I woke with a small headache and some quick farewells to the family I had stayed with and began the next leg of my journey west towards Utah. As bummed as I was to leave Colorado (However much I severely disliked that all of Grand Junction, CO interstate ramps are roundabouts), I quickly began to enjoy the new and different landscape. The colors pop out spectacularly. Red, Gold, orange, Grey, Black, you name it! My Goal was to try and make it to arches and hike a little in the evening, find a campsite, then return the next day to finish. Unfortunately, the park is doing construction near Devil's garden. Not only was that area of the park closed ='(, but it also means the roads to the park close at 7pm. Rolling in at 6:55 left me just enough time to use the visitor center restroom and their wifi to find a place to camp.
I found some BLM land off a dusty road that was pretty well littered with campers already, but a larger area with 2 campfire rings only had one truck on it so I pulled in for the night. One of the campfires was being used by a couple who looked in their mid 20's so after I started unpacking and repacking my car I waved hello and was received by a warm welcome. After pulling out my guitar they made a comment about a performance and I quickly got my dinner ready and heading over to hang out with them.
The next morning I headed straight for Arches and got there with a line of cars ahead of me. Once in the park I spoke with a ranger about hiking in the area. He said as long as it was on rocks or gullies then It was allowed. The biggest concern is preserving the Cryptobiotic soil, a blackish looking crust that covers a lot of the ground and helps prevent erosion acting as a backbone for the ecosystem. A single step can damage years of growth so avoiding that was the only real concern.
With that I was off to explore. Hoping to hit most of the main arches with the one day I had. Most of the main attractions have roads on which you can drive nearly up to (within a few hundred feet) of the formation. This made traversing the park very efficient.
I started with Park Place and road up past the courthouse. The first notable experience was at Balanced Rock. When I parked and got out, I noticed a couple kids climbing the base. Then I remembered that rocks were ok to climb on unless a sign was posted (which all the arches did have postings for not climbing). So I tentatively started climbing the base and after realizing how simple (and how much I enjoyed it), climbed all the way up to the balanced rock itself without realizing i was over 100ft in the air.
There was a Japanese family behind me, and I realized they were showing concern for my safety after the Japanese father's loud exclamations coincided with me making large strides up the formation. The climb was pretty easy and felt safe. At the top next to the balanced rock itself (which is actually enormous) I saw people had carved their names and initials into the rock. That seemed a little disrespectful in a sense so I didn't follow the lead, but it was cool that people had the same idea and had climbed up it time and time again.
When I descended and started heading back to my car, an older couple stopped me and said they were watching, impressed, and a little concerned so they took some photos. Their names are Deb and Randy Bowman and live in South Dakota but have a daughter in Minneapolis. So we spoke a little and Deb mentioned she was in full remission after a 15-month battle with cancer. I thought it was incredible that they were traveling to celebrate her rejuvenated health.
I continued through the park. At the sandstone arch I went off trail quite a bit and climbed numerous rocks until I got to a beautiful plateau away from the tourists. I even got to use my body's leverage of pushing outward against the stone to climb some steep crevasses (There's likely a climbing term for that but I am not that cool...yet).
Later, at the end of the hike to see the Tapestry Arch, I was standing in between a rock cluster I had climbed up and noticed a couple women hiking towards me with a nice camera. I yelled down asking if they spoke english (as there were a lot of foreign travelers in the park) and if they were willing to take a photo of me. They agreed and snapped a few shots (although I was in shade) and I climbed down to greet them. They were Polish and I can't quite remember their names (or would know how to spell them), but they were happy to have helped and enjoying the landscape of the Southwest as they traveled. They said when they return home in a couple weeks they could email me the photo. I guess time will tell...
Only a few times while climbing did I feel the heart pounding rush and chilling fear of falling. After attempting some more difficult rock faces near Turret Arch did I decide my body was probably tired after hiking and climbing all day and that if I came back I would bring some real gear.
I ended up staying at Arches for just over 10 hours and saw pretty much everything! I didn't get a chance to hike up to delicate arch or Garden of the Gods but I felt I had gotten the jist. My favorite arches were the Windows and the Double Arch. Both were spectacular and gave me a sense of awe.
I then spent the rest of the evening (Since the park closed at 7pm again) driving through Utah towards a campsite closer to Zion National Park as that was on my docket the next couple days. I stopped at the Black Canyon as the sun was setting and found the simple canyon to be a beautiful monument against the plains around it.
I met a lot of friendly people at the park. It was also the busiest place I've been to thus far. The landscape is interesting to learn about, especially the different layers of rock and how they erode over time (sadly also what will eventually lead to the collapse of the arches someday down the road.). The sun felt really good since this was the first day I spent in a more desert-ish region. I only got a little pink as my winterized Minnesotan skin was well sunscreened.
I am definitely feeling a strong urge to reach out and meet people which I haven't really experienced before. Usually I am traveling with others but even in NYC I didn't feel that pull (probably because New Yorkers aren't known for their friendly demeanors).
As I drove to my campsite near Zion, a Thunderstorm was making its way across the area. I saw a good handful of lightning strikes and found that extremely exciting. I almost felt like I was chasing a store, and briefly considered that as an avenue to explore as well.
I felt a deep connection to the environment and love the feeling of climbing. The freedom and the thrill really cultivate a sense of adventure and I really enjoy that sensation. I think I want to spend time learning more about the techniques and skills required to rock climb as successfully and safely as possible.
My outward interactions with strangers has led me to a cheerier attitude because I know I have positively impacted someone else's day unprompted. I also think this is a big reason I've enjoyed retail sales, getting to make those little connections and put a smile on people's faces. I truly have an empathetic tendency whether I like to admit it or not. Even today before writing this blog I spoke to a new friend who told me a story that brought a tear to my eye because I could tell it was a powerful emotion for them too. I've always enjoyed when others feel positive things but like everything, without balance it can be easy for others to impact me too much.
After considering the storm chasing idea, I did notice that there are so many ways to live life. Many of the people I met were balancing working a traditional career yet still making time to travel. Nowadays in our society of technology and relative privilege as a first world society, there are so many choices that could work I don't think I can ever commit to one thing. I rather fancy the idea of being a Jack of all trades, but maybe master a few along the way.
In the end I decided I can live many lives and enjoy many things. Its all about how I approach it mentally. However making the decision can be the hardest and almost crippling, especially since I know the tendency of our minds to always want the other thing (Grass is always greener on the other side). Then I consider that its just a confidence and self acceptance related mentality, and that I need to work on reminding myself it doesn't control me. But I can control it by setting a healthy guideline and expectation for myself.
In the end It's those damn expectations. They can ruin it all...