I was 23 when I first visited the desert.
We drove west from Keystone, passed through small towns and “big” cities, over canyons with turbid rivers below, and as the sun sank below the horizon, we entered into an arid landscape of silhouettes and stars.
It was my first time in Moab and I woke up in a friend of a friend’s upstairs twin bed half out of my sleeping bag. We arrived under the cover of a billion stars and woke to a hazy blue sky – it was already feeling like someone turned the oven on preheat.
We packed up quickly – harnesses, rope, water, packs, camera – grabbed some burritos at a joint I can’t recall the name of today, and made our way out of town and into Arches National Park. At this point, I was in awe. I had no idea we were going to a National Park, let alone, my first western park. Prior to that day, I had only visited parks back east – and worked in one for 4 years prior to my internship in Colorado.
The windows were down, the heat was steadily increasing and as I sat in the passenger seat with my hand out the window of an old Subaru Outback, my mind was trying as best it could to process the landscape in front of me: stunning, foreign, and speaking to my soul.
We pulled to the side of the road, loaded up, and began walking through an open expanse. No trail, no signs, no sign of anything more than a vast desert landscape. I recall asking where we were going to only get a finger pointing in the direction we were walking as a response.
To this day, much of that quick trip is a blur. I remember the feeling of August heat in the desert, the shock I felt when I realized we were going canyoneering – which wasn’t apparent until a break in the landscape revealed a slot canyon with deep murky pools full of life (beetles, lizards, other insects) – and the pure joy I felt as the canyon’s cottonwoods seemed to applaud our arrival.
Though, the most powerful thing I remember was the feeling of knowing that I was pushing myself – pushing the boundaries I have held for so long, and breaking through my self-imposed limitations. I repelled a ~130ft cliff/canyon wall, I swam through the murkiest potholes, I stood near quicksand, I ate wild prickly pear cactus, I pushed through the boundaries that defined me and opened up a new chapter of my life.
Today, I go back to that place because it still speaks to my soul and, dare I say, might even define a part of me.
Though, this most recent trip was quite different than the excursions of the past, it was one that quenched my thirst. Here’s a small view at a big world that lies to my west and deep in my appreciation…