I wanted to see one or two of Utah’s National Parks before we finally started heading west again, so I just picked the ones closest to what I was already visiting in the western part of Colorado. Having kids and pets with us, I tried to keep drive days down to around six hour stretches. That was the arbitrary criteria that led me to decide to search for campsites outside Moab late in the afternoon after leaving Colorado. Looking back, I wish we’d set aside way more time in Utah and hit up ALL the national parks there, but at the time Brooke and I were both pretty skeptical that there was anything cool in Utah. Our bad.
I was vaguely aware of Arches National Park though and thought it’d be, you know, probably worth it. I figured there had to be something amazing out there for everyone to geek out so hard about it, so I decided that I needed to see for myself. Brooke’s reaction to my decision to continue on this insane detour was something like, “alright fam, if you say so.” (remember, we’re aiming in the general direction of California and thus far, our route map is looking like I’m real bad at US geography. You can read about that here and here) Usually when she gives me major side-eye I’m all, “yeah you’re right. this is a bad idea” but this time, I had a reckless abandon about it. Who cares if it’s way out of the way and adding several days to our trip and Utah sounds like the most boring state? Let’s DO THIS! Spoiler alert: Utah is everything.
That Time We Didn’t Chicken Out
If you read my Colorado post, you may remember how Brooke and I decided we were going to camp in the wilderness to save money and get the full experience, but there were bears and a creep and we ended up on a concrete slab in an expensive RV park in the city and there were bears there too. And also creeps, though I didn’t mention them in the post. Anyway we were determined to redeem ourselves as brave, adventurous, independent women who don’t need no man. (Daniel doesn’t read my blog so I can say stuff like that.) And also we were determined to reign in the spending, but mostly we wanted to save face in front of five little girls who we’d fooled into thinking we were totally capable of camping in the wilderness.
It’s a good thing we’d made up our minds too, because there’s nothing out there. There’s a whole lotta nothing between Durango and Moab. For better or worse, we were doing this.
Much like Sherlock Holmes (the BBC version with what’s his face Bendynoodle Cabbagepatch obvs) I have an underground network of homeless people who provide me with valuable information and that’s how I found the coordinates to our extremely remote campsite outside of Moab, Utah. Ok, so these people prefer the term “fulltime RVers” and the information is out there for anyone in the Facebook group, but I like to pretend I’m very mysterious. Just go with it. Anyway, my imaginary friends from the interwebs told me about this spot, and, you know…it seemed like a good idea at the time to venture out into a remote spot with no cell signal for several days at the word of strangers online (just kidding, don’t do that. Nobody knew when or if I was taking whatever advice they were offering.) We were so secretive we may have forgotten to tell our husbands where we were. More on that later.
So we’re routed to this spot in the middle of nowhere driving through the desert. Driving and driving and there’s nothing and there’s nothing then BAM! Some cows and a winding road and a small wooden sign indicating that there was a camping area. So we turn. And drove and drove through desert and cows and coyotes loping across the road. Driving and driving. No signs of civilization anywhere, but the landscape became more impressive, with rock formations and canyons coming on the scene. I felt so small because of the vastness of it. We’re getting nervous again but no turning back this time. Our mamas didn’t raise no quitters. Except for that time in Colorado when we did quit. You know what? Stop throwing that in my face.
We arrived at the spot and it was so worth the drive. So worth the fear. It was just so beautiful and serene and secluded. We were the only people there.
Before the trip I would not have thought camping alone so far from civilization was a big deal, and looking back it doesn’t really seem like a big deal so I’m struggling to find the words to convey how we felt at the time. Let’s just say, it felt like a big deal. It doesn’t matter how much you tell yourself how statistically safe camping is. How rare bear attacks are. How unlikely we were to be murdered. We knew all that. I’d been camping many times. But it’s different being the one responsible for everyone else. It’s different when you have 5 children and a handful of pets depending on you. And it’s different for women. If you don’t understand that, I don’t have the time to explain it to you. It just felt empowering to overcome the hesitation, because fear was the one thing holding us back.
This feeling was such a big part of this trip for me because as I was planning out the stops I was choosing places that Daniel, while he’d almost certainly love them, was not as motivated to visit as I was. And not only is he not as motivated, he’s not as free. The man’s got a job, and Army kind of expects him to show up. I had the time, I had the money, but if I waited around on Daniel to be able to go, I was never going to go. It just seemed like a great opportunity to teach our daughters simultaneously that certain things will all ways be riskier for them as women, but as long as they’ve got good sense, that should not stop them from living life. They don’t have to wait around on someone else. Life doesn’t start at some point in the future. They are masters of their own destiny and they make their own adventure but most of all, they are capable. They ought to be free to go wherever they want to go. The irony that I’m writing this from a country where I quite literally require a male escort anywhere I go is not lost on me. Hopefully someday all of these experiences will seem significant to the kids. I keep wanting to engage with the imaginary critic who is saying to themselves, “yeah, but your trip was funded by a man.” But not today, satan. Not today. I’ll write an ode to stay at home moms another time, mmk?
