Total Miles: 540.4
To watch the desert sunrise or sunset is, in some sense, to witness it for the first time. An expanse of land brought to life with color beneath an equally expansive sky, only to have the sunset slowly steal those very same colors in exchange for an ocean of stars. Blackness yielding to layers of gray before deep hues of blue, red and orange bleed away into paler versions of themselves until the heat of the day has come and gone and the process reverses itself.
As descriptions of sunrises, sunsets, rocks, canyons, and all things southwest go, it’s awfully hard to top those of Edward Abbey in his book Desert Solitaire. A paean to the southwest that is also wrapped in the thinnest imaginable veil of self-congratulatory smugness, it is a love letter to moments in places like we found ourselves this morning—climbing out of a stony wash as the sun, momentarily the color of magma, climbed over the distant ridge.
Drawing on his experience working as a ranger in Arches National Monument during the late 1950s—prior to it becoming a national park—Desert Solitaire shows us the wilderness of Utah and Arizona, it’s transcendent beauty and the threats to it, through Abbey’s idealistic 30-year-old eyes.
Walking in the wide open spaces of the trail this past month has given me lots of time to reflect on the beauty that Abbey rightfully saw in the southwest that I had only scratched the surface of prior to this hike. And even when beauty isn’t necessarily the quality best on display, such as on days like today, you’re left appreciating its other qualities—its vastness, its relentlessness, its desolation, its oppressive heat, its appearance of homogeneity that hides so much diversity, and the amazing adaptions required for anything—flora or fauna—to call this place home.
Most of all, I’m happy that unlike Abbey my experience of the desert southwest isn’t solitaire at all. Far from thoughts being held captive solely in the dusty recesses of my mind, I get to see it, experience it, and share it with my best friend—to digest it together and then attempt to distill those thoughts into my own words while lying silently in the dark of our tent together. To experience it any differently would be to experience it less fully.