Travel Stories

“The Unexpected”


"The Unexpected"

“Sometimes the most scenic roads in life
are the detours you didn’t mean to take.”

Angela N. Blount

We were in southeastern Utah at a campground in Hovenweep National Monument, home to amazing prehistoric villages built by the Puebloan Indians in the 1200s.

hovenweep nm
Hovenweep NM

We had just finished a dinner of cold sausages, carrot sticks, fresh spinach and cold tea while sitting in Big Blue and listening to music. It was not the dinner we had initially planned as unfortunately the weather had other ideas. We had high hopes for a warm meal cooked over the fire. But first came the rain. Then the sleet. Then came the snow. Heavy wet flakes covered the fence posts, then the picnic table, then our bikes and then Big Blue. A warm meal quickly disappeared. Did I mention that it was May 17th? Snow was not on our radar.

Snow at Hovenweep

This was yet another unexpected experience on our adventure. Just one of many. With anything, the unexpected often challenges us all to go with the flow. So we did. We donned more layers, ate a cold dinner and had a dance party in the minivan. Although the unexpected can at times present a challenge, it can also be something that brings excitement to the day. This past week, as my family has traveled the roads of southern Utah, not only unexpected weather but unexpected experiences have been a part of our journey. We each can pick out a different unexpected highlight this week that made our own spirit sing.

Sam in "Big Blue"

For our six-year-old daughter, Sam, a visit to the historical park in Bluff, Utah was icing on the cake. This was not a planned stop for our family. A need to use the bathroom, followed by a road sign and a quick U-turn brought us to this original settlement established by Mormon pioneers in the late 1800’s. Sam has always been interested in pioneer life. She usually has her hair in two long braids like Laura Ingalls, wears an apron and has been known to pack her lunch in a metal pail. At this historic site, we heard the story of the settlers amazing journey from western Utah, over rugged unknown terrain, to arrive at Bluff. It was a journey originally estimated to last six weeks, but unforeseen challenges, a harsh winter, and the need to build paths through the steep rock canyons wide enough for horses and wagons prolonged the trip. It was a journey of patience, willpower and tenacity that ultimately took six months. The settlers succeeded in establishing the Hole-in-the-Rock Road to connect the western part of the state to the east.

Sam at the Mormon Settlement

At the Bluff settlement, we had the opportunity to wander through the original furnished cabins and hear stories of the settlers interactions with the Indians and daily life. To Sam’s delight, we all dressed up like pioneers and sat in a covered wagon.

Road Rule #21:   When your child asks you to play dress up, do it - no matter how ridiculous you look.

pioneer girl
Pioneer Girl

In her printed dress and bonnet, Sam could have been mistaken for a pioneer girl in the late 1800’s if not for her purple flip flops and sweat pants peeking out from under the dress. Even though I did not make a very convincing Caroline Ingalls and Nick could not be mistaken for Charles, Sam was thrilled we all played dress-up. Ironically, about three weeks ago, she had started to ask for a bonnet for her birthday. Although her birthday is five months away, like any six-year-old, she thinks ahead. When Sam spied handmade bonnets for sale in the gift shop, the stars aligned, the pot-of-gold appeared and her eyes widened. Birthdays can really come at anytime. After careful consideration, the green flowered bonnet was hers. It has not left her head in the past week. Sam’s spirit was singing.

ingalls family
The Ingalls Family?

For Nick, it was the wide open landscapes punctuated by red sandstone formations with names like “Lady in a Tub” and “The Mexican Hat” that made his spirit sing. The more he explored the vast open landscapes of eastern Utah, simultaneously, both the freer and more grounded he felt. Sleeping out underneath the night sky at Gooseneck State Park further attached him to this area. The park showcases the winding San Juan River as it cuts a deep canyon in the rock, creating a literal gooseneck shape as it twists and turns six miles while only advancing two miles.

The Goosnecks

Parked high above the river on the rim of the canyon, we made dinner and prepared for the night. Nick planned to sleep outside under the stars on top of the picnic table. He blew up the air mattress and set it on the table while retrieving a sleeping bag and some warm clothes from the van. With her flashlight and star book in hand, Sam planned to join Nick for some stargazing. Suddenly, the unimaginable happened. A gust of wind came up out of the stillness of the evening. The air mattress blew off the picnic table and somersaulted towards the edge of the cliff. I darted towards the air mattress, making a full hearted attempt to save it, while at the same time conscious of the fact I was sprinting towards the edge of a cliff, 2,000 feet above the ground. No rail. No barrier. Slippery crushed rock. As if in a movie, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Then the wind died down. The mattress settled. I sprinted. The wind gusted again. The mattress flew again. I ran closer to the edge. The mattress remained just outside my reach as the wind continued to tease me. Then just as quickly as the mattress first blew off the picnic table, it disappeared over the edge.

Mattress landed here!

We stood in helpless silence. How could environmentally conscious, leave-no-trace, dispersed campers loose a twin sized plastic air mattress over the edge of a 2,000 foot cliff? We slowly, cautiously, walked to the edge of the cliff and peered over the side only to find the second shock of the evening. Surprisingly, the mattress had not been swallowed by the goose. Instead, it was precariously balancing on some large rocks just about 30 feet below the rim. Nick donned his spiderman outfit and disappeared over the edge. Thankfully, the mattress returned safely. Nick returned safely too and enjoyed his night out under the stars. When we asked him in the morning what he saw in the night sky, he remarked, “I saw lots of bright stars, but I don’t remember if that was before or after I rolled off the picnic table.” Nick’s heart was singing.

Nick sleeping outside

For me, standing in front of a rock wall reading century old petroglyphs touched my spirit. On a whim, we stopped at the Sand Island Recreation Area for a picnic and discovered a large panel featuring hundreds of petroglyphs including human figures, shapes and animals. Perhaps because I enjoy writing, I was moved by this ancient form of communication used here by the Anasazi Indians and in more recent history by the Navajo Indians. Just as writing today tells a story, their picture carvings also tell an amazing story. With a petroglyph book in hand, I tried to let these Indians tell me their story. It was a story of marriages, births, fertile land and growth, dry earth, rain, fighting and relocating. It was a story all visible in the rock carvings. So much had happened in this exact area where I was standing. The energy I felt at the base of this rock panel was palpable. I was reminded that for centuries, even back to the writing of the Bible, people have had the desire to tell their story. I am no different. My heart was singing.

ancient petroglyphs
Ancient Petroglyphs

Road Rule #22: Embrace what makes your spirit sing.

As the snow continued to fall and we huddled together in Big Blue, we each had a sense of excitement about our unexpected experiences while in southeastern Utah. Our individual highlights during the past few days created rich memories for each of us, memories that will not be dampened by the snow but instead continue to make our hearts sing.

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