In the National Parks-are-a-family metaphor I'm cheerfully beating to death, Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is the happy, lovable, affable youngest child. (I am in no way influenced by the fact I'm a youngest child when deciding which traits youngest children embody.)
Actually, maybe Capitol Reef is more like your favorite cheerful stoner uncle, the one who dropped out of college to travel the world, surf, play in a band, and now lives in a self-built tiny home in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Everyone in the family chuckles with deep affection when Capitol Reef arrives wearing flip flops in winter, guitar slung over his back, and announces he's late because he was handing out free hugs in front of the 7-Eleven down the street.
Capitol Reef (as a park, I'm now ditching the uncle bit) is laid back, casual, not crowded at all. It's not just about gorgeous scenery and interesting geology, it's all about the people, man. Native Americans hammered petroglyphs high into the red cliffs and then, much much later, the first permanent settlers wandered into the area and decided to set up camp.
They were certain they'd found a slice of heaven. I agree with them on that, so much so I've developed a new life aspiration -- I want to be a settler.
I manhandled the Winnie B all over the Western United States
so I could certainly drive that
so I could certainly drive that
There were only about ten families who lived in the area at any given time, though granted they were Mormon so those were probably really big families. I wonder if living in such a small community made dating easier? Since there were only about a dozen or so young people from whom to choose a partner, it seems it would take a lot of bellyaching out of the thing. It would be less, "I don't feel he truly understands my inner being" and more, "Well, I guess I'll take Ephraim over there, he doesn't look too bad and he plays a nice fiddle."
Some of the pioneer homes still exist, the one-room school house still stands and a charming old barn still houses horses -- the two there now are named Mud and Egg and they help the rangers with backcountry rescue, which we thankfully did not need. The many orchards the settlers planted are still bearing fruit over one hundred years later. You can pick all you want for a buck per pound.
Just beyond the orchard was Gifford House, one of the settler homes that has been turned into a shop that sells bread, pies, and cinnamon rolls the way the pioneers used to make them. I may have sent the kids over there with a fistful of dollars a few times so hello, extra body weight, welcome to me.
It's OK, I'll need the extra weight to weather the harsh winters as a future settler, and will no doubt work it off come harvest time. Until then, I await Ephraim's return from the North. Dude's been gone for two months, he better return with chocolate.
Hearts were heavy as we left Capitol Reef. It was a slice of heaven indeed. Hey, we were wondering, can you live in a national park? We may try. We'll be the ones rustling in the bushes next to the cinnamon roll place.
Coco now smells like apricots all the time. It was an unexpected souvenir. She is a living breathing Strawberry Shortcake doll thanks to the apricot guts permanently encrusted between the textured ridges of her sandal soles.
The next park was Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado. Black Canyon needs to chill the hell out. Black Canyon is that person at the party in the corner wearing all black, talking about meaningless life and occasionally whispering Marilyn Manson lyrics to themselves while staring at a spot somewhere just over your head.
This thing exists only to scare people. Black Canyon is a slit in the earth, a hole so deep with sheer charcoal gray cliff walls, you cannot see the bottom at many of the viewpoints. The silence is eerie though every once in awhile you catch the sound of the river rushing through the bottom of it, the river that continues to shape it today. We do not need a deeper scarier Black Canyon so knock it off, river.
I went to Black Canyon as a younger person with my family and don't remember feeling afraid. I thought it was cool. But this time, my heart stopped a half dozen times, usually when I saw Coco climb on the first rung of the bolted steel railing around the viewpoint to "get a better look." I may have yelled at her a bit too harshly because Alex claims my eyes bugged out of my head.
Alex wasn't much help, either. The darkness and sheerness of the canyon rattled him as much as it mesmerized him. He's not a phobia kind of guy but as we perched on one seemingly fragile overlook, Alex began half-yelling, "OH my God, is this thing shaking? Is it shaking? I think I feel it shaking" so we grabbed the kids by the backs of their shirts and hauled them back to safety as they said, "Guys? What are you doing?"
What are we doing? We're saving your lives, suckers!
We used to be fearless. Now we're parents.
I guess we were all a little on edge at Black Canyon. When we first entered the park, the ranger gave us a flyer warning of aggressive deer near our campsite. Many baby deer had recently been born so the mamas were, much like us, startling easy and not keeping their cool. We hear you, deer mamas, Black Canyon is a tough place to have kids.
Lucien took the deer warning to heart. Probably too much. We explained to him it just meant not to approach deer, to give them a ton of space because they were feeling a little defensive. But each time Lucien glimpsed one (and there were many in the area) he yelled, "You guys, run, RUN, get inside, it's a deer, it's a deer!" in such a panic you'd think he'd spotted a hungry grizzly bear barreling towards the Winnie B.
We did see some bighorn sheep on the side of the canyon walls, which was pretty cool, but overall Black Canyon is not a park I care to revisit anytime soon. Black Canyon is intense. That park has got to chill. Someone spark that park a doobie or slip it a Valium. It's too dark, brooding, silent and it has killer deer.
The drive from Black Canyon to our next destination -- my mom and dad's house, I'm comin' home, mama -- was through many hills. Hills are hard on an RV. Hills are also hard on any cars stuck behind an RV.
I grit my teeth as cars pile up behind me. This is why RV owners wave at each other on the road. We are each others people, must stick together and support each other as we piss off cars by going 30mph on a 55mph road. We'd go faster if we could, I swear.
Alex and I have taken to quacking at RVs coming the opposite direction because RVs often resemble a mama duck with a string of impatient ducklings trailing along behind her.
I've got a third and final installation of the neverending road trip tale. I hope I write it someday because it involves my extended family throwing water balloons at each other. But for now, we're off on another vacation, this one to a country where I don't speak the language and will be often alone with our kids because Alex is going for work and we're tagging along. I'm sure everything will be fine and if it's not "fine," I hope it's at least funny.
We're going to end this with Coco being awesome
in a place I'm hellbent on settling even though it's already settled.
Don't ever give up on your dreams.