Friday, July 10, 2009

The Most Beautiful Trip of My Life … Probably …

Note: Please click on the picture for all the photos from this trip.

This is the picture that summarizes, in my opinion,
the State of Utah - or at least what I have seen of it.
This is taken in Arches National Park, in Moab.

It’s the morning of July 4th, 2009, and I am sitting in Aa.’s truck (I know, my boyfriend has an honest to God Dodge truck – don’t ask! This is another story altogether!), sleepy and hungry, waiting for him to come out of the Jeep rental place in Moab, Utah.

We are renting a Jeep Wrangler for the day, to cruise along the Colorado river, in the Canyon of Moab. He’s been gone for a while, which makes me nervous, the a/c is going full blast, and I just cannot cool down! I am reading the visitors’ brochure from Arches National Park, which we visited the day before. They tell you all you need to know about how Arches National Park came about: about the sea it once was, the faults in the ground, about the Navajo and the Entrata Sandstones, which all made their own contribution to the landscape that we now see. I read for about 10-15 minutes, enthralled by this fantastic tale of patience (who is more patient than God? or Time?), and learn all I need to know about the geological tale of Arches. And after 20 minutes of seemingly seamless documented science, the very last two sentences of the story flow right in, sort of in an unexpected twist in tail way: “This is the geologic history of Arches National Park – probably. The evidence is largely circumstantial.”

And I finally wake up from a dream! A dream that has lasted, evidently, for the past 24 hours that I have spent in Moab! I wake up because of the intrinsic relativism of these statements. Relativism about something that exudes so much … certainty, and sureness, and … permanence.

The Arches National Park is a monument of nature like I have never seen. They rise in the middle of the desert, long after you thought that you left the mountains behind. Its vastness and tallness are overwhelming. I am not sure I will even attempt to describe what I felt, because words don’t do it justice. And pictures, I am not sure, don’t either. I had seen plenty of pictures of the “red rocks of Utah” before, but when you’re there – you’re like on a different planet! Near and far, tall and short, alive and dead, heat – are all measured differently. You’re hot, and tired, but you want to move on, and see more. The eye feasts for beauty, and there is so plenty of it, all around you, you’re not sure where to look first: all you know is that you don’t want it to be over.

I have loved deserts always. I have loved them for their simplicity, and simple gorgeousness! For their stoicism. If they can handle 50+ degree drops in temperature daily, and years and years of drought, they can handle anything. I have always been fascinated by deserts, because they have so much quiet but exuberant life bottled up in them: every cave, and every sand mount, you know that it hides ants, or lizards, or snakes, or birds, even. And then, there are the junipers. And the “bonsai” trees. Just a simple, delicate reminder that life can grow.

Pretty much anywhere. With stubbornness!

Our visit into the desert continued after Aa. managed to rent the Jeep, a fiery red Wrangler, and source of Aa.’s permanent grin that day, into the Moab Canyon, along the Colorado river. The river is muddy and slow, in Utah. And the mountains it cut over the years seem old, and telling. You can see waves, and waves of time (and water) have weathered them, and so many shades: from yellow, to rusty red, to black, and white, even. I would give anything to have a dress the colors of the Moab desert!

The Arches are perched up high, it seems, but for the Canyon, you go down below. Down below the life line, I thought, because the further and deeper we went into the deserted Canyon, the hotter, lonelier, quieter it got. I think my heart started skipping beats at mile 10 or so into the drive ( I think we had more like 20 miles to go that day, on paved roads, and dirt roads alike), and at mile 15 I begged to turn around. In 103 degrees, I felt ZERO oxygen going into my body! I was hotter than hot, breathless with a heart that was about to pop out of my chest looking for air. I love the desert, but that was my test to see if I could live in it. No, I can not!

And for all those folks who dream of the “dry heat” of the West when living in North Carolina, let me assure you: The West, and Moab in particular, was humid that day! The Moab sauna that day would put a NC summer's day sauna to shame in no time flat! Trust me!

We turned around, but not before we got closer to this rock formation that reminded me of The Pyramids of Egypt! The silence was deafening. Not a soul was around. Not a bird. Not a bug. Just silence, and red rocks. Black, yellow, white, and red and brown rocks. With “The Pyramid” in front of me, I thought I traveled to the end of the world. Just like in Arches, I felt small, and lonely. Felt like God has left me, and the world, in search for a lusher place.

In Moab, we ate at McStiff’s Plaza, for dinner (insert your dirty joke here). The food was great, the locale picturesque, but the beer (at least the Provo Girl Pilsner I got) was horrible, and the music even worse. I really liked the plaza itself: it came right out of a Western movie: all it needed was the horses, tied up outside! Breakfast was at Zax , and that was an amazing experience! You get red bandannas for napkins, and the salad bar is built inside of a wooden canoe. The door handle is an old wooden baseball bat, and the place warms up in the winter by the help of a cast iron stove. The flavor of time is so thick in this place, it’s sticky! You can get black beans and salsa for any breakfast dish, just to remind you that you’re in the desert.

