Utah Reunion

My post theme was 80s rock lyrics!

Anyone who knows me well knows that Southern Utah is my favorite place on Earth. And I’ve been to a lot of places on Earth. But if you look back on the past two years of my posts, you’ll find out there was a time when it sure looked as though I would never see my beloved land again. Well, guess what? Life is a funny thing, plays strange games with you. Just last week I had a reunion with my true love, and my trip exceeded all expectations.

Partition Arch, Arches National Park, the Devil’s Garden

I’m currently more than a year and a half into my journey with metastatic lung cancer. This is not the hiking trail I ever wanted to take, but I have to say that in some ways I wouldn’t change it. Yeah, I know, you think I’m lying. That’s because you’re there and I’m here, and until you’re here, you wouldn’t know. In a lot of ways I like myself better as a survivor of a disease that most don’t make it through. But I’m not here to talk about that. Perhaps that will be my NEXT blog. Today, I’m going to talk about my return to travel.

Ta-Daaa!! Selfie at Glen Canyon

Listen, I’ve done my time with COVID19. I’m fully vaccinated, don’t cause trouble in Walmart by being a mask rebel, stayed out of pubic places when I was supposed to. With things starting to look up, I chose to follow through on a date that loomed on the calendar as one of hope. COVID19 was not my only roadblock. Cancer was, too. A lot has happened since more of the shitty Big C was discovered in December 2020. I’m back in fighting shape. BUT…

En Route to Chesler Park, Canyonlands

I saw my oncology team a few days before I left, and voiced concern about my ability to do what I wanted to do in the southeastern corner of my beloved state. Just didn’t think that my endurance was what it should be. I was assured that medically and physically, I should be able to pull off what I set out to do. But I was full of doubt and asking myself questions that threatened to crush me: Can you still do what you used to? What you love to do? Or are you just pretending? Trying to put a happy face on a devastating situation? Let me tell you something, friends: your mind can really “F” you up. In fact, I thought about canceling the trip the morning of, as I had a full blown panic attack that lasted right up until I got to the airport. Then, this crazy calm swept over me.

Top of the world, Arches National Park

Similar things happened to me after my initial diagnosis in late 2019. The country-hopping woman that I once was dissolved into the meltdown queen of the grocery store. I had to work on me a lot to get myself back in the swing of a life that I thought was over, had to learn to walk through the valley of Those Who Don’t Have Cancer as one of Those Who Do Have Cancer. Had to swallow the bitter pill of never being able to live life without this curse after my hope of being cured was dashed in December 2020, between my 54th birthday and Christmas. None of that mattered as I moved smoothly through the airport and blended in with the crowd. Even less when I emerged from the dreaded 737-Max 8 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the American West miraculously reached. And yeah, I know there are quicker ways to get to Southern Utah than from Albuquerque. But I LIKE the drive from there.

Hite Overlook, Glen Canyon. Lunch view!

The crazy thing about my treatment is that if I didn’t tell someone I have cancer, they wouldn’t know. At one time I told a lot of people. I no longer bother, because it doesn’t really change anyone’s attitude toward me, for better or for worse. I guess at one time I’d hoped that if I told someone they might have some real respect for me, but I’ve learned that for the most part, no one cares what I’ve survived. I didn’t tell a soul in the entire huge American West that I have an illness that is going to kill me whether I like it or not. It didn’t matter anyway. Because I was headed to Utah. Nothing matters when I’m heading to Utah. Even less when I’m actually there.

Yeah.

After my emotional reunion at the state line, I motored on to Moab, first discovered with my beloved Mom in 1995, and the center of my traveling world, just like she was. Mom was taken away from me in 2004, but Moab was not. I settled into a cozy room and had to decide if I was going to move forward as me again, or if I was going to crash and burn and go home with my tail between my legs.

