When you plan a trip months ahead of time you have no way of knowing what the weather will be. And so when the trip comes and the forecast is looking less than ideal you have no choice but to grit your teeth and bear it. That is exactly what we did for our family trip to Utah. Months of planning for sunny October days and crisp desert nights and yet, when the week finally came there was nothing but rain clouds and thunder storms in sight. I guess we were in for more of an adventure than we had originally hoped.
There were eight of us total on the road trip: Kyle and I, my brothers Nelson and Cameron, Nelson’s girlfriend Michelle (who will henceforth be referred to as Meesh) and my parents, Cheryl and Neil (who will henceforth be referred to as mom and dad). Between us we were traveling in two vehicles, my parents Volvo station wagon, outfitted with a rocket box, and Kyle and mine’s (but more Kyle’s) Toyota Tacoma (or the taco) with which we towed a small, lightweight trailer provided to us by our lovely friends at Outbound Rigs.
Our road trip began in the usual way – with a lot of driving. There are many different ways to do a road trip and we had decided on the drive-a-ton-of-miles-in-a-short-amount-of-time-to-get-where-you-want-to-spend-the-bulk-of-your-time method. So we drove from Seattle to Arches National Park in two days with a quick stop in Idaho to sleep and another quick stop in Salt Lake City to pick up my brother, Cameron. The driving was, well, driving, made bearable by many podcasts, a couple books on tape, bathroom stops, food, conversation, naps and finally our destination.
We drove into Arches National Park just as the sun was setting and to the steady drum of rain on our windshield. Still – it was gorgeous in the dim light of dusk, the arches and buttes standing out red against the stormy sky. The campground at Arches is all the way at the end of the road and so we drove through a darkening landscape, reaching camp with just enough daylight to set up our tents for the first time. The rain had mercifully ceded while we set up our home for the next couple of days and we enjoyed a dry dinner under our awning which we were all feeling extremely thankful for. We retired to our tents early (and my dad to his cozy little trailer) because we had an early morning the next day – as the trip planner I hadn’t balked at the idea of waking everyone up at five for our first adventure of the trip: a river rafting trip down West Water Canyon. However, seeing everyone’s tired and weary faces after two long days of driving I wondered if I should have given us a day to recuperate… too late for that now!
That night it poured. And I mean a downspout opened in the heavens above and shot fire hose like streams of water down onto our tents. I have lived in the desert, I have lived in Washington, and never have I experienced anything like this. And yet, somehow, I was not scared or upset or worried. After getting out and fixing a leak in our tent our humble abode appeared to be stout and waterproof and so I laid there, reveling in the power of the rain and smiling. Every second I thought, “Now there is no way it could possibly rain harder than this,” and then a couple seconds later the desert would prove me wrong. My heart soared. And I drifted off to sleep to thunderous applause.
The next morning we got up in the dark and everyone tread lightly as we gathered our things for the day. At that point none of us had really spent any time outside unless it was dark or pouring and it was clearly getting the best of us. Also – even though I had been lulled to sleep by the rain torrents not everyone else had found it soothing. There were a lot of sleepy faces. We got everything we needed for river rafting and piled into cars. As we drove out of the park it started to pour again.
Always the optimist I had to point out that if there was any day where it was okay for it to rain our river rafting day was the day. We were bound to be outfitted in rain gear from head to toe and would have been getting wet anyway! Right? I could feel everyone else trying to stay positive, which was hard as we filed onto the river rafting bus and watched water stream down the windows in class four rivulets.
When we got to the put in the sun hadn’t exactly come out but the rain had lessened and we were all giddy with anticipation. We changed into our river rafting get-up and crowded around the two boats, eventually hopping into the one with our guide for the day – Luigi. And off we went, into the deep, dark walls of West Water Canyon.
When I had been planning and booking our trip I had a couple of choices to make. Which river we rafted on was one of them. Out of Moab there are a couple of popular trips. Fisher Towers, for example, which is suppose to be an easy, lazy raft, fun for the whole family! And then there is West Water Canyon, which gets described as slightly more intense with lots of white water! I hemmed and hawed over which option to choose for a long time. With a variety of ages and skill levels I knew Fisher Towers was probably a safer bet. But where was the adventure in lazy and easy? In the end I had to choose West Water Canyon and boy am I glad I did.
The river rafting was wild and our guide, Luigi (or Squeegee as we later learned he is called) kept things interesting the whole time. He was a never ending stream of natural and historical facts, sharing all kinds of information with us and keeping us entertained with anecdotes about his days on the river. We paddled to stay warm in the constant drizzle and ooed and awed at the incredible landscape around us. And then, with increasing frequency, the river would present us with white water obstacles which we would scream and laugh our way through while Squeegee shouted commands to us from the guidestick.
We stopped for lunch on a wet little strip of sand but the guides knew just what we needed and whipped out hot drinks and soup for lunch. We all did jumping jacks to stay warm and the sun even came out a few times to say hi. After lunch we went right back into the thick of things with the biggest rapids we had seen yet and all of us hooted and hollered with the joy that can only come from being completely naive to how close you are to death. After the final rapid the guides lashed the rafts together, hooked up the motor and took us to the take out while we all lounged around and drank beers. Everyone joked and sighed, feeling that addictive buzz that adrenaline leaves behind in the walls of your veins.
On the way home it rained harder than it had all day and I could see the looks of determination on my families faces but knew that they were wondering how we would ever be dry and warm again (my dad had already voiced this fear while we were rafting). And then a real miracle happened – as we drove back into Arches out of a dismal rain the clouds opened up and splashed golden light all over the red rock around us. Water the color of chocolate milk poured off of every mesa and down through the desert filling up slick rock washes and turning everything green. In a soft and colorful apology a double rainbow stretched all the way across the sky. We made it back to our campsite under a brilliant sunset and cooked beneath fluffy clouds and made a campfire under a star filled sky. All of us kept taking turns to walk away from the flickering light in order to stare up at the twinkling show above us before coming back to the warmth again. I have never seen stars so fresh and so clean, so clear and so numerous, so many that you couldn’t actually see the space between them.
Just like that day one was over and day one was a resounding success.
Sheri Griffith Expeditions
Trailers and adventure rigs: