Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef National Park

We had planned our vacation to southern Utah for months, researching the area and making lists of ALL the places we wanted to visit and explore. It was a packed trip, filled with long drives, hikes, short walks, dirt roads and amazing photo opportunities. The places we visited exceeded our expectations……far more stunning in person than any pictures we had seen.

I could write a book about the places we explored.

But one place sticks out in our minds as more spectacular and memorable than the others.

I don’t know if it stands out because of the effort it took to get to this spot—fording a river and then driving 27 miles on a bumpy, rutted, winding dirt road, just to get to the overlook of the valley that was our main destination. And then it was then another 30 miles on a dirt road that had sections that had washed out in the recent rains, and that crossed muddy washes before we return to pavement. A lot of effort to visit and explore this part of Capital Reef National Park, effort that may not have been worth it for another place……but what we found was breathtaking!

Or maybe it stands out as one of the best parts of our trip because of the solitude found on those dirt roads……we passed one truck at the 27-mile point that was going the opposite direction from us. And then we passed 2 vehicles traveling together just 15 miles from the end of our drive. For most of our over 4 hours we were alone in this amazing world………alone with the wondrous natural world that surrounded us and delighted our souls.

Getting to Cathedral Valley, in Capitol Reef National Park, is not for the faint of heart and is not a valley that many get to see. This part of the park requires a high clearance vehicle and sometimes, especially after rains, requires 4-wheel drive. I am so grateful that we had an SUV for this trip and that my husband has the skills and the adventurous spirit needed to venture into this dramatic world. I feel blessed that we were able to visit this valley, to see for ourselves just how awesome the forces of nature are and how amazing this land is that God made.

The first part of the drive to Cathedral Valley was on Hartnet road, a dirt road that wound through the Bentonite hills, and one that started by driving into and across the Fremont River. This first 27 miles was beautiful. Each turn in the road brought another spectacular view……I was in heaven, delighting in all that my eyes could see.

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And then we arrived at the overlook for Upper Cathedral Valley. We stood there, looking down at the valley below us, mesmerized by the enormity of the rock formations—the Cathedrals—and by the colors before us. Just the two of us, no one else……no other cars, no music blaring from someone’s phone, no cell service at all………just silence, solitude and peace. A moment in a place that allowed us to get in touch with us, with our spirit and to commune with nature and with God.

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And then we drove down into the valley. WOW!!

We stopped there in the valley that we had seen from above, unprepared for the enormity of the Cathedrals next to us. Standing there next to the red rocks, we felt so small. I could feel how tiny my place in this Universe really is. These monoliths had been carved over thousands of years by wind and water to create the majestic Cathedrals that stood in the middle of the valley.

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We took our time driving the Cathedral Valley dirt road, slowing down to cross the muddy washes and stopping to mark washed out roads with rocks to warn drivers that would come after us. And we stopped to take in all of the beauty surrounding us, enjoying the formations, naming many of them to reflect what they resembled to us.  And then we arrived at the lower Cathedral Valley and the much anticipated Temples of the Sun and Moon. These were more than we had anticipated……much more. The size of these temples rising from the floor of the Valley surprised us.

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This was a fantastic way to spend the 4th of July, our nations birthday. And while other National Parks in southern Utah were packed with visitors, we were almost entirely alone, to marvel at the power of nature and enjoy the natural Cathedrals where we could feel the presence of God and commune with Him. 

On our drive through Cathedral Valley we wondered why the National Park Service did not pave at least half of the route, so that others could see the amazing, dramatic valley………but then we decided that we like it better this way…….it takes a lot of effort and skill to visit Cathedral Valley and that keeps many people from visiting.

And maybe that is why it is so magical and peaceful. And maybe that is why it is one of the most memorable parts of our trip into Southern Utah.

Nature as the Artist

I love art. But I am not an artist. I admire those whose creativity comes through in the many art forms.

I love to see architecture, the artistry simply amazes me.

I love public art……from statues in public places to the murals painted on walls of buildings to graffiti in an alley and everything in between.

I love the art created by Christmas lights every December.

The Sistine chapel has always fascinated me, so seeing it in person left me speechless.

I love to visit art museums and local artists when we travel.

Art inspires me. Manmade art is stunning and beautiful to behold.

But natural art, created by the forces nature makes my heart sing.

As a child I loved to lay in the grass and look up at the clouds as they took on many different forms, changing as they drifted over my head. Nature as an artist at its finest.

And as a teenager I discovered the beauty in the artistry of water and wind over the red rocks of Arizona……I was awed and could not take my eyes off the sculptures created by the forces of nature.

