Last night had to be the coldest night I’ve had so far. It had been nearly 2am when I pulled into the deserted church parking lot back down the hill in Torrey. It said no over night camping but technically I wasn’t camping and honestly I quibbled that I was a traveller and I needed sanctuary. I would have definitely argued the point had somebody asked me to move on. I had it all worked out. I was going to say my conscience was at peace and I slept easy, It was but I didn’t.
Gosh it was cold, I usually sleep with my trousers’ off. I consider it a standard that I keep up, but last night the cold crept into my joints so I pulled my trousers back on and they ‘d got stiff with cold it took a few minutes for my body to warm them, I wrapped my towel around my head and tucked Jean’s remaining quilt as tight as I could around the sleeping bag, I slept like I was trying to hibernate.
There are times when even though I have been in quite profound discomfort, the last thing you want to do is move, mostly because I know that I’ll only move to another uncomfortable position. Last night besides discomfort it was simply freezing and I had to “go potty” as they say out west here, there are many expressions that mean something completely different in the UK, that is one of them. But, I digress.
I was literally nearly bursting, I managed knelt up in the car with a plastic coffee cup, I must have been an acrobat in a past life, and to be honest I have become quite practiced at it. When I laid back down for some reason I could not get the tune to rocky out of my head. I thought it was another gift to cheer me up. “Yeah Rocky” I had to laugh
I was surprised when I looked and it was just after 7.30am somebody in this town must be awake by now. I jumped up quickly trying to avoid the cold chasing me. I roughly put things in their routine place sort of, then tore up the road trying to get the heater to blow warm, she still takes about 5 minutes before the heater kicks in, sounds like a large deep sharp exhalation when she does, it’s a wonderful wave from down where my feet are, it rises up and over me.
But that didn’t happen today.
When I made it up to the coffee shop she was still blowing cold. I almost feel in the door a pale blue color.
“Ah warmth” I said trying to be pleasant and sound grateful, I was grateful.
She never batted an eyelid
“What can I get you” she said in monotone
“A large coffee please” I whispered
“12 ounce or 16 ounce” She mono-toned
“12 ounce please” I countered brightly
“Two dollars thirty” as she gave me the coffee
That was about all that was said to me all morning from any of the other staff there too, I didn’t really mind I had quite a lot to do and was busy. I was glad just to be thawing out. Got quite a lot done, a call home to my girl. It’s her birthday tomorrow and I got it right, phew, well not quite but at least I was early which is new. Loosing track of time is something I enjoy on these journeys, the blending and fuzzing of time, but now and again, it can be not very good for a mans reputation.
So, all that done we rolled up the hill away from Torrey and out towards Capitol Reef. I’ve got used to sitting tapping away engrossed and kind of drop my guard so to speak as to where I actually am. We came over the hill about a mile out of town and Bam!!
I kid you not right across the horizon directly opposite us was a wall of red stone it looked so high as if the sky was resting upon it. It stretched away on either side as far as you could see, disappearing into, I don’t know where, time maybe. It was absolutely startling. I just stopped, reversed the car off the road, got out and had breakfast right there on the roadside just admiring at it.
Vertical deep red stone walls, higher than even seems possible. There are mountains of course but they have slopes and forests and gradual ascents to a peak. This the wall just rose out of the desert.. Bam !!
As we drove down to the road into the Capitol Reef National Park the scale became even more impressive and overwhelming. A persons imagination grows with each of those moments, there is more than you can imagine, but not really, you just have to imagine it, reality will back you up.
I have been meaning to write a little about the Mormon pioneers who are often portrayed as heroic but doomed. But it was the Mormons who opened up this land here in Utah at least. I know the Native Americans where here and I have read a great deal and could talk at length about that. But I have usually swept aside the contribution the Mormon Pilgrims made, because to be honest I lean towards the romance of nature side of things, nothing wrong with that, debatable I know, but, the Mormons were the ones who many times opened up the trails, who built the roads, planted the orchards and the first crops. Out on the western plains were an obvious fertile land ‘ready to be ploughed’ they said (the top soil eventually blew away in the earl 20’s because of just that) but here in Utah it is just indescribably harsh and tough. They must have had a deep and profound faith in their idea, strong community, trusted leaders, skilled engineers and a brute strength, stamina and determination that I think we can only imagine.
Their legacy is some of the most incredible roads I have ever travelled across, a land so beautiful but unforgiving. The resources that were here would have needed a deep knowledge and well honed skills to get at them. I have a new and deeper respect for them, regardless of the greater tragedy that played out in the west as far as the Native Americans the wild life and the land are concerned.
