Utah

The cure for civilization

Twelve days into vacation, I was still hauling around the heavy baggage that is the proof of modern life. The long-awaited flight across the country to see my beloved family filled a piece of my isolation-broken heart. The rapid land, unpack, re-pack, and jet to the desert in the trusty gas-burning machine brought us to yet another joyful reunion