A Ducks’ Surprise

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After a few months of relative inactivity, looking to break out of my home routine, I jumped at the opportunity to return to the travel grind. Presented in the form of a surprise solo road trip up to Oregon with multiple National Park stops along the way, I eagerly researched and planned every step of the way with long lost zeal. Following a spring spent in mental recovery from experiential overload, the trip, conveniently timed at the conclusion of a subpar semester, symbolically represented a detachment from morosity, a return to intrepid adventure, and most importantly an investment in the future me.

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Day one began without trouble, and I left Boulder just after noon. Despite having driven this stretch of I-70 before, being alone created a wide sense of mindfulness surrounding the route, as I noticed many new things that were previously overlooked. The highway sign just short of Glenwood Springs for No Name, Colorado caught my eye, as did the realization of the perfect confluence of directions, rivers, and deltas at aptly named Grand Junction. After crossing the state line into Utah running dangerously low on gas and 60 miles shy of the next service station, the vast, lonely landscape immediately made sense as a refuge for the persecuted, highlighted by a crowd of bearded men sporting BYU Football shirts at a rest stop. Pulling into Moab for the first night at sundown, the rich, deep reds and full oranges of massive, sheer cliffs and plateaus contrasted nicely with massive, snow capped peaks in the distance, reminding me wonderfully of my home of six months, Granada. Excited and invigorated to be back on my own time, I settled into the night relaxed and ready for a phenomenal trip.

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Sunday was an awesome, full day at Arches National Park. In some 90+ degree weather, I covered all of the park’s main points with the exception of the Fiery Furnace. After entering the park, I was immediately struck with the magnitude and quirky beauty of the rock formations present everywhere. The landscape is replete with layers of warm-colored sandstone morphed into statues, walls, towers, and yes, arches, openings of at least three feet in any direction. While the park was very busy and many trails were very well marked and moderately inclined, a few “primitive” sand trails provided alone time away from touring crowds amongst the wild wilderness. Trails were filled with warped bristlecone pines, small flowering cactuses, and special black clumps of cryptobiotic soil teeming with algae, fungi, and small bacteria. The harsh, barren landscape was extremely windswept the entire day, and by sunset I was pleasantly exhausted from battling the elements all day. Touristy places are definitely popular for a reason, and I can confidently say that Delicate Arch, a well-known symbol, is worth the visit. Perched on the edge of a steep drop-off with an amazing view behind, it was postcard worthy. Moab wins yet again.

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A great day at Arches was followed by an equally memorable one at neighboring Canyonlands National Park. Despite being separated by a mere 30 miles, the parks are completely and wonderfully different. Whereas Arches is filled with countless varieties of quirky rock formations, Canyonlands is a massive horizon-filling collection of layered and terraced, well, canyons, created through millions of years of floodwater erosion from the Colorado and Green Rivers. I spent my day exploring the Island in the Sky district, but the park is very large and the Maze and Needles districts require extensive time and off-road vehicles to navigate. I have never been to the Grand Canyon, but simply put, Canyonlands was absolutely stunning. I hiked Murphy’s Basin, a solid trail consisting of a hike to the edge of the canyon, a mile long descent that dropped me 1,500 feet below into the basin, a ten mile loop around sections of the basin following the famed White Rim Road, and then a hike up the salt-covered watershed of a long lost river and back the side of the Island face. It was a long, tough hike, but the scenery was jaw-dropping. I felt like I was constantly walking into a painting, the landscape covered in endless displays of color, gigantic bronze rock faces framed by purple and white bunches of wildflowers and green desert shrubs seemingly the product of Bob Ross brushstrokes. Words cannot describe the awe I experienced the entire hike, and I easily added an hour just for stopping and taking so many pictures; it seemed like every step I took presented an even better shot. Contrary to Arches the park was absolutely deserted, the only people I encountered being a surprisingly fit Czech family of three on holiday in the States. I was left with simple sounds to keep me company: the rhythmic wish-wash of my feet through the sandy trail, intermittent swirls of wind at differing sections of the canyon, and the gentle murmur of my thoughts whirring within my mind. The power of nature to simultaneously provide large-scale and intimate levels of thought never ceases to amaze me, and provides a perfect outlet for serious, yet enjoyable contemplation. Despite the isolation, however, the basin was clearly alive, with various flowers and bushes sprouting out of multicolored rocks and sediments of all kinds teeming with geckos, lizards, chipmunks, and snakes. Canyonlands certainly appears the same as it has for millions of years, and the landscape is wholly untouched by development. The entire day, capped by a perfect sunset overlooking the Green River winding below, was great, yet again. I will always fondly remember a great day spent under the Island in the Sky.

