With my fingertips missing their defining ridges, my legs covered in a bevy of happy bruises, and my heart happy from a week spent outdoors, playing on rock, we headed toward Moab Utah for the next stop on our holiday.
It was a long drive and my mind wandered through what I’d seen and experienced in the Nevada desert, and what I was seeing before me, now that we were passing once again through a similar landscape in Utah. The crazy sandstone shapes: fingers, pinnacles, chimneys, columns, rounded mounds and arches. The strange colouring in the golds, pinks and reds. The striping and spotted, measle-like dimpling of red through rock. The cacti that lived and thrived through extremes of hot and cold, dry and flooded. The power of rainstorms that could create washes, the size we’d seen and hiked through. The power of the tectonic forces that can thrust sandy sea bottoms skyward, transforming what was once flat, soft and shifting into hard, near-permanent mountains. The power of water and wind, those erosive forces that wear rock into sand, only to be foiled by geologic forces that turn it back into rock, only to be eroded once more into sand….
Undulating themes echoed in the rolling tarmac as we drove across that huge expanse of barren, inhospitable land. I found myself humming along to “Horse With No Name,” a one hit wonder of a song by that came out in the early 70s, written and sung by Lee Martin “Dewey” Bunnel (sounding ever so much like Neil Young) that took its inspiration from a bizarre Salvador Dali painting and the strange horses of an Escher picture.
I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain…
Or the snow… or the length of an unbearably long winter…
On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
Strange things go through your head as you ride through the desert, and though this song certainly has heroin references, I assure you that it was only the desert itself that drugged us, as we turned off the I15, onto the I70, heading across the incredible expanse of desert to Moab.
We were driving through a vast landscape of canyonlands, salt flats, mesas and high desert plateaus. It was a spectacular drive with a descent of 800m from snow dusted mountains to hot, shimmering desert floors. If you do the drive, be sure to stop at all of the overlook pullouts. Time and again, you stand on the edge of deeply cut canyons, dotted with the sparkling white sediments of salt flats, layered with striking bands of green, red and gold mineral bands. It is seriously beautiful.
We were passing through a huge, desolate landscape with no sign of humanity, save the ribbon of asphalt that stretched out before us, the odd cattle herd or group of burros (grazing on goodness knows what!) and the odd rusted out ancient vehicle from the 50’s.
As we did the six hour drive at very high US road speeds (130km/h), I found myself thinking about those first Spanish explorers and Mormon settlers, and the Ute Indians that came before them. What hearty, determined types they must’ve been to think that they could move safely through this vast, rocky, sparsely vegetated, barely watered, dry desert… and settle here! Incredible. That took such courage and fortitude, such confidence and incredible amounts of perseverance and determination.
I found myself, at each and every pull-out, standing in awe of their spirit, amazed by the sheer size of this desert space. And at times, it felt as if we were travelling across what I imagine the surface of Mars to be like.
As we got closer to the Moab area, the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal mountains stood hazy, glittering, off in the distance across the horizon. After passing through so many salt flat areas, the Spanish explorers can be forgiven for naming them, thinking they were topped with salt!
As we rolled into Moab, under the soft light of the setting sun, we saw dust clouds rising up off the desert floor, catching the light, stirred up by jeep convoys coming out of the hills of the BLM lands after a day of playing on the slickrock.
Moab, we were here. It was time to play!