(Editorial Note: Thank you for your patience in waiting to vicariously finish our trip! It was difficult finding both time to write and an internet connection during our travels, and it has been a busy summer for me since we returned home. As a belated thank you, I have gone back and edited the previous entries to include photographs as a special treat for you, dear reader! -lm)
Morning came gently to our log cabin haven. Folks who hadn’t showered last night did so this morning, and meanwhile our Macalester-student hostess cooked pancakes for everyone — and when we’re looking at a total of eighteen people, that’s a lot of pancakes!
We had to get on the road, though — and so did our host family, because they were leaving on vacation! We cleaned up our areas and said our goodbyes. I’m discovering the main problem with homestays is that you have to leave so soon after meeting new friends! I know there were many of us who wished our return trip could have included another visit here to Salt Lake City, as well as to our friends in Rapid City. Alas, I guess the only solution is to do this trip again someday!
Now that we’ve made such a significant amount of progress toward our final destination, we’re able to slow down and enjoy the stops a bit more. Therefore we decided to take a slight detour and go explore the shore of the Great Salt Lake!
We ended up at the marina, and we climbed down the rocks to a beach of oolitic sand covered in minuscule brine flies. There are estimated to be over one hundred billion brine flies covering the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake — but what is interesting is that they never move more than a couple of feet from the shoreline, and they do not land on or bite people. As we walked to the place where the sand met the water, great waves of brine flies sped out of the way, only to resettle a second later.
The youth all took off their shoes and waded in to explore. We had heard about the phenomenon of floating easily in water with such a high salt content, but sadly we didn’t have time to fully immerse ourselves. As it was, the youth discovered a sandbar a short distance out, and they looked like they were walking on water! Michael also discovered that the dried sand compacted into flat sheets that he could skip like stones. Pretty cool!
After we came back and rinsed our feet under a fresh water spigot, it was time to head south to the opposite end of Utah, where we would camp for the night at Zion National Park. After three days of intensive driving, we wanted to make sure we made good use of our daylight so we wouldn’t be pitching tents in the dark again.
We had to backtrack a few miles, since the Great Salt Lake was out of our way. Heading back the way we’d come, we were leading the way down the freeway when I happened to glance to my right…and there’s our minivan, taking the exit to the airport! Quickly, I got out my cell phone (thank goodness there’s reception!) and called Julia.
Her response: “You mean the white van we’re following isn’t you?!”
What were the odds?
We laughed and decided that if it took us four days to get separated from each other, then we were doing a pretty good job. It has become a running joke for the rest of the trip to point out white vans to Julia and name the distinguishing characteristics that make it Not Ours. Fun times!
We named an exit south of Salt Lake City that had a gas station where we could reconnoiter, and we met up again with a minimum of fuss an hour or so later.
Our route took us south through the Rocky Mountains, and the temperatures began to climb past 100 degrees. We took a long pause for lunch at a gas station (in the middle of nowhere) that had a picnic table. The overhang from the building shaded half of the benches, but the other half were in full sun, radiating heat. I leaned against the building in the shade as the youth took their time in the air conditioning buying goodies for themselves.
As the youth came out to the picnic table, one of them would sit on the hot bench. “You might not want to sit there,” I would tell them. “That bench is hot enough to burn you.” The youth in question would laugh at me and say, “I’m wearing pants, I’ll be fine!” Then a minute or so later, they would surreptitiously remove themselves from the bench and come lean against the wall with me. And then another youth would come out of the gas station and go to sit on the hot bench. Repeat scene. Good ol’ life lessons!
In the later afternoon, we came to the exit for Kolob Canyons — a five-mile, dead-end road that winds its way into the northern tip of Zion National Park. When I drove through two years ago, it had been thunderstorming the whole drive down, and the Canyons had been glistening with rainwater, dark and red and empty. Today, the sun had been beating down, and the visitors center was open with lots of cars in the parking lot.
We paused at the visitors center to get maps, and then we took the winding red road that twisted its way into the deep, rich gorges. At the end of the road we parked and decided it was the perfect opportunity for a hike. Everyone checked their water bottles, and then we took off into the desert canyons. We made it all the way to the look out at the dead end of the trail, which was quite an accomplishment in all that heat!
The youth climbed a nearly-vertical rock cliff to stand along the top, backlit by the sky and the sun. Bas bent down to “Tebow” (which had to be explained to me), but then someone said, “Why mock a pious football player when we could be proclaiming our faith?” And thus “Doing the UU” was invented.
After many beautiful photos, we turned around and hiked back to the vans. Boy were we thirsty after all that walking in 100+ degree heat!
This northern entrance doesn’t connect to the rest of the park (unless you plan to hike over the ridges with all of your gear on your back), so we had to drive back out onto the highway again to get to the southern entrance to the park. In a nice divergence from our track record so far, we overestimated how long it would take us to make it to the main entrance, so we arrived at Watchman Campground earlier than expected — right at dinnertime.
We set up our tents in no big hurry — the sun had mostly gone past the ridges of the canyon we were in, but there was still plenty of light in the sky. The ground was dusty, hard and compacted, so we couldn’t get any tent stakes in. At first this bothered me, because I’ve been in a situation where a tent blew away in a storm because it hadn’t been securely staked down. But Jody kindly pointed out to me that we were in the desert, in a canyon, with no rain on the way and no wind. We would be just fine without tent stakes. And we were! We even left the rainflies off the tents, and when it got dark at night, we fell asleep looking at the stars.
Two of the chaperones took a van back into town for some groceries for dinner while the rest of us relaxed at the camp. Some of the youth journaled, and some played music. Others used rocks to build a dam across the tiny trickle of water that separated our campsite from our neighbors’. I took my gel neck cooler and tied it to some long grasses that grew at the edge of the trickle, and by morning it was completely rehydrated and ready to wear. Others tied theirs to grass or weighted theirs under a rock directly in the stream. What a great way to improvise without leaving a trace!
When Julia and Jody got back with the groceries, we learned that a kind man in town had paid for our food! While others may say his generosity sprang from impatience at the store clerk’s inability to ring up the watermelon at the appropriate price, I like to think he was just a darn nice guy who wanted to support a bunch of young people when they were far away from home.
As we finished our dinner of pasta and watermelon, it came time to clean up. Megan asked what we were going to wash the dishes with. I said, “I was just going to go get the kitchen sink out of the van.”
Megan looked at me. “Seriously? You packed a kitchen sink? Where?”
I pointed at the big white van. “It’s on the back seat under a bunch of other stuff. Go see for yourself!”
And she did. Which was hilarious. And which she still hasn’t forgiven me for.
But I really did have a kitchen sink! And it was on the back seat! It just happened to be collapsible, made out of waterproof fabric, and bundled into a small tupperware bin with other camping supplies. Does that make me a liar? I’ll leave it for you to decide.
That’s all for now! We get to relax for the rest of the evening and do some exploring in the morning, because tomorrow we have less than three hours of driving! Wahoo!