The Parks of Utah, a Reflection

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We are leaving Zion, headed for the lights of Las Vegas. Two weeks gone and our time with the national parks of Utah’s southern slopes are past. I haven’t showered in over a week, my clothes smell like feet and butt, and last night when I washed my hands a sheet of dirt rubbed off my forearm. I am a gross, disgusting man filled to the cusp with appreciation for the natural world around me. Since descending into Moab in the sleet and snow we’ve seen wide spaces of Canyonlands, the sand shelves of Green River, the Fruita orchards of Capitol Reef, the valley of Antimony, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, the bright cliffs of Red Canyon, and the monoliths of Zion. We’ve ridden through terrible weather – freezing temperatures, wicked headwinds, violent weather that has left us to the mercy of our friends along the way. Dakota Gale, our road angel, has saved us on the road in Dove Creek, Colorado. Then again in Moab, then again in Bryce Canyon. We’ve met Eric Morton of Epic Tour, and he hooked us up with a floor to sleep on in Moab. A community center made us dinner in Green River. A neighbor in Bryce shared popcorn and bourbon.

We are lucky to be here, lucky to be leaving now, moving towards the West Coast. If I had my choice I’d stay in each park for a week at a time, collecting backcountry permits to go and hike around where there are fewer voices and distractions. For with the increasingly popular parks of Bryce Canyon and Zion have come the droves of people, and I now see what Edward Abbey was talking about those years ago. What spaces we’ve chosen to protect are wild yet accessible. In our digital age they are captured and shared. There are over 3 million visitors to Zion every year. As I write, right now, I am surrounded by tents and RVs in one of their two massive campgrounds. Concentrated impact is a good thing, but the density is startling still. I read that thousands hike Angels Landing every day in peak season … after hiking it at dawn, with no one else about for three full hours, it’s hard to imagine tripping over folk while descending down the chained path, crawling over each other as ants on a mountainside.

I learned a great deal about geology while in these parks. Ice and wind cut through the gritty sandstone, and rivers gouged out their paths, dragging the cliffs ever downward as they sunk deeper with the relentless urgings of gravity. The rendered scenery here is dramatic. The parks come out of nowhere, appearing at once everywhere. And so I see and believe now that Keys to Freeze is a good thing.

Because it’s hard, you know, to fall into routine. Day in and day out we ride. From Alabama through New Mexico is hard. It was easy to forget why we’re riding, what we’re doing, our mission of pedaling to raise funds and awareness for the national parks. Utah brought me back to the mission. It was reaffirming – that these preserved spaces exist outside of my North Carolina bubble, and that the only way to understand them is to see them. We are lucky to have the weight of our homes and friends and families helping us here, guiding us, encouraging us along this road.

But now we leave. So is the nature of these trips. You see, you wonder, you understand, and then you go. To Las Vegas, the Strip. And then again into the desert of Death Valley, up into the Sierras to Yosemite, and then the populous highways leading to San Francisco. A stark contrast to the Henry Mountains of central Utah, the last surveyed place in America, where few have ventured off the highways leading from one park to the next. Our nation is a funny one, and we are jumping from one extreme to the next. So our trip continues in flux, six riding one day at a time, understanding a little more about our natural world with each mile.

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