Edward Abbey most certainly was right: This is the most beautiful place on earth.
My second time in Moab is quite different from my the first. Seven years ago, I was with Nicole on a road trip after college. The whole world was awaiting us, it seemed.
I remember how Arches grabbed me—a place so surreal I felt like I was in another world. It's not so much that it's beautiful. It's raw. It's hollow. Yet, filled with stories. There is so much truth written all over the desert.
This is my second time in Moab, but not my second time in Utah. I keep getting pulled to the place. Maybe because of its honesty. The sky is so large and full, it looks at you and doesn't let go. The high alpine lakes with the smell of sweet pine. The hard, red rock with its chaotic fins and bows. The stainless air. The floating hot breeze that cools as the sun bows below the mountains.
I fall in love all the time with Utah, in Utah.
This time, I'm not with my friend, but with my partner. We go five miles south of town, yet it feels millions of miles from anyone. A hidden dirt road takes us deeper into public land and into blackness.
We arrive at camp late and each have a cold beer. We can't see anything; the rock around us is waiting patiently—there but not there. The air is dipping into the 40s, and so we layer. We share a joint and the sky moves in closer, it seems.
We take a side-by-side out to the sand dunes; a sea of stars hang above us. The vehicle has no windows and the wind feels invasive. The exhaust warms my legs as we drive up and down the mounds of sand. A sandbox for adults.
As we drive over the sand, a little stoned, a little cold, I can't stop thinking how all around us is landscape so wondrous I see myself never leaving. I think about the falling tree analogy: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears, does it make a sound? If the sun never decides to rise, is the wonder of the desert really there?
Tomorrow, we'll end up running 13 miles through jagged, auburn rock. We'll have the place to ourselves. We'll drink whiskey at dusk and watch the sun disappear behind canyons, hurrying like water draining from a tub. We'll cook steaks on a little camp stove, our ankles red with desert dust. We'll lay in our tent, in a sea of sand, everything brittle around us yet filled with light.
But that's tomorrow. For now, we are enveloped in a blanket of nightfall. We have nothing to see but our selves, and the stars that pepper our upward gaze. At night, Moab is empty, a place that hides its magic until dawn.