Back in September I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and depression from losing a cherished pet, Lucy, and coping with the changes I wasn’t quite expecting, so my significant other was insightful enough to help mend our pain with an adventure that I’ll forever be grateful to have experienced. Nothing so simple could ever be a cure, but it was helpful in allowing myself to free the mind and look at the beauty of the present.
Our first stop was Great Basin, Nevada, for an astronomy festival. The drive was long, but the scenery was worth it. Autumn had already hit the mountain at 7,000 elevation and the sky was so abundant with stars - this was the brightest I’ve ever seen the milky way in all its glory - such a privilege to witness since light pollution blocks this mesmerizing sight in most places. At dark, volunteers with telescopes were scattered through the park and the first thing I got to see was the Veil Nebula-magical and jaw dropping.. then Andromeda galaxy.. some different star clusters, Saturn rings, M81 galaxy , Cigar nebula, Swan nebula, a supernova, Neptune, and so many more I lost count! I was astonished!! It blew my mind seeing things I only ever saw in photographs.. the exact things that have inspired my artwork for so many years and now they were just within reach of my sight. Words cannot capture the excitement I felt. A complete and natural high from feeling so small and yet so INCLUSIVE at the same time.
After two nights in that wild open space in eastern Nevada, we headed towards Bryce Canyon, Utah, but first some unexpected beauty just before entering the park was Red Canyon. It was the most vibrant of red and orange hues I have ever seen, bubbly and stacked high, I imagine its much like Mars, but with a super contrasted scenery of evergreens and bushes surrounding the lower levels... It was a quick drive through but so pretty!
Arriving in Bryce Canyon, our first view was of the HOODOOS! I can’t even wrap my brain around how these are naturally created. They say its the rain but I feel like I’m on an alien planet. Spires reaching towards the sky, hundreds, if not thousands of them.. we spent the day along the scenic drive to the highest point, seeing every angle possible.. but that first view stuck with me - breaking my reality with this new landscape I have never seen before. The clouds rolling in made for a dramatic contrast that was so incredible. You can hike down into them but we were only there for the day so made a pact to return!
Next stop was Zion. Wow. Wow. WOW… We entered from the east side and it was the most majestic and other-worldly experience. We were welcomed into this stunning landscape during sunset so the colors were really popping. Vibrant peaks towering over us as we drove down into the canyon’s valley to camp for the night. Trent and I could not stop saying how incredible this place was while driving the winding roads, passing checkerboard mesa and then going through mountain carmel tunnel… We barely seen any photos so we had no expectations and it was the most delightful surprise! So much awe and excitement. There were dozens of deer in the campsite, the winds were calm and warm all night, and bats were flying around and chirping. We went to Zion Brewery for dinner and then winded down with a fire. Next day we went through the scenic drive of the canyon, saw the emerald pools with a waterfall, and hiked along the Virgin river to the narrows entrance… the most popular hike - Angels Landing - was closed from a storm so I’m most eager to return to this park for more days to get the full experience.
Another evening entrance was into the Grand Canyon, we first stopped at the desert view watchtower on the east side entrance before finding camp. But the image forever embedded in my mind is the sunset at Lipan Point (which we went to the next day’s sunset) which was completely breathtaking (and my favorite viewpoint by far) The moon was a sliver and the stars were bright, you could see five of our solar system’s planets up in the sky.. The canyon was glowing a deep red, but you could truly appreciate the eerie depths as darkness took over the canyon. Instead of riding the required buses, we hiked along the west side of the rim and found plenty of privacy along the way to really appreciate it.
Monument Valley was a strange place.. The history of it isn’t pretty, but you do feel like you’re in an old western film. Its background for uranium mining/world war II made me feel so weird the whole time I was there.. But the landscape itself is just so mysterious with the large red rock formations scattered throughout the area. There’s a dirt road you pay to drive along, weaving in and out of these grand buttes which was fun, bumpy, and adventurous. It truly lets your imagination fly with shaping them into animals and faces as you stopped to stare and appreciate the oddness of this landscape.
We eventually made it all the way to Colorado! Mesa Verde is a magical place filled with over 600 cliff dwellings. Its one of the biggest and best archaeological preserves in North America.. We had fun driving around and spotting as many dwellings as we could.. and losing count quite quickly! We got to tour two of them, Cliff Palace being the largest, and Balcony House which was built high up in a cliff and was more adventurous to reach - making us climb tall ladders and crawling through tunnels. It was such a privilege and honor to experience this piece of history. I have a huge fascination for archaeology so I am very thankful for these places still in the world to really feel a connection to our ancestors.
Last but not least, we made it to Arches, passing through Moab before entering the park (such a quaint town with a delicious brewery.. even if they only have 4% beers on draft :| ) When we arrived at our camp, the first thing we did was go to a ranger presentation at their amphitheater, and just over our shoulder was Skyline Arch which I couldn’t stop staring at as the sun set and the stars filled the sky. As soon as the speech was over we ran back to camp to grab my camera and tripod to snap some photos of this brilliant sight.. As the moon lifted into the sky we enjoyed a fire and hit the bed in the back of the car. This was one of my favorite campgrounds we stayed at the whole trip. The next day we explored more of the park, including a part of devils garden, delicate arch, and some impressive pictographs… We will definitely go back, there are many more holes in rocks to see! ;)
Along with all these beautiful parks, we got to visit some other places not included in my national park art collection - Vermilion Cliffs, Dinosaur Tracks, native trading posts, Canyonlands, Newspaper Rock, Four Corners, Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, SLC, and many more along the way. It truly felt like we were traveling around in a spaceship checking out new planets I never could have dreamed of… At times this planet can be harsh, difficult, and scary, yet marvelous, enchanting, and lovable at the same time. Life is a gift. I wish more days were filled with this realization for myself and everyone else in need of the reminder.