In other news, two important events took place on this day: my mother had a birthday, and Alissa and I visited Canyonlands National Park: Islands in the Sky. Both events were equally exciting!
Canyonlands is a rugged and wild national park with limited services, few paved roads, and a plethora of rough-hewn trails leading to stunning overlooks at staggering heights. Pictures fail to capture the grandeur: one must experience it for himself.
Our first hike was an easy trek of a few miles out to Grand Viewpoint, a well-traveled and well-marked path that led to an artistic tumble of boulders that necessitated a bit of a climb at the end.
Before attempting the climb, Alissa and I rested in the shade of the rock pile, munching on a packed lunch of rolls, cheese, granola, and water. Once our energy was somewhat restored, Alissa immediately shouldered her backpack and began leaping up the rocks like a mountain goat.
"Are you sure you don't want to come up?" she called down to me.
"You really should! It looks amazing from up here."
"I'm good down here. Really."
"I'll help you," she leaned over, hands on her knees, looking earnest and considerate.
"That's okay," I called back up.
Alissa was up and enjoying the view for a full ten minutes before I mustered the strength of will to attempt the short climb. “Listen, sister,” I advised myself, “You’re already up 5,800 feet. A few extra feet won’t kill you. And these rocks have been piled like this since the Flood. They're not likely to fall any time soon.” So I picked my way up the rocks, trying very hard not to think about the rock-slide warning signs and shattered rocks we'd seen along countless roads and trails since coming West.
In the end, Alissa was right: the view from the top was worth the near hyperventilation. Although overwhelmed initially and succumbing to an urge to sit down flat on my butt for the first five minutes before I was able to walk around with some measure of normalcy, I was eventually up and picking my way around.
Eventually, there was even some jumping and other high-altitude shenanigans!
At the top, we met some very nice German and Chinese tourists. While exchanges in various languages went on, we fell into extended conversation with a German woman. As Alissa had been to Frankfurt and Berlin, and this lady had visited Florida, we had plenty to chat about in addition to our respective Western adventures.
After hiking back to the car from the Grand Viewpoint, we drove across the park past Whale Rock and toward Upheaval Dome. Having not read about Upheaval Dome in the guide book the night before, and curious about the views, we decided to take the trail out to view the site, which signs indicated was either an eroded salt dome or a meteor crash site. (Further investigation by Mulder and Scully required.)
We began the hike, following a series of cairns along the path.
No warning signs at the trailhead prepared us for what was to come. Rough-hewn steps for the first ½ mile soon gave way to steep inclines up and down slick rock, at times requiring us to shimmy up rocks sideways using both our hands and our feet. Feeling very much like Peter Parker when he goes emo and loses his ability to shoot webs from his wrists, I clung to rock ledges and attempted to keep up with Alissa without audibly whimpering.
As with our first hike, this dizzying climb was also well worth the effort. We rested at the top of a magnificently domed rock, munching fresh apples while watching a bird of prey ride a thermal at eye-level. While Alissa quietly daydreamed, I battled fears either that a condor would swoop down and rip our scalps off or that a strong gust of wind would carry Alissa over the side... Or that we would be trampled by a rampaging big-horn sheep... Or that I would slip from the top and pinwheel to my death on the distant canyon floor.
What with my constant neurotic what-ifs and the lack of oxygen at 6,000+ feet, we both acquired headaches and were in a constant state of shortness of breath long before the 2-mile hike was complete. Alissa—a runner in fantastic shape—blamed this on the high altitude. I blamed it on my general lack of physical fitness and constant fears that we would be mauled by mountain lions or murdered by deranged hippie serial killers.
Yet despite these difficulties, continue we did, all the way to the end. As we turned back, we had a stunning view of the domed rock on which we’d eaten our apples. We were also in time to see our German friends from the Grand Viewpoint disdaining the (already difficult!) path and walking casually down the steep side of the dome as if it were a garden path.Click to enlarge and see German tourists waltzing down the side:
At any rate, once our hike was complete we were in no shape to attempt the originally-intended Mesa Arch Trail. We wilted limply into the seats of the VW and coasted back down to Moab. While on the way, I phoned home to wish mother a happy birthday (this year from within the continental U.S. -- a first in a long time!), but found that she was out to dinner with the family. Phoning siblings' cell phones soon put me in touch with mother, who regaled me with tales of the family birthday dinner, which included one of my young nephews trying to follow the waitress back into the restaurant kitchen. But I digress.
Back in Moab, we refueled by devouring a deliciously filling dinner at the locally-owned Zak’s Restaurant. Alissa downed a steak and potato while I settled for chicken smothered (and I do mean smothered) in cheese with a side of rice pilaf and a kebab of savory roasted veggies. I also confused the waitress by ordering sweet tea while sporting a Dr. Pepper shirt, but she eventually got it right and—happy and content—we returned to settle down for a relatively early night at the hotel.
After all, we had plans for sunrise the next morning.