I have always loved a forest filled with green trees, brown trunks and the many colors of wildflowers painted across the landscape. And then as an adult, I was introduced to the beauty of trees that were bare, the leaves having fallen away in autumn. I am amazed at the beauty created by those branches reaching upward and outward and thankful for the friend who taught me to “see” those trees in a new way.

Nature is quite the artist.

And my latest trip into Southern Utah reminded me once again, why I love the outdoors and just how breathtaking the artistry of nature can be.

We saw wood work—twisting and turning–beautiful–

We saw how nature painted a canvas of colors and murals on the hillsides and how water painted stripes and shaped the rocks through the ages.

We saw how the forces of water and wind can carve rock into amazing creations, that like the clouds change with the angle and the direction of the sunlight highlighting the works.

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And we saw glass….a mountain of glass in the middle of the red valley, surround by red rocks and bluffs and sand—created by water and wind……unexpected art that delighted the soul.

 

I love art.

And art created from nature is one of my favorites….it makes my heart sing and my soul dance. I could spend hours……days even…..exploring this art and never feel I have seen the same piece twice.

Nature is an amazing artist.

Fording the River

We were on the third day of our trip through Southern Utah when we arrived in Capitol Reef National Park. We were extremely excited to check another National Park off our bucket list.

We knew we wanted to see Cathedral Valley, but to see that part of the park required driving 57 miles on a dirt road…….one that required a high clearance vehicle and often 4-wheel drive, especially after a rain storm and it required fording a river. But, it had been raining over the past few days and had rained quite a lot the night before our arrival………and it was getting cloudy. Since we could see the building thunderstorms moving our way, we thought it would be best to stop at the Visitor Center first to check on the condition of the dirt road and the river.

The park ranger at let us know that the river was running higher than normal and the last report on road conditions was from the day before we arrived and before the overnight rains. That report was that the road was muddy and required 4-wheel drive. I figured after hearing that from the ranger and since more rain was coming very soon, that we would NOT be driving across the river and into Cathedral Valley….at least not until the next day when it was expected to be sunny…….

But, my husband had other ideas.

He wanted to see the river for himself and then decide whether or not we would go or wait.

So we drove to the dirt road that would lead to the river ford.

It was getting darker…….the storms were getting closer. I was panicking………

I did NOT want to drive into the river or across the river.

The river was running too fast for me………

And how many times have we heard that we should NEVER drive into running water, especially during or after a summer rain storm? I began to think my husband had lost his mind. And even if we could safely ford the river, how were we going to navigate a muddy, dirt road, through washes filling with water from the rain and not get stuck? There was no cell phone service and if we got stuck out there who would come get us? How would anyone know where we were?

Yes, I was in a panic!

My husband checked the river and then said we were going through. He knew it would be safe and we would make it.

And we did. I recorded us fording the river, panic coming through in my voice, and tears flowing down my cheeks. And then we were out of the river, safely on the other side.

I could breathe…….maybe…….

We drove a couple miles down the dirt road and the rain started coming down faster…….in the distance we could see the pouring rain………too much rain, coming toward us. My panic grew.

Thankfully my husband decided we would be safer driving this road the next day when it was expected to be sunny and warm and we turned around.

But turning around meant going back through the river……I couldn’t stop the panic swelling deep inside me. I couldn’t stop the fear. I couldn’t stop the tears.

My husband asked me as we drove back toward the river what was scaring me, did I not trust him to keep me safe or trust his abilities? No, that wasn’t what scared me. I trusted him. I knew he would always keep me safe.

It was deeper than that.

As we approached the river, the realizations were hitting me square in the face.

If we got stuck, out there where no one would find us……if we slid off the side of a bluff on the slippery, muddy roads…….if the rushing water of the river washed us away………I would not live past the age my mother had been when she died. I would not get to my 52nd birthday. That thought paralyzes me. I HAVE to make it to my 52nd birthday. I HAVE to live to experience the things my mother never got to do. I CANNOT leave my boys at the same age my mother was.

In that moment fording the physical river became so much more for me. I was fording my river of fear. I was fording the river of this year……the year of learning to breathe rather than holding my breath.

Fording the river of my biggest fear is scary, difficult and at times paralyzing. But just as my husband kept me safe while we forded the physical river, I know that as long as I have him, my family, my friends and God by my side, I can and will ford this river and I can and will get through this year………one river ford at a time.

