Sunday, April 11, 2010

Red Rock

A recent trek through the red rock country of southern Utah changed me. Such a voyage always does. I'm struck by the intensity of the landscape, by the miles and miles of ooooh's and aaaah's, by the blessed scarcity of human fabrications. No need to build a temple in this country; there are hundreds of them made of rock.

Spring trips to this country were frequent occurrences for my late husband and me. We always found new places to camp, spots where we could savor the harsh landscape. At the Goblins, an unearthly spattering of odd-shaped stone columns, we camped on dark red sand, sand so hot we had to put blankets down so our dog could walk and sit comfortably. We loved this spot when the sky gave up its light: lying on a picnic table at our campsite, we scanned the Milky Way for hours.

One red rock trip took us to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, an incredible area, graciously free of the myriad of tourist machinations of the south rim. There we found huge rolling meadows flanked by thousands of aspen, the biggest aspen we'd ever seen, with trunks too big for us to wrap our arms around. One evening, while camped right on the rim of the canyon, my husband asked me where the popcorn was. I told him it was in the cupboard above the stove in our camper and asked why. He said "We need it for the show!" He had set lawnchairs up, facing west, at the canyon's edge. We watched an incredible sunset show, as the earth rolled. The movement of deepening shadows was actually visible!

On another red rock trip, we traversed Monument Valley and were given a tour of fossilized dinosaur tracks by a charming native American ten-year-old girl. Garbed in a frilly dress, white anklets, and black patent leather shoes, she was demure and very courteous. She revealed to us "secrets," like the fact that her family doesn't share locations of good dinosaur tracks with her uncle, because he digs the fossils up and sells them so he can buy liquor. She was very restrained as she described the fossilized droppings of prehistoric creatures. She shrewdly offered to sell us jewelry "made in the old ways." Oddly she didn't have change for the twenty I offered her, so I ended up buying more jewelry.

Yet another red rock trip found us at a summit overlooking the Escalante landscape. We spent the night there, after watching a spectacular sunset, and found ourselves face-to-face with elk at dawn. Their breath steamed our camper's windows as they peered in. The dog went crazy! A flock of wild turkeys also joined us at that high place.

On this trek, my daughter and I found spots where western movies had been filmed. "Head 'em off at the pass!" has new meaning for me now, as I've seen one of the passes that has typically been used to shoot such scenes. We were shocked, passing through Zion National Park, to find ourselves inside a mountain for a long time, as we drove through an amazing tunnel. Windows along the route flashed unbelievable scenes of gargantuan rock walls. We were both awestruck at the route the tunnel had taken: it bore through a perpendicular rock face that was one wall of an incredible canyon.

A book we found showed an intriguing diagram of erosion's effect on the area's landscape, tracking from the highest (and least eroded) of the sites, Bryce Canyon, to the lowest (and most eroded), the Grand Canyon. Capitol Reef, Escalante, and Zion were in between. The diagram made lots of sense to us. We sang our praises, more knowingly, to the wonders of wind and water erosion.

Red rock country offers stunning vistas, but it also gives up delectable small treats as well. One rock face that we explored was home to two different families. A small den was tucked in a crevice and its residents (probably fox) had scattered leftover bones in front of the den. I found a tiny jaw with four teeth. Above and to the right of the den were some cavities eroded by wind. Birds had nested in these holes, tucking in small sticks and grasses to make a comfy home for the newly hatched.

I'm enamoured with red rock country. Its shocking beauty and numerous treasures keep drawing me back. I'll go again, I'm sure!


  1. Great country, isn't it? I feel like I need to get back down there. Such a contrast to the moist and moldy Northwest!

  2. It is a dramatic change from the NW. My daughter swears, tho, that she's never leaving the moist, moldy Pacific rainforest spots to live in the "Land of Crusty Boogers." Oh.

  3. Susan: Marolyn and I took that trip several times on our way South to avoid those "Moist, moldy (and gray, I must add) Pacific spots" We loved each and every spot you most skillfully described, and love to go back. But, you know what? We are always glad to return to our own beautiful Oregon desert!!!!!!!!!!