END OF A ROAD; UNRAVELING THE MYTH

With so many highs it was difficult to choose favorites. On a different day we might name another place. How does one judge descending into the New River Gorge against wading in the Colorado's frigid waters on a Glen Canyon beach? What makes learning about the one-armed, explorer, cartographer and general badass John Wesley Powell any less intriguing then witnessing Native American dance? Is the culture of the Puebloan people preserved at Bandelier National Monument any less important than the sculpture gardens at the Nasher Center? Is anything more beautiful than stumbling upon the expansive crater of Valles Caldera at sunset, or watching J look upon the Pacific Ocean for the first time, or having a cool lake to ourselves on a sweltering Texas day?

END OF A ROAD; UPPING THE ANTE

The first time I saw Pittsburgh I knew I would leave her. She could be cold, nebby, and casually racist, but really, it was me. With so much out there to see in this world, I've never entertained the idea of being tied down to any one city. I've never had a car note, a mortgage, or a desire to settle down. While I appreciate the homes others have fashioned for themselves, I'm not quite ready for a long-term commitment. I have an ongoing joke of a New Year's resolution: all new mistakes. It's a way to remind myself to take chances, explore new territory, learn to dig deeper. It's a call to say yes to opportunities and have a sense of humor when things go awry.

FROM THE SANDY BANKS OF THE COLORADO

The theme of Marble Canyon was to be one of relaxation. We rose before the heat, eating well and taking some time to write. Two ravens scuttled and kabitzed in the shade, watching the slow proceedings of the campgroud. We had a light snack, then drove off to see the Navajo Crossing Bridge. Again, the lush tapestry of history spreads over the entire journey, and we learned of the area's humble beginnings as a river fording site to Mormon waystation and crossing to its modern role of the gateway into Arizona. The original bridge remains as a footbridge, its successor mirroring both its style and route over the Colorado. Glancing down, we could clearly see the whirling eddies and clouds of silt, layered in shades of emerald, moving swiftly.

LANDS OF MANY USES

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."

PACKING WITHOUT REGRETS

The old man sneered disapprovingly. He spit the words, "This is ridiculous," at me, kneeling on the floor, then claimed his boarding pass and stalked off. I'm a good packer. I've taken a nine-week road trip with just a large duffel bag. Gone away for long weekends armed with only what fit into my purse. So you can imagine my mortification as I desperately attempted to lose 12 pounds in the middle of the San Diego airport.

LIFE ELEVATED

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.

A BARTENDER WALKS INTO AN ARCH, THE SECOND ONE DUCKS

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.