Monday, June 7, 2010

Moab part one

I just got the last few grains of sand out my ears and hair, finally ridding myself of the last unwanted souvenirs from my most recent trip to Moab, Utah. I suppose the campfire musk will continue to follow me for a few more days, but that only adds to the manly image I try to project. (For the record I have been told on several occasions that I am a man’s man. I think that that is a compliment, though I’m not entirely sure what it means. Also for the record I do hope to someday be a woman’s man.) That being said, the trip south can officially be labeled an immense success.

This idea of going down to Moab had been rolling around in my roommate Preston’s brain for sometime. Of course I was immediately on board with the idea signed on as co-planner. We circled Memorial Day weekend as the time to go, and then decided that in the spirit of adventure, we would wait until the last possible moment to do any further planning. In fact, when we eventually arrived at the campground, we weren’t even sure who else would be showing up. We had been advertising the trip to our friends for a few weeks, never giving any details aside from “trust me, you’re gonna love it!”

About 11 o’clock the night before we were leaving, Preston and I sat down around our planning table, which was really just a couple of concrete steps a few doors down from where we live. There we hashed out the details: we will drive to Moab, find a campsite, and live there until we get tired of it. While there, we will do fun things. We will not sleep in a tent, but rather hope that it doesn’t rain. The only actual activity we knew we would do was go mountain biking on the world-famous slickrock biking trail. I had even bought a new bike so I could participate.

The next day, about 4 hours before we planned on leaving, I called a campground and asked about availability in the sandflats recreation area. The guy on the other end informed me that though the campground was currently only half full, he expected it to reach capacity by that night, and that it would be best to arrive as early as possible to guarantee a spot. He also told that there was a sand storm going on down there, but I decided to keep that detail to myself, lest anyone who was planning on going suddenly have a change of heart for fear of being sand-blasted. Since we needed to reserve two campsites to cover our estimated group size, Preston and I decided it would be best to bump up our departure time an hour to 4 o’clock. It was a good thing we did so because we ended up having an hour delay in leaving which put us right back on the original schedule.

The drive down was uneventful, which is good because with driving, I like to think that no news is good news. We just rolled along in Preston’s suburban, enjoying the scenery and a giant bag of pretzels. Eventually the greenery of central Utah faded into the red-rock terrain of the southern desert and we finally reached Moab. The road took us through the small downtown strip of gift shops, restaurants and trading posts, across mill creek and into the sandflats recreation area where we began our search for camp sites. The goal was to find two campsites next to each other, so every time we found a new spot, we would leave someone behind to guard it while we searched on for an even better location. Finally, at the end of cluster H, we found our version of El Dorado, the city of gold. Preston left me behind and went back to go pick up the girls and gear we had left at various spots along our trail. In the mean time, I decided to explore our new home. I climbed the nearest rock, a place we would later name sunset hill because of what I found on top: one of the most incredible views of the western skyline I have ever beheld. It also turned out to be the only spot near our campsite that offered cell phone service. There I sat and watched as the sun sank below the horizon, the clouds above reflecting its bright rays, echoing the rich colors of the dirt and rock that lay before me. The wind from the dust storm I had failed to warn my fellow travelers about pushed on my back as I waited for them to return and we could begin to set up camp. The sunset got me excited for the rest of the weekend.

As Preston’s headlights turned into our campsite, I scrambled down the rocky face of sunset hill and we began establishing our camp. We put up the girls’ tent first, a sturdy dome borrowed from Liz’s uncle. Then we turned to putting up Preston’s tent as a decoy to claim territory as well as to store our supplies during our expeditions. It turned out that the tent, given to him by a friend who bought it for two dollars and Deseret Industries, was missing one of its main poles and therefore was not nearly as sturdy as one would hope their shelter would be. It also didn’t have any stakes, so we filled it with small boulders to keep the heavy winds from turning our experience into an outdoorsy remake of The Wizard of Oz. Once camp was established, we jumped back into the suburban and headed into town for some late night eats.

The night life in Moab isn’t very established. Much to our chagrin, there were no advertised dance parties or karaoke going on. Instead, there was a lot of advertising for the best green chili in Utah, served at the Moab diner. We are very influenced by such advertising gimmicks because we only eat the best, so the decision of where to go was simple. We arrived at the diner at 9:58. Once seated, we found out that they close at 10. There was a certain amount of annoyance exuded by our server with the prospect of having to take care of four poor students who are probably not big tippers this late at night, but still the service was good and food delicious. I had a Chili Burger, which is just what one would imagine with that description: a burger on which you pour world famous green chili. The fries were also very good: thick cut and crispy. It’s hard to go wrong with a local joint in touristy town. Their reputation is their life blood. We drove back to camp fairly exhausted and quite excited for the next day’s adventures. Anxious to get to sleep, Preston and I laid out our sleeping bags on the sandy ground and closed our eyes.

However sleep would be far from us as the wind continued to howl in our ears and sand was blown into our eyes and mouths. The ground on which we were lying was steep enough to elicit us placing large rocks at our feet to stop us from sliding down into the next site. The wind and sand continued all night as we struggled to get any rest. I ended up turning my sleeping bag around and zipping my head inside to protect it from exposure to the elements.

