Saturday, September 08, 2007 4:57pm
We just entered Idaho . I’ve now been in six states in as many days. I-84 leaving Utah and entering this state has exits specifically for ranches, and the interstate is flanked by them. Beyond the fields barren from fire or grazing are dun colored mountain ranges. Occasionally there are expanses of green where a rancher’s irrigating his land.
The plan is to head up to Hailey, just south of Sun Valley, get a hotel and hang out in civilization for the evening. We’re meeting some friends of his in Salmon tomorrow afternoon and soaking in some hot springs, then heading to his friend’s place in Montana on Monday. Looks like I’ll be cleaner than I anticipated on this trip!
We started off today in Goblin Valley State Park. After leaving Arches, we took the (relatively) quick drive around the San Rafael desert to this isolated spot filled with mesas and encarta sandstone structures created by wind, water, and time. As we pulled into the campground I was both excited and concerned. Concerned because it looked, at first glance, like it had as much personality as a KOA campground. Excited because there showers! Remember, I had just hiked 6.6 strenuous miles in the middle of the desert in the middle of the day.
Even though there were RVs in the campground, we were able to find a tent site with character. It was tucked into a corner against a mesa, with a corridor in the back leading to nooks and crannies that we could hike into, which we did after setting up camp. Then I headed to the showers.
Southeastern Utah is very conscious of the delicate balance between man and nature. Moab had recycling bins everywhere. Goblin Valley had instructions on how to shower. On the door to each private stall is a sheet asking you to conserve water by taking a “Navy” shower: get wet, turn the water off to lather, turn it back on to rinse, turn if back off to shave, etc. The lights are on a timer. The bathrooms themselves have low-flush toilets and automatic lights. I could see two sets of solar panels from the campground alone.
After hiking in the morning, then facing the beast that was Arches, then exploring the campground in the evening, I was beat so I turned in early. Besides, I knew the sunrise would be amazing.
It was. I woke up at 7 as the sky was lightening. The horizon was a subtle pink that slowly pushed the dusk away. I grabbed my cameras and headed to where I could get a view unobstructed by RVs. The pink changed to yellow, and all of a sudden the sun was peeking over the top of a mesa. Within twenty seconds it seemed that it had jumped into the sky and the day began.
After the day before, the hike to Goblin Valley was a quick one. From the campground, the sign said 1.5 miles. We followed the rock cairns through crumbling earth with sparse, low vegetation. The plants’ leaves were short needles, and there were a few wildflowers with thin stems and tiny yellow or purple petals. We crested a hill, and as we came down the other side, the path began to follow a wash through the dusty soil. Soon we were walking through a hallway of dry red mounds. Here and there I’d see a piece of shale. The guide map said this trail is for people who want to be surprised by each turn, and that was an appropriate description.
The first part seemed like a good location for a horror movie. I could see the damsel in distress running through the twisting tunnels of flaking earth, turning frequently to see how close her pursuer was. As I began to see mushroom-like formations it felt more like an alien landscape and I could picture the “goblins” coming to life. I had never seen an environment like this and my imagination was doing double time.
The truth is, this small valley is the only place in the world you can see these types of formations. Due to the combination of the tidal plane and the composition of the soil, sediment from higher altitudes was dropped off in this section and then carved by time. When I placed a hand on one, it felt like it would crumble away. They are a bit sturdier than that, but not even the Department of Natural Resources knows just how long they’ll last with human interaction. They’ve started conducting an impact study, so while Kenny and I were able to climb in and around like we were meandering in a field of man-made sculptures, that option may not be available forever.
We left Goblin Valley around 10 and have been on the road ever since. The first stretch was 29 miles of unpaved 4×4 trails that took us through the San Rafael Swell to I-70. Since then we’ve driven through Provo and Salt Lake City , and are now almost to Hailey.
I’m looking forward to sleeping in a bed. I know it’s only been two nights, but I’ve been trying to get my beauty rest (and I need it!) on one skimpy little air mattress that’s got a leak. I swear I feel like Princess and the Pea, except somebody’s stuffed a whole crate full of frozen peas under my mattress. I’m also looking forward to checking voice mail and email. I know; I’m hopeless.
The places I’ve seen so far have been amazing, and I’m only halfway through this trip. I’ve definitely been expanding my boundaries, and my “comfort zone” has increased exponentially. I’m getting a perspective on a completely different way of life, and learning the various cultures in just one part of the country. “The West” was one big homogeneous idea I had in my head, and now it’s concrete places and people, all very different.
By now the mountains have disappeared on the far horizon, and here and there are patches of black where fires have raged. Soon we’ll be back in the mountains, and tomorrow we’re taking one of the most scenic drives in the country.