We are like a pendulum; even as we make our forays into America’s backyard, we sway from one side to the other, taking a dip into life’s extremes as we reach the height of each swing. Instead of staying true to our course straight down the river, we make frequent stops on either side of the bank.
On the left bank lie the offerings of Nature. On the right, the temptations created by man.
Kevin and I, we write most of our blog entries on my laptop in a Barnes & Noble café, hooked up to the free wi-fi. A far cry from the ‘immersion in nature’ I so brashly declared in my first blog entry. As each day of the trip passes, I come to a fuller realization of my own dependence on the modernity of today’s society. We’ve spent the past week visiting the five National Parks that dominate southern Utah. The biggest concentration of humans we visited in this period of time is Moab, an unabashedly outdoorsy town of 5,000 souls, sandwiched between the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
The five National Parks were each beautiful in their own right, offering such treasures sculpted by Nature rarely seen anywhere else in the world. But as we looked upon them, we could not help thinking of restocking our supply at Wal-Mart, lounging at Barnes & Noble, of checking the blog. In other words, of returning to modern society.
It seems that the harder we try to swing towards the extremity of Nature, the stronger the force of gravity that pulls us back to the comforts of modernity. Take Havasupai—I thought I’d be able to scrounge by with a short supply of food, but I ended up crawling back to Ronald McDonald’s lap, craving a Double Quarter Pounder like never before.
Or take a conversation between us three at Moab Diner a couple days before. We launched into a hearty debate about the consumerism that plagues America, and this led to a discussion of the disgusting ways food is preserved—in canned foods, at fast-food establishments, and the like. It was a talk that lingered in my mind, leaving me to thoughts of my own diet. I actually tried thinking of ways to change the way I ate, and it worked, to a point: I bought some dried fruits, thinking that they’d be healthier than a pack of Slim Jims (Kevin’s favorite). But you know what happened next? We passed by a McDonald’s in the Wal-Mart, and they had a deal (“Six Cheeseburgers and Large Fries for $5.99”) that caught our eyes. How could we turn down that deal? A mere two days after our discussion of how disgusting McDonald’s food was, we walked out of that Wal-Mart with six cheeseburgers each.
As adventurous we try to make ourselves out to be in this blog, we are still pure American kids, raised and conditioned by a culture of mass-consumption and materialism. We’ve passed thousands of juniper trees in the deserts of the American west, but we could barely tell the difference between them and cottonwood trees. But give us the logos of McDonald’s and Burger King and we know which one sells Big Macs and the other Whoppers. Try as hard as we can to reach for the beauty and rawness of Nature, we shall swing back ever harder to the world of Wal-Marts and Barnes & Nobles.
At least we have the scant handfuls of Nature we’ve grabbed to report to you, via the lovely wi-fi service here at B & N. And so, a brief report of the five National Parks of southern Utah:
Zion National Park: I was looking forward to two trails: The Narrows and Angel’s Landing. Angel’s Landing, reputed to be the most dangerous trail in all of the U.S.’s National Parks (6 deaths since 2004, the signs repeatedly warned), was much tamer than we thought it’d be. There were chains and handholds, and the sheer drop-offs advertised by the travel guides… weren’t so sheer. The Narrows, though, was worth the 10-mile round trip hike. The trail was actually the Virgin River, and we followed it upriver, passing through slim slots of sandstone walls, stretching up high and at some times only 18 feet wide. Looking up these walls and then looking down at the mild Virgin River, one is amazed that such a tiny river was capable of etching its way down that deep in the sandstone. If you’re ever passing by Zion National Park and only have a day to spare, do the Narrows. (We also hiked down to The Subway, a 7-mile hike of which only 100 yards, the very last 100, was worth it.)
Bryce Canyon: The hype behind this Park was incredible. You couldn’t believe it. People were actually saying that it was better than the Grand Canyon, that if you had to see one canyon, it should be Bryce. There’s no doubting that it was beautiful and unique—the Hoodoos were remarkably fantastical—and the trail we took (Queens Garden, Navajo Loop, and Peekaboo Loop Figure 8) took us up close for some mind-blowing views, but it simply cannot compare to the Grand Canyon.
Arches: The Delicate Arch (3 mile hike roundtrip) was worth the trip. The Delicate Arch, I think, is adorned on the Utah Driver’s License, and is the most recognizable Utah-related landscape view. But to see it up close, to bask in its shade and take in the view in the noon of a midsummer day… is remarkable. Also recommended- the Double Arches, a great photo op there.
Canyonlands: The last of them all, we were thoroughly tired at this point. We just drove over to the view points and stayed close to the car. Mesa Arch and the view beyond it is commendable, though. I shall go no further.
Basically, we trudged through these five Parks with minimal anticipation and very little energy. These sights were dwarfed in comparison to the Grand Canyon. Have you ever heard of the painting ‘Pollard Willow? It’s unlikely that you have, but you most certainly have heard of ‘Starry Night,’ the masterpiece of Vincent van Gogh’s work, a work which includes ‘Pollard Willow.’ I did not know ‘Pollard Willow’ before today, and will probably forget it tomorrow, but looking at the reproduction on Wikipedia, it seems like a respectable work, very much like the works of Nature in the five National Parks of Utah. But ‘Pollard Willow’ cannot compare to ‘Starry Night,’ and the beauties of Utah will always remain in the shadow of the Grand Canyon.