We fell asleep before sunset. We left the rainfly off of our tent so that we could see the wide open sky and the sun as it shined golden through the clouds. We had just filled our bellies with plates piled with cooked rice, beans, bell peppers and onions. We were exhausted from a full day of driving and hiking through Arches National Park. The next morning we would get up around sunrise to explore Canyonlands National Park.
I woke up about an hour after we had fallen asleep, the full moon was shining bright in our tent and lighting up the night. Though we were in the desert, the night was cool enough to use a light blanket. Perfect. I unzipped the tent and left the warmth of our bodies cuddled together to pee in the desert sand. I didn’t even need a flashlight.
At 3 A.M. I woke up again. My eyes opened to a dark sky filled with billions of stars and the Milky Way waterfalling right down the center. The moon had set and left the sky the darkest I had ever seen. I nudged Parker awake, pointed and we both sleepily stared in awe. How grand it was. With stars in our eyes, we drifted back to sleep till sunrise.
Travel Tip: Sleep with the rainfly off of your tent as much as possible. Not only does it create air flow, but it offers the best sky viewings. Watch the sunset as you fall asleep, wake up to the milky way in the middle of the night, watch the sunrise in the morning.
In the morning we packed up our camp and drove about 20 minutes to Canyonlands National Park. The sun was rising as we drove into the park, surrounding the orange rocks with a pink and purple sky. Canyonlands is smaller than Arches, so we were able to do two hikes and drive the entire park in just a few hours.
As its name suggests, the park is a canyon that you drive around and hike the edges of. The first hike we did was to Mesa Arch, an arch that creates a peephole into the canyon (a very large peephole). The trail is only 0.7 miles round trip and is one of the most popular in the park, but the earlier you get there, the less people there are.
The next hike we did was Grand View Point trail . And boy was it grand. This 1.9 mile round trip trail went along the edges of the canyon, making for breathtaking views every step of the way. There are no railings to keep you from getting too close to the edge, so you can go ahead and dangle your feet over the sides of the rocks. This was the first place where I stopped and painted. It seemed perfect, as the morning air was still cool and the colors of the canyons were at their richest.
Travel Tip: Stop and sit. Even if you’re not an artist, there’s so much value in stopping at the end of the trail to take everything in; to set down the camera and simply enjoy the earth beneath you and whatever is in front of you. Sit and stare. Sit and talk. Sit and laugh. Just take it in.
I pulled out my sketchbook and watercolors. I painted what laid in front of me, with no purpose except to create; something I hadn’t been able to do in months. Most days I am painting for other people, but on this trip I was able to paint with abandon, with no care as to how the pieces would turn out. It was a taste of freedom I hadn’t felt in awhile.
After I finished, we headed back to our car, ran into someone from Missouri (he saw Parker’s Kansas City Royals hat), chatted a little, then headed to our next destination: Great Basin National Park. The excitement and inspiration was beginning to bubble up within me. Our first two national parks stirred something in me that I had been aching for.