The only way into or out of the canyon floor – other than the river – towers before me. A windy, steep, impassible-when-wet, red dirt road. The cliffs form a circle around the park. Some are deep auburn red, others jet-black from water stains; others still – a brilliant orange stratification. If you look closely along the cliff bands throughout the area, you discover Fremont petroglyphs illustrating wildlife and the ancient Native Americans’ way of life.
You can’t help but feel the historical significance of your surroundings. Ancestral people. John Wesley Powell. The confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers. A National Monument – an amazing federal government preserve.
Although I have been here before, this is the first time I have really appreciated this geologic marvel. In middle school, my family traveled to Echo Park with some family friends. Clouds sank low into the canyon the night we arrived. The next morning, the clouds lifted just enough for us to see the petroglyphs 35 feet up at Pool Creek. But then the rain began.
Four young kids can only stay occupied in a tent with a deck of cards for so long. Desperate to keep us entertained, our parents decided to drive us up to the small Town of Dinosaur to watch a movie. Except for my dad. He maintained that we should remain at camp. And so it came to be that seven of the eight of us piled into an Explorer and headed up to town.
It didn’t take very long for even us kids to understand we had made a dangerous mistake. The rain turned the fine red dirt into oily clay. We slid everywhere, even sideways at times. Repeatedly slamming into the cliff seemed like a preferable option to the precipitous drop on the other side. Quietly, fear crept into all of our hearts.
At some point, we couldn’t continue driving through the deep clay any longer. For several hours, as the other dad hiked up the hill to find help, we sat in the car rationing what little food we had and dreaming of the beef stroganoff my dad had planned for dinner. We tried to entertain ourselves by making a deck of cards…having left our deck in the tent. Eventually, we hiked out of the canyon, with clay up to our knees, to a waiting jeep. The owner compassionately allowed us all to hitch a ride into Dinosaur.
My most vivid memory of the trip, however, was the next morning when my dad arrived at the motel we hunkered down at overnight. Two families’ worth of camping gear filled or was hanging off my dad’s Astro minivan. He recounted how a park ranger tried to stop him from driving up the road but he barely slowed down knowing he needed the momentum to make it out of the canyon. Whether or not the words were actually uttered, this became an infamous “I-told-you-so” moment for my dad.
And so here I find myself appreciating for the first time what my parents wanted me to experience nearly a quarter century ago. I am ah struck. The beautiful, incredible landscape. The energy of both ancient people and the earth. Peace fills my soul.
As the sunlight fades away, cricket chirps echo though the air. Slowly, the moon rises above the cliffs. The stars start to twinkle, and the Milky Way dominates the remote dark sky. This is heaven. Unless, of course, it rains.