The sun came early, rudely tearing us from our hard fought sleep several hours before my usual rising time. The first thing on the day’s agenda: slickrock bike trail. A quick google search of slickrock shows that this trail is the most popular in the world, has singlehandedly made Moab the Mecca of mountain biking, and is absolutely exasperating. Really the perfect place to introduce yourself into the world of mountain biking for the first time. In fact, this was the first time I had ever ridden my new bike, the first bike I have owned since middle school.

I began riding the trail rather tentatively. I was already sure that I was going to crash at some point, I had the whole thing envisioned in my mind: the cracking of bones, the flash of light as my head slammed against rock, the blood flowing across the already red dirt. So I was just waiting to make a fatal mistake. It wasn’t 30 minutes into the ride that I made that mistake. The accident wasn’t fatal to me, but rather to my shorts. While attempting to climb a very steep section of hill, I leaned too far back as I pressed on the pedals. I popped a wheelie and immediately bailed off the back of the bike. I landed on my feet, but the crotch of my shorts caught on the bike seat and tore clean through. It looked as though I was wearing a skirt with an extremely high slit up the front. Not my best look, and certainly not better than me riding the rest of the trail in just my spandex. Good thing I’ve been doing a little P90X.

The ride itself was mesmerizing when I had a rare opportunity to look up from my tires. The Colorado river was below us carving out its canyon deeper and deeper. The rolling rocky hills seemed to flow on like waves across a desert sea out to the horizon. We had to take several breaks to regain strength in our legs and to eat the cliff bars we had packed in. The dry air that surrounded us parched our mouths with each breath; I drank water bottles as though they were shot glasses. We kept biking on, up and down the rocky hills until I made my nearly fatal error. Coming down a steep section, I failed to pop up my front tire as I hit a rock at the bottom. I flipped over the handlebars of the bike, my legs staying tangled with the pedals as I tried to push myself free of the wreckage. Unable to pull away from the bike, my swinging legs flipped the bike over me again and I came to a halt. My arm and legs were scraped, but besides that no harm was done. I jumped back on my bike and we continued on.

In total, the entire loop took us about 3 hours to complete, not bad considering 4 hours is the recommended time to set aside on the state website. By then end, my legs burned with a fire that could have melted Thor’s hammer. We rode two miles at a very relaxed pace along the road back to our campsite for a cool down. I was already beginning to feel sore.

Preston and I understand one principal: you have to keep women happy. We have learned this through much trial and error in our own lives and knew that with having girls on this trip, efforts would need to be made to keep them smiling and not complaining. So with that in mind, we all went into town to go to all the gift shops because everyone knows that nothing makes women happier than shopping. It’s a strange and inexplicable phenomenon. Personally I don’t know where the female endurance for shopping comes from. I could spend all day walking up mountains, riding bikes and jogging, but put me the mall for one hour and my legs begin to falter. For women, it appears to be the exact opposite. I think we went through 5 gift shops and one trading post. We read hundreds of slogans sprayed onto t-shirts, all of which had something to do with dirt or rocks. There were bumper stickers galore, Preston’s favorite was “Hike Naked: Moab.” I don’t know what kind of person broadcasts that message from the back of their car, but I’m sure they’re a special breed, and I’m not sure if I would like to meet them. After getting our fill of shot glasses and Indian trinkets we went over to the Moab visitors’ center. This was two pronged mission: one, we wanted to find out the best hikes available in the area for that afternoon, and two, the center boasts the best bathrooms in the city.

Staffing the visitors’ center’s information desk was a member of the Canyonlands historical society. You could tell the length of this man’s beard that he knew everything about the area. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had been raised by wolves out in the Moab wilderness. He gave us some recommendations for the afternoon and we decided to think about our options over lunch. Now for anyone heading down to Moab, I would highly recommend Paradox Pizza. It’s a pizza by the slice joint that serves delicious, gourmet, gargantuan slices. I had the pesto veggie pizza, and the jalapeno Hawaiian. Both, I thought, were superb.

Energized and invigorated we headed off for the day’s next adventure: Corona Arch. Corona arch is a huge arch located outside of arches national park. It has become famous because Tim Martin, a local bush pilot, flew his plane through the arch back in the 80’s. (You can order the video of this and other of Tim’s low flying feats at the following website:

We began hiking as the sun started its descent from high noon. The temperature high for the day was in the 90s and we could feel it. Feeling it even more were the various dogs sharing the trail with their owners. I didn’t know dogs could stick their tongues out that far. There were even people carrying their over-heated dogs over the last stretches of the trail. I tried the tongue hanging technique to cool down, but found drinking more water to be a more effective alternative. After posing a few times by the arch, we turned back towards the car to go for hiking round two. We followed some European hikers down the trail and watched as they stopped every 10 steps to snap another picture. Honestly I don’t know how these folks were still functioning: the heat was approaching 100 degrees and they were wearing long sleeves and zip-off pants that they hadn’t zipped off. What’s the point of the zipper if you’re not going to use it? Either they must have been really embarrassed of their legs or the un-zipping instructions were in English only.

Along the road to the next trail was a huge wall of rock featuring petroglyphs drawn on by the ancient indigenous people of the area. This sparked a conversation on the merits of graffiti. These pictures could have simply been drawn on the wall by a bunch of prehistoric punks as a way of defacing the local corner store, and now they are considered priceless artifacts of history. After a few moments of observation we drove on to the trail head for observation point. The sign said 1.5 miles, so we weren’t expecting too much difficulty in reaching the end. After we had hiked for that mile and a half, we found that the sign had simply meant that the trail begins in 1.5 miles and from there it’s 2 more miles until you get to observation point. Still undaunted we pressed on, the trail finally breaking away from the road that had been running parallel to us about 20 feet away the entire time.

After about 30 more minutes of walking up the mountain, the heat began to catch up with us. Our bodies were exhausted and observation point sounded like less and less fun. The turning point had come, as well as my opportunity to be hero. I volunteered to run back to the car and drive it up the road that followed the trail and pick everyone else up. Honestly it was a selfish offering because I find nothing more fun in the hiking world than scampering downhill like what I imagine a mountain goat would look like on two legs. I arrived at the car drenched in sweat and covered in dust, ready for what we had previously dedicated as our next activity: bathing in the Colorado River.

The Colorado River is not especially known for its cleansing properties. The water is a dirty brown color, but when combined with a bar of Irish Spring soap, it can still do miracles on a filthy camper. The river is also notoriously cold, so to get ourselves ready for the deep chill we would encounter we put up all the windows of the car and turned off the air as to create a sort of dry sauna to ride in. We arrived at the river gasping for air and desperate for relief from the stinging heat. I quickly threw on my swim suit, grabbed my Irish Spring and ran into the river. Goose bumps immediately formed all over my now shivering body as I scrubbed my away the dirt and sweat that covered me. The wind was still blowing at hurricane strength so the bathing was cut short as we tired of chasing our towels as they blew away.

After bathing, the next basic human function was to eat dinner. In order to keep our outdoor experience authentic, we decided to pic-nic. The local city mart, aka Kroger’s, has these delectable deli sandwiches they sell premade, but still fresh. They are roughly the size of my lower leg and only cost 6 dollars. Preston and I each got one and the girls got one to share. We found a little city park to eat at and relax as we waited for more of our friends to show up that evening. Sharing the park with us was the Rocky Mountain Adventures group having a huge barbecue. I don’t know what the requirements are for joining the group, but it actually looked like an older crowd, middle aged and higher, who probably just can’t get enough of the outdoors. Definitely something to look into for the future.

The park we found featured a rather unique xylophone section. I had never seen anything like it before, but it certainly fit the hippie-vibe that Moab puts out. There were ten different xylophones of different sizes and styles, complete with mallets and everything. The sounds of our masterpieces carried above the trees into the clear sky. As we played, the first car of fellow campers showed up. It was the group I will designate as the new guys: Ryan, Nick, Freddie, and Grant. Freddie we’ve know for a while, but Ryan and Nick just moved into the ward a month or so ago. Grant is their old roommate who came down on his way to California for an internship. We started playing a little Frisbee, which led to an experience that has no doubt changed lives.

While playing Frisbee 500, a little boy came to join in our game. His name: Gavin. Just mentioning that name for the rest of the trip would cause an eruption of thunderous laughter. Gavin was one of those athletes with simply more hustle than skill. We would try to gently toss him the Frisbee and he would miss it. Anytime the Frisbee would land on the ground, Gavin was after it like a hound on a fox. He would slide, dive or lay out trying to grab the Frisbee in order to have the opportunity to throw it back. Unfortunately he could only get the Frisbee about a quarter of the way back to his target. This elicited the question, “So do you play sports?” The answer: a clarifying “No.” After playing and laughing with Gavin for a good 15 minutes, it was time for us to head to campsite to watch the sun sink down from sunset hill. As we were leaving, Freddie jokingly asked Gavin if he wanted to go camping with us. Gavin’s eyes lit up, especially when he heard that we had candy at our site, and he ran off to go ask his dad if it would be alright to go with us. Not wanting any legal trouble we jumped in our cars and drove off before the question could be posed.

Once again I was back on top of Sunset Hill for the 8:30 display of natural magnificence painted across the darkening sky. For some reason there is something sublime about the sky and watching it change colors as the spectrum bends and breaks. There is some connection it has with the human soul, stirring the deepest part of our emotions, reminding us of what is beautiful in life and rekindling our aspirations. So with the sky burning up before us, we watched, thought and felt. Headlights lit up the road below us as evening turned to dusk. It was more of our group. We went down to meet them.
Almost everyone had now arrived. We built a campfire and sat around telling stories of the past and talking about plans for the next day and for the future. It was the embodiment of summer. The last car we were waiting for arrived. We talked and laughed. The wind stopped and the air cooled. We laid out our sleeping bags and closed our eyes.

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