If the Instagram feeds of every attractive, young #wanderluster are to be believed, there isn't anything more invigorating than traveling with a partner. Exploring the world as a twosome can certainly be gratifying, but there's a reason why everyone has a vacation breakup story. With hours spent standing in lines, lugging bags, and navigating unfamiliar territory, it's no wonder traveling is said to be a good determiner of a couple's compatibility (or combativity). Sharing a single car for a sixty-day stretch can be too much proximity for two people when things are going to plan. When both parties are being pushed outside of their comfort zones, a shitshow or two is inevitable.
A glance toward the fuel gauge interrupted my enchantment. After our scare in West Texas, we had agreed to stay above 1/4 tank, and I alerted J that I'd be stopping at the next gas station to be safe. Cell reception was nonexistent in this remote stretch, but GPS alerted us to a number of nearing towns. We reverted back to taking in the breathtaking scene surrounding us. A closed general store situated at a crossroads made up the entirety of the town of Cima. Elora was a modest industrial plant of some sort. With the needle moving rapidly lower we came upon the railroad crossing that was the town of Hayden. Our humor was evaporating in time with our gas fumes.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the Disney Theme Park of the National Parks System. The village boasts a rail line, airport, entire fleet of buses, kennel, mule stable, hotels, restaurants, art, geology, and cultural museums, campgrounds, three visitor's centers, two entrances, and a partridge in a pear tree. Much like Disney, it is also perpetually mobbed. In an act of providence, we were able to secure the last site available at the Desert View Campsite the day before it was to be shut down for the winter. We pitched our tent below an exquisite, craggy juniper and made our way to the Desert Watchtower.
We followed the curving road out, in hopes of setting camp with plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely afternoon. The road had become more congested, littered with families in rented RVs and little experience handling them. We hoped they were at least earning the gratitude of their loved ones, so their terrible driving would be to some end. Suddenly, we heard a thwack on the front of the car, amid a flurry of fleeing birds. We sat silently, for what seemed like a long time. Finally I spoke, "I killed a bird in the Grand Canyon."
We fashioned a simple meal of sandwiches and whiskey, adding another layer to our ensembles to keep out the cold. Bryce Canyon National Park is a leader in dark sky protection, and on clear nights up to 10,000 stars can be seen from as far as the Andromeda Galaxy. We surveyed the Milky Way, stretched out over the horizon, our view unimpeded by our campfire. The campsites that had earlier felt so close, now barely visible, their fires, satellites, piercing the darkness.
National Parks Pass in our hot little hands, we set out through downtown Moab, marveling at the idiosyncrasies and contradictions of the tourism-based economy. We had a specific loop planned out for our tour, hitting a few vistas and stopping at the Sand Dunes Arch. Even within the small span of the park the landscape was constantly changing from sheer red rock walls to rolling hills dotted with juniper to gray, green and yellow dunes, frozen in time.
Take heart, gentle traveler, for there is a way to mindfully take joy in the true national treasures of the United States. The men and women protecting our parks are fighting an uphill battle to protect us from ourselves, and we can help them. Follow the rules posted on the clearly posted signs. They are meant to protect both you and the wildlife. Place trash in proper receptacles. They're everywhere. Adhere to the trails. The maps are free and comprehensive. Do not try to steal the limited, federally-protected nature. Basically, don't be terrible.