I stopped in as usual at the visitors center which was surrounded by neat fields and orchards of Cherries Peaches Apples and Plums. I think it was the cherry trees that were all just bursting into blooms of pink blossom that day. I love the cherry blossoms I recognized them. The Cottonwoods though were again still tinder. It was a lovely oasis and again a Mormon legacy of the families that started growing here. What courage and what foresight. The last families moved out in 1969 apparently, the modern world caught up with them and called them away, the trees grow on still though.
A great lady with a big bright personality asked me where I was interested in going, I said I just want to get out there. She pointed out a few places and said
“Go on then, git out there, go and git started” Now that’s what you want when you arrive in these places, someone to stir you up. Sad bored and miserable she was not.
I said “Last question, where is your passport stamp?”
“Right behind you” she boomed cheekily “Gosh, I love a man with a passport and a stamp in his hand”
I don’t think she was kidding and I love a woman who loves a man with a passport stamp in his hand. So with my chest all puffed up I marched out with long legged slow strides to Hummingbird and said “
“Lets go git started Hummingbird” Everything seemed sparkling , I was happy in that place.
I spent the early afternoon up on the Golden Throne trail and no not the bathroom trail. It’s a proper trail down along immense rounded hidden canyons up across the shattered burning rocks looking for the hidden pools, most of which were dry at this time of year.
I toyed with the idea of just going vertically straight up and checked possible routes with my snake eye. But sense did win the day and after a few hours there I want back to the car, sat for a while an went off into a seeing
It was only brief and quite gentle today I was stood looking through trees watching fingers of orange and yellow light filtering through the trees. It was a beautiful sight and was I think just a reflection of my mood that day.
Then I went up into the trail itself. Smiling at the kids messing about throwing stones, carefree and happy. Families together just enjoying the rocks, the sunshine and the freedom out there. It was nice to see families out together older people too walking the trails with all the gear on and their modern hiking sticks with the spikes. Bless them I thought, I hope when I’m that old I’m still out there just doing it.
I think I was the only person I have seen in all these places with a shirt off. I was a little conscious of it at first, but have got over that, they don’t know me and in fact I’m being quite private just enjoying the cool air and sunshine on my skin.
The rocks say, if your feeling frustrated or sad bring it here we can take it, if your happy or just full of energy we can handle that too and we’ll give you something back for what ever you bring.
It was an easy dreamy day but the second half is when things seemed to open. I have found that each day I have gone out it always takes a period of time for an adjustment to happen within yourself and it was the same today. The second walk was deeper and just beautiful.
It’s obvious in retrospect I suppose, but I was just seeing it now and it penetrated me. Water is the real strength out there. Though and this is the point, you rarely actually see any, but its marks are everywhere, the cracks in all the rocks caused by water seeping though, freezing and heating, rounding all the edges. Then there is the ever searching determined junipers, their roots, searching for it. Sensing where it is, working in, opening up and breaking the rocks down. The gulley’s and canyons all water worked, there is of course the winds and the sun and earths upheavals, but the material for the rocks themselves were deposited here long ago by water.
I sat up there on top of a ledge just looking, quietly. I wondered if there really was a spirit of the place. So I laid back on the rock enjoying its cool roughness on my skin. I opened up and tried tuning in. For the briefest moment I saw an old twisted tree moving closer to me it took a great lunging slow step kicking up a cloud of red dirt, I opened my eyes quickly. Whoa.. did I just see that?
I was startled. I think I did. So a minute or two later I laid back again this time it was just silence for a little while, not a thing. But then I heard something drop in the dirt behind me, it sounded like a little distance away from me in the direction of my head. It could have been a rock drop but I was laid on top of and away from the walls. Then for a few uncomfortable moments, it was as if something large was a few feet away sniffing me, checking me out. I had my T Shirt over my eyes because of the glare, I didn’t move, then I heard another sound over to the right like something again dropping onto sand.
I came too, I thought ‘what on earth are you doing, it could be a mountain lion ‘look at you just laying there not making a move’ I sat bolt up and quickly ripped the t shirt off, nothing there, I sat absolutely still for quite a while. Not a sound.
Eventually I tried one more time, this time I was undisturbed. I think what ever it was wasn’t taking me seriously. Eventually a vision of the rocks in a big fan shape pulsing bright red like a pulsing heartbeat, the deepness of the red startled me back to the now, it was time to get a move on. It is always on the way down or on the way back or just when its time to leave, when the energy of the mind is spent, that is when beauty seems to appear, for me anyway. It was of course all there on the way up but your moving, looking up or forward. Later the mind is more restful and so things are more obvious, beauty deeper and more apparent, maybe that’s just the way it should be.
