A view (from afar) of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.
I arrived in Moab, UT, on Friday, September 25th. It was the start of my final week of travel. There was a feeling of heaviness hanging over me, an anticipation that soon I would have to return to my life quarantined in the city. This feeling was countered by the excitement of being in Southern Utah and about to visit four National Parks that appear in pictures to be nothing less than magic.
I was up pre-dawn on Saturday to get an early start into Arches National Park. It is one of the most popular National Parks in the country, and I understood that parking could be challenging if you delay your arrival. It also allowed me to catch the sunrise over the 2,000-foot red cliffs that towered above the Colorado River near the lodge where I was staying.
One cannot predict when Beauty will come for you. It can sneak up on you in the melody of a song or the lyric of a poem. It can come in a warm smile or the casual touch of a reassuring hand. You know it because its appearance has a momentary effect of paralysis. You simply cannot leave its presence until it is done with you. The sunrise that morning was so beautiful, so magnificent, that I could not walk away. Lost in the sight of the sun's coming—a daily happening, I remind myself, that I so rarely witness—that it delayed my departure for the park.
First glimpse of an immanent sunrise near Moab, UT.
Beauty arrives in a sunrise near Moab, UT.
Eventually, I did arrive at the trailhead for the most iconic arch in the park, Delicate Arch, and to my disappointment, the parking lot was already full. I had to take in a view of the arch from a distance, entrusting the zoom on my camera to bring me closer. I didn't linger but decided to move on and head to the Devil's Garden Trail, hoping that I would have better luck with parking there.
Good fortune awaited me as I did snag a parking place and quickly threw my daypack over my shoulders and set out for what would end up being about a 10-mile hike. Once away from the crowds, Devil's Garden Trail via Primitive Trail was exactly what I was looking for. The trail led past wind-sculpted stone arches and towering monoliths and provided a sense of mystery and wild wonder.
It was nice to have someone to experience the park with. It provides a different perspective. You notice things you would have missed. She said, "This is my favorite arch." I asked why, and she shared what she saw that I didn't, and my point of view changed. That is what a good travel companion does and why they are so hard to find. They do not divert attention from the experience but add to it and make it more rewarding. They give you a way of remembering a place that isn't based solely on one's own subjectivity.
Perhaps our conversation was too comfortable that we weren't paying enough attention. I watched helplessly as she took an awkward step on loose sand and fell to the ground. There was a popping sound, and I could tell immediately that she was in a great amount of discomfort. She grabbed her ankle and grimaced. I asked her if she was OK. "This happens sometimes. I have weak ankles," she replied.
I think more than being in pain, she was embarrassed. We were back on the main trail with significantly more foot traffic. The first park ranger we had seen all day appeared seemingly, almost magically, out of nowhere and asked if we needed to be evacuated. "We? Oh, I'm not—we're not. We just met 45 minutes ago." I thought to myself, then quickly determined that trying to explain wouldn't be helpful. I realized that anyone passing by was likely to assume we were together and that I would need to see this through to the end. She insisted that an evacuation wouldn't be necessary. She wrapped her ankle, slid her foot back into her boot, and climbed to her feet. Fortunately, we were less than a mile from the parking lot, and the trail at this point was fairly flat.
We took our time walking back. She required no assistance from me, but I stayed with her because I thought the company might take her mind off any physical pain. I asked her what she would have thought of me if I had left her on the trail. She said she wouldn't have blamed me, and we had a good laugh about how nutty the situation was.
When we got back to the parking lot, I gave her my number and told her that if her ankle got worse and she needed some help, she can give me a call.
I thought I'd never see her again, but in just a couple of days, I would be reminded that life is full of surprises.
A short walk down into the "Park Avenue" valley offers an immersive view of towering walls and monoliths.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES