After embarking on a cross country trip across the US some months ago, I found it necessary to both reflect upon and document the excursion in a number of snapshots. There were some parts of my trip that I decided to neglect, since they were areas that I felt were more personal adventures (trekking through the Coconino Natl. Forest in AZ or reading within Flagstaff’s numerous cafes), but after searching through long-untouched photography folders I found that I had forgotten to talk about my day spent in southeastern Utah’s Canyonlands National Park.
Considering national parks within southeastern Utah, particularly those that surround the city of Moab, the most popular that tourists tend to think of is Arches National Park. While Arches was a beautiful space to venture through (presenting the ability to, quite literally, walk through history), it became quite populated as the day went on. I’m glad that I entered the park at its opening hour, since I otherwise might have gotten stuck behind sets of cars packed onto the tight-and-winding roads, or I might have been trapped behind large groups of families, school groups, etc. that were inspecting the monuments and clogging the trails. With Canyonlands, I noticed early on that this would not be a concern.
My first impression upon entering Canyonlands National Park was that people were few and far between — no worries of traffic, circling about in search of parking, or waiting in lines for bathrooms. In further contrast to Arches, the scenery seemed wholly different too. Rather than staring up towards the sky, you’re staring down and out towards the skyline, searching for each unique, natural emphasis blotted in the distance.
Besides the visual sensation of canyons seemingly blown out by artillery and rivers choked dry by the arid, high-altitude climate, the senses were affected in another way: a supreme silence. With so few cars around, tourists flocking to Arches, and being located far from the downtown stretch of Moab, the most overwhelming sensation of Canyonlands was the fact that their was simply no sound. I don’t believe it’s something I’ve ever truly experienced — whether for living in downtown areas, living near a major highway, working on college campuses, etc..
It hurt. In particular, it made me experience the fact that I have a mild form of tinnitus, a condition likely due to too many years of standing near guitar amplifiers and drum sets. Yet what seemed to hurt most was that I had never been confronted with a silence as resolute as this before. I’ve been deep into the woods of northern New England more times than I can count, but the vast array of animals has always broken the silence, making the woodlands seem alive. Yet the sheer void here was something entirely new. The land felt dead. Deference wasn’t enough; it required reverence.
It was a purely beautiful experience, one that was overwhelming. The result produces a reaction that is commonly found within silent prayer/meditation: that rather than relying on music and/or certain frequencies to transport you to a specific state of emotional/physical/internal being, silence provides the same result without the need of an auditory aid. In a metaphorical sense, the soul becomes a bell that rings aloud without the need of a physical presentation of noise.
After running a decent amount of miles through the paths of Canyonlands, along with occasional stops to sit and experience the land, I decided that it was time to continue on. I was pleased with the experience, glad that I had ventured back into the depths of nature, a climate I had never known. Not only had my travels allowed me to experience the earth, but I was equally made to face myself.
I would venture south from Canyonlands, headed off for Flagstaff, AZ. The joy was that I was able to continue venturing through the natural lands of southern Utah, whether by car or by foot, passing through the Valley of the Gods, Mexican Hat, and Monument Valley in particular. However, before arriving at those monuments, I happened upon a sudden oasis, just south of Monticello, UT: Recapture Reservoir.
Silence returned once again; I was met by another breathtaking view, all the same.
What I appreciate most is the fact that through all of my travels across the country, I had interacted with a great variety of landscapes, national monuments, natl./state forests, and so on. For its red clay dust, lush, timber forests, cow-trodden pastures, and lone, treeless peaks, I witnessed, first-hand, the wealth of natural experience that the United States has to offer. In my opinion, it is land that we, as citizens, should work towards protecting, so that each and everyone of us have the ability to explore the breadth of beauty that is right outside our backdoor.
Whether you’re from Massachusetts, California, Texas, Ohio, or Tennessee, we should realize that our natural lands are meant to be protected from industrial interests, because this land is meant only for our recreation and exploration of said land, and its sole preservation.
Sometimes we need to escape society, venture into nature, respect its breadth and greatness, and accept the silence for everything that it is not.
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You can read my previous cross country posts here: