Goodbye West, Part 2: Utah

Two months ago, I said that I would make up for my blogging drought “over the next few weeks.” Well, I packed up my stuff, drove back across the country, yada yada yada. My computer ended up staying in its box until finally seeing the light of internet two days ago when I moved in to my apartment here in New York City. So without further ado, let’s continue (and also finish) the “Goodbye West” series with my trip to Utah.

A month after going to New Mexico and a week before leaving Colorado for good, I made my first and only trip to Utah (no offense to Utah, it just took me a while to make it there!). Specifically, I went to Canyonlands National Park, and even more specifically, the Needles District, which is the southern of the three Canyonlands districts (the other two are Islands in the Sky and The Maze).

On this trip, I was joined by my neighbors Brigida and Nelson (Nelson being a native Utahan) and my not-neighbor Natali. Mere hours after I left work for the last time, the four of us left Boulder and arrived at the Needles Outpost (a campground on the border of the national park) eight hours later at around 3 AM. This set up the single most memorable moment of the trip, and something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time: seeing the Milky Way.

Overnight, it “rises” in the east and makes its way westward across the sky before dimming out as the sun rises behind it. It was “setting” when we arrived (the next night, we were able to watch it traverse the sky fully, if one felt like staying awake). And as with the last “starfield” picture from New Mexico, the picture (aided by my lack of tripod) doesn’t even begin to capture the awesomeness of this sight.

We got a few hours of sleep before the sun rose and we had to get a move on. Here is the same general view as the Milky Way picture, except, obviously, with sun.

We’re not in Colorado anymore! (Weird because Utah is far more “red” than the state that literally means “red colored,” go figure.) On our first full day, we went on a 10 mile hike of the “lollypop” variety: down a single path, around a 3 mile loop at the end, and then back. Before I continue I will take this moment to note that Utah in June is hot. Not as hot as it gets there, apparently, but on this day it got up to a cool 96 degrees. It is also worth noting my condition on this weekend: recovering from a cold, nasal cavities full of gross things, all of which were doing their best to leave me. Let’s go on.

The amazing views began as soon as did the hike. The region’s name, “Needles,” as will become apparent, is due to the tall, towering rock formations cut away over the past 70 million years, since the formation of the nearby Rocky Mountains. Below, the rest of the gang: left to right, Nelson, Brigida, Natali.


There were many, many wonderful rock formations we saw on the hike. If I were to pick my two favorite, however, they would be the two that follow. They were conveniently located only 30 or so feet apart from each other. Do you see what I see?


Ha ha! That was good. At this point we entered Chesler Park, the loop portion of the hike. We posed here for a group shot:

On our way back, we had some great views of the what I believe are the La Sal mountains, considered part of the Rockies but sort of disconnected from the bulk of them that lie in Colorado.

We finished the hike, and exhaustedly headed back to camp for dinner. After eating, the girls discovered that in the campground next to us was an “amateur” astronomer. Amateur is in quotes because this guy very much knew what he was doing. He was visiting from Florida to locate and track binary stars, defined as two stars that share a common center of mass. We bothered him for a bit, and he took us on a brief tour of the skies, showing us Saturn, some star clusters, some galaxies, some binary stars (of course) and even a binary-binary star system (two binary star systems “orbiting” around each other). Very cool. And of course, more of that Milky Way.

The next day the goal was to go to Moab, an hour back along the road on which we came, where Brigida and Natali were to go skydiving. First, we stopped at Newspaper Rock, home to one of the world’s largest collections of petroglyphs, drawn here between the past 2000 and 650 years.

We got to Moab soon after, but high winds (and our late arrival) forced the “main event” to be postponed to the evening. In the meantime we went to Arches National Park, a few miles from Moab. Arches is home to, among other things, Delicate Arch, which you might recognize from the Utah license plate.

The wind had calmed and the sun had begun to set as we went back to the airport for skydiving take 2. Here, Brigida, her instructor, Natali and another skydiver prepare to board the plan that will take them up. While this was Brigida’s first time, it was not for Natali. I forget how many jumps she’s had exactly, but it’s somewhere in the “many hundreds.” So no instructor for her.

Plane goes up, everybody comes down.

Not much else to report; we got back in the car and drove back to Boulder (thanks to the delayed skydive we didn’t get back until around 4 AM). After catching up on some sleep, I began the grueling task of packing up my belongings and eventually embarking on the long drive back east. That can be a topic for another post.

Goodbye West! I’ll miss you.