It tickles...sort of. No it isn't that. It's metallic tasting, in the back of your throat, way in the back. It cannot be scratched, nor overlooked. As I take a lukewarm swig from my scuffed up Nalgene, I satiate my thirst. But as reliable as the sun in the desert, it returns minutes later along with that stinging sensation in my eyes. It's hot. Not summertime hot but 20 degrees warmer than the cloudy, cool temperatures we left that morning in Colorado. Being a bit (or actually quite) temperature sensitive, I always marvel at how people a century before me survived in this landscape. Most if not all of their lives were spent outside (and without any air conditioning). I start to feel big and proud of myself for "roughing it" in a tent, a good couple of hours away from a proper toilet and potable water. Then that voice in my head reminds me that not so long ago Native Americans and later on settlers lived here without any modern amenities and definitely not a sweet tent with an incredibly useful vestibule.
It's springtime in the American West which means a lot of predictably and incalculable surprises. And I love it all. At night we watch the cumulonimbus clouds swell and fly by. I squint my eyes trying to determine whether they will pass by or charge toward us. I smile at the light show and marvel at how the landscape changes colors in a flash: red, blue, orange, white. After determining that we will indeed miss the rainfall I head for the tent to rest in the quiet that is nighttime on the Colorado Plateau. I wake up at exactly midnight to hear that my prediction (as usual) was completely incorrect. Heavy drops of water pelt our rainfly and a melodic smack, smack, of the northwest corner of our tent lashes out at us like a finger wagging not so subtly right at me. It reminds me that the wind doesn't care how good you thought your tent stakes were hammered into the ground. And I love it. I love how in Utah and all across the West nature showers you in it's beauty and power. I roll over in my cozy sleeping bag and check to make sure my camera equipment is safe from any water that may seep underneath our tent, before returning to my not-so-quiet slumber.
It's been a while since I've gotten to take some time to explore Utah and as always it surprises me. When we crossed the state line a sign announced that we were leaving Colorful Colorado and had now entered a place where you live Life Elevated. I think about how both signs are true for both states and know that it really isn't so much a competition but instead a statement. There is so much to love in Utah from the mountains to the desert and I'm excited to have my camera to see what we can find this go-around.
What to do was a taxing decision. Because of the sheer volume of opportunities, we focused mostly on the southeast corner for the trip (which means more to explore in other areas next time). There are FIVE national parks in Utah and each offer a very unique experience. Of course there were the iconic rock formations everywhere as well as a glimpse into history through petroglyphs and pictographs carved and painted onto the rock face. There was trail running, biking along the slickrock and the Colorado River, hiking through cowboy camps, ruins, and seeing actual dinosaur tracks. Not last on my mind but first in my stomach was some of the incredible food. We indulged in the best quesadillas I've ever eaten at Quesadilla Mobilla in Moab. Absolutely memorable.
After exploring Arches, Moab, the Needles district of Canyonlands all the while using copious amounts of sunscreen, I think about something that ties all of the West together. It's grit. It's the grit you feel in the back of your throat and the grit of the people who live here. It's the red sandstone that now permeates the bed of your truck even a month after returning home. And yes, it's the grit that you bring back with you and find in the most startling places from inside your ear canal to inside your mind. It permeates everything out here. There are two things that always happen after a trip to Utah: 1. I always wonder if I have enough sand and dirt to fill a sandbox. 2. I'm already itching to go back.