Yesterday I was assigned to drive the 40 minutes up to Canyonlands NP to work there for something completely different. Canyonlands is a complete and utter wonderland, so I planned to leave 2.5 hours early and meet a friend for a hike I wanted to do. I put the freshly-charged camera batteries in my pocket, grabbed my Spam stainless steel water bottle, threw my ranger uniform in the back of the car, and headed up to 6000 feet.
As we climbed up Aztec Butte to find a couple of Ancestral Puebloan granaries (chinked stone structures in which they secured their harvested crops 800 yrs ago), the breeze was blowing, the temperature was lovely, and a few puffy cumulus clouds dotted the blueness above. Shortly we arrived at the location — a beautiful alcove, almost organic in its shapeliness, high above the mesa. It was a Wow setting, and I pulled out my camera, focused it, and clicked. Nothing. “Memory Card Full.”
I didn’t want to take time to ditch any duplicates or rotten photos, so I put my camera into my bag and decided that I am bringing my children up here next week for this hike anyhow; we’ll get photos then.
I proceeded to work for eight hours in the exquisite Canyonlands location. The “agoraphobical distances” (Ed Abbey’s quote) out the visitor center windows riveted me as I watched their ever-changingness through the day. My brain would have to be my memory card.
Several of my co-workers and I had made plans for hiking to an ARCH II site (that means very archeologically sensitive, so we can’t tell visitors about them unless they come in asking for them by name or description) after work. I was SO excited! And then, about 3:00, thunderclouds started gathering in the north and oozing on all sides of us. Lightning. Wind that blew the fine sand grains into our eyes and teeth. And, finally, pelting rain. In fits and starts, this continued for several hours. We knew our precious ARCH II site visit would have to wait, since wet slickrock is (as I now knew from personal experience) downright dangerous.
A co-worker invited me over for salad and chili and lemonade to ease the disappointment. After an hour visiting with her, people started knocking on her door. They had heard we were to go to “X” and wanted to tag along, but agreed that it was now too late for that long trek as the sun would set in an hour. Bobby offered to take us all in his 4WD to nearby Whitbeck Butte to watch the sunset, and in unison we all jumped up to go.
Whitbeck looks to me like a huge plop of Navajo sandstone that resembles a giant cowpie. Maybe 125 feet tall, very rounded, plenty of ledges and cracks and places to set your feet — in between the steep parts. It was a bit of a challenge for those in our little group of five who had not yet learned to trust their feet on tilted rock.
We topped it just minutes before the sun was to set behind a bank of golden-rimmed clouds on the western horizon. The entire eastern horizon was dominated by the black LaSal mountains, but at their base an entire pink cliff lay illuminated for a moment, like an ancient stone city ablaze in alpenglow. Someone suggested that this butte would be the coolest place to sleep out, and there was unanimous assent. I took one last longing gaze 360 degrees around me before my descent.
I lay in bed for an hour (57 minutes longer than usual) so full of joy at my day in Canyonlands — or was it simply joy at new discoveries with fun people in a place that words can’t describe? Canyonlands will have an opening for a Teacher-Ranger next summer.
My heart was as full as my memory card.