Day One:

Moab is sandwiched between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, acting as a gateway to the vastness and beauty of the western wilderness. The desert heat is unforgiving and the sun paints the landscape red. As the daylight disappears, the desert comes to life and those reds turn to purples and blues. Of all the arches we saw that first day, Double Arches was by far our favorite and most inspiring. We were able to share a moment alone at the base of the arch, looking down across the valley. This really set the tone for the rest of the trip.

There’s currently a battle being waged over this region and its resources. The Trump Administration has already reduced Bears Ears National Monument by 85%, opening the flood gates for oil and gas development. This puts the entire region’s environmental health at risk while also neglecting countless archeological and cultural sites of significance to Native American tribes. Meanwhile, 100k+ acres of land surrounding Moab have been nominated to be leased and could tie this land to the oil and gas industry for decades. Visit www.accessfund.org to see how you can help.

Day Two:

It’s a 5 hour drive from Moab to Page. Within the first hour, we took some unplanned pit stops at Hole N’ The Rock and Wilson Arch. The former is a 5,000 sq feet home that took an industrious man and his wife 12 years to carve into the  side of a mountain. The latter is an enormous arch a stone’s throw away from the shoulder of the interstate. At the half way point, I had planned for us to get the rental a little dirty in the Valley of the Gods and up the winding cliffside road of the Moki Dugway. Just a couple miles further, we stopped at Goosenecks State Park to look at its three horse shoe bends; a great teaser for THE Horseshoe Bend in Page. After Goosenecks, we went to Forest Gump Hill to take some photos of the iconic spot just outside of Monument Valley. (Cassie with her roller skates, me with my Forest Gump Nike Cortez lol).

Originally, we had planned to drive through Monument Valley on the way to Arizona to take in its towering red sandstone buttes. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 outbreak on the reservation has forced the Navajo Nation to shut down access to most of its lands while mandating a strict curfew for its citizens within its borders.

As healthcare professionals, we are  fully aware of the ramifications irresponsible recreational travel can have on areas with particularly limited resources. We had our worries going into this trip, but ultimately, plans were set to be here for Cassie’s scheduled dermatology conference (which was eventually cancelled). To stay consistent with our efforts to social distance, we opted to take a slightly longer route to bypass Monument Valley as we crossed the Arizona border. We drove these rural desert roads under a veil of storm clouds. It felt eerie and empty, almost apocalyptic. Gas stations were deserted in broad daylight. There were intermittent power outages in the area. And the deeper we got into the Reservation, we’d see more hand painted signs with phrases such as “go home, stay home”. Reading those words were grounding. While we were enjoying our time isolating ourselves in nature, we were reminded of the very real struggles Covid-19 has created for communities across the country.

Day 3: Initially, our time in Page was supposed to be spent in Antelope Canyon. The only way to do this is by taking a scheduled tour down into the slots. Since the canyon is on Navajo land, I had been keeping an eye out almost daily for any updates on access reopening. Unfortunately, our plans fell through, leaving us with an open day and a multitude of options. We waited until the very last minute to commit to anything. Because of the damn heat, we were compelled to drive to Lake Powell and see if we could take a dip in the water. One thing led to another and we ended up renting the last boat out of the marina.

Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River caused by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam. It’s the second largest man-made reservoir in the States, characterized by narrow waterways winding between massive rock faces. I did a bit of research before this trip and found a back way into an area of Antelope Canyon not on Navajo land. So after taking a moment to cool off in the water, we headed towards the canyon.

Thirty minutes into riding the main waterway, you take a turn into a narrow canyon. The deeper you get, the canyon walls get higher and the waterways narrower. So narrow that it turns into a no wake zone where only two boats can pass. After talking to some boaters that were on their way out, we were confident that we were heading in the right direction. Eventually, we hit a dead end, beached our boat, and waded some murky water to get to the entrance of the canyon.

Once we started walking into Antelope Canyon, it didn’t take long for the vegetation and characteristics of the canyon walls to change. Deeper and deeper, we went until things got so narrow we had to start scrambling up rock formations. The howling wind blowing through the canyon made it no secret as to how the canyon walls got so graceful and smooth. We had the canyon all to ourselves, running into only one other person. What started out as our most spontaneously planned day ended up being our favorite by far. Like Cassie always says, “I’m not worried. Things just happen to work out for us”

Day Four: There’s something about southern Utah, man. When we drove across the border from Arizona and started picking up elevation, the landscape developed into a blur of deep reds with increasingly more abundant greens. We arrived at Zion National Park from the eastern entrance as the sun was setting. After driving through a mountain tunnel that seemed like an eternity, we shot out from the darkness near the top of the valley with a beautiful introduction to our home for the next two nights.

The next morning, we woke up early for a sunrise hike up to Angel’s Landing. A couple sets of switchbacks takes you to Scout Lookout where the chains start. Zion is operating with limited access right now, so the chains were closed when we got there. Even so, we were able to enjoy sunrise while looking out onto Zion’s Big Bend and chipmunks scurrying all around us.

When we made it back down, we took a shuttle to the Narrows. This hike is basically entirely in a shallow river that’s sandwiched between massive rock faces on each side. The depth of the water can be anywhere between ankle to waist deep. Luckily, Cassie and I rented some wading boots with neoprene socks and were good to go.

We ended the day taking a hike up to Observation Point for sunset. This was our favorite view of Zion and was a perfect place to reflect on our last 4 days together in the southwest

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