A few weeks ago my wife and I introduced our three-year-old daughter to that great American tradition: the family roadtrip.
We had crisp October nights. Campfires. Our feet splashing in the Colorado River. Amazing sunrises and sunsets. Besides introducing her to roadtripping we wanted to show our inquisitive, curious daughter to a larger slice of our rather miraculous backyard.
It was kind of a quick trip, but we packed in a lot. We visited Moab and Arches National Park, Deadhorse Point State Park and Monument Valley.
Our epic trip begins in Salt Lake City where we pick up our Wandervan. Our Wandervan
is a full-size Ford Transit. Instead of the rear seats it has two beds, a sink and a fridge. It also has a propane heater independent of the van’s heating system, which keeps us warm throughout the night.
The fourth day of our trip is the most eventful. We wake up on the banks of the Colorado River, just outside of Moab, Utah. Late October. Just starting to get light, the sun hasn’t yet risen above the 800-foot-high cliff walls that border the river. The air is invigoratingly chilly as I step out of our rented campervan to start the coffee and oatmeal water boiling. My wife joins me a few minutes later. Our three-year old daughter is still tucked-in snug on her bed in the warm van.
The gray October morning brightens a few f-stops while the water heats. Coffee for me, cocoa for my wife. We pack up while we wait for the water. I shake the dew off the camp chairs, fold them up and tuck them under the van’s bed along with our marshmallow roasters. We’ll need them again tonight.
I climb into the driver’s seat, my wife gets in beside me, and we tuck Roo, who has just awakened, into her car seat.
And on to the day’s first of several destinations. I tune in NPR as I drive, the calm NPR voices blend nicely with the thrum of tires rolling across an American interstate.
Coffee. NPR. Driving at dawn while the cliff walls of the Colorado Platea add color to themselves. And scroll by, and scroll by. Perfect.
Along the way our daughter asks us where we are.
“Well,” I reply, “it seems we’re driving across one of the most beautiful spots in the world.”
Ten minutes later we arrive at Deadhorse Point State Park.
I’ve never been to Deadhorse Point before. Nor has my wife or daughter. I just drive to the visitor center and park.
We step out of the Wandervan and then, Oh wow!
Before us, facing east, we see six rows of cliff walls and mountain peaks. The morning sun is only 90 minutes above the horizon so we’re seeing the shadowed sides of the cliff walls and mountain peaks which are varying shades of blue-gray. It looks surreal, like panes of blue glass leaning one on the other.
The morning sun has begun to warm the chill from the morning air, which gives the atmosphere that peculiar early-dawn quality when the warmth and the chill are both present, and felt on your simultaneously; a feeling like pressing your forehead against a winter window on a sunny day, when you can feel the chill of the window and the warmth of the sun behind it at the same time.
Just one of the many things I love about the desert.
We spent about an hour and a half walking along the trails at the leisurely pace of bibliophiles browsing their way through a bookstore. Or, at least my wife and I do. Our daughter, invigorated by the adventure, runs ahead then back to us. She points out every plant and rock she finds interesting, which is most of them.
My heart nearly bursts with joy as I watch her actively engage with her beautiful world.
I was fortunate enough to grow up with a road-tripping family. Every year we took a trip to Montana for a family reunion, as well as a trip to Flaming Gorge and the Hite section of Lake Powell.
Every three years we’d take a long road trip. One year was back to New York and Washington D.C. Another year we drove up the California coast. Three or four times a year I helped my dad load the camper on the back of
"Roadtripping in a Wandervan is one of the best ways to see America. Up front the driver and navigator read maps and scan for roadside attractions, while in the rear the kids get to play games. A roadtrip in a campervan is like a mullet. Business in the f
the truck and off we’d go. Wherever we went I watched great swathes of our beautiful country roll by from the camper’s front-facing window above the cab.
Roadtripping in a campervan or a camper is one of the best way to see America. It’s a movable basecamp. Up front, the driver and navigator drink their coffee, read the maps and scan for roadside attractions, while in the rear the kids get to play games. A roadtrip in a Wandervan is like a mullet: Business in the front. Party in the back.
My dad took a lot of photos during our trips and when we returned home he’d send them film off to get developed. When the slides came back a couple weeks later our family had almost as much fun watching the slides and reliving the trip, as we did taking the trip.
After our far-too- brief visit to Deadhorse Point we get back in our roomy Wandervan and continue our roadtrip, driving south through Moab and eventually on to Monument Valley with plenty of stops at roadside attractions and scenic overlooks. The bottom of every creek, river and drainage was ablaze with the orange-gold leaves of October cottonwoods. From above the Colorado Plateau must look like Kintsugi pottery.
One of the most scenic sections of our drive, in a day filled with scenic sections, is that from Moab to Bluff. I just love those long views across the farmland of Blanding and Bluff with the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
We stopped at Forrest Gump Hill and took the obligatory picture, then pushed on to Monument Valley where we spent the last two hours of daylight at the Mittens Overlook. After dinner at a restaurant appropriately named The View, which is situated so diners can look out on the Mittens, we return to our Wandervan and drive on a little farther into the darkening dusk.
As I drive I reflect on what an amazingly beautiful day it has been! We woke up on the banks of the Colorado River, watched the day come alive at Deadhorse Point, goofed off at various roadside attractions, and finished by watching the sun set in Monument Valley. Not too shabby.
If Woody Guthrie had made the drive we made today it would have inspired an album on anthems.
I grew up in Orangeville, Utah, which is on the northern end of the Colorado Plateau, which has terrain similar in a lot of ways to that of Page. Big cliff walls, gorgeous sunsets. I spent another eight years as a river guide in the Grand Canyon, where, from April to October I was lucky enough to witness flowers bloom and die in the spring, then bloom and die again after the monsoon season. I slept on my raft and watched the constellations change hour by hour as well as month by month. I should be immune to long views over farmland, flowery meadows, the sun setting on cliff walls.
But I’m not.
What a beautiful, amazing place we live in. America is so beautiful, and – in my opinion – the Colorado Plateau is the most beautiful place inside it –and that’s saying a lot considering we live in a country that also includes Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Everglades, Glacier, Montana, Utah.
One of the best things about living in our area is that so much of it belongs to you and me. A large section of what lies inside the Grand Circle is public lands. Sitting inside the borders that make up the Grand Circle we have six national parks, ten national monuments, one national recreation area, four national parks, four national forests, two wilderness areas and about a half dozen state parks. Home to great hiking, backpacking, skiing, fishing, snowmobiling, sight-seeing and roadtripping.
And our happy little city of Page lies at the very heart of it all.
If my daughter ever asks, Why do we live in Page?, my wife and I can say, “Remember that morning in Deadhorse Point when the blue cliffs were stacked on top of each other like panes of blue glass leaning against a wall? Remember our cozy campsite beneath the glowing cliff walls? Remember all those thousands of stars that seemed close enough to touch? Remember how your sweatshirt smelled like a campfire for a week after we got home?”