The day after we came back from the desert, we headed to Sundance. And boy, did we fall into the other extreme! As much as Moab is arid, Sundance is lush! If Moab seems like the sky and the sun just slurped out life, and vegetation and green out of the ground, it seems like they burped it all back onto Sundance. The mountains are green, and the streams are bubbly and furious. Waterfalls are crying on cliffs, everywhere you turn. You feel small, too, here, falling over backwards trying to see the snow peaked mountains, but it’s a different kind of small. You feel the communion with nature, and God here, you don’t feel alone. You feel protected. The air was dry and fresh, filled with pine and lumber smells.

The brunch in the Resort’s Foundry Grill was amazing. Nothing short of high class and posh, yet relaxed and welcoming. The food was varied and ranged from eggs Benedict to beef Stroganoff, and carved turkey and grilled salmon. My favorite was the ribs and potato dish with bbq sauce and mango (I think) chutney – oh, out of this world – I thought!

Everything was done to perfection, and dining on the stone and wood patio with the wind and the water giving us a live performance was just heaven!

The Grill is housed in a beautiful and large log cabin, which complements the wild surroundings, and lives quietly amongst the pine trees and along the trout filled waterfalled river outside. If in Moab you were afraid to speak, not to disturb the silence of it all, and you could hear a pin drop, in Sundance, you were afraid to speak, not to interrupt the intricate dialogue of all elements amongst each other that morning: the roaring stream, the birds, the bees, the wind in the aspen trees, the deep, long whisper of the wind among the pine trees, the waterfalls in the distance.

If the desert was a splendor of reds and yellows and browns, Sundance was a warm chat of blues and greens, between the sky and the pastures and woods. The chairlift allowed us to get a better view of the valley, the peaks, and all the million dollar homes in between - done with very much taste, I might add.

In Moab I felt like it’s a nice place to visit, but in Sundance, I felt like I arrived home. I feel very much like a part of me was left in Sundance, at the top of that peak, when the chair lift turned around and I screamed “Let’s do this again!”, almost without any self control!

Salt Lake City had the surprising feel of a small town. I kept wondering how it managed to host The Olympics a few years back, since it felt so small. Dinner in Salt Lake was at a remote and yet again beautiful place called Log Haven Restaurant. I am not sure how Aa. found this place – it’s remote, and tucked away in the woods, in Wasatch-Cache National Park. But again, just like The Grill at Sundance, it had a feeling of belonging to nature, and of posh and gourmet, without being uncomfortable.

If The Grill had known and familiar but cooked with a twist dishes, The Log Haven had all gourmet, sophisticated, one of a kind mixes. The delicious, Iron chef-like dishes, the waterfall backdrop on the patio, the tall pines, and the log cabin feel were a beautiful ending to a beautiful day and amazing journey. We enjoyed the food, a cold drink and watching our very unique waitress explain our dishes with her hands. I hate desserts, but she explained the crème brule in such a way to the adjacent table, I had to have it, and it was some of the best kind I have ever had – just don’t tell my mom! It was … an experience all in its own.

I also loved the Provo Area, with its cozy, small town feel, and the beautiful trails and roads (that I hope to go back and explore on foot more) at American Fork Canyon! Just a secluded, very wild and well preserved natureland.

I loved Utah for many reasons. Sure, the company always counts as the most important, and that was priceless. But it seemed like people there live with respect and humility towards what God put around them. And God surely looks like He’s been generous to them! The freshness of the air, the beauty and grace of every rock, no matter where it lays is breathtaking.

I loved Utah also because there is such stark contrast between its various parts. Just like America, it’s a land of extremes. When The Rockies are smoking (after a good rain) and sun falls on Utah Lake, the view is magical! I felt like I was watching Jerusalem from atop of a hill. It was wild, and sacred all at one time!

There was such explosion of life, and color, and surprise at every corner, that I never stopped being wowed. I even forgot about buying souvenirs, and I just kept shooting pictures of every corner, and every street, and every peak! I did not want to miss one shade of the sky, or of the land or of the air! Now, I keep telling myself that this trip and my pictures will be my souvenirs. There were moments during this journey, I felt like mountains, and rocks, and rivers were not wanting me to go. I felt a relationship to it all, that I have missed for a while now.

Although heavily biased by my state of mind, and by the beauty and awe of nature, that I so love, it was most likely one of the most beautiful and unexpected trips of my life – probably. The evidence is largely circumstantial.

No comments: