The Open Road – Desert Drifter

Throw me in my element and I shall run free.

A month ago I set off on an extended road trip to explore, climb and embrace some newfound freedom in the great American desert. I’ve been living out of my car, Pauline, and am able to roam wherever for however long I please.

My last stop was in Arches National Park. I was alone for this part of my trip and spent ~3 days in the park and 4 nights car camping just outside of Moab, Utah.

When you drive into the Arches you begin to understand why it was deemed a national park. Giant sandstone statues stand hundreds, maybe a thousand feet high like castles in the sky or massive ships sailing through a desert sea.

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And to think these once continuous layers of rock have been sculpted and stripped away by water, wind and gravity over millions and millions of years is one of those baffling thoughts – like thinking about how big the universe is. It’s an alluring place that begs to be wandered in. So that’s what I did.

The first day I hiked to two arches called The Windows. It’s more of a short walk (<1 mile) and totally worth it. Standing in one of the windows feels like you’re standing on the edge of the void. The wind blows strong through this void as it passes to the other side invigorating every inch of your body and spirit. It’s incredibly refreshing.

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North and South Windows

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Standing in the North Window

After The Windows I hiked to Delicate Arch which is ~3 miles round trip but still moderately easy and absolutely worth it. On the way you pass by petroglyphs and beautiful nodules of multi-hued chert.

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A photo can’t convey the feeling that floods over your heart when you see Delicate Arch for the first time. With its fragile limbs, this beautiful piece of desert art perfectly frames the snowy La Sal Mountains 20 miles away. As people walked up and laid eyes on it for the first time they often sat and went silent, taking it all in. Though it can be crowded, Delicate Arch’s beauty and grandeur is hard to walk away from.

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Delicate Arch

The following day I did the longest hike in the Arches, ~7 miles total, through Devils Garden. I was completely alone for most of this. I wandered through giant fins of burnt red sandstone that looked like rolling waves of desert rock. I passed by at least 5 different Arches, each with a different essence.

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Landscape Arch

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Landscape Arch

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Double O Arch

At Double O Arch I sat in silence watching a raven fly around on the opposite side. As I watched it I imagined how incredible it would be if the bird flew toward me through the Arch.

And then it did.

These moments, like the raven in the arch, keep happening to me on this trip, especially during times I’m alone. There’s something about being an unobtrusive observer in nature — you become more receptive to beautiful things standing right in front of you and your mind seems to open up in big ways. During my hike in Devils Garden I allowed myself to think about ambitions that once seemed impossible – like one day working for National Geographic. I took out my notebook and wrote them a letter in an attempt to persuade them to hire me as a journalist/photographer for my upcoming adventures later this year. I let myself think about these types of possibilities because for the first time I actually felt like that’s what they were – possible.

The day after hiking through Devils Garden was a Friday and Arches was getting crowded. I was also pretty exhausted from the day before so I spent half the day reading in the sun by Sand Dune Arch and the other half relaxing and doing yoga at my private little camp cove, away from all the people. It was lovely and exactly how I wanted to spend my last day (well for a little while) in Utah.

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Chasing the sun near Sand Dune Arch

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After being solo for 3 days I started to feel a little lonely, so that evening I pulled out my star map and book of constellations to keep my mind occupied and spent the night taking photos of the Milky Way.

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I woke up the next morning to an incredible sunrise over the desert flats and La Sal Mountains and started heading east towards Colorado and my next destination — the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Great Sand Dunes National Park.

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+Read The Open Road, Part One and Two, also!

 

 

 

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