I laid everything I owned out in the garage, opened all five of Olive’s doors, and began with the largest items. Ninety minutes later my entire Utah life was strategically shoe-horned into the Prius. I stopped by the Visitor Center one last time to turn in my key and give Ranger Lauren a final hug. Swung by the ARCHES NATIONAL PARK entrance sign to grab a final photo. Drove north on Highway 191 and saw Moab in my rearview mirror for the last time. A bittersweet collection of emotions, rather like a complex soup or a nicely layered wine, swirled about me and within me.
I’ve been in Utah more than seven months this time, as opposed to a mere nine weeks last summer. I’ve worked full time in two national parks, becoming good friends with both sets of personnel as well as with headquarters folks. I also have friendships forged outside the park service that have been a source of delight, so “goodbye” is one of the more painful words in my vocabulary. Saying it multiple times in my final days was sad.
There were three potential adventures that could have been exclamation points to end my season:
1. Remote Horseshoe Canyon, site of some of North America’s finest rock art, has an old sheepherder’s trailer at the trailhead of the 6.5-mile hike. Volunteers live in it (electric lights, propane stove, outhouse, no water) and patrol the length of the amazing canyon on foot every day. I could have taken a shift of five to ten days, but the roads were too damaged from severe rains. Olive would not have made it in. Or in, but not out.
2. Ranger Steve wanted me to join him on a mountain bike patrol of the White Rim Road. This would mean bicycling with a fully-loaded bob-trailer down steep switchbacks, enduring three days of self-supported wheeling on rough terrain, and then riding 1200 feet UP the switchbacks (hahaha!!!) to end the trip. Remembering that I have never ridden a mountain bike, pulled a bike trailer, or for that matter haven’t even sat on a bike since last fall, and am three decades older than Steve, who spilled (courtesy of the crazy trailer) six times the last patrol he did, I wisely decided to postpone this trip until next spring when I can be in better biking shape.
3. Girlfriend Tara offered to backpack with me to a remote ruin site. Archeology fascinates us both, and this was a bona fide wilderness overnight. I’ve been wanting to tag along with her to a backcountry site all summer. However…
My gut told me that it was time to go. I knew Saturday night that I would pack and leave on Sunday. There were no tears, no pit-of-stomach gnawing, just a staunch realization that I was turning the page at the end of this chapter. A new one was to begin. I’ve saved some adventures for next spring — along with hopes for a river trip or two, and plenty of wilderness of every kind.
I’m filled up. I get to go back to Minnesota, don my green-and-gray uniform, and share with school children all about the national park service. What a clever way to keep doing what I love most.