Monday, August 4, 2008

Vienna and I woke at 5 to catch the sunrise. The sky was filled with dimpled clouds catching the first rays of morning, and I wondered whether we would have a hope of seeing anything. But we trundled ourselves to the car and headed for a point where other early risers were chatting, cameras ready. The breeze was pushing the cloudbanks toward the north and gradually slivers of blue appeared. We positioned ourselves opposite a large crag in the rocks on the south rim and waited. Just as the sun prepared to crest, the wind blew the last of the thick formations away and we watched light pour over the canyon. Vienna and I snapped pictures and enjoyed the sight of tiny rock squirrels capering while birds began to sing.

We had returned to the tent site and were uploading pictures when Jenny, a traveler who zealously guards her opportunities for a decent night's sleep, awoke. We packed our gear (oh, how I remember those awful army surplus tents we once used) and headed for the Kaibob Trail. The air was cool and the light continued playing amidst the shadows of overhead clouds and the ruts and fissures of the canyon as we began our hike. Each easy step down warned us about the inevitably tough step back.

Still, we continued a happy descent, watching birds circling above. From time to time we'd meet a rock squirrel. Some were wary of us, but one in particular was brave enough to scamper all over our pack, biting and scratching for an entryway to the morsels he hoped were inside. Eventually we reached the so-called Ooh-Ahh point, admittedly a modest hiking goal, and enjoyed the gorgeous view. Returning to our car, we stopped at several other points along the rim while driving the desert road, enjoying one opportunity in particular to feel like "king of the world" atop a hefty formation jutting out over the expanse below.

After a while it was time to leave the park, but it seemed that we never did, even after passing by the entrance gates. All afternoon, we savored painted deserts as we headed for Utah, photographing lonely buttes, strange "Indian" signage, and occasional thunderstorms that filled the air with electricity. Heading nearer to Monument Valley, I smiled at how the day grew brighter and more crisp, the sun warming the reddish towering formations out of some Roadrunner cartoon. Jenny had been looking at pictures of the Valley for weeks and pronounced that the real thing is so much better than a photograph. At last, we drove Highway 163, my favorite stretch of road mile-for-mile, and wondered at the glory of these majestic structures, some looking like hands stuck in the ground by some mitten-worshipping alien cult. There's something so ancient and yet so strangely futuristic about this place. Passing through the valley, we headed north a bit until I spotted the perfect place for a morning shot of the road, lit by sunrise, entering this land of giants. We promised to return the next day.

That night, we bunked in a lovely hostel in Bluff, Utah, occupied only by ourselves. We charged almost a dozen electrical devices -- three mobile phones, three laptops, and various batteries for cameras, both still and motion -- and headed into town for dinner at the Cottonwood Steakhouse, a Western themed place that allows you to take the bandannas they use for napkins home as souvenirs. Returning to our room, we wrote, chatted, and relaxed after an amazing day of driving.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.