Last August, my wife and I visited the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. We had driven to Moab the day before and put ourselves up in a small motel on its outskirts. A day’s hiking in Canyonlands lay ahead; we planned to spend in it the park’s elevated northern Islands in the Sky section, taking in the many magnificent views of the canyon overlooks that supposedly awaited us.
The National Park Service does not lie; the views of the park’s deep and wide canyons, carved out by the Colorado River, were as majestic as promised. The following photographs of the White Rim Overlook portion of the Canyonlands offer only an exceedingly small glimpse of the wonders on display; whatever their virtues of representativeness or typicality my reasons for selecting them lie elsewhere, in the very particular responses they elicited in me at the time I encountered them. [Click on the images for a larger view.]
We came upon these sights late in the day; it had been a hot one, baking the stony, thorny, scrubby, landscape several shades darker of its already dramatic bronze and making our short hikes earlier desperately thirsty ones. As the evening progressed and the sun moved to the west, seeking shelter after after a hard day’s riding through the sky, the winds picked up, and a host of dramatic clouds moved in. If we were lucky, we’d see–along many different spots on the White Rim’s overlooks–a spectacular sunset and storm all at the same time.
And yet, even with the safety of our car comfortably at hand, and civilization easily accessible, a gathering storm out in the southwestern desert wilderness can still provoke a measure of anxiety: nature seems so unbridled, so unhinged. Who knew, out here in this desolation, what wild forces might not be let loose, the kinds that cared little for human arrangements and concerns?
The storm threatened, blustered a bit, sent down a few raindrops and some vigorous gusts of wind; then, inexplicably, it withdrew. While it gathered its remnants about itself and blew its innards out, we waited it out. I drank some wine from a bottle in a cooler in the car’s trunk; the ice had survived and done a smooth number on the wine.
Then, the wind still gusting about us, we explored the White Rim through a series of walks. The canyons were cavernous, deep, their walls forbiddingly steep and craggy. I marveled at the geological history, the aeons of patient, persistent work done by wind, ice, water, snow, and sand all laid visible to the human eye. Even from a safe distance I could sense my giddy vertigo stir; I knew I would have been hopeless along the rim’s edges.
There is little hope of a photograph capturing the mood: the inexplicable mix of wonder, awe, and fear that is generated by one of the desert’s immense works, its barest particulars effortlessly outstripping our evoked sense of astonishment and delight.
The light faded soon thereafter, ringing a dark curtain over the White Rim. But the images of the day stayed; some on digital storage, others in memories.