Let me begin with a disclaimer: I’m currently parked on the shoulder of a highway to upload this post. I’ve caught a signal and am staying put while I’ve got it. This being the first time I’ve created a new post using only my phone, I’m certain something wonky will occur, so just ignore it if it happens.
It feels as though we’ve been on the road much longer than two weeks. Not in a bad or exhausting way, I’m amazed at how quickly and easily Paco and I have fallen into the routine of living in motion.
Within this short span, we have slept in multiple National Forests surrounded by towering pine trees, in desert canyons, tucked along forested campsites along highways, perched overlooking the backside of Zion National Park, atop windy mesas, and one night in the parking lot of Crystal Falls Gift Shop just outside the Petrified Forest National Park – which was actually quite nice and very convenient.
We drove along the Vermillion Cliffs, through multiple parts of Dixie National Forest (all under snow), got as close to the north rim of the Grand Canyon as possible, saw giant satellites, traveled long and desolate highways, and have been followed by snow and rain the entire time. Only at the Petrified Forest NP did I get soaked through with icy rain, most other times the sky threatened precipitation in every direction but waited until nightfall to descend upon us. The few days it did rain were nice. Even in a van, it’s nice to have a lazy, rainy day inside from time to time.
Someone recommended I read “Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck, so I picked up a used copy before I left Austin. I’m about halfway through it now and it cracks me up. Never did I imagine I’d find myself relating so closely with Steinbeck, but reading about his cross-country travels in a camper with a dog parallel my own experiences and thoughts far too closely. The one glaring difference is his human connections along the way.
It’s a strange feeling knowing the country is under an advised quarantine. Most small towns and communities I’ve driven through are shuttered ghost towns. Gas stations shut down except for paying at the pump. Roadside restaurants with empty parking lots. All the tourist trinket shops are closed until further notice. Grocery stores seem to be the only businesses open, at least on the back roads, and their parking lots are always full. Of course, there are thousands of people not staying home in voluntary quarantine too. Every scenic overlook is still crowded with onlookers. The National Parks I’ve driven through or past were swarming with people. I drove through Zion without ever getting out of my van, and there were plenty of visitors and tour busses there.
While I was eager to get out into the wilderness and simply read a book, knowing I don’t have the option to dip into an eatery or check out a small town creates an eerie uneasiness. It also does not help my craving for Mexican food. Granted, even out in the middle of the Utah canyonlands, I still manage to cross paths with people for the usual, awkward small talk conversation from time to time, so I’m not entirely alone.
I’ve unexpectedly been retracing parts of my path in reverse from last year’s van adventure. The past three nights have been spent on BLM land tucked between Capitol Reef National Park and the Henry Mountains. I only stayed here one night last year, so we’ve explored the area at greater length this go-round. It’s absolutely beautiful here, and the variations of colors in the mesas and rocks never fail to amaze me. Here, the night sky is spectacular. This area is reportedly one of the darkest skies in Utah, and it does not disappoint. Most nights I stand slack-jawed staring upward while watching shooting stars zoom across the night sky (and no, they weren’t airplanes).
We’re on our way to my absolute favorite stop from last year’s travels, the San Rafael Swell. I plan to stay there a few nights to explore it in more depth, and it seems like a great place to celebrate my birthday. I definitely know I won’t have signal there, which is why I’m posting this from roadside while I have the chance.
Below are far too many photographs, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what I’ve taken. Hopefully, they offer a good representation of our travels thus far, though it’s hard to translate vast landscapes through tiny rectangles.
Until next time!