Mighty Five + Two

We just returned from a ten day trip visiting the national parks of southern Utah, as well as Monument Valley and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Over the last few days, we have visited six national parks (Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands) as well as a “native park” (Monument Valley, in Navajo Nation). It has been a remarkable trip on many fronts — personally and physically. In the last ten days I have logged 58 miles of walking or hiking, often through some pretty scary trails.

In the meantime, my home town was on fire and my plan to go on a complete digital blackout was foiled by terrifying news of blazes springing up all over Napa and Sonoma Counties, where I have friends and family. Some were evacuated in the dark of night, and others stood cautiously ready — cars packed and in the driveway — for the word to flee.

When you take time to breathe fresh air and spend time outdoors without the daily distractions of work and chores and other things, you hopefully have a moment to reflect. With hundreds of miles of driving and many miles of quiet hiking, I was fortunate enough to have this peaceful time.
I learned a few things in the grand natural beauty and isolation of this trip.

  • I love road trips. It’s a quintessential American pastime and I loved every minute of the drive, which covered thousands of miles. We rented a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was covered in red dust by the end of our journey. It handled beautifully and was really comfortable to drive. I loved sitting up high. Over the last couple years, I have found myself to be an anxious driver. People follow you too closely, or are always distracted with their mobile devices while they’re driving. They don’t signal when they are changing lanes and they are generally clueless or rude or both. I was worried that I was becoming an “old lady driver” — too cautious or nervous. What I discovered on this trip is that I love driving — just not in the Bay Area. We drove through some wide open roads with no one around and open vistas as far as the eye could see, and I loved every minute of it. The openness, the fresh air, the freedom…all of it came together in an epic journey that I’d do again in a heartbeat.
  • I love small towns. I already knew this, but this solidified my love of small towns, particularly Moab. It had a great vibe, very casual and unpretentious. People were genuinely friendly and happy to chat for a bit. I particularly loved the high desert feel of these places, which is distinctly different than the alpine town of Lake Tahoe. Perhaps Lake Tahoe feels too cliquey for me, with the snobbery of the Bay Area and the ski vibe. I didn’t pick that up at all in Utah.
  • High desert is my second favorite environment. After rugged coastline, the dramatic cliffs and overall terrain of high desert is my favorite to be in and to look at.
  • Cold doesn’t bother me when I’m in nature. I learned this when we were in Yosemite in advance of a blizzard that shut down the park. I was thrilled to be out in the stunning natural surroundings, even if it meant I was shin-deep in snow. The same thing happened on this trip. Our first morning in the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, as we got up before dawn to watch the sunrise over the canyon, it was 21 degrees. That’s COLD. And I was laughing! We spend three nights in a tent outside of Moab and it got down to the low 30s overnight. I slept in a knit cap. And I loved it. The joke was that it was a dry cold. True…35 degrees in Moab felt better to me than 55 damp degrees in San Francisco.
  • I could dress casually for the rest of my life. The uniform was hiking attire by day, and jeans + t-shirt in the evening. Top if off with a Smartwool sweater and my down jacket, and we were off. I did not miss dressing up. The only thing I’d add to that is casual sundresses for summer, but it was too cold for that on this trip. Oh…and a cowgirl hat and cowboy boots. Yep. Me.
  • I am prepared to let go of material possessions. As I wearily checked weather reports, news stories and social media to monitor the fire situation in Napa, I had to prepare myself for the very real possibility that my childhood house might burn down. Terrifying footage of entire neighborhoods completely decimated by fire in both Napa and Santa Rosa were devastating to watch. I was primarily worried about my aunt and uncle, who live just a few blocks from the house (which bordered an area that was under “evacuation advisory” — certainly nothing as scary as middle-of-the-night mandatory evacuations that several friends endured). I tried to check on them and friends whenever I had Wi-Fi or cellular access. The only thing I asked my aunt and uncle to get for me were two photos — one of my mom and one of my parents together. Otherwise, I was prepared to let go of the rest. Of course, you never know how you’ll react if it really happens, but I felt peaceful.
  • I love rocks. The photo album here is just a sample of the many gorgeous vistas we took in throughout this trip. I love hiking on rocks — more than any other terrain. There is something majestic and humbling about scrambling over these beautiful landscapes. Before this trip I had wanted to take rock climbing and bouldering — but work and other obligations got in the way. I am committed to doing it now and testing my mettle.

Visit my photo gallery.

2 Replies to “Mighty Five + Two”

  1. The landscape photos are beautiful Em, and you and Greg look relaxed and happy. After ready your blog and seeing these images I’m determined to make a similar trip. Oh, and by the way, I’m also reading Falling Upward. XOXO

  2. It was fantastic, and aside from the anxious days of monitoring the fires back at home, we were able to unplug and enjoy the glory of nature.

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