So, I have a furlough week coming up in a few months (the corporate parent of my newspaper is sending each of its reporters on a gainful employment-free, all-expenses-unpaid vacation) and despite urgings to dust off my passport for a trip to Europe, it's time to breathe deeply that sweet pellucid canyon country air.
Ed Abbey's air, that is.
Too long away from the Colorado Plateau makes me break out in hives, endure breakdown after breakdown and generally quake violently with separation anxiety. I was there in October, and it's already been too long.
I first ventured into Utah's canyon country in 1998 during my first summer on ranger staff at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. I'd just dropped off a crew of Boy Scouts at a particularly spectacular staff camp in the northern reaches of the 142,000 acre ranch, met a lifelong friend on my hike into basecamp, hopped in my car and headed out on a three-day expedition west that would change my life forever.
My destination was Arches National Park. It was a brief visit, but I quickly discovered the magic of the landscape, still boiling hot that July evening in the Devil's Garden Campground. That magic just simply cannot be described here because, like the best things in the world, it is something that must be experienced to be understood.
When you visit Arches, do this: Pitch your tent, wait for the white-throated swifts to make their final darts through the evening sky, sit outside in the moonlight and listen. Just listen. Hard.
Even though you'll be surrounded by many other people in the campground, the landscape makes no noise when the wind is calm. In that stillness and calm, you'll discover the power of that landscape.
One raw March day a few years ago — 2002, I think — I hiked to Delicate Arch alone. The trail is normally packed with hundreds of tourists, many unprepared for the hike or the view that awaits them at the trail's end. I passed one other person on the hike to the arch, and she was headed back to the parking lot. I arrived at Delicate — one of the West's most iconic and popular natural spectacles — and had it and its surrounding scenery all to myself. I walked into the sandstone bowl below the arch, looked up, and realized the scene to be nearly frozen in time. No sound, no movement. Just Delicate Arch and me.
Why that was profound is something you'll have to answer for yourself on your next trip to Arches. Since 1998, I've visited Arches National Park more than 50 times and at least once each year since then, except, unfortunately, 2009.
Really, though, the significance of that park is what I attach to it. It was and remains merely an introduction to one of the most alien and spectacular landscapes anywhere in the world. I miss living so close to it.
If you've never explored the Colorado Plateau, here are a few amazing places that you must visit before you die:
Those are just a start. There are others: The Wave. The Canyons of the Escalante. Monument Valley. Dinosaur. Desolation Canyon. Nine Mile Canyon. The San Rafael Swell. Zion...