Friday, January 13, 2017

A Birthday Adventure: In Which I Use The Word Incredible Too Much

All this rain here in Utah recently has reminded me of a trip I took in the rain last year that I wanted to write about, but somehow forgot and never got to... Well, it is about time I post again.

...Going back in time to September 2016...

The week before my birthday, I went to Escalante (pronounced ES-Ka-LANT or ES-KI-LANT-IE...Actually I never could figure out what the correct pronunciation was...Sorry to the Spanish speakers who are reading this and wincing at the mispronunciation of their beautiful language), and I went to keep my friend Ellie company while she entered and painted for a Plein Air painting competition (again, here's her beautiful website, go buy her art. She's incredible).

We went for four days of incredible sites and incredibly wet weather.
We camped for two of the three nights, then finally gave in when we woke up in puddles and got a hotel room for the last night. But still, camping in a rainstorm, and it was a crazy storm, was a really cool experience.
We painted in the Kodachrome Basin State park. Well, Ellie painted, I explored the teeny park. The coolest part for me was walking through the deep dry riverbed, with the canyon walls high above my head and looking for the little animal footprints in the mud.

I drew some pictures of the horses, which you can take on an excursion through the park, if anyone is lucky enough to visit.

Kodachrome Basin is a little known, off the beaten path park that I definitely recommend you stopping by if you're in the area. It's a beautiful, hidden treasure. 

After visiting Kodachrome, we spent the night in a tent off the side of the road by a little stream we learned later was called the Escalante River (in Utah, rivers are usually not very big, but they don't have very much else to compare them with - it is a desert after all). The next morning Ellie had to get some more paintings in for the competition. We went down to the river, trying to stay out of the muddy cow tracks, and found a quiet place where the water descended over a little incline to form a small waterfall. I tried to get most of a painting in, but it started raining really in earnest. And as we know, watercolor and rain don't work very well together. I had to go back and finish that particular painting later. You can still see little spots in the paint from the rain. I actually really like the texture it creates.

After my attempts, Ellie realized the other thing we all know - that oil and water also don't mix very well together, and so after that, I became the umbrella holder. Despite the rain, being able to spend time with a good friend makes it all worth it.

Did I mention that umbrella was broken? You'd think that growing up in Oregon would teach me a little bit about how to use an umbrella.  I guess that wasn't the case. Regardless, it was a good character building experience. Later that same day we got a few more paintings in. By the end, we were painting in the car, the rain was so constant and the umbrella so broken. But you do what you need to do to get the job done! Ah the things we do in the name of art!

Escalante is the little town near the Grand Staircase National monument. If that town name is making sense now, you'll understand how appropriate it really is in just a moment.
When we went to go see the Grand Staircase the rain was finally abating. But what we didn't know was what was to come later concerning rain. But a little bit more about that later.

We drove about twenty minutes out of the town before we turned a curve in the road to see a pull off with a sign, looking out over...nothing. It was a void, I could feel that much, but the clouds were so low, they covered the landscape in fluffy grey-ness. It was here we got out of the car and wandered around the rocks until we got to the edge of a cliff looking over into the void. You know that dizzy feeling you get when looking down off a mountaintop? Well I could feel that at this moment, but what was so strange was that I couldn't see anything. It was the freakiest feeling ever. We soon decided to drive down the road and see if we could get under the clouds. That moment, following the curve of the road and finally driving through the mist to get a glimpse of the monument, was the most incredible view. It's a good thing I had a friend in the car with me to remind me to watch the road and not the view, or we might have driven right off the cliff.

The Grand Staircase is aptly named, but I felt like on that day it would be more appropriate to name it the Grand Waterslide because though the rain had stopped for the time being, the water had not stopped flowing. The monument is made out of slick rock sandstone that does not soak up water - hence the name slick rock. The water just sits right on top and follows the pull of gravity down the whorls and whirls of water-carved sandstone. It's beautiful and alien, but so cool to explore.

