50 States Challenge: Utah

Thursday, August 16, 2018

August 4 - 7, 2018
Salt Lake City / Arches National Park / Thompson Springs

Driving down UT-128, Ellen closed her eyes in the passenger seat, attempting to stop the burning sensation in her eyes.  With the Colorado River on my left, I explained to her my 50 States Challenge.

"What are you going to name this blog then?"

Without a pause I replied, "Unwild."


Looking over Salt Lake City from the plane, I thought it was flat.  It was almost 2 AM EST back home, officially Saturday, but Salt Lake City was still enjoying the last few moments of Friday.  Thousands of lights littered the view below me.  Ellen was waiting for me when I arrived and I told her I was shocked at how flat the city was.  She laughed and told me I'd change my mind tomorrow.

The next day, we wandered the city.  Our Airbnb was conveniently located two blocks up from Brigham Young's home/office.  We toured Temple Square and the many museums set up in the area.  We wandered long into the day, before breaking for a trip to Target, prepping ourselves for the next few days of hiking.

We ended the day, watching the sunset over the Capitol building, which happened to also be up the street from us.  Some teenage girls were sharing a camera and posing together with the mountains in the background.  It made me really nostalgic for my old high school group of friends, fondly named "The Crew."  I wondered where some of them were and if they ever looked back on our old photos and remembered what it felt like to take them.
I really don't know why, but it felt completely necessary to take this picture
The next morning, we pulled ourselves out of bed and made our first top at the Great Salt Lake.  And it smelled...off.  It was really difficult to stand too close to it.  I don't know if it's the salt that makes it smell like that or we were in an off season, but we were pretty bummed. Our expectations were high.
FYI - Thrifted this top for $3
Ellen suggested we might as well stop at Utah Lake on our way to Dead Horse Point State Park and I agreed.

It was beautiful.  The water underneath the cloudless sky was stunning, people were boating, swimming, paddle boarding, and fishing.  Utah Lake happens to be located in Provo, UT - hometown of Bert McCracken, lead singer of The Used.  THIS WAS A MAJOR MOMENT FOR ME.
Regretting the fact that we did not have swimsuits, we set our sights for Dead Horse Point State Park.  Yes, that is the name of the park because back in the day some travelers basically corralled off some horse on this mountain and the only options for the horse were to starve or hop off the edge.  Pretty gruesome.
When we arrived to our campsite - because I was camping for the first time in my entire life - we immediately set our sites for the Western Rim trail, closest to our campsite. It was a little less than a 5 mile hike.  Did I also mention this was the first hike I'd ever taken?  This was the type of vacation that really pushed the boundaries of what I was comfortable with.

Stepping onto the trail just a few feet, I was first shocked with how loud the silence was.  Repeatedly, I asked Ellen to stop walking so that even the sounds of our feet couldn't destroy that perfect silence.  An antelope hopped away from us.
I couldn't get enough of these water holder thingys - Ellen and I dubbed it my pacifier
The Colorado River

A few clouds provided some coolness, but when they blew away the heat stifled me.  I wasn't used to the altitude, the heat, or the constant movement in my legs.  By the time we reached Dead Horse Point, I was exhausted and frustrated by my inability to continue.  Ellen walked out to the point and I sought a seat underneath a shelter the park created.  I sat on a rock and ate a Cliff bar as a French family took pictures in front of me.  I sucked in the cool air and gathered myself for the second half of the trail.

I begrudgingly finished, struggling to find that feeling of awe when I first stepped on the trail.  But it was gone.

