Teri Orr: Red dust and wanderlust… | ParkRecord.com

Teri Orr: Red dust and wanderlust…

Teri Orr

I rode horses bareback when I was a teenager, up in hills of what is now Silicon Valley. And into the surf at Half Moon Bay in the Pacific Ocean on stormy days. That untamed wildness is not something you forget. It is bred in the bone. Last week when I took my new Subaru into the red dirt on unpaved rocky roads in the backcountry of Southern Utah — it was bliss. No one knew (exactly) where I was and I had no real plans for any of my days — I felt deliriously happy. I was wild and free and those parts of me that weren’t getting tossed around on the rocky remote roads felt, if not exactly young … maybe timeless.

Park Record columnist Teri Orr.

I traded my car in last month when the lease was (past) due for a newer version of the same vehicle. I have been driving Subarus since the ’70s in my former life at Lake Tahoe. But this car had the lowest mileage ever of any car I have owned. When I turned it in — around 21,000 miles for three, almost four years (COVID gave it an extension), I felt a sense of failure. I was determined to break in this new pony with serious mileage and stress testing — right out of the gate/garage. I knew it would need red dust to feel hopeful and to serve as a talisman to remind me to return often to the desert, where I am so very happy spending hours seeing no one and sitting on rocks and taking/making photos. And examining shards … of pottery and life.

Arriving at the cottage where I would spend the first night didn’t come easy. I had left Park City after noon. It was stormy with hail and fierce winds. And for the first part I was on I-215 south — and I hate that road. Once I turned off at Scipio to Highway 12 I started to get into the rhythm of the road. The red rocks appeared and cattle and their calves on those bright spring green grasses. The skies had cleared. I arrived in Boulder, and my friends had a lilac cocktail waiting on a tiny porch hidden behind their James Beard-nominated restaurant. We did a baby bit of catching up but they needed to get back to their guests. I headed on down the road about 10 more miles.

The two little lodging properties cling to the side of a solid rock mountain and overlook the Escalante River and valley. The nearest town is over 10 miles away. There are no services there. None. And no staff. The self-contained units are part national park meets Frank Lloyd Wright — perfect in both design and simplicity. The night I was there — no one was in the other cottage. And the sky changed slowly with all the colors that come after a storm. It was spectacular. Even more spectacular was the full moonrise and clear blue-black night and stars that were so close you could count them and name them and hang a dream on them.

The bright blue morning came filled with songbirds to fully begin my adventures.

Washboard roads, taken at just the right speed, are either like a full-body massage or a great jolting. You need to learn a rhythm. I am that odd desert rat who loves the motion and the limits that come with that unique kind of driving.

I decided to go on the Burr Trail — first a few miles of the paved parts and then hours of dirt roads that take you up and over to the back side of Capitol Reef National Park. At the top of the drop there are switchbacks — narrow, steep and rocky that drop you thousands of feet into the flat part of the park. I met up with a caravan of trucks (maybe 25) so beefy they were like cartoon characters. Stupid balloon wheels and open-back pickup beds filled with … Lord knows what. And — wait for it — their own camera crew. Jacked up on testosterone. Before each vehicle started down the perilous switchbacks there was a still photographer and a film crew at top and bottom, shooting each truck. The photogs were serious because they wore bandanas and sleeveless shirts with their shorts. I noticed they did not yet have a dignified amount of red dust on themselves or their trucks.

There is only one way in and out so I waited my turn to descend. It is a drive I do every couple of years — just to test my mettle. The photogs seemed surprised at the car with the paper plates showing up at the end of their caravan. And then they saw me. I was clearly not part of the young testosterone team. They put their cameras down. And stared. I gave them the three finger slightly raised — from the steering wheel — backroad wave. They returned the wave with the wordless head nod.

By the late afternoon I was ready to settle into my lodgings for the next few days that have been a haven for more than 20 years. A room on the edge of the bird refuge at Boulder Mountain Lodge. I was gonna wake up on a Sunday morning in the shadow of another kind of park…

… to be continued …

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.

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