Big, Empty and Beautiful

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So we are on vacation this week.  Our goal the last two years has been to visit states that are new to both of us.  The choice this year came down to Montana and Utah and the winner was …. Utah!

When you deal with states that are large, there is simply too much to see within a week.  The entire southern part of Utah appears to be National Parks and we decided we had to see at least one.  The drive from Salt Lake to Arches seemed manageable so we flew in on Saturday, drove down to Moab, toured Arches on Sunday and then drove back to Salt Lake City today.

Decided to stick with the interstate system (speed limit here on those roads was 80!!!).  As we started the drive across south central Utah, we hit something called the San Rafael Swell.  There was a warning at Salina that we had 100+ miles to go until we’d hit another exit with services so there was really nothing there except the scenery.  But, since we are used to corn and bean fields of our home state, seeing the sandstone in all the colors and all the shapes formed by wind and rain was nothing short of amazing.  Think we hit every scenic turnout they had and took a boatload of photos.  My wife was also taking random photos out the window of our rental.

As we are driving through all this natural beauty, I’m really wondering how much more impressive the National Park could be.  I mean, there were places along the interstate that were worth stopping to see and that was just some random rock formations.  Well, Arches did not disappoint.  If you ever get a chance, you really need to visit.

I think I mentioned it before, but we aren’t serious hikers.  We like walking outside but we aren’t going to sling packs and put on hiking shoes and traverse some primitive trail in the wilderness.  Besides, it was desert and hot and dry so we stuck to the parts that were rated easy but there was sill just way too much to take in.

At one of the places we stopped, there was a ranger waiting to take a tour down into one of the valleys.  He was talking about the different types of tour groups.  How he sometimes gets those who are more science minded and want to hear all about the rocks and how they formed.  And then he says he also gets those who just form an emotional attachment to what they see and then he alters his script to go lighter on the science.

You can probably guess which category I would have fallen into.  What shocked me a bit was that my wife turned off her normally active logical side and just took in all the sites.  She was the one who kept talking about how impressive it was and was taking pictures like crazy.

I could understand why a place could come to be considered sacred or holy.  Some of the rock formations just looked like they could be alive or spirits trapped within the rocks.  And the color palette.  There were vistas that just looked like paintings with the predominant reds and yellows with splashes of grey, green, black and white.

It was one of those places where I think you should turn off the science.  I’m not going to go all mystical on you and there are certainly good reasons for understanding the how and why a place like this came to be.  I just think if you focus too much on that, then you aren’t just taking in the beauty and majesty that exists.

For example, the color of the rock is determined by the iron content when it was formed.  OK, that’s cool.  But can you really explain why one section had the iron to form red while one section underneath didn’t?  And then why when the rocks pushed up, they pushed up far enough so that all the colors were visible?  Oh, and can you explain why the erosion patterns were such that they created all these natural formations?  Yeah, there is probably a scientific explanation for all that but I’m kind of happier just enjoying the magic that exists and experiencing how it makes me feel.

There are other emotions that were triggered.  You stand next to one of these large columns of sandstone and it feels so solid and permanent but you can see that wind, water and time have been able to wear away what was solid rock.  And they you see the plant life in certain parts growing on the rocks, bringing life to what was barren and the plants finding a way to survive in an environment that is extremely hostile.  If I was more of a motivational type, I’d look to the desert to find all kinds of inspirational things.  Or, to make it simple, life just finds a way.

And you want some interesting symbolism?  As we were driving through the park, we came to a sign for “Devils Garden” and there was a raven perched on it watching us.  Make of that what you will.

No dancing for this week but I thought you might still like to know what I’m doing on my summer vacation.

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