Arriving in your Dreams ~ Southern Utah
In the past few mornings, I’ve woken to a rooster crowing in the distance. In Junction, Utah, the sun rises later than the internet tells me, because there are mountains it has to ascend. Sometimes I feel like that, late to the game, but better for it. This town is so small, the population is half the freshman class of St. Ignatius, the high school where I worked in San Francisco. There are ATVs parked next to most homes, sprinklers cascade across vast country lawns. I let my little Hoopla play with the dog who lives at the main house, and she of course ran down the street. But later on in the day, I saw other dogs running through the street, visiting the other dogs nearby. It’s the rural version of an afternoon walking group. I woke before dawn today because I have missed this, time to write to process the beauty I’ve taken in. Time to finesse the experience into story, into truth. Right now the sunrise shadows on the Western range cut crisp and deep like a bluesy melody.
But the main attraction, the reason I came to Utah, was the National Parks. I planned this stop because it’s close to Bryce Canyon. Two months ago I stared at my map of the Southwest, knowing I had about a week and a half to do a loop from Los Angeles. The plethora of options was overwhelming. Bryce? Arches? Zion? Capitol Reef? Grand Escalade? My googling was led by which parks were the most dog friendly. Bryce won – in the plan. But in my heart, not so much.
Bryce Canyon is above everything. Like many parks, there is a long road you can drive down, with various viewpoints onto which you can pull out. From each viewpoint, you can see down into the greener canyon to the trails (I was unable to hike, because dogs are forbidden). But the bigger feature is the rusty red hoodoos, which according to Wikipedia, are “(also called tent rock[s], fairy chimney[s] or earth pyramid[s]) [are] tall, thin spire[s] of rock that protrude… from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland.” The first viewpoint I pulled into was Inspiration Point, and it was breathtaking. It was like being on the surface of an invisible air ocean, looking down into the coral reef. More so, it was just so big; if the canyon was a set of lungs, this land would be a badass athlete.
On July 1st, however, the throngs of people hampered my communing with nature. I suppose I just wanted to hike down into the canyon and be in it. I snapped my obligatory pic, and drove on. I did this for another six or seven viewpoints, and while they each differed, they blended together in my mind like names of the ten new people I’d meet at a party. The drive is not a loop, but a seventeen mile in and out. On the way back, I decided to hit Zion too.
This was a bit ridiculous for me. I like to be nestled into a home-like space by dusk, to relax and stop the doing of my day. In a self-guided tour through life, I usually give myself lots of time to decompress. I am an expandable water toy, except with time. When traveling, I can take a day or an hour to do something. I knew to get to Zion, I’d have to drive another two hours, and to get back to this sweet town, it would be another two hours. I wouldn’t even arrive there until 4pm. So, this was a bit nutty.
On the drive between the parks, I had no cell reception, no Spotify. I pulled out my ten sleeve CD case from the early 2000s, and found a CD I made for my friend Pants on her 21st birthday. She just turned 32. I sang along with Imogen Heap, Train, Louis Armstrong, The Be Good Tanyas, the Dismemberment Plan and Tegan & Sara. I wondered if I was a better person when I was making mix-CDs for friends. This feels like a lost art form now. Curating a musical experience was one way to know you loved someone. Looking at the variety in the playlist, I wondered if my taste had narrowed along with so many other parts of my life. Or if I’d gotten lazy in the age of MP3s. Funny, that the lack of options, the legitimate narrowing of my choices, made me listen to music I hadn’t heard in maybe a decade. Again, opening doors.
When I finally pulled into Zion with my new Inter-Agency National Park Pass, I was not ready to be floored the way I was. Unlike Bryce, this park has a road that goes directly through, so you don’t loop back. Also, this park isn’t above a canyon, but in it. As park-goer with a dog, I appreciated the scenic nature of the drive itself. I pulled off every stop I could. The mountains to me looked like god put down a washcloth she’d been wringing out, and it just solidified. The twisted tilted lines on the rockface lit me up. It was like staring at the face of a well wrinkled loved one. Hello grandma, it’s been a while. The day’s heat rose, and looking up at Angel’s Landing and the Three Patriarchs my heart expanded. I found out that Bryce and Zion are actually connected through something called a Grand Staircase, a twisted colorful erosion that took over 200 million years to form. The bottom layer of land at Bryce is actually the same sedimentary layer as the top at Zion. It’s twisted, literally.
But what mattered more to me was that it felt right. I wanted to come back. I wanted to stay. What would have happened if I stuck to my little plan, and drove home after Bryce? It's been so good to push beyond what I expect of myself. So much is in the world that I've just slept through. I have gone my entire life without seeing Zion, but dreaming of a place like it. The last time I felt like this was last April when I drove into Joshua Tree. When I drove through there this time, a local man named Kevin said, Joshua Tree is some of the oldest exposed earth around. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that these points feel like electric sockets, where you can plug into god. So now, the morning before leaving Junction to head to Flagstaff, I feel exhausted – I got home at 8pm, and drove 330 miles yesterday – but fully charged.