“We worked our way across the center of the state, then angled down into the canyon country southeast… That was the strangest place of all, a dream world, all red earth and contorted rocks, tremendous structures rising out of the ground, they stood there like the ruins of some lost city built by giants. Obelisks, minarets, palaces: everything was at once recognizable and alien, you couldn’t help seeing familiar shapes when you looked at them, even though you knew it was all chance, the petrified sputum of glaciers and erosion, a million years of wind and weather”—Paul Auster, Moon Palace
How do you begin to write about a place like Utah? How do you capture seven days of adventure and discovery in a blog post? Of a group of strangers becoming something like family? Of canyons and cliffs and mesas and mountains on a scale beyond comprehension?
You can start with a list of places: Zion, Bryce, Kodachrome, Escalante, Calf Creek, Moab, Arches, Canyonlands, Marble Canyon. Even the names are otherworldly for our city senses, all hard edges and smooth caverns. They hint at the mystery, the beauty of these worlds with their hoodoos and windows, rock varnish and waterfalls. But it’s just a glimpse.
There are the colors. The vibrant red of the elusive desert rose. The grey green of sagebrush stretching for miles and miles. The dark, twisted trees, knotting, stark against orange landscapes. White-pink columns like pillars of salt. A double rainbow that defies pictures. A cataclysm of white and orange, snow sweeping the crests of Bryce, a once in a lifetime sight.
“Everyone knows what those places look like now, you’ve seen them a hundred times yourself. Glen Canyon, Monument Valley, the Valley of the Gods... But pictures don’t tell you anything about it, Fogg. It’s all too massive to be painted or drawn; even photographs can’t get the feel of it. Everything is so distorted, it’s like trying to reproduce the distances in outer space: the more you see, the less your pencil can do. To see it is to make it vanish.”—Paul Auster, Moon Palace
You can start with the people. Twenty-three strangers in three vans. The rapid dissolution of unfamiliarity. Sharing a glimpse of a jack rabbit. Dissolving into hysterics at nothing at all. Adopting a pet dinosaur named Harold. Being helped and helping. Reaching the point language fails and words can no longer describe the experience of this incredible landscape and world, but you all understand each other anyway. Knowing that what you’ve shared is unrivaled, is special. That it’s something that will last amongst you forever.
“It was not so much that I was impressed by the geography (everyone is impressed by it), but that the hugeness and emptiness of the land had begin to affect my sense of time. The present no longer seemed to bear any of the same consequences. Minutes and hours were too small to be measured in this place, and once you opened your eyes to the things around you, you were forced to think in terms of centuries, to understand that a thousand years is no more than a tick of the clock. For the first time in my life, I felt the earth as a planet whirling through the heavens. It wasn’t big, I discovered, it was a small--it was almost microscopic. Of all the objects in the universe, nothing is smaller than the earth.”—Paul Auster, Moon Palace
The truth is, there is no way. There are no words, to capture an adventure Wandering Out West. You have to experience it to understand.
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Text by Jessica Tackett
Photos by Morgan Skelton