After we finished, we headed back to our campsite and ate the sandwiches we prepared earlier in the morning.  We set up the tent provided by Ellen's sister far more quickly than we expected.  We were slightly proud.  As the sun went down, we settled in to sleep with the goal of waking up early and making our way to Arches National Park before the heat of the day could start.  Ellen fell asleep immediately, but under the heat, the rocky floor, and all of my anxieties and fears about camping colliding, I tossed and turned until I finally gave up at 1:30AM and stole Ellen's keys where I slept on and off until Ellen woke me up a little after 6.
 The night before, we gathered all of our trash and left it near the car so that we would remember to drop it off at the dumpsters on our way out of the park.  Ellen picked it up, and tossed it in the backseat where we also had quickly decamped and tossed all of our camping gear, knowing we could spend the time putting it back together during the heat of the day when it was not possible to hike.  About 15 minutes outside of the campsite, I noticed an ant crawling on my sleeve.  During the night, I cracked the windows open for air and I bemoaned my stupidity. Minutes later, a dozen more ants made their way onto the dashboard.  I turned to the backseat to find a full on city of ants, scurrying all over.  They were pouring out of the trash bag Ellen forgot to toss.  At the first pulloff, we jumped out of the car, swiping at ants.  Ellen dragged the tent out, shaking and tossing ants in all different directions.  I swung the trash bag around as I ran from side to side seeking a trash can.  For the next half an hour, we opened windows and released countless ants into the wind.

When we finally arrived at Arches, we changed in the Visitor's Center and refilled our water bags.  Our first stop of the day was a short trail which included Turret Arch, North Window, and South Window.  Feeling bold, we decided to tackle the longest hike of the day to see Delicate Arch.  Clocking in a little over a 3 mile trip, I was confident after my 5 mile trek the day before that I could smash this.
It was beautiful, but my first obstacle was a massive rock hill with no real footpath.  People were crawling their way in various directions.  Making it's way into a vertical, my heart flew into panic mode and I pushed and pushed my way up without looking down.  I left Ellen behind until I reached ground that felt flat.  My alarm bells were off and the lack of sleep disoriented me.  As we continued, the hike required walking along ledges.  Admittedly, they were pretty wide but once my mind psyched itself out, I was a goner.  I clung to the rocks next to me as I walked my way up, encouraged by strangers along the way to take my time.
Delicate Arch was gorgeous, but I couldn't enjoy it.  I perched on a rock, one I was convinced I would fall backwards on to my death.  Brave souls overstepped some boulders and worked their way closer to the Arch for a photo opp.  I clung to my backpack and kept my black sunglasses over my eyes.  Ellen toured the area before coming back and sitting down next to me.  The longer I sat there, the more my fear grew.  With tears falling I told her I wanted to go.  The idea of climbing back down broke me.  I knew I wasn't making it back down.  If there was an "I'm Out!" button, I would have slapped that thing and waited for a helicopter to pick me up.

Strangers were again very kind to me and stepped aside, cheering me on as I made my way down.  I wanted to crawl on my hands and knees.  The closer to the earth I was, I felt the better my chances, but due to the popularity of the hike it wasn't really an option.

Finally, we made it to the bottom and I was elated.  The heat of the day was starting to bear down so we pulled over to a picnic area and ate our lunch, relaxing in the shade of some trees.  I was frustrated with my breakdown during the Delicate Arch hike.  Booking this vacation, I really thought I was going to find some inner peace or clarity, the way that the goddess Cheryl Strayed did in her Wild adventure.  I was far from it. Instead, I just wanted to go home and go to bed.

We burned a few hours and around 3:30 we made our way to our final trail, which included Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, and Landscape Arch.  My legs were worn and shaken from my anxiety attack earlier, but the hike was mostly easy with very few hills to master.
On our way out of the park, we noticed Skyline Arch boasting 0.4 mile roundtrip.  We could see the arch from the road and decided to close our day with this last arch.
Completing our day in Arches, Ellen insisted we travel UT-128 which followed the Colorado River up to I-70.  It put us about half an hour away from our VRBO for the night in Thompson Springs, but Ellen was determined.  Unfortunately, two days of sunblock were dripping into her eyes and burning them out of her skull.  We switched positions and I drove past dude ranch after dude ranch.  The landscape started to change the further we drove from Arches.  The mountains became less red, more brown and spotted with greenery.

Arriving in VRBO, I was beyond pleased.  A little loft with a second bedroom, Ellen found her way to sleep immediately.  I showered, watched the finale of The Bachelorette (friggin' Garrett, man), and found my way to bed.

Still not having fully adjusted to the time difference, I woke up early and made a pot of coffee.  The VRBO had rocking chairs on a cement porch overlooking the Ghost Town it was set up in. Mountains dominated the view.  I rocked quietly, enjoying the view and calmness.  I sighed; this was what I was seeking.
 Ellen woke up and we packed the car with out eyes set on Colorado.

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