Twenty steps in and the trip was already worth the four hour drive from home. That’s all it took. Peter looked back and said these very words to me with a huge smile on his face. Considering we came from our backcountry backyard in the Wasatch Mountains, far away from a neighbor let alone a booming metropolis, this was quite a statement.
Just where were we? Canyonlands National Park. A place we’d been many times on two wheels; a place we’d camped many a night on the desert floor under a blanket of stars. A glorious place on earth not too far from our high mountain home. Only this time the visit was sans bicyclette. This time we set out with packs on our backs for an initial 3-day, 2-night venture into the magical Islands in the Sky section of the massive national park.
Our minimal packs held not only food for the days but gear and water as well. Enough gear to stay warm in the place notorious for dipping well below the daytime highs leaving the uninitiated shivering all night long. Not too much stuff but enough to know we’d be comfortable but not weighed down. What you have is what you carry.
Water is another story. We had to make sure there was enough for the morning coffees (instant), teas (chai spice) and powdered miso soups. Then there was the Perpetuem drink mix to keep us going during the miles hiked in the daylight as well as the minimal amount needed to rehydrate the freeze-dried meals in the evenings. Of course, last but not least, that evening hot chocolate that always leaves me wishing for a chocolate bar. All in all we had 2 1/2 gallons between the two of us. With a possibility of getting water near the second night’s camp we wanted to be sure to be prepared in case the certain course in the riperian area was dried up. There’s nothing worse than the thirst of the sahara if you’re in a desert.
So those first steps left us both feeling light even with the weigh of the packs on our backs. Not to mention a little bloated after eating as much of the food in the cooler possible not wanting it to go to waste. A capacity full stomach feels pretty bad when cinched into the waste belt of a loaded backpack. Still, the feeling of being able to breath again was palpable. We both agreed some time in the desert was unanimously needed.
A short ten kilometer walk brought us to our first camp as dusk took over. Having camped the night before along the Colorado River near Moab and spending most of the morning deciding just what we were going to do with our week left us at the trail head around 2pm. Not great considering the winter sun dips to the west around 5pm. But we arrived in time to find a nice spot up on a ridge surrounded by natures sand castles in the sky. Yes, it’s typical for us to leave on a trip not knowing what the trip actually is. Best to let it unfold upon arrival.
What a place what a space what a gift to be there together feeling like we were the only humans on the planet. Yes, across the valley was a toilet in site and a remote campground, but we chose our own spot with this abundance of space. The next morning when we heard a few people at the campground we knew our decision was a good one. Why be crowded in when Peter’s two favorite words were not only uttered but encouraged at the Visitor’s Centre of Canyonlands: DISPERSED CAMPING.
The next morning wander led us up Taylor Canyon when we thought the dry river bed was leading us to ‘Moses and Zeus’, two of the more remarkable sandstone cliffs hovering like sculptures blocking the rising sun. After walking a few miles we realized the path was wrong. Really, it didn’t matter, it was all spectacular. Our jaws dragged in the sand. Hungry stomachs brought us back to camp. We devoured our granola and powdered soy milk, had another hot drink then broke the meager camp and set out for the day.
With the hikers the canyon long gone we really were the only ones out there. After months of constant travel and interactions I needed this space. We needed this time together to reconnect after much time apart. What better way than to do a walk to the Upheaval Dome and it’s other-worldly energy. This time we arrived with a few hours to enjoy of daylight.
Camp was in the designated spot but that was okay. It had a good feel and a great panoramic view. Peter the tarp-master set up his tarp tent and we enjoyed some miso soup in our titanium cups that also served as bowls and plates. Trying to go as light as possible meant that one item was ofter a multi-use object. No spoon and fork either, just a spoon would do. Yes, this was light weight hiking but easy on the feet so worth it in it’s minimalist way.
We wandered up the canyon we’d hike out the next day. Found the elusive water in the desert not far from camp. Pool after pool of water indeed. Thought we had enough we gathered a bit more in our designated dirty water bottle and Platapus water storage bag. The water looked clean but we’re always careful to purify, boil or both.
With 24 kilometers hiked our stomachs rumbled for the food in the packs. Some of the last food. At 4pm we gave in and ate. At 5pm it got dark and by 6:15 we were both asleep. Not much left to do when the sun sets and there is nothing to read or occupy the brain with. And to be honest we were both a little bit tired from hiking all day. Tired but happy.
I still can’t believe we slept until 630am. The sun had yet to show itself as we boiled water for that first cup of instant starbucks coffee, powdered soy milk and some sugar. When the headlamps were no longer needed we got out of the comfort of the sleeping bags and changed into our hiking clothes. The same clothes from the day before and the day before that. Another day hike up into the Upheaval Dome and four miles later we returned to camp, ravenous with hunger, barely tolerating a wicked coffee buzz.
Cereal gone and camp packed we set out to exit the backcountry to the car, some twelve kilometers of trail away. The map read ‘primitive trail’ and it was fun to climb through some big boulder sections and follow the veins of different dry creek beds. At the trail head we ditched the packs and power-hiked on the road back to where we left the vehicle three days earlier. Why walk on pavement with a pack if you don’t have to?
Then a few miles drive back to the packs and Peter made a small fire in the picnic area grill with wood we’d bought. We still had cheese and corn tortillas in the cooler. Quesadillas never tasted so good.
And this was just the first part of our week long adventure in Canyonlands. Another two areas were thoroughly explored before finally making our way back to the Wasatch, winter and home.
And now, I can hardly believe I’m on the same planet. After going down the mountain on skidoo early this morning then getting dropped at Salt Lake International Airport by Peter, flying to Denver, I’m on my way to Toronto. I can’t wait to return to Utah for more Canyonlands exploration on Wednesday.
It seems the best time to inhabit the desert is the winter. Especially if the goal is not to see another soul and be surrounded by awe-inspiring landscape. To feel the space and listen to the silence and just explore a fantastic place on earth is my idea of a great time.
It only takes time, a little imagination and the desire to step out of this organized world we live in so dominated by technology I truly believe it’s making us crazy. At least that’s how I feel sometimes. I’m glad to remove myself from it from time to time.
Like movement is my medicine, silence and solitude (save for the companionship of my best friend Peter) sooth my soul. Not a bad way to live: under the tarp in the vast desert we call home from time to time.