Beneath Morning Glory Bridge, Grandstaff Trail

I usually have more time to work with. When I go during the summer I can do some short hikes in between long hauls, pick and choose carefully, move stuff around, and get maximum mileage. Not this time. This was April school vacation week. Time was tight. Before I even arrived I changed my original plans, thinking the treks I relished weren’t in my reach. However, I stuck with an all-new hike on my first day out, the Grandstaff Trail to Morning Glory Bridge, a moderate offering with a lot of stream crossings and a massive natural bridge at the end. Unsure of myself, I swallowed my fears and started slow. Paced myself, something I never really had to do before. One foot in front of the other, pour water down my throat, have a snack if necessary. It worked. I felt okay. My energy level was normal enough. I wasn’t dragging along or huffing and puffing. I was also at much higher elevations than anywhere in the East, so that was a good challenge too. Grandstaff went great. So I put the original plan back on the table!

Back Home!

Back in 2013 when I first had the crazy idea to hike all the national parks in the United States I knocked off all five Utah parks in one trip. I’d been thinking about repeating the Devil’s Garden at Arches, and had it on my list, remembering the vast array of spectacular scenery along the way. This time I wanted to do the loop, instead of the out and back I did in ’13. The primitive loop. What the heck does that mean? Well, let me tell you, I found out! It meant exactly what the sign said:

No lies here!

I could have turned back. But I didn’t turn back. This was my proving ground, and the hike turned out to be nine of the most challenging miles I’ve ever done! Think scaling twenty foot rocks, neck-breaking drop offs, hiking in soft sand. Oh, and at least ten incredible arches along the way! I’m not sorry that I did it, even though I didn’t feel like getting up early enough to do the eleven miler that I planned to do the next day. No worries, I cut it down to six and got a crazy workout anyway! And still had a bit of energy in reserve for Glen Canyon on the last day of my reunion!

Good-bye, My Love. Until Next Time…

Then there I was, back at the sign. The scene is always so different in reverse, when Utah is in my rear view mirror. But as always, I swore that I’ll be back. Lord willing, I will be back!

Until then, I have more adventures, more reunions up my sleeve, and I’ll continue to live by one of my favorite sayings ever:

Hiking Moab: Outside the National Parks

Moab Banner

You don’t have to know me too well to know that I love hiking, and if I had my choice of doing it anywhere in the world, I’d choose Southern Utah. I’ve been a heck of a lot of places on the globe, but I just can’t get enough of my coveted Promised Land. Most people who’ve been to the vast and exciting area choose to go to what I call “the other side,” meaning Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. I completely understand why: easier access from Vegas, much more well known. Guess I can’t blame them. And hey, less traffic on “my side,” which is the east side of Southern Utah. Moab and I  met way back in 1995, quite by accident, when my beloved Mom and I wanted to see Arches and maybe just a bit of Canyonlands on one of our first road trips. Which we did! Love was born. Love has only grown. In fact, when I buy an RV and head out to live on the road in a few years, guess where I’ll be heading first? Maybe I’ll never leave!

Today, I’ve done so much hiking in Arches and Canyonlands that when I went back this summer I decided to explore outside the parks. Frankly, Arches is wonderful, but it’s so small and there are so many vehicles choking the roads that I take a pass now. I’ve pretty much hiked everything there and with plenty of other wonders to keep me busy, I’m not hankering yet to do them again. On the other hand, I still have not had enough of Canyonlands. It’s much more remote, way bigger, and offers four “districts,” two of which I haven’t even set foot in yet. So, I did spend some time there yet again, repeating hikes I haven’t done in a few years. But here are a couple of treks beyond the famous parks that I’d give about seven hundred stars to. They’ll feed your hunger for the Arches and Canyonlands, with a lot less human traffic.

Fisher Towers

Located on the gorgeous Utah 128, Fisher Towers is an absolute stunner about 20 miles east of Moab. Leave I-70 at exit 214, SR 128 West, not at US 191 the way the interstate signs say, and take this lesser known and used route to Moab. You can thank me after you do it. I’ll talk more about the highway itself below, but for now let’s concentrate on Fisher Towers.

