Back West (Podcast S4:E1)
Hi! We’ve missed you!
The first episode of the new series of our podcast is out now – listen here! Hear about where we are now and why it’s Utah! Then, come along with us in the Bobs as we explore the San Rafael Swell and try to find a sheltered campsite on a very windy day – a typical day in our life.
We’re back in Utah at a dispersed camping site so beautiful that it’s hard to focus on writing or anything else. Look at the horizon, starting to the center left: Over there are the snow-covered La Sals, the gorgeous mountain range that towers over Moab. The full range is visible, catching the afternoon light, the snow fields that will still cover the tops for months glowing a brilliant white. To the north of the La Sals, the red cliffs along the Colorado River are on view. To the right of the La Sals, the spiky mesas that tower over the southwest side of Moab make a stegosaurus ridge.
Next comes Arches National Park. First the grouping that includes Double Arch, The Windows, and all those other fun arches that everyone sees – we can even see one of the arches from here. Then the sandstone bowl that holds Delicate Arch, whose very top is only visible to us when the setting sun perfectly lights it up for a moment. With binoculars, we can see many tiny humans rounding the final curve in the trail before the arch pops into view and then waiting in line to take a selfie under said arch. Tiny cars crawl on the road through the park, way too many cars. Thousands of people are just over there, but they’re far enough away to seem unreal. After Delicate Arch comes the Fiery Furnace, with red sandstone fins marching back into the hillside. Then the Devil’s Garden with the grouping of sandstone ridges and fins that includes Landscape Arch, which we can actually pick out from here, its thin band of sandstone delicately spanning the gap in a sandstone ridge.
Continuing to the north, closer by, there’s a ridge of yellow sandstone and in it an unnamed arch that we tried to climb to earlier, scrambling across the petrified dunes and down washes until we were stopped by a dryfall that was too high to climb down and too surrounded by beautiful cryptobiotic soil crust to circle. Behind that yellow ridge, closing out the view to the right is the line of the Book Cliffs with I-70 at their base, filled with many tiny little cars and tractor trailers streaming across the state, way too fast.
We’re camped on the edge of a petrified dune that has eroded into patterns that look like reptile skin. I’m walking on a giant dragon that fell here and was petrified. In the middle ground between here and arch-land there are countless red sandstone mounds, green-tinged meadows, fields of small shrubs, fine red sand dunes covered with healthy cryptobiotic soil, cacti, and small shards of what looks like petrified wood.
It’s hard to relax thinking of the sheer number of adventures, both known and unknown, that we can see from this spot. It’s hard to sit still, but we found this campsite early and we had to have it, we just had to occupy this piece of the world for a night or two.
We’re back in Utah – we’re finally back West.
But let’s quickly catch up on where we’ve been for the last few months. The second to last time we checked in, we were wrapping up our first five months on the road in Durango, CO. After CO, we did way too much driving and flying, first to WI, then NY, then WI again, then a long stay in FL, then AR where we found some lovely camping and mountain biking that we want to check out in the future when it’s warmer, then to Kansas City. We spent almost no time camping in The Bobs, instead staying with friends, family, house-sitting, dog-sitting, a month at a rental in Florida, a blend of hotels.
Then we were inarguably headed back West. We stopped in St. Francis, KS, whose free city campground was the site of our last night of camping on our first year on the road ten years ago, the site of Paul’s ultimate triumph – which you’ll have to ask him about sometime. That place had unresolved sad feelings for me and being there again unexpectedly exorcised those old end-of-trip blues.
Then we crossed the state line back into CO, where I picked up the happiness I didn’t realize I had left at the border when we headed east in November. Some say the edge of the West is found at the Mississippi River. Some say it’s the Rockies. I say you know the edge of the West when you get there. It might not be one consistent place, but rather a feeling. This time the edge of the West was at the CO border for me, because that’s when I finally felt like I was home.
Oh, how I love CO. When the sky isn’t blue, it’s filled with drama. People seem so much happier to be alive in CO. I know how things work in CO. In CO, we told everyone that we saw that we were heading south to New Mexico next – we’d been telling people that for weeks. Then, the night before we left, we promptly changed our minds and pointed The Bobs straight west to Utah.
We had spent the past four months in the East longing for the West, for the easy and free camping, lack of crowds, dry air, plentiful hiking, mountains, deserts, and everything in between. We could have gotten that stuff in New Mexico, easily. We were eventually going to get around to Utah. But Utah was calling too loudly to wait. There are webs of dirt roads to explore between Moab and Escalante and Green River and Page, AZ. The weather is perfect right now. OK, it’s still kinda chilly and the wind has been epic, but it’s perfect enough. “Why not just get right back into what we want to do?” we asked ourselves. Ourselves didn’t have any good response to that, so to Utah we went.
Everyone has heard about the big five National Parks in Utah, which are amazing, but they’re way too busy. We’ve been there, done that. There is a TON more to explore in Utah. Even setting aside the State Parks and National Monuments, there are tiny dirt roads leading to amazing features everywhere. There are so many areas that I’ve looked at from I-70 and wished I could explore. Now we’re going to try to drive on as many of these dirt roads as the Bobs can handle. Because every single thing in this state is amazing, not just the things within the bounds of what someone decided to call a National Park.
We haven’t seen many people on our dusty drives, which could make my plan to bring in other voices for this series a little tricky. But it’s never lonely. We have a noisy crow for an alarm clock. For entertainment, we have lizards that run so fast over the sand that they look like they’re floating. We have a beautiful dark brown wild horse who dances curiously at a safe distance from our campsite, all legs like an awkward pre-teen. His hooves have never known horseshoes. We have an owl that hoots quietly throughout the night for company, if we happen to wake. Seeing another person this far in the wilderness is strange, anyway. It’s like walking into your living room and finding a stranger sitting on your couch.
For our first recorded day in the life, we are bringing you along as we explore Red’s Canyon and hunt for a sheltered campsite in Emery County, a truly underrated section of Utah west of Green River (the town and river) and south and east of the mountain ranges that run north to south up the state towards Salt Lake City and Park City.
Note that there is some swearing in the Saturday day in the life version of this podcast, so be ready to cover baby Eliza’s ears! And Mom, be ready to cover yours too!
To hear the day in the life – listen to the podcast!