We drove quietly and slowly out, still unused to the scale of the place, the reef Walls towering above us on our right and stretching away into that ancient time far ahead and far behind, like something out of a dream, but it isn’t. It’s right there, massive beyond belief, present, right in front of you.
We had to move and this is where I made a wrong move. We rolled out of the park up through the incredible structures and canyons. I was time and time again around another bend or over another rise, jaw dropped. The reds rocks walls giving way to softer green stone folds and those into grey muds pleats and creases and those dissolving and spilling into and onto the wide open spaces and we swopped up and over and through it all as if in a trance.
We snapped out of it at the town of Hanksville. There are two gas stations one was closed there was a steak house that was open. I toyed with the idea of staying there and writing but going on the past few days in Utah I thought, they’ll be closed in an hour and then just the wilderness, but isn’t that is what I came for? But I had a bee in my bonnet so I set off to Green River about 60 miles away. I didn’t listen.
It was too late really to start that drive and before long it was pitch black and I mean black. There are no lights out there at all. There is the odd reflective sign to indicate a turn and takes you by surprise and my heart jumped up into my throat I don’t know how many times. There was nothing in front and Hummingbirds lights are from the 90’s quite polite in comparison to the glaring halogens that freeze and blind everything in their path.
It was like continually driving off the edge of the world. Though it was virtually a straight road there was not a light out there, nothing, pitch black even the usual slight deep purple of the night sky was gone, Just black. It was jarring and I was thankful when the odd truck came over a rise 5 or 6 miles away as it gave away the contours of the road ahead.
I was really annoyed with myself for setting off, but after 15-20 miles I was committed, it was too late to turn back. Then finally maybe an hour or so later the junction with the I-70, initially I was glad to see the lights. I thought wow that is one long spread out town. Then I realized they were solo trucks lit up, all flowing west through the darkness, as if ships, sailing though the darkest ocean, no above no below, it was quite a sight.
Green River was yet another 17 miles. When we eventually turned into its neon dazzling harbour my heart sank.
It was a gas station with massed trucks all parked up, a gift shop and an Arby’s full of really strange looking people doing strange things that stir crazy people do who have recently been set free from confinement or a long voyage. I kept myself to myself tried to brush it off, it was not a place that welcomed a smile.
I had the whole of the US to write in and I end up here, it seemed like a clinking clanging fuzzy hell, definitely a frontier and I was already missing the wild. I know civilization is only a few days away if you know what I mean. It really felt I had rushed, I had missed an incredible drive. Typical.
So what to do, I couldn’t stay there. Card ace of clubs said Moab. So I jumped back into Hummingbird and tore down the I-70 swung onto the 191 and did 80mph all the way to Moab 50 miles away. I was really distraught with myself. I know I should have stopped in Hanksville, instinct ignored again. I’m not ashamed to say tears of rage rolled down my cheeks, I didn’t want to come in just yet, though the last few days had been tough, I just wasn’t ready yet. It all seemed too close and was suddenly quite a shock.
So as we flew down 191 to Moab a plan formed in my mind. I will take the foot of the peddle, take some back roads and then spend a few days at Ghost ranch where in fact my journey into Healing, if you want to call it that, actually began. I don’t have to rush anywhere and I may even be able to stay in my old bunk room there we shall see.
I was asking “Where were you?”
“You didn’t listen” was the answer “You had your own ideas, you know”
Too many night drives on this journey. No more. So from tomorrow foot off the gas, maybe not even walking, we’ll see. As we rolled into Moab my eyes were aching tired with all the darkness and the tension, the sinew in my arms were strained as we’d forged ahead holding the boat straight in the dips of the road and holding my gaze against the strobe like halogens that dazzled from in front and behind and from the sides. It was a relief to get in there.
I knew the family would be in Moab waiting for me. I know exactly where I would sleep down in a safe spot by the Colorado River, a place called lions park. And the first place I saw when we came into town was Denny’s restaurant, I saw the sign right up there glowing on the highway it was like an old friend, open 24 hours.
“There she blows” I said
I pulled straight in at around 10pm and as I walked in Little Richard was playing “Ready Ready Ready to rock n roll” and a lady called ‘O Hell Lanell’ poured me coffee till 2am.
Now I could slow down now I would slow down.