Down in The Red Rock

A Few Notes From a Weekend in The Desert:

Last month, while visiting Utah, I went camping down south with some old friends and rediscovered the magic of Escalante.  I'd been all through Southern Utah before, to Moab and Bryce and Canyonlands, but I had never properly explored Escalante.  I'd driven through it several times, and while the views from the roadside lookouts and pit stops along highway 12 are spectacular, even otherworldly, I wouldn't describe them as magical.  

But that's because the magic of Escalante doesn't exist at the edge of a blacktop.  It exists mostly in the places that you can't see or wouldn't see---the places deep down in the fissures of the rock where the roads won't go and the trails barely touch.  If you want to experience it, you have to walk to it, sweat for it, feel it against your skin. 

From above (and from the road), Escalante appears mostly as an immense, rolling, fractured stone landscape.  All of it baked red and barren in the dry heat of the desert. But within those fractures exists unexpected beauty.  You see it in the symmetry of the curves and lines that appear randomly in the eroded rock, and in the quality of light (the many shades of blue, red, and purple) that filters down through the cracks in the plateau and into the bottom of the slot canyons.  To be in those canyons, to see those colors and touch that rock, is the magic of pure discovery.

Escalante can't boast the grandeur of its more prominent neighbors---the monumental expanse of Zion or the crooked majesty of Arches.  But it shouldn't.  It's not that kind of place. Escalante refuses to be defined by a single iconic picture postcard or a famous license-plate landmark.  It is instead an endless collection of hidden gems---little masterpieces of wilderness carved straight from the red rock of the Colorado Plateau, each one as striking as the most impressive works of art on earth, and all of them made with the invisible hand of nature's perfect eye.