Not long ago, four of us (John, Dorian, Pete, and I) camped and hiked for a few days in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. We set up camp high above the Colorado River on a very windy night that rattled our tents as though they stood at the South Col of Mount Everest. After a rather restless night with little sleep, we all emerged from our tents to turn on the camp stove and heat some coffee to go along with our crunchy breakfast bars.
After our breakfast, we drove to the Needles section of Canyonlands and stopped to see Newspaper Rock along the way. This petroglyphic newspaper was filled with animal and human figures that brought us back centuries in time. Not even squawking ravens disrupted the spell of fused time. Onward we continued to the Chesler Park Trailhead, perhaps thirty-five miles southwest of Moab. Shouldering our packs, we started climbing up sandstone steps, which seemingly led to a pristine desert sky, and then further on to Slickrock, marked with stone cairns every hundred yards or so. High on a plateau, we passed by clusters of desert paintbrush flowers, white-blossomed pepper-grass, and purple scorpion weed. Canyon wrens trilled out their desert songs that translated smooth-rock landscapes into music.
Onward we hoofed, stopping from time to time to take a few swigs of cold water. At last, the Needles (high sandstone spires) came into view, which amazingly resembled a New York skyline as seen from New Jersey, but with no smog—just the clearest of air on the planet. We descended into a fifty-yard-long sandstone slit that temporarily relieved us from the ninety-degree desert heat. Yet, all too soon, we exited into the radiance of the searing sun once more. Pinyon pines and junipers hissed in the wind while we rested in a dry, narrow arroyo near a curious-looking piece of exposed gray granite, rippled by centuries of flash floods.
With a half hour of a steep climb, we at last reached a high and windy viewpoint above Chesler Park. John picked a nice, shady spot for us to have our sandwiches and be amused by a large raven that couldn’t quite control his wind-ruffled feathers on a perch just above us. It was nice to eat and relax in the shade, where we could enjoy our surroundings of weathered sandstone ridges, twisted junipers, and that crazy raven. However, we knew all too well that we would have to begin our long and tedious hike back to the car.
Our feet throbbed with each step down and our water was no longer cold but tepid and later even warm. How nice it was going to be to hop into the car and drive back to camp—almost, that is. John’s car kept stalling and finally died altogether as though it had hiked to Chesler Park! As a ranger patrol car approached, we flagged him down to have him radio in a tow truck, since our cell phones had no signal. John and Dorian got into the tow truck forty minutes later, while Pete and I decided to hold the fort at our campsite. We had no idea of how long it would take to have the car repaired in Moab.
Once we wearily hoofed into our camp, we thought we’d better take stock of how much food and water we had. It turned out that we had about enough for two days. Just then, a white camper van pulled into a spot across the way from us. An elderly lady stepped out and took immediate notice of us and our fatigue. She walked over to us with a big smile on her face, held up a bottle and plastic cups, and asked in a thick accent: “Would you boys like some bourbon?” We answered that we certainly would. She introduced herself, telling us she was from Belgium, and then proceeded to pour our drinks. We knew we were in good hands!