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Tuesday dawned with the road calling, and with pleasantly sore legs following a marathon’s worth of hiking I happily obliged carrying on my journey. I wound through deserted Utah towns up into the Salt Lake Valley, stopping for a quick lunch in an eerie Provo. The mountains framing both sides of the interstate are gorgeous, and heavy rain accompanied a crossover into Idaho. I took a detour and swung up through Blackfoot and on to Craters of the Moon National Monument, a wild, deserted preserve of volcanic rock seemingly very out of place amidst endless rolling hills and farmland. Whether it was the dark lunar landscape or the fact that I was only a short distance from Arco, apparently the first “city” (of 800) in the world to be powered by atomic energy, the whole area emitted a very surreal feeling. The surroundings were absolutely spectacular however, shrouded in misty wafts of cumulonimbus clouds spouting intermittent rain upon the two lane state highway. After a great day along parts of the Oregon Trail, I pulled in to Boise just in time to catch a gorgeous golden russet potato of a sunset. Life is good on the move.

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My final day traveling took me from the Idaho lowlands through a grand tour of Oregon, culminating in a beautifully executed double surprise. Having decided to swing by Crater Lake on my way to Eugene, I ditched the interstate in favor of a more scenic route along back highways, one that took me past rolling hills, sweeping rivers, and wide plains reminiscent of the Oregon Trail. I sped past dilapidated, abandoned diners and pump stops, and the countryside echoed of rural America. Nearing Crater Lake brought Ponderosa pines that towered overhead in never ending columns alongside the road, and I continued to wind up and up the side of the old volcano. After reaching the top and scaling up a snowbank, amazingly high even in mid-May, the view over the rim of the collapsed caldera was incredible. The deep blue water sparkled against the snow-covered slopes under a cloudless sky, and the massive crater lent only a picture of the once imposing volcanic cone that, thousands of years ago, blew its top sky high. The subsequent drive along the Umpqua River was absolutely gorgeous, and of all the scenic drives this trip – highway 313 from Moab to Canyonlands, 20 in Idaho through the Craters of the Moon – this stretch was incredible, with huge trees lining the turquoise river, with snow capped mountains in the distance. Arriving in Eugene at dusk I certainly played the fool, as my supposed surprise visit was played back onto me very cleverly. Even with the sting that accompanies a naive confidence, I was happy to be in Eugene with my Ducks.

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My time in Oregon was everything I hoped it would be. Days were spent on campus with Joe and his roommates, in Exercise Physiology and Anatomy class, at the gym, and eating at a street fair with great food carts in the middle of campus. The weather fluctuated dramatically, with heavy periods of rain trading places with blazing sunshine, and Eugene is truly gorgeous and green in the springtime. The campus is beautiful, the kids welcoming and outgoing, the Thai food phenomenal, and I really had a good weekend to kick off summer break. Side trips included a trip to the wild, windy coast, and a short yet very sweet aside in Portland visiting great family friends, and I left feeling refreshed, invigorated, and very, very happy.

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After spending a few months at home, a solo road trip across the country was the perfect way to break out of a slump I had begun to settle into. I am looking forward to a summer filled with many more adventures, outdoor experiences, and most importantly, time spent with friends, new and old alike.

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Until next time,
Max

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One thought on “A Ducks’ Surprise

  1. Looks like an incredible trip man! I need to get to all of those parks at some point in my life. Hope all is well, peace.

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