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  • Writer's pictureIlana Newman

Desert Dreams

Climbing into my sleeping bag all I could feel was the dust on my feet and the sunburn on my face. I was happy. My hammock rocked softly in the wind and I could hear the crackling of the dying fire and Max’s speaker playing just a few feet away. There’s something about lying under a starry sky with light breeze blowing across your face that makes all your worries melt away. I wasn’t thinking about school or work or money or insecurities. I thought about how big the sky above me was, and how small we were, here in this canyon, surrounded by red sandstone walls with the Colorado river winding past our dusty campsite.

My body naturally wakes up to a pink and orange streaked sky, I grab my camera and head towards the river. Slowly but surely tents start to rustle, sleeping bag zippers open, people are waking up. I love the feeling of being awake when everyone is asleep. It is just me and the morning and anything is possible. The air is crisp but pleasant on my skin that is used to the chill of the neverending Bellingham winter.

The desert has a sort of magic unlike any place I have ever spent time in. I have always thought that I needed the ocean nearby, I needed the snow capped mountains with their rocky peaks, I needed the lush green forests of the Pacific Northwest. Being in the desert though I felt like I was home. The red dust covering every surface, coating us until we weren’t sure what was tan and what was dust, the trees just about to put out leaves. Spring in the desert is one of those things that once it grabs hold of your soul, I doubt it will ever let go.

My first experiences climbing on desert sandstone were in the heat of a nearly 90 degree day. This was nearly record high heat for Moab in March, and the rubber of my climbing shoes seemed to burn my toes if I spent more than five minutes with them on. We spent our first day trying to fight through the midday heat at the roadside crag of Wall Street. After an 18 hour drive, a quick trip to Arches, and a night spent on the side of the road, we were anxious to get on some rock, but the sun seemed to have different ideas, as we could hardly get up a route without our feet nearly catching fire. Danielle led her first route, cruising up a slabby bolted 5.5!

The next few days are a whirlwind of climbing, from boulders to cracks. The weather cools significantly, our last few days threatening rain from dark clouds that seemed to pass right by us. My confidence leading on gear skyrockets as I become more and more comfortable climbing cracks. Crack climbing is so unlike face climbing, and there is something even more fulfilling about it, as instead of climbing rock, you are climbing the spaces between the rocks. You are literally moving your body upwards by climbing air.

We only got the tiniest taste of what the desert has to offer. If I discovered anything on this trip, it was how much more there is to discover. The amount of cracks there are to climb, canyons there are to explore, and views there are to be seen is never ending. The desert teems with life and energy, but it isn’t right on the surface like it is in the deep evergreen forests of Washington, it’s hidden in the sagebrush and sandstone. It takes patience and awareness to appreciate the depth of the beauty that the desert has to offer. I feel like I have only just scratched the surface, but I know that I will be back.

I have struggled to write this blog post, as trying to fully digest and reflect upon this trip seems almost impossible. I wanted to capture the essence of the desert in words, and to fail to do so seemed almost sacrilegious. In my Outdoor Rec class, we talked about how reflection on an outdoor recreational experience is one of the most important parts, that is what allows you to grow and learn about yourself, and develop the confidence and strength that the outdoors can so bring to your life. I wanted to be able to impart a bit of wisdom and truth in my writing, and I was struggling to find the point to the trip. Finally I just sat down and wrote this and realized, there doesn’t need to be a point to any trip or adventure, it just is what it is, and this trip really was just exactly what it was. The point is to be out there, in the wind, in the rain, in the sun. It’s to spend mornings eating oatmeal and doing yoga, afternoons high above the floor of a canyon with gear clanking on a harness, and nights drinking beer and smoking spliffs around a campfire with new and old friends. The point is the feeling you get driving through winding canyon roads listening to great music. It’s a quick swim in the freezing Colorado river with rain clouds in the distance. It’s making collaborative tacos with ten people and eating them in the dark with salsa running down our fingers and smiles on our faces. The point is really just to be alive and be out there appreciating it all.

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