In a wondrous coincidence, the creaking cogs of life placed Utah’s national park country between our new home in Utah and family in Albuquerque. Or perhaps, instead, they arranged for our new home to be a long day’s drive from family through some of the country’s most majestic scenery. Anyway, whichever direction the coincidence is oriented, we made our first drive from Albuquerque to Logan, and planned to camp around the halfway point in Canyonland’s National Park, 40 miles south of Moab, Utah.
Setting out from Albuquerque around 10 AM, we were oblivious of the chaos the creaking cogs had in store for us….
In retrospect, we should have had a sense that what was about to transpire would be on the bizarre side of the spectrum of experiences. As we drove through the desert lands of northwestern New Mexico toward Farmington, the summer skies shed torrents of rain instead of New Mexico’s typical radiant rays. At one point along the drive over expansive plateaus, we measured a temperature of 55⁰F. However, as we crossed into the Colorado, greeted by the picturesque mesas (not pictured) near Mesa Verde (a planned layover on a future trip), the temperatures warmed into the 70’s and the clouds receded a bit.
By the time we were arriving in Montecello, UT, the clouds were breaking and the sun was peeking through, although the winds had picked up issuing in colder air. We rooted around parking lots for several tens of minutes in this hiker’s hamlet looking for a 4G signal. We wanted to find a bite to eat and check the radar to be certain that the weather was clearing out. Montecello is one of the more remote places we have been in the lower 48. We did not get a clear answer regarding the weather, but from what we could tell, we were more likely in the clear than not — famous last words.
After enjoying a large meal at a small steakhouse (with exquisite Colorado baked beans, although Sprout preferred the mushrooms) we set off for Canyonlands. About 2 miles off the highway, we were flagged down by some Canadian boys in a van. Aaron made sure the bear spray was within reach and pulled over to see how we could help. Their van was overheating every few miles and their phones had no signal. Jacqui let them make a call from her phone, which fortunately had a couple of bars (‘can you hear me know’). Once they had help on the way, we moseyed down into the canyons. The drive into Canyonlands was spectacular and the clouds only added to the mystical feel.
Just as the sun was going down, we found the campgrounds near The Needles District Visitors Center. Lucky for us, only about 1/2 the spots were taken — we had read that ometimes in the summer it can be impossible to get a spot if you aren’t stalking them first thing in the morning (made Jacqui think of her days stalking tables at NYC Starbucks).
It didn’t. Waves of storms bombarded our locale. At the height of the worst storm we had quarter inch hail and buckets of water. We were unaware that water was rushing over our parking place until the rain subsided, at which point we found another parking spot on higher ground. Hours passed and Aaron went to check on the tent and its contents. Miraculously the tent was still on the slab and in one piece. The water had receded, but was clearly over our tent slab at the height of the storm, because the air mattress was floating on water that was trapped between the footprint and the tent floor. We set up our tent smoothly (on the designated raised tent slab) and started to settle in for the night. Sprout was excited and wanted to see the stars; however thick clouds prevent star gazing. Before she was even asleep, the Papa started spotting lightening, which put him on high alert. As we lay in bed listening to the bellowing gust of wind and occasional drops of rain the tent ceiling warped violently and the contents of our ‘loft’ (i.e. a pocket in the tent ceiling) came crashing down. Jacqui and Sprout dozed until thunder became audible and we quickly moved to the very cramped car hoping that the storm would pass and spare our tent.
Nevertheless, we felt we would be more comfortable sleeping in our tent puddle (the top of the mattress was in fact mostly dry), than in the cramped car where Aaron was stuck in the drivers seat that could not recline and Jacqui was in the packed backseat holding Sprout. Around 2:30am, when the stars appeared, the temperature dropped drastically and the cold water made the air feel uncomfortably chilly. Though the air mattress provides a bit of luxury to camping, it also produce cold sleeping surface due to the air within it (see physicist for explanation – or personal experience). Jacqui and Sprout were sufficiently bundled and cuddling, but Aaron’s extra layers got soaked. After a few restless hours in the tent, we decided to retreat to the car as the sun was coming up. We stole a few more hours of sleep in our cramped confines and emerged when the sun was high enough to keep us warm as we packed up our muddy belongings. Sprout, who slept through the whole ordeal, was ready to run and explore. We decided to forget about our drowsiness and make the best of the few hours we had to explore this alien landscape.