one million ways to die (a travelogue in brief)

The desert, they say, has a lot of  ways to kill you.   My guidebooks dwell on this fact almost gleefully, as if they are just itching to say “told you so” when the rangers finally drag your crushed, dehydrated, emaciated, and/or drowned body out of some deep canyon somewhere.   You can fall.  You can dehydrate.  You can drown.  You can get heat stroke.  You can get hypothermia.   You can get bit by something poisonous or eaten by something ferocious.  You can hit a deer or an elk or a bear, or a damn cow for that matter, on a dark road late at night.  You can get lost.   You can be stuck in a wash when a flash flood comes.  You can get hit by lightning.  You can starve.   You can be driven mad by the solitude, by the emptiness, by the vastness.  Everything is an enemy.  The sun.  The heat.  The seemingly innocuous distances.  The plants.

Why go there?  Because it is insanely beautiful.

footsteps in the sandCoral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (just outside of Mt. Carmel Junction).  I drove four hours from Vegas, settled into my B&B, and headed out for dinner.  After dinner I went for a drive and this is where I ended up.  Here a combination of wind, geology, and topography has produced a narrow valley full of large pink sand dunes.  The sand is pink because of iron oxides in the Navajo sandstone it came from.  I found this place while meandering down a state highway in the late afternoon when the sun was just beginning to set and the dunes glowed in the fading light.  I was mostly alone there and the wind never stopped blowing.  Except for the occasional sound of an ATV off in the distance, walking along the dunes was a matter of peaceful solitude and keeping the sand out of my camera.

grand canyon moon rise Grand Canyon (North Rim).  It’s a canyon.  It’s pretty grand.  That about covers it.  Except I will say this.  Standing completely alone at Cape Royal, with the only sounds those of the evening birds calling, and watching the full moon rise over Grand Canyon is one of the most sublime moments of my life.  Ever.

prickly pear flower zion national park

Zion National Park. I hiked all day, through the myriad environments the Canyon has to offer.  Near the river it was green and cool and shady.  The rocks wept and made  hanging gardens.  In the cool mist of the Emerald Pools one could forget for a moment one was in a desert.  Along the trails the sand burned and the hots shimmered in the heat.  Lizards darted into the path, threatened me, darted away again.  Squirrels worked the cute on tourists.  Hawks wheeled overhead.  The canyon was surprisingly quiet.  The red monoliths with their biblical names soared above and pine trees clung precariously to cliff edges.  Where the river widened out into a valley there were grasslands.

And everywhere there were flowers.

hoodoos and pine

Bryce Canyon. The Canyon is like a giant sandcastle, with the sand dripped into fantastical shapes.   Every step changes perspective.  The altitude is high and the air is thin and everything is sharp and clear.  Ancient trees grow in unlikely places.  It really is true here.  On a clear day you can see forever.


SR 14.  The road winds over the mountains, climbing higher in a series of switchbacks all the way to ten thousand feet.  Sometimes it stretches out long and straight through alpine meadows and the temptation is to speed up, to race, to make up time.  But that would be a mistake.  You will miss the meander of a stream through the snow (still snow at this altitude), the view over the old lake, the red stone walls of Zion 5o miles away.  You will miss the rough black volcanic rock and the white trunks of the aspens.  You will miss the radio-collared deer grazing near the road.  You will miss the cinder cone and the lava field.  So even when the open road calls you forward, slow a bit, and always be prepared to stop.  There is a lot to see and anyways, you aren’t in a hurry.


SR 12. The Grand Staircase is some of the most remote wilderness in the country.  Much of it still has no roads.  Yet people have lived here for thousands of years.  They are mostly gone now but if you know where to look you can find them.  They built their homes on the cliffs and carved their stories into the rock.

rockville“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”  –T.S. Eliot


~ by gun street girl on June 14, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: