Born and raised in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, anytime I explore a public lands location that doesn’t get feet of rainfall each year feels, I feel incredibly strange. I am used to endless green, to rivers constantly flowing and to signs of life around every corner. I am accustomed to seeing towering trees and sword ferns, salmon filled rivers and glaciated peaks. That is what makes the desert so intoxicating, and why I, like millions of other millennials, have fallen in love with Utah’s Public Lands.
I was recently asked, for #NatureWritingChallenge, to describe the best moment I had on America’s Public Lands this past year. Narrowing this down was next to impossible. I literally ran with bison in Yellowstone, explored Yosemite and the Sierras, summited numerous mountains around the west and witnessed animal migrations large and small. I experienced a year of seasons in the Rockies, walking across frozen rivers and soaking in remote hot springs. I took a trip to the Badlands with my brother-in-law and saw smoke from wildfires fill the Tetons while chatting with an old friend. I had the best year of my life in Public Lands, so far, visiting ten states, and eight National Parks. I could spend a lifetime writing about these adventures, and probably will, but for now, I will cover one of the most fun and unique to me adventures of 2018.
It was March of 2018 and after enduring the endless winds of winter along the Yellowstone River, a change of scenery was much needed. I had grown tired of the snow and while weekly trips into the Northern Range of Yellowstone fueled my wanderlust spirit, I craved something new and remarkable. I needed warmth and I needed dry, so I looked down to Utah. Full of destinations, the decision was made to drive through Capitol Reef National Park and then spend a few days at Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon. All these areas are popular, well known and definitely not some sort of hidden gem. Yet for me, they were all brand new areas and would become ones that would captivate my imagination.
A few hours driving through Capitol Reef was not enough time there, and may be one of my larger regrets of 2018. Hopefully, I will be going back there soon. The park is ridiculously gorgeous and around every corner, I found trails that I wanted to run and hike, but I needed to push on. My true destination was waiting for me and as the temperature crested the 70 degree mark, my excitement grew with the thermostat. Supplies were gathered at a gas station built into a rock and the final few miles of the drive passed quickly.
Goblin Valley State Park may just be one of the most interesting state parks I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. A geological wonderland, most descriptions of the park call it a martian and I agree. Located along the San Rafael Reef, the area shows evidence of being in an ancient sea, with rock formations resembling mushrooms popping up over the foreign looking landscape. Showcasing erosion at its best, wandering the seemingly endless landscape of rock boggled my mind. A day earlier, I had been running in sub-zero windchills, surrounded by snow and ice. Now, I was wandering through terrain I could hardly believe could be real. Little did I know, my experiences in this region would only get better.
As if I had brought it with me, the wind started picking up my first night at Goblin Valley, testing the integrity of the tent I was gear testing for Teton Sports. Once the sun rose the next morning, the winds died down, presenting the handful of people in the campground a perfect day to explore the area. I had been debating a run, but instead bailed on that plan and went straight to Little Wild Horse Canyon, just a short drive from the fields of eroded Entrada sandstone. I was eager to get into a slot canyon, for I had only seen them in pictures. What I encountered on this 8 mile loop trail was mind boggling and amazing, and only increased my love for the deserts of Utah. Climbing up and down rocks, exploring side slot canyons and wandering the well marked trail, I became drunk off of wanderlust, falling deeper in love with the canyons each step I took.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, slot canyons are something I may never get used to, just like the old growth forests are something a person from Utah may not ever grow accustomed to seeing. The twists and turns of eroded sandstone, the sandy steps and stunning views, it was all too much to handle. I felt the history of the region as I ran my hands across the rock. I understood the uniqueness of this region and longed to connect with it on a deeper level. I was only here for a few days, but the calling of the desert continues to this day. I remember how the day light danced down the canyon walls, and how the sounds of a raven’s wings above echoed on the rocks to either side. In the desert of Utah, I had once again tapped into the soul nourishing power of nature and was overcome with happiness and serenity.
I know I am extremely lucky and privileged to have had this and all the opportunities I have had on Public Lands, and not a day goes by that I don’t wish every human on the planet could have these adventures too. It saddens me, but I don’t know what to do about it expect for share my stories and hope it ignites a flame in someone and helps to open the doors of exploration. For me, 2018 was a year of great humility, with my passions and love for public lands getting carved into my soul just a bit deeper, like the sandstones of the Utah desert.
*This post was written in one hour for #NatureWritingChallenge