As you near the majestic and castle-like towers, there will be a few pull-offs along SR 128. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that any of these are the official parking areas for the Fisher Tower Trail; they aren’t. The actual trail is about a mile down a well-maintained gravel road that is accessible by any vehicle and has its own clearly seen sign. Any of those other lots will have you on horse trails. I made that mistake, though I can’t say I’m at all sorry, as I was hiking surrounded by arguably the most incredible scenery on Earth, and different 360 views than the Fisher Towers Trail. But if you only have a few hours to hike before you continue on to Moab, take the signed dirt road.

Before I did this hike I found some misleading information that designated the trail as easy. Don’t make this mistake, either. Fisher Towers isn’t easy. It’s rocky, the footing is tricky in some places, and there’s 1,800 feet in gain/loss over approximately five miles round trip, including a ladder. I suggest full hiking gear, most importantly sturdy boots and socks high enough to keep you from collecting dirt. There’s also very little shade if you’re hiking in warm weather, not a drop of water, even though the Colorado River is not far away on the opposite side of SR 128, and slippery sand in several places. But make no mistake about it, the payoff is grand. The rusty sandstone towers resemble man made ruins, so much so that when I posted pictures on Facebook I had to explain that the scenery is the handiwork of none other than Mama Nature.

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The entire trail is a spectacle to behold, but the real payoff is the first mile and a half. Expect nothing better than that and you won’t be disappointed when you get to what appears to be the “end” and find many little side trails to views your jaw has already dropped for a thousand times. Find your personal favorite and have lunch before you head back to your car.

Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail

This is one of those trails that I can’t believe I didn’t do the first several times I was in my favorite place. Do yourself a big favor and don’t GPS this one! The route GPS or Google Maps gives you is misleading. The trail is totally simple to get to from Moab. Just head toward Arches National Park on 191 North from town and turn left on SR 279, another beauty, albeit a short one. Drive with your head on a spindle until you come to the well-marked trail parking lot on the right hand side.

The Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail is another hot, dry, sandy one with a big time reward. It’s much flatter than the Fisher Towers hike, with less than 500 feet in gain/loss, a lot of it on the initial climb from the parking lot. If not for some rather tricky cables and a ladder, I’d rate it as easy. The hardware makes it moderate. And yes, you can see the arches without ascending the ladder, but don’t you dare miss a closer look.

I had the whole fabulous area to myself, though All Trails rates it as “heavily trafficked.” It’s fair enough to say that the cables and ladders will keep some people away. Don’t be one of those people; it’s takes about two minutes to do both, and the cables have very good footholds, though I wouldn’t recommend doing it with dogs, children, (including those on your back) or in wet or icy conditions. This trek is real National Geographic stuff and better yet, can be done in a matter of two to three hours, including all the silly selfies you can muster.

Highway 128

Okay, it isn’t really a hike, and if you’ve never been to an area like Southern Utah you probably can’t fathom a highway being a destination, but take my word, SR 128 to Moab is a trip in and of itself. When I go to the area now I’m prone to just parking on the side of the highway, donning my backpack, and setting off to see what I can see. When you leave I-70 it’s going to take an hour or so of driving for SR 128 to “get good,” but when it does, oh, it’s pretty fantastic! The Colorado River will start out to your east, on the left side of the road, but will eventually flow underneath the highway and end up on the right the remainder of the way to Moab. Before long you’ll enter the Colorado Riverway Recreation Area, scene of delight for paddlers and rafters. I had my first trip on the river this summer, but that’s another blog! Soon Fisher Towers come into view on opposite side of the road, with Castleton Towers thrown in for good measure. I’ve always thought that this land of wonder could be a national park. Maybe it will be someday.

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Closer to Moab on 128 are Grandstaff Canyon and Icebox Canyon. I intended to do Grandstaff while I was there this summer, but I ran out of energy! Next time.

My side of Southern Utah offers so much, inside and outside the national parks. This is just a morsel of what the area offers to hiking fans, not to mention mountain bikers, BASE jumpers, and many other adventure seekers. I like to say that if you ain’t been to Moab, you ain’t really been. When are you going?