Everyone knows about the Grand Canyon. It is the biggest of the many canyons scattered across the Southwest, but not necessarily the most interesting or scenic. I was just getting into that region now, one I’d been through before, but never fail to get a thrill from, as it is always shifting and changing, depending on the season and the light. You could spend a year in the Canyonlands and still never run out of new discoveries. At the moment, however, I was racing towards Moab, the base for Arches National Park.
The sky was a rolling ocean of clouds, the blacktop straight and narrow, as I sped along the 191 north. There was an exit for Canyonlands National Park, both a good memory and an adventure for a later date, a maze of spires and painted rock, dissected by the Green and Colorado Rivers. Down the road a way, I pulled over at Wilson Arch, which resembles a huge eye in the sky, tourists struggling up hill to have their pictures taken in the natural frame. Right past that was a home and trading post built into the stone called the Hole in the Rock.
When I got to Moab I stopped for gas and bought a sandwich. Then I drove to Arches National Park, a huge sculpture garden of fantastic rock formations, that on this day was totally sold out. It had been like that at many of the National Parks over the summer. You’d had to make reservations to get into the most popular ones. That’s why I’d waited until after Labor Day to take my road trip. So far, I’d been lucky to get into everything I’d wanted to see, barring the Taos Pueblo, and now Arches. There were hundreds of miles of canyons ahead of me, so that was further consolation.
I continued on then, past Jackass Joe’s UFO Jerky, where a green Mystery Machine with deflated tires sat out front. Passing that, I got on the 70 west for a short stretch, before exiting on the 24 south, a road I had all to myself. There is no way to measure the heights I reached, barreling towards the backdoor of canyon country. The great white clouds were so low to the road that I could almost hear them speaking. The white hole of a sun shone like a beacon of encouragement on a tranquil blue sea.
I was rising up out of my seat in anticipation, knowing that the Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Escalante-Staircase National Monument were still ahead of me. Then it was Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, all leading up to that great granddaddy of them all, the Grand Canyon, although this time I planned on doing it differently and seeing the north rim. A few raindrops spattered across the windshield, but quickly evaporated. The color of the rocks changed, from red, to black, to sand.
In Capitol Reef I pulled over to view the Freemont Petroglyphs, an early expression of street art, tagging a canyon wall with stick figures of people and bighorn sheep. Only a few miles later I reached the Dixie National Forest and was suddenly driving through pine trees and snow. Then it was crossing the Grand Escalante, a narrow highway built high on a winding ridge. It was the greatest, most diverse, drive of the trip so far. Red rocks beneath the blue sky. White snow beneath the white clouds. A black road and yellow stripe dividing green trees. Now here came some cowboys, leading a herd of cattle on a drive. They tried to keep them to the side of the road. I slowed down anyway and waved.
Just when it came time to look for a campground, I reached the town of Escalante. A hotel called the Prospector was advertising rooms for seventy dollars. I ducked in to check it out and managed to snag the last one. My trip had been a stunning success. Like leading 40-0 in the fourth quarter, I knew nothing could ruin it now. If I had to pay for a hotel room every night for the rest of the trip, that was fine now.
The trip wasn’t over, but I was already moving into the celebration phase of it. There was a food truck parked just down the street. I walked over and got a chicken torta. Then I laid down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. The world was spinning in front of my eyes.