So, I have this problem. Every winter, and I mean every winter, I get cabin fever. Real bad. To cope with said cabin fever, I book up my entire summer with mini-trips for a combination of nature, fitness and summer partying (the best kind of partying). It’s only the end of May, and I’m already exhausted. By September, I’m going to be really exhausted. As usual.
Okay okay, this is not a real problem. I get it – I sound like a schmuck. But I need a nap. 😉
So before I dive too deep in all these many amazing plans and forget to write, I thought I’d catch you up on my first epic trip of the summer to a place I like to think of as “The Land Before Time.”
Continuing in the year-long tradition of dragging my dad on national park trips with me (it’s good for him, I swear!), we journeyed out to the Utah desert in early May to Arches & Canyonlands National Parks, this time accompanied by my aunt, Kay. I fell in love with the southwest last spring when I visited Zion and Bryce Canyon, so decided I needed to experience more of it this year. It is well-worth a trip if you haven’t been. Especially if you want to feel like dinosaurs could pop out any minute. Or like you’re on another planet. Or that you could stumble off a cliff with one misstep. You know, danger at every turn and all that.
We flew into Salt Lake City, an incredibly beautiful well-kept secret of a city, by the way, which is about a four-hour drive through the desert from Arches. Because the campground in Arches is closed this year for repairs, we stayed at a quaint, quiet little campground in the nearest town, Moab. Though we were there for the national parks, I would be amiss not to say what a cool little town Moab is. Ample bike paths, stunning scenery, charming little cafes, artwork everywhere, the coolest neighborhood park (literally full of musical instruments) I’ve ever seen…. Worth a visit, for sure.
Anyway, on to Arches. If you’re into geology, this is the park for you. It’s beautiful and unique, with towering rock formations every which way and views of the snow-capped La Sal mountains from multiple places in the park. It’s fairly crowded though, so although we experienced perfect weather, I might recommend going a bit earlier in the year when it’s colder if you’re looking for more solitude.
We spent two days in Arches, the first spent visiting world-famous Delicate Arch, which you’ll likely recognize from Utah’s license plates and every tourist brochure from the state ever. It was a pretty easy hike – only about 4 miles total with not much elevation change, and so so pretty. This hike gives you a lot of bang for your buck – views, cliffs, arches, plenty of photo ops & even some petroglyphs on rock walls! Unfortunately, because it is so accessible, it was absolutely crawling with tourists. The best part of the hike, though, was at a point when Kay and I were just about to the arch and we had to walk on cliff edge past about 10 Asian tourists. They stood to the side to let us pass, and clapped and cheered so loudly as we walked by them. They were just such a happy, enthusiastic bunch. It was hard not to grab onto their enthusiasm and just take in the awesomeness surrounding us. I had the biggest smile on my face for several minutes after. So, I suppose crowds don’t always have to be so bad.
The next day, I dragged Dad and Kay on this AMAZING labyrinth of a hike called the Fiery Furnace, featuring slot canyons, towers of sandstone and tucked-away arches. The park service makes you watch a safety video and pay for a permit before you go because it involves rock scrambling through an area without a well-defined trail, and you could definitely fall off a rock or get lost in there. Seriously, you could wander about into the rocky wilderness and never be seen again. We didn’t though, luckily. It was an incredible adventure. If you go to Arches and do one thing, this is what I would recommend. The fun factor is HIGH. And, I got my most popular Instagram pic ever here! Bonus points because I had a mini-flirtation (or maybe Kay had a mini flirtation on my behalf) with a super cute (and tall) park ranger that gave us the safety instructions. 😉 Sigh, if only I lived in Moab.
Next, we headed to the Canyonlands Island in the Sky District where we camped for the night. (Canyonlands has three districts that are all connected geographically but not by roads – Island in the Sky, Needles, and the Maze). It was seriously like something out of “The Land Before Time.” Or “The Lion King” (once the hyenas had taken over). I’ve never seen anything like it. Most notable about the park is the presence of 1,000-foot cliffs every which way with views into dark, eerie valleys. And people actually climb (without ropes) up onto structures above them! It’s insane. I looked up how many people fall off cliffs there each year, but surprisingly couldn’t find much information, so maybe people are more responsible than I think.
Anyway, we took it pretty easy there because my dad wasn’t feeling well, so just a couple of short hikes, first to Mesa Arch, then up Aztec Butte, which had 360 degree views of the canyons and rivers below. Kay and I then did another 4-mile hike through the desert while Dad chilled out. That night, we visited the Green River Overlook to catch the sunset and watched anxiously as a daredevil twenty-something jumped and danced at the edge of a 1,000 foot cliff.
The next day, we headed to Canyonlands Needles District, which was my absolute favorite part of the trip. The first day, a big storm came in, so we didn’t get any hiking in, except for a couple tiny half mile hikes. In other entertainment, we watched a family with several small children start a short, rocky, exposed hike during a lightening storm, which was bizarre. Then when we got to the parking lot, we saw they left their minivan door open and a wily raven was inside stealing their food! Whoopsies!
To escape the storm, we took a little field trip to the nearest town (blink and you’ll miss it), which was about an hour away, hoping to find a bar (tent blew away in the desert during a huge thunderstorm? No problem – have a beer! Hehe). We did not find one, but Dad awkwardly talked to some young Mormon leaders (well, their names began with “elder” so I assume they were leaders, but I’m not too familiar with their customs), and we got some delicious hand tossed pizza and beers to bring back to our campsite while we had a euchre tournament. (If you’re unfamiliar, euchre is an amazing two to four person card game popular in the Great Lakes region. I grew up playing it frequently both at home and school). En route back to camp, we saw a double rainbow in the desert (and a lot of cows). What luck!!
The next day, we did my favorite hike of the entire trip. We had to drive on a single lane, dirt road to get to the trailhead, and even then, weren’t totally sure we were in the right place. But then again, aren’t you always in the right place? (Too hippy? Okay, I’ll stop). Anyway, it was about a six-mile roundtrip hike was from Elephant Hill to Chelser Park and involved rock scrambling, climbing through slot canyons, and we even saw a snake (not a rattler though, unfortunately)! The rocks surrounding us were insane. Mushroom shapes, phallic shapes, alien shapes…. It was unreal. And again, if a dinosaur popped out, I would not have blinked an eye. The scenery was just incredible – there’s no other way to put it. And any excuse to climb over rocks is fine with me!
It was an incredible trip – one I felt fortunate to spend with two people I love. And in the two weekends that followed, I attended a bluegrass festival in DC then took a trip out to the Pacific Northwest for more adventuring. Life is what you make it, and mine is so so good right now.
So begins another summer of adventure, debauchery and not enough sleep. Bring it on. 🙂 How about you, my dear friends – how are you spending your summer? Don’t forget, you only live once. 😉