The Longest Drive

Original Post: July 27, 2015

The title of this post might be slightly misleading.  The drive from Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness to Arches National Park was hardly the longest drive.  Not even close, in fact, but there’s something about the Utah scenery (or lack thereof) that makes the drive exceptionally monotonous.  The desert is initially amazing and we were instantly in love with the color and the scrub, but as hour upon hour passed, we were over it. It went something like this: mountain, rock, scrub brush, mountain, rock, scrub brush, rock, rock, scrub, scrub, rock, scrub, and so on and so forth…for four hours.

As a bonus, we reached Arches National Park about an hour earlier than expected.  Suffice it to say that Arches is one park that I couldn’t possibly have realized the immensity of when I booked our stop.  It was once again 100 degrees, though the sky was relatively overcast, which worked to our benefit in that we could walk without being in direct sun, but I was still disappointed that I wouldn’t get the chance to capture any amazing photos of arches with that incredible blue, blue Utah sky behind them.

If you ever have the urge to see Arches (and who doesn’t?), my recommendation is to take a few days to see the park.  There are a ton of different arches to view and many of them can only be seen by hiking.  That means lots of time, which we just didn’t have.  The road through the park is well laid out and it’s a good substitute to actually hiking the park (especially in 100 degrees), but don’t expect to get close to some of the more well-known arches like Landscape Arch and Delicate Arch.  

We were rewarded after a few hours with some bluer skies and we managed to get a few photos of brilliant orange-hued rocks against a more interesting background than cloud cover.  If nothing else, it was nice to see the sun…especially since we were returning to our air-conditioned car after a short hike fighting through the crowded walkways filled with people of questionable intelligence.  No, truly, we really encountered some true nuts.  One such nut comes to mind instantly.  We dubbed him goat-boy. (Though, believe me when I say that his act was not nearly as hilarious as that SNL skit years ago…)  Crazy goat-boy jumped from rock to rock, running at full speed, and urged his parents to hurry because “this is the fastest way down.”  (He was close to being correct.  Had he stumbled, we would have seen him go down…really fast.)  As it was, he ended his hike directly in front of us – by about two whole feet – on the walkway despite his ridiculous “Look at me!” antics. But we all know that teens are immortal, so I guess I should keep my stodgy old-lady opinions to myself.

Hooray, only a 5 hour drive from Arches to Bryce Canyon National Park.  That’s nothing, right?  Wrong.

Oh, so wrong.

Both Nate and I were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were being featured in an episode of The Twilight Zone in which a warped time-space continuum meant that we were actually stuck in an endless loop, forced to live out our remaining days in the Utah desert, never actually reaching our destination.  My proof:

How long until we ran out of water?  Haven’t we seen this landscape before?  I swear it was an hour ago when I looked at the clock, but it’s only registered that three minutes have passed.  What is going on?  We were nearly delirious by the time we reached Bryce Canyon. (And we DID finally reach Bryce Canyon.)

Real men wear coral.  (I’m sorry…Cabela’s calls it ‘citrus.’)

About an hour from Bryce, we decided to stop for gas and to pick up a few grocery essentials, paper plates, bread, etc.  It was a tiny town called Marysvale and it is exactly what you would expect to encounter when you believe you’re traveling in The Twilight Zone.  The locals were sitting on the front porch of the convenience store and gave us the hairy eyeball as we walked inside.  I guessed they didn’t see many outsiders on a regular basis.  Or it could have been because they’ve never seen a man wear a shirt this color.

I suppose we could have purchased a Marysvale sweatshirt (yep, they really were for sale at the gas station/grocery store/ice cream shop/souvenir shop) so that he fit in a little better, but somehow I doubted that would have been adequate camouflage.

The entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park was impressive.  Upon entering, the first thing we noticed was the drive through a squat tunnel carved out of the red Utah Rock.  It was akin to driving through a wall (only without the resistance of a wall, naturally…).  All in all, it was pretty spectacular.  When we finally reached the campground, we set up camp and looked forward to doing nothing but sleeping.  It was already early evening and I, for one, was tired of walking after having taken lots of short hikes in the heat around Arches earlier that day.  Plus, I’m pretty sure my retinas were slightly burned out after staring at the desert for hours on end.  I’m pretty certain that I’ll  see scrub brush in my sleep for years to come. Perhaps I’ll see a doctor about that…

And yet, once again, temptation was too great.  It was sunset.  And going to the canyon rim at this time meant that I wouldn’t have to get up at sunrise the next morning as originally planned.  This plan had some merit.  So, off we went, and as it turned out, the rim of the canyon was only a half mile or so from the camp.  

The view was instantly revitalizing.  Breathtaking.  Bryce Canyon was one of the destinations I had most looked forward to on this trip.  I had always admired those incredible spires (which I learned were actually called hoodoos….yeah, you can say it.  I know you’re thinking it.  Hoodoo that voodoo?) and thought that Bryce just seemed to have this indisputable energy.

I was 100% correct.  Instant awe.

Of all of the places we visited, Bryce has definitely landed itself in my top three short list.  Once the sun finally set low enough that it no longer illuminated the hoodoos, we headed for the campground and for the blissful oblivion known as sleep.

Bryce Canyon at sunset.

But guess what?  We’re at an altitude not much different from our campground in Maroon Bells.  And we’re still up several times a night to visit the bathroom.  No one tells you about this part of traveling high altitudes.  Drink, yes.  Stay hydrated, yes.  Pee a lot, funny, I read not a word about it.  I suppose it should go without saying that one thing leads to another, but really…perhaps I just thought I’d sweat it off.  I digress.

Despite the fact that we’d visited the canyon the night before, we greeted Day 6 at 5:30 and were at the rim of Bryce Canyon by 6 am for a stunning sunrise.  Far more photographic than sunset the night before and I was grateful that sleeping in a tent was so revitalizing despite our wacky schedule.

After the sunrise, Nate turned to me with a question.  “Hike?”

Well, heck, yeah!  He didn’t have to ask me twice!

Off we went, into the canyon, amongst the hoodoos. We hiked for two hours, beating the heat of the day with the timing and enjoying some of the most indescribable scenery.  Amazing in every way. 

It should be illegal for someplace so striking to be located somewhere so desolate.  Utah, of all places.  But, I suppose that’s the biggest part of what makes it so amazing. If it were in Phillipsburg, NJ, I’m willing to bet the charm somehow just wouldn’t be there.

Just as the temps neared the 90s, we reached the top of the rim, took one last glance behind, and returned to camp to embark on the rest of Day 6, blissfully unaware that we were about to discover the true Utah desert in a way we hadn’t anticipated and couldn’t have imagined.  Soon enough.