I was in Moab for five days. I don’t think I want to leave the Southwest any time soon. It is absolutely breathtaking out here. I have no words. I literally cannot convey the beauty in the things I have seen, or the sense of adventure in all of the new things I have tried.
Let me begin by telling how I ended up here in the first place. At my university you can take a January or May Term course that range from classes, to internships, to educational trips. This year I chose to take an educational May Term trip along the Colorado River Corridor. This is a geoscience course, so it may seem a little odd that I, an English Writing major, am on the trip. That is part of the beauty of it. Anyone could be accepted to go and I was one of the lucky thirteen (quite the oxymoron there) student to be chosen for this particular trip.
The itinerary includes two days of driving out West, a business week in Moab, two driving days with stops in Blanding, Utah, and Page, Arizona, on our way to the Grand Canyon where we will stay for a few days, and then heading back home. In total we will be gone for eighteen days seeing the incredible sights along the Colorado River.
So far in Moab, I have done so many amazing things. I have hiked long, strenuous distances, white rafted on Class 5 rapids, and gone four-wheeling in a Polaris Razor in the canyons and cliffs that lie just outside the city. To say the least, my adrenaline has been depleted for the time being.
On our first full day in Moab we spent our time at Arches National Park, which as you can probably imagine has something to do with arches. As I stated before, I am not a geoscience major so I’m not sure on the specifics, but due to erosion from the wind, huge arches are carved from several buttes in the park. They are massive. A person standing in many of them does not even reach a quarter of the way up. Obviously, the process takes thousands maybe even millions of years (again, not a geologist). Unlike the majority of students on the trip, most geoscience majors or minors, I was not interested in the composition of these weather-made structures. I was standing back, away from the lecturing professors, staring in awe at the first arch I saw that day. I have this urge to reuse the words: incredible, beautiful, breathtaking. I simply cannot put into words what I saw. To simply stand there and imagine that these structures have been here long before humans and probably will probably stand in the same spot, constantly weathering, long after I am gone is just an inconceivable thought. Throughout the day we continued to drive around the park, stopping to see the different arches, each time I was amazed.
That afternoon, our group embarked upon its first group hike. It was a four mile roundtrip, which wasn’t that bad I thought. It should be noted that my hiking experience goes no further than traipsing through the woods that surround my Midwestern home and a few trips to one of our state parks. I had to buy hiking boots and other gear for this trip. That all being said, I was quite nervous to begin the hiking part of the trip. I had known when I applied that the majority of the time would be spent hiking, but as the time drew nearer, I found myself uncertain that such an expedition was for me.
To be honest, it was hard. Very, very difficult. The elevation added to the strain of the intense hike. When I later got back down to the visitor’s center, the hike we had done was rated as strenuous. That made sense. We had walked up what are called “fins,” these six foot wide ascending stone structures. I felt that if I made one wrong step, caught my toe on anything, that I would fall to my death, or as the professor put it, “be severely maimed.”
I have never done something that terrified me like that first hike did. I have gone skydiving, I will ride any crazy theme park ride, but being completely unattached to anything and looking down and out at the landscape made me extremely scared. Luckily, I survived the hike both ways and got to see Double O arch.
After that first day, though surprised, I knew what to expect. Even though several in our group had little to no hiking experience, we would be testing and pushing ourselves throughout the trip. The following day we traveled to another National Park, Canyonlands. The adventure only continued. We traipsed out to dangerous overlooks and saw more arches. Utah, I discovered in my five days there, is truly amazing. There is so much to see and do. I think the majority of the country’s beauty is in the Southwest. On our journey that day we traveled to stone bridges formed from river eroding the rock, which is different from an arch that is eroded by wind and other weather. One of our professor’s told us horror stories about the fatalities that the Gemini Bridges had seen. They are very close together, one being fairly wide and the other being just a bit more narrow. According to our morbid professor, a boy scout, going along with his troop had decided to jump back and forth between the bridges, about a distance of five or six feet, and had missed, falling between the two bridges. Another man had decided to drive his four-wheel drive vehicle across one of the bridges, had gotten off track and fallen to his demise as well. After hearing these tales, once again I was scared for my life. When the bridges came into view, though, they were much wider than I expected, however I didn’t waste any time getting across the bridge, my stomach seemingly falling out of my body. It was another day full of incredible sights and terrifying adventure.
The next day, has been my favorite of the trip so far. We started the day by taking a bus, pulling a tour boat down to a ramp in the Colorado River. We took a scenic tour all the way down to the convergence where the Colorado and Green Rivers meet. Along the way, we saw the spot where Thelma and Louise drive their car off a cliff at the end of Thelma and Louise. (Fun fact: lots of Westerns and other movies have been filmed in the American Southwest). Just below the convergence of the two rivers, we boarded Super J’s, boats designed to take on the Class Five rapids that resulted from the doubling of the river size and speed. I started out sitting towards the back and wasn’t quite impressed with the ride. I had been rafting before in Tennessee and West Virginia and for some reason those seemed to be bigger and more intense. Luckily, one of my trip mates offered me her seat in the front of the boat and the whole experience changed. There were two or three times when the rapids were so big and came so powerfully into the boat that I was sure I was going overboard. My legs would lift up and slam into the student behind me, my eyes wide open, amazed that I had held on. My adrenaline kicked up a few notches and the cold water, resulting from snow melt, didn’t affect me at all anymore. I was yelling and screaming for more waves! I loved when the boat would crest a rapid and fall back into another, the floor of the raft flooding, myself and the other students shaking our hair out of our eyes, spitting out the muddy water, and hooting and hollering at each other. By the time we were done, we were all prying our hands from the ropes we had been clenching, but in our hearts begging for more.
However, the fun didn’t end there. We had more adventure in store for the day. We were being flown back over the river we had rafted down and into Moab by three Cessna planes. There were five of us to a plane and everyone got a window seat to better see the rapids we had been battling an hour earlier. It was incredible to see the landscape from 7,000 feet up. The river looked like a small creek and we could see for miles, all the way out to different points we had seen in the previous two days. We flew back over Canyonlands and saw several of the spots that we had stood on just a day before. When I stepped out of the plane, I felt like I had seen Moab from every possible angle.
Leaving Moab was so hard. It was such a cool town with amazing sights and adventures to offer. I can only hope that one day I will be able to go back there and revisit some things and try more new things. I am currently writing from a hotel in Page, Arizona. Tomorrow we will be touring Glen Canyon Dam and heading down to the Grand Canyon. Hopefully, it will be just as beautiful and inspiring as Utah was.