We found the perfect spot and popped up the camper and soaked in our surroundings. There may have been some excessive self-congratulating, patting ourselves and each other on the back, exclamations of “you go girl” and constant proclamations to each other that we are indeed badass bitches. In the interest of full disclosure I feel that I must tell you that once we set up camp, another car arrived with two campers. They rolled down their window and tried to speak to us, and due to language barrier we were unable to be of much help. They set their tent up several sites away. Their arrival does not take away from our badassery (nor add to it) in this instance because they were neither a threat (because they were French) nor did they provide us with any added sense of security (because again, French.) so really, we’re back where we started, alone for all intents and purposes. They left before dawn anyway.
As soon as we arrived we knew we were staying at least two days. I think we stayed for 3 nights. We spent a lot of time hanging out at the campsite. It was just so beautiful and the kids were having a blast climbing rocks and trees and running wild and making noise. We played with magnatiles and played card games and explored. Once the other campers left we let the dogs off leash, and of course adventure cat was already off leash. I was craving curry, so naturally I made curry. It did occur to us that it might be unwise to cook extremely strong smelling food that might attract wildlife, but the alternative to making curry was not getting to eat curry so you can see our dilemma. Obviously, I made the curry. Brooke is a stellar cook and pretty adventurous so the fact that she’d never had curry blew my mind, and I was able to blow her mind by giving her curry, which she now cooks regularly for her family. Cooking my favorite foods from an ice chest on my one burner camp stove in the outdoors is literally one of my absolute favorite things to do. Don’t worry we stored all food and garbage in the van, pretty far from the camper, and dispersed our eco-friendly dishwater far, far away. Leave no trace, yo. Please ask Brooke how she feels about my eco friendly dish soap at your earliest convenience so you can hear a super animated tale about how much it sucks to be friends with dirty hippies. Make sure you’re not in a hurry.
Our first night, we were playing cards in the camper, having a blast, and I decided to run to the van to get something. I stepped outside and I was greeted by one of the most amazing sights I’ve seen in all my life. The stars. Suddenly I realized that the constellations actually kind of do look like what they’re supposed to look like. There are so many faint stars we don’t see in light polluted areas and now I could see them all clearly. I’ve been in the woods, I’ve been in the mountains. I’ve been way, way out in the country and never have I seen the stars so bright as they are in the middle of nowhere in Utah. I told Brooke and the girls to turn off their lamps and join me outside and we spent the next two hours on the hood of the van looking at the stars and playing with the Starwalk app. Brooke legit cried because it was so beautiful. I think she stayed out after we all went to bed. For everyone who came, the stars in Utah stand out as one of the trip’s ultimate highlights.
Our second night, high up on some canyon in a metal box, we weathered the most intense lightening storm. I love thunderstorms. I’m from Oklahoma. Thunder sounds like a sweet sweet lullaby to an Okie. But not this kind. High winds, torrential rain, non-stop flashes of lightening and booming thunder that shook the earth. I’m not going to lie, we were pretty sure we were going to die but we acted totally chill for the sake of the kids. Before the trip, my dad tried and failed to explain to me something called “faraday cage” which is the scientific reason that, in theory, its fairly safe to be in a camper (or a car) during a lightening storm so, because my dad is the smartest man alive and an expert camper, we kept telling ourselves we might make it til morning but in that moment, damn, it was scary. Spoiler alert: we lived.
We went into town hoping to find some internet access so we could update our husbands about our location. I think we went something like two whole days without contact and they were both legitimately freaking out. I can’t speak for Brooke’s husband but my Daniel has given me cause for heart attack on many occasions and I don’t want to say it serves him right but I hope going forward he is more careful to make sure he checks in when he can. Especially when he’s, you know, in a war zone. There’s really not a lot in Moab, which is what you’re looking for when you’re headed to National Parks. There’s rarely much development around National Parks. There’s a very wide radius of zoning laws I imagine and I’m sure it serves mostly environmental purposes but it also helps maintain these quaint resort towns and their small businesses. It’s definitely a cool, laid back, outdoors-centric town. It’s like hiker/rock climber Mecca. So you know, there’s no Walmart or chain restaurants or anything but the local restaurants were very pet friendly so we had lunch on a patio with two dogs and a cat, and then had gelato and coffee at a coffee shop run by some people who are actually dirty hippies (I loved them!) before we took the kids and pets to a really cool park. That was really all we did in Moab. Were we supposed to do more in Moab? I dunno, I went in with zero expectations so everything we did there was a bonus.
Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park
Our campsite was between Canyonlands and Arches. In both parks, we did more of driving through, stopping at turnouts to take pictures than any real hiking. This is a huge bummer, I know, but most National Parks have very small designated places where pets are allowed (which is good) and in many places on our epic journey we were able to find pet daycare for adventures, but Moab was NOT one of those places. I should have just left them with the hippies. Not a huge deal, because there is a lot to see from these scenic turnouts and the roads that go through the parks, and we probably didn’t have it in us to hike to the Delicate Arch in that heat carrying the baby on that day anyway, but I am very, very eager to return with Daniel and hike every dang trail at Arches. On occasion, one adult would stay in the car with the air conditioning on while the other adult took the kids on a short jaunt to see something.
I didn’t take many pictures of the beauty of Arches or Canyonlands because A. I was soaking it in B. I was trying to keep my kids from falling off canyons C. I was trying to keep us all from being eaten by rattlesnakes D. I’m a horrible photographer. Google pictures of these places. Better yet, go see them yourself. Trust me, it is so, so worth it.