April 20, 2012: Morning at Goulding's, Monument Valley, Delicate Arch
At Goulding’s it is easy to forget about everything but the here and now.
We watch the sun rise, not over a canyon this time, but over a desert, a flat piece of red earth sprinkled with massive protruding rock structures. It is perfect: the warmth on my skin, the birds chirping the brand new day into being. I close my eyes and meditate. It does not take me long to reach that place of tranquility, where the inner workings of my own mind are gently held up to the light.
We linger at our cabin for as long as we can, checking out at 11am, and after exploring the Goulding’s Museum (Goulding’s has a rich and fascinating history) we set out for our driving tour of Monument Valley, a tour that thrusts us into desert heat and rock-formed monstrosities that reach for the sky with primordial fingers.
Dixie proves to be tougher than she looks, navigating the rough terrain, creating micro dust storms on the trail. Immersed in this place unlike any other place we have ever seen, we gawk at the monuments and their distorted shapes as we breathe in particles of dust and feel our skin thicken under a layer of sweat and sand.
Tangle-haired and rosy-cheeked, we then make our way North, headed towards the Arches National Park in Utah, a last-minute addition to our trip itinerary. The drive to the Arches is incredible, leading us along a road called the Scenic Byway because of the varied scenes of astonishing beauty that greet us at every twist and turn.
We stop for lunch in the small town of Monticello and meet Sierra, a young waitress and single mother who is eager to please and to share advice about the best places to see in Utah (the state she has lived in all of her life, never leaving except for a few trips to Dallas to visit her father.) We are reminded of how lucky we are to be free enough and young enough and healthy enough to be road tripping like this. Not everyone has the opportunity, or will ever have the opportunity, to do as we are doing now.
After driving for a total of about three hours, we arrive at the Arches just as the sun has begun its western descent. In an attempt to get a glimpse of the sun setting over Delicate Arch – a sight strongly recommended by our Guidebook and various other sources – we park the car in the lot closest to the Arch and make a mad dash for it. We run uphill, blind to the scenery around us, following the signs to Delicate Arch, stopping for nothing or no one, short on breath but big on resolve.
With sweat dripping down our bodies and thigh muscles throbbing in pain, we make it to the Delicate Arch viewing site, but the sun has already slipped too far down and its rays are illuminating not the Arch itself, but the other structures beside it. I make my way down some rocky terrain, find a nice place to sit, and as the declining light drapes the place in soft shadows, I know that there is a lesson in this: Open your eyes Vicki. See what is right in front of you.
What is right in front of me is the world of Edward Abbey, author of my beloved Desert Solitaire. He lived in this park for years, working as a Park Ranger and writing passionately about the desert, the arches, the life and lack of life in these arid parts. I feel his spirit and hear his words. They are sacred echoes, softly reverberating between sand and sky, enfolding this very moment in mystery and wonder.
"A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us - like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness - that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the chid sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures." (Edward Abbey)
When the light is almost completely gone, we make our way back towards Dixie, walking slowly this time, taking in our surroundings. The desert changes, yet again, into a scene of muted pinks, purples, and greens and I am reminded of the film What Dreams May Come, in which the protagonist (Robin Williams) dies and finds himself in a heaven that is the manifestation of his favourite painting.
“It feels like time is on pause,” says L, in that quiet way of hers that pins you to the moment, makes you be fully there, fully aware.
(Will the beauty never end? How much beauty can two people take on a 10-day road trip?)
In the charming town of Moab, we check into the Lazy Lizard Hostel ($11 per night per person) and, after chatting with Charles and Nico, two French boys on an adventure of their own, we go to bed, lulled to sleep by pastel desert landscapes lingering in our minds like impressions pressed into skin.