After our explorations, Ellie fixed up her paintings. And then, my wonderful friend took me to dinner for my birthday to the only restaurant in the whole town, and she got me CHOCOLATE CAKE. Probably the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten too. I still dream about it sometimes.

Southern Utah is one of the most incredible places in the world. Anyone who has had the fortune of being in the desert during a rainstorm can attest to how even more incredible a world it becomes as the rain soaks into the parched ground. This water-deprived landscape blooms in ways I could never image without seeing it. Things come alive where before they seemed dead. It's an alien world, and yet it is our world! What an amazing place we live in!

This quote on the wall of the Grand Staircase Visitor's Center describes it perfectly:

"It is a lovely and terrible wilderness...harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed...and in hidden corners and pockets under its cliffs, the sudden poetry of springs.''
                              -Wallace Stegner, 1960

I made the life goal last New Year's to go and experience at least one new place every year. Southern Utah was definitely the fulfillment of that goal this year. I can honestly say this was one of the most memorable and incredible birthday weeks of my life.

That night, we stayed in the tent one more time. You know it's going to be a rough night when you start it out by setting the tent up in a thunderstorm! The rain was back in earnest. Thunder and lightning crashed, and rain pummeled our tent all night long, and we woke up in a puddle. But even taking the tent down in the same conditions we put it up wasn't enough to dampen our moods, because that day was the hiking day!

We decided to hike to Calf Creek falls, a little waterfall within the Grand Staircase. We hiked in the rain, of course, and the 5.7 mile round-trip hike was only partly flooded. We ended up wading in the water up to our ankles on the way back. Though, if you know me well, you'll know that that just served to make me more exhilarated at being outside. Add another thing, that "little" waterfall was definitely not little! The rain had swollen it to almost three times its normal size! Needless to say, we got back to town soaked to the skin. And that is when we caved and got a hotel room for our last night. Because even though I love rain, even I have my limits. Taking a hot shower never sounded so good!

 There was a reception that night for all the plein air artists, and we met some crazy cool local artists. The next day was the judges results, the fair, and the drive home through beautiful aspen groves and snow in the Dixie National Forest and then through a quick detour through Capitol Reef National Park. We were only able to explore it for a couple hours, and a lot of the roads were closed because of the heavy downpour the night before. I would really like to go back and see more of it! We didn't even get to do any of the hikes! It's a beautiful, sun-beaten area.

We got to the end of the road, after stopping to see some really old petroglyphs (and some newer ones added by visitors in the 70s and 80s), and meeting this cute old couple from England who proceeded to prod us about the election that hadn't happened yet (which we didn't know very much about, I'm ashamed to say). Capitol Reef used to be a settlement, there are old buildings and fruit orchards scattered throughout the park. That made it very unique, unlike any national park I'd been to - where the might of nature and human came so close, they coexisted side by side. 

We drove until the road was blocked by a barrier, indicating the end of the paved road and the beginning of the muddied and rain-drenched dirt road. We parked the car and decided to walk on the road a little ways to see what was beyond the pavement. We trod through red clay mud that caked our sandals, and soon we were surrounded by monolithic walls of rock on either side of that muddy road. We walked, clambering on rock formations as we went, passing walls of rock pocked with natural caves of all sizes. I still don't know how they were caused. But it was incredible. 

At the end of the day, we were back in Provo, exhausted, but with such a beautiful experience now a part of our memories. I keep reading all these posts on social media sites indicating what a horrible year 2016 was. And I am certain that there are many bad things that happened, but to me, 2016 was a wonderful year, I learned a ton, graduated from University, and had incredible experiences. Call me selfish for just focusing on my own life at this moment, but I hope we can learn to focus more on the many good things that happen to us and less on the few bad things. If there is anything this trip taught me, it is that. You can't control your circumstances, but you can control your reaction for sure, and despite all the disappointments, you can still find joy. 

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