While I had a glorious day in Arches National Park yesterday, I stayed in a less than optimal campsite last night. I mean, yes, it had showers and laundry, but it was crowded and noisy, dusty and hot. I had an ideal camping experience in mind when I set out on this trip and thus far it has been elusive: babbling brook, shade tree, quiet, running water. I don’t even mind a pit toilet.
Ironically, the quietest site so far was the one last night—even among all those people, I got the best sleep of the trip. Might have been the beer and the ear plugs, but people actually quieted down at ten. No one played loud music. No babies screamed as they did at the Utah Lake State Park on Thursday night. No one cooked goat at 1 a.m. or spoke Arabic in the middle of the night like in Idaho. I woke up at 5:30, amazed and refreshed, but still wanting something more idyllic.
Today I set out early, leaving Moab before 7, so I would have plenty of time to scout sites. I put 200 miles in before noon, and that’s when I remembered: it’s the journey, not the destination, so after bypassing a few tourist spots and stopping at Mesa National Park for a mere 10 minutes (long enough to get a picture), I vowed to stop at the next roadside attraction whether it was a park or the world’s tallest miner. Luckily, it happened to be Chimney Rock National Monument. I’d seen the rock rising stark above the verdant Colorado forest, so I didn’t hesitate to turn when the sign for the monument popped up.
When I stopped to check in, the volunteer said I’d have to join a tour to go to the top and I almost declined, not being much into group outings, but I paid my $12 and drove up the mountain to the meeting spot. I’m glad I did since I got to put the Jeep in 4-wheel drive AND I had the top down. Quintessential Jeep Moment.
I put on my hiking Chacos and grabbed the camera, afraid I was late, and not wanting to keep the group waiting. But I had time, so I went back to the car for a pre-hike snack and that’s when crabby volunteer lady told me there was no eating allowed. Really? No eating? Outside? In a park? I finished my granola bar and looked at her while I licked the melted chocolate off my fingers.
I learned some stuff on that hike up to Chimney Rock—first off, the Chaco Indians lived there (I was wearing Chacos) and up at the rock, they built a huge great house out of tons of stones that they carted up the mountainside. The first archeologists to visit the site weren’t so industrious and when they ran out of firewood, they burned up the original wooden beams from the great house (not too bright).
Also, every 18.6 years, the moon appears between Chimney and Companion Rock, so the place held significance for the tribe. They could also see directly across the valley to a large mesa, some 60 miles away, and evidence around the site indicates they communicated via smoke signal to their compatriots there.
Happy to have stopped, found some amazing scenery, and learned some stuff too, I set off again toward Abiquiu. But then, in Pagosa Springs, I spotted a brewery called Riff Raff (like I could resist that!) and since it was lunch time, I stopped. Again, it’s the journey, right? I had a lovely black cherry porter and a delicious hamburger and then I tried their Kolsh. Also very good. Lest you worry, dear reader, that I drank and drove, I stretched that meal out over two hours before setting off again, to find the ideal camp site.
I thought I’d found it. Babbling brook. Trees. Grass. Fairly quiet (after I told that one little girl she was being too loud, too close to my campsite). And WiFi, flush toilets, and showers. This was it, dear reader. I pitched my tent, put the roof on the Jeep, and settled into my camp chair with my book. And things were great, for about a half hour.
That’s when the sky darkened and the thunder clapped. Then the lightning. And now, the torrential downpour. My tent is still out there in the downpour, and the guy (there’s always a guy) just came into the common area (where I sit typing) and announced that the rain apparently is here for the whole night. As is more lightning and thunder.
So, here’s my plan: to hell with the tent (and thank god I didn’t put my sleeping bag in it yet), I’m sleeping in the jeep tonight—I’m cuddling up to the cooler that holds a growler of that beer and calling it a night. Really glad I had that burger earlier, too.