We started our fifth day in the town of Escalante and drove via Utah 12 to Capitol Reef National Park. The road passes through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and basically rides the bannister all the way to the top of the Waterpocket Fold which constitutes Capitol Reef National Park. It is a very cool ride and it proves that the American worker can lay a ribbon of asphalt anywhere someone pays him to lay it. At one point there is nothing on either side of the road except air. In the battle of nature’s impenetrable geology and man, man won here. The irony is that more people see Grand Staircase Escalante than otherwise would because he did.
We started at the north end of Capitol Reef. Little known among the parks, Capitol Reef is spectacular. Geologists refer to the main structure of the park as a monocline – a 100 mile long fold in the earth’s crust running north and south. It’s as though a divine Tailor realized while propping up the Rocky Mountains that He needed a little less fabric and so he threw a pleat in east Utah. Despite the fact that you almost can’t actually see the fold except from the air (we caught a good look down it from the Notem-Bullfrog trail) the park feels intimate. It gives you the results of the fold up close and without fanfare or crowds. Butch Cassidy supposedly used this place to hide stuff and it feels like it. There is a little bit of a wink to Capitol Reef, like it knows how cool it is, but isn’t saying, or maybe that it has a stash of gold somewhere but isn’t telling. If you go, take the hike up the Grand Wash canyon all the way till you can almost touch both sides. Tell me you didn’t see Butch and the boys on the way – along with spectacular scenery.
We left Capitol Reef and travelled all along it’s eastern edge via an old dirt washboard road called Notem-Bullfrog, because it starts on the Notem Ranch and ends at Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell. It’s a long ride on a not so good road, but it shows the Waterpocket fold beautifully and it teaches patience. You can’t blast away the miles or you will lose your fillings and tear up your truck. You have to pace yourself and that gives you a chance to see things beyond the postcard vistas. We did. And we talked about a lot of really interesting stuff along the way. Amazing what a rough old road can do.
We ferried across Lake Powell uneventfully and coursed the final few hours to Canyonlands National Park – Needles District. We arrived in time for sunset, set up camp and sweated. My God it was hot in that little tent. Unable to sleep, we watched lightening storms over the Mesa, played cards and laughed about not being able to sleep in the heat. It was worth it to see Canyonlands at sunset, and again at sunrise. The whole process helped me get my head around what is making this journey so worthwhile. I talked already about light and dark and earlier in the week I thought maybe it was as simple as that. What I’m learning is that there are always more layers than just two. In every landscape, at each park, in every conversation, decision, situation, whatever, that we have faced we have, if given the time, found many layers. A determined tiny wildflower in the same vista as giant sandstone structures. An old juniper or bristle cone pine clinging to a shelf against a backdrop of storm clouds. Something slightly more than a driving lesson for a boy along an old washboard road. One part at a time, one layer after another, a picture, or a trip, or a relationship gets built, edited and refined. We finished our sixth day after visiting the other end of Canyonlands, called the Island in the Sky district. I think we both may have been looking for layers by then. We are both tending to scenery that gives us definition through contrast. When the sign says something like Grand View Overlook, it generally leaves us flat – it is too much and too vast and doesn’t hold those layers you can see, and pick at, and enhance.
So, tomorrow it is Arches National Park and then to Mesa Verde. We will see what we will see. And we will look with a discernment born of trust and love and appreciation for a multi-layered life.