Winter Desert

The winter wind blew cold and strong, as the stakes of the tent were slowly and painfully finding their way into the frozen ground. The sound of tent fabric flapping against the desert wind through the junipers echoed all around the small campsite. Numb fingers worked hard to keep grip on the small collapsible camping axe which pounded down the remaining still-stubborn stakes, putting the final touches on securing the tent.

Frozen toes curled inward, as far as possible, to stave off the cold boot and frozen Earth beneath – “for just a little while longer” they told themselves – as the speed of work intensified around the small isolated campsite.

Snowflakes feathered down softly from the sky, revealing the oncoming storm that threatened from the purple rocky horizon which was now barely visible, as the sun was fading fast behind the wind-swept ridges of Capitol Reef NP.

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Sunset & a brief glimpse of blue skies before the snowstorm enveloped the desert

Breathing faster as more energy was expended via high levels of muscular exertion – showed just how cold it was – as the steady stream of steam coming out of the mouth was whipped-about in the biting wind, disappearing rapidly into the November Utah air. The small campsite was perched on top of a rocky outcropping overlooking both sides of the narrow desert valley. Maybe a bad choice in location – considering the harsh elements were about to get worse for this highly exposed area – but options were limited as the backcountry permit scheduled them to make camp at this site.

Their headlamps now beaming, as the orange and pinkish glow of sunset was putting on the final scene of the performance. For them out here in this alien landscape, it was a sight to behold. The shadows generated from the sunset grew larger on the rock walls, the twisted surfaces, the pebble-pockmarked stones, as this canyon and its eerie silence began to envelope the pair.

The two-person team quickly and methodically finished setting up camp – securing the tent, deploying the air mattresses and sleeping bags, tying down the rain fly, and readying their Jetboil camping stoves for a hastily eaten freeze-dried meal, racing against the fast approaching storm.

The metallic clanking of the field mess kits along with the ruffling of the polyester liners against the outer shell of the backpacks echoed in the small cavernous atmosphere. It was at that point when they realized they were truly alone and miles from the trailhead.

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Perched on rocks suitable for siting, the two slowly unwound and caught their breath. It had been a long day – from the Burr Trail Road trail head to Halls Creek Drainage – it took everything from these experienced backpackers. Up early that morning, they had exhausted themselves to arrive just as the storm was blowing in and the sun was setting – cutting it too close for sure.

But this brief moment of reflection, endorphin high, and soothing silence was what this trip was about. No one was around. They didn’t see a single other group while hiking all day, a true rarity in today’s world.

No, this arduous journey was worth it.

Of course.

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Hiking through the slot canyons.

Leaving the smells and sounds of the city behind, leaving the stress of work and deadlines back at the desk, tuning-out and turning-off the constant electronic connection with the modern world, was what this trip was all about.

A reboot if you will.

A moment to catch your breath and reorient yourself in the world.

To check your pulse.

To reconnect with nature – to the origin of species.

The sudden silence was almost deafening. The adrenaline rush from knowing they were miles from civilization, miles from the concrete jungles of everyday life, miles from help if something went wrong – was a unique sensation worth every drop of sweat to get to where they were.

Looking up, at the last moments of dusk, the pair sat in silence and took it all in.

It was time call it a day.

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Views from across the valley prior to heading into the slot canyon.

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