Somewhere around this point in the hike, we came to a narrow rock bridge that lead to a slightly larger little rock island of sorts. The bridge seemed to be about 2 feet across, with sheer drops on either side of what seemed to be at least a hundred feet or more. Though I was terrified, I made my way across the bridge to the island and crouched down on the ground, too scared to move. The view was amazing and I found myself bathed in light and beauty as I sought to find security in some sand and the few shrubby plants that occupied the island with me. I wasn't deeply scared though until I turned around to face the narrow bridge and return to the hike. The fear had such a grip on me that it kept me to the ground, and I crossed the bridge half in a crouch and half in a crawl, not caring who saw me. I was powerless to stand up but knew I had to make it across. When I made it safely back to the main rock formation, I'm not even sure I felt proud of myself but was consumed by an overwhelming sense of gladness for being safe and alive.
Some of the formations in the park reminded me of ones I saw at Garden of the Gods:
Our first hike completed, we returned to the car and drove to the other side of the park where we planned to see Chimney Rock and Shakespeare Arch. I ended up enjoying the landscape around Chimney Rock better than the rock itself, which was just a plain, straight column of hardened dirt.
The Shakespeare Arch hike took us up and around a massive red rock formation, which was so big it took us a couple of miles to walk around it. I thought that Shakespeare Arch was beautiful, and it was special to see the way the sunbeams shone through the arch and illuminated the space within it.
I don't think I've ever seen earth so parched:
The view back toward the part of Kodachrome where we hiked was phenomenal:
When I see this picture, all I can see is someone's hand cupped in a "U" shape!
One of my favorite things about the desert is how life can manage to make its way there. I love the beauty of this plant:
Looking back toward the red rock structures during our hike:
Looking out toward Kodachrome Basin:
I was awed and deeply touched by the beauty of Kodachrome State Park, and still can't believe it's only a state park rather than a national one... though honestly I like it better that way. It was small, not at all crowded, and inexpensive.

We hit the road once again and saw this beautiful rock formation near Escalante, UT. My guess is that it's contained in Escalante State Park (?), a place I'd now like to visit someday. It looked to me like a grand temple entrance.
Route 12 ended up being the most beautiful, wonderful surprise of the entire trip. In addition to seeing random bright red rock formations all along our drive, the road gently lead us to a view so beautiful that I was literally out of my mind for a moment, just staring in awe. The air was hazy due to both a fire in Salt Lake City and a dust storm, but through the haze I was able to see three snow-covered peaks along the horizon, and before them lay the most beautiful maze of red and white rocks I've ever seen.
I feel so amazingly lucky to have experienced this beautiful valley, and couldn't believe how fortunate we were that the road descended down to the rocks and promised to escort us through the maze.
As we descended, the green-gray of trees along the banks of a river wound through the immobile rocks like a river themselves, lively and flexible.
Rich, deep colored rocks endlessly rose from every side of the curves in the road, presenting us with arches and striations and overhangs.
At one point, the sky clouded up which somewhat dimmed the colors, but did nothing to diminish the beauty around us.
Toward the end of our journey among the rocks, we were able to pull over and photograph the canyon that had been flowing alongside the road for miles.
B was driving at this point, and the road fell away several times to a sheer drop into the canyon. It was funny watching him try to keep his eyes on the road as I did everything I could to crane my neck and look into its depths.

Not to be outdone by itself, Route 12 wound us back up out of the maze and shortly thereafter had us ascending a mountain. We found ourselves again surrounded by snow drifts 3 to 5 feet high, similar to Bryce Canyon, but this time the snow was smooth and barely interrupted. The only vegetation we could see was stands of aspens, and we later learned that there had been a forest fire on that mountain recently and the plant life was just beginning to repopulate.

The views from the mountain were absolutely incredible, and I was amazed by how my mind was blown again and again by this raw, awesome earth I was traversing. We could see rocks from the Capital Reef National Monument area, our destination for the next day.
We stayed just outside of Torrey, UT., and went for a little drive through the town once we were settled in. There were some neat buildings in town, including the Torrey Inn which used to be an old school building. The town was a little creepy, probably because it was old and a bit run down, and I half hoped and half feared seeing a ghost in one of the inn's windows. Unfortunately (or fortunately as I might have passed out...), none showed themselves.
This is the original old Torrey Schoolhouse. You can see the Torrey Inn in the distance, on the left hand side of the photograph:
The winds in town were fierce, and we learned that there was a big storm moving in with the potential for dropping several inches of snow. The air still had a sharp bite that warned me that winter wasn't over yet.