IMG_6169And just to let you know, we did go back the next day and we successfully forded the river. And I did not panic…..as my husband said “the third time’s the charm”.  This is the river……not too scary, is it?

 

Facing Fear while hiking in a National Monument

When my husband planned our vacation for this summer I was ready for an adventure. Our vacations are not relaxing vacations, most of the time, anyway. Our vacations are more of an adventure, an experience, and after our adventure we usually need a vacation.

And sometimes on our adventure vacations, I learn new things about myself and I often face my fears.

This adventure had me facing my fear of heights, again, and my fear of lightning storms…both at the same time on the same hike.

I am scared of heights………I approach overlooks and edges with caution, often standing back far enough to not feel as if I will fall to what I know will be my certain death. And my husband loves to find ways to push me into facing that fear. So, with shaking legs and hands, heart beating out of my chest and a feeling that I may just pass out, I went with my husband on the hike he had chosen for us.

But this time on our hike, as I faced and conquered my fear of heights, I had to also face my fear of lightning storms, a fear brought about by a severe thunderstorm that produced a tornado when I was in first grade……….a long held fear that has me hiding under my blankets at night when lightning strikes…..a fear that grips me and keeps me from venturing outside or near an open door when I hear the first clap of thunder. I am so scared that I will be struck by lightning that I run as fast as I can if I am outside, seeking shelter from the storm……..on this hike, I couldn’t run….I was hiking and going up a steep trail when thunder came rolling in.

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Going down the stairs near the beginning of the hike.

We were in Natural Bridges National Monument. It was evening, close to sunset. And it was cloudy and lightly raining when we arrived. The rain slowed and then stopped so we headed out on our hike to Sipapu Bridge. The hike down to the canyon floor under Sipapu bridge was not long, it was only .6 miles. But it was steep, descending 500 feet in the .6 miles. There was a set of steep stairs and 3 wooden ladders along the trail to help us get to lower sections. The ladders scared me…..not being able to see where I was stepping, nor how far the ladders descended had me frozen on the rungs, unable to take that next step…..until my husband guided me, making me feel safe enough to travel down the rest of the ladder.

 

There was a moment when my fear told me that there was no way I was going down those rocks and that the view I had at that moment was close enough. We had reached a point on the trail where metal railings had been cemented into the rock so that we could hold on and not fall as we descended down the steep rock…..ugh! I saw that and froze. Nope! No need to go any further. My fear said to just look at the natural bridge from here and wait for my husband to finish the hike and return to me.

And then I realized that fear is irrational and illogical. And I was not going to let it stop me from experiencing the view from underneath the natural rock bridge. So, with my husband’s guidance and reassurance and despite my legs feeling like jello, I grabbed that railing with a grip so tight I thought I just might pull the rail out of the rock and I finished the hike down to the bottom.

It was worth every shaky, anxiety filled moment! The view beneath that bridge was breathtaking. I felt so small standing under the rocks. And I felt so proud of myself. This was one of those moments that had me glowing!

And then it was time to climb 500 feet back up out of the canyon on the return .6-mile hike. It was steep. It was scary. And my legs shook again as I walked along the edge of the rock, up the ladders and grabbed the railing with a death grip. My heart beat fast and hard, from the fear and from the exertion of climbing up the 500 feet.

We made it half way up and stopped to take in the view. How tiny we felt standing there, awed by the stunning beauty that lay before us.

And then………the thunder. My heart jumped, my body shook. I still had a long way to climb up…….a ladder and the steep set of stairs between me and the safety of our vehicle. No way was I going to stick around for lightening to strike me, or the trees around me, or the rock that I was hiking on. Time for this girl to move and move fast.

And fast we went. I forgot about the height and the drop off next to me and moved quickly up the trail, praying I would reach the top before the lightening got me.

I was almost to the top…….I could almost touch the top and could see the SUV but I couldn’t breathe, my heart was beating so hard and fast I thought it was going to jump out of my body. I reached for my husband and let me hold onto him as he helped me to the top. And once we were there, next to the SUV and finally ready to jump inside to safety………and then he made me walk some more to slow my heart rate before climbing into the safety of the SUV…..…..really? in the thunder and lightning?

I did it. Despite my fears I hiked to the bottom and back up.

I did not fall to my certain death. I did not fall and injure myself. I did not get struck by lightning and I did not die of a heart attack.

Fear is irrational, fear is illogical and fear is born of our past experiences.

But facing my fears and pushing past them allows me to see just how strong I can be and lets me experience things that the fear would have had me miss.

I survived. I took the leap. And the experience was amazing!