"The desert is where God is and man is not." -Balzac
The annual springtime migration of many of us mountain types to the canyon county of the Colorado Plateau resembles less that of the wildebeest or the caribou than that of the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
It is spiritual in nature. Once the red rock religion has been accepted into one’s heart, periodic forays into the southeast Utah desert draw those afflicted by the prolonged months of winter to cast aside long pants and shoes, declare themselves free of snow shovel and parka, and wander into the wilderness.
This renewal essence is aided by the fact that no matter how many times one participates in offering homage to this most wondrous panorama, new insights and landscapes, both interior and exterior, unfold. Monumental, in most every aspect, are these gifts of deposition and erosion.
My own favorite scriptures are written into the Mesozoic geologic era – especially the Triassic and Jurassic periods. They each speak their own gospels, sing their own hymns, and play easily upon the eye. To communicate their full effect upon the soul, however, requires a vocabulary not included in the saddlebags of the horse I rode in on.
It’s a 60-million-year amble back in time from the wonderfully eccentric Entrada sandstone which so easily lends itself to the formation of arches and windows down through the deep and smooth Navajo, the polished-bedrock Kayenta, towering Wingate, the badlands-forming Chinle, and ultimately, within this sacred stretch of strata, the dark red and intricately carved Moenkopi formation.
As it theoretically appears in the deepest cosmos, time is very much warped in these parts. In fact, it’s been known to come to a complete halt! Such is the transcendental nature of these slots, grottos, needles, gorges, arches, bridges, balanced rocks, canyons, caves, confluences, uplifts, meanders, buttes and mesas.
Have I mentioned the "grabens?" These surface indentations serve the holy order of Colorado Plateau catechism as a sort of "purgatory," as opposed to the more heavenly environs where vibrant flora and fauna run amok. At least that’s my take.
Anyone, it would seem, can wax ecstatic among the almost blindingly brilliant and rapturous color schemes available to the wandering pilgrim up on the "chosen" trails but it takes a truly "holy goof" to remain "in the moment" down in the long and narrow, hot and dry, canyon-sized sinks known as "grabens."
When they are arranged in parallel for about as far as the eye can see and the trail chooses to cross each and every one before exposing you to whatever grandeur you seek, you come to realize there is an almost Zen-like test afoot. It is then, with a true understanding that beauty exists even in the dismal and overgrazed, that true "eco-blissing" once again wraps its arms around you.
This particular evaluation of my "be here now" mindset took place last week in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park along the often-trod, 11-mile round trip, "Confluence Trail." Wondrous are the rock forms! Numerous are the grabens. The correct answers: "Beauty is in the eye of the vagabond" and "the more spaced-out, the better."
The bang-for-your-buck at the end-of-the-trail made the trek all worthwhile, however, as this particular confluence, that of the Green and Colorado rivers, is rather singular. First, the deep river gorges, the Green entering from the northwest and the Colorado from the northeast, are well worthy of their setting, the "heart of Canyonlands."
Actually seeing the divisional epicenter where the park as a whole is sliced into three parts to form "the Maze," the "Island in the Sky," and "the Needles" districts is well worth the jaunt. But the capper is watching the two joined rivers flow side-by-side in the same channel for a few meanders downstream – the Colorado, of course, the muddier of the two.
Another wandering destination during the week, Chesler Park, an 8 ½ mile round trip, if a circumnavigation is added, featured a trail into and among the needles themselves. This flat-out gorgeous dawdle brought to mind the old saw "it’s all about the journey." The park was indeed as-cool-as-all-get-out, but getting there and back was every bit as inspiring.
When the weather is conducive to traipsing and tramping and one has a bit of time leftover in the leisure-pursuit account, one could do much worse than check out the Needles District. What better desert place wherein to find oneself. Finding God was easy. She’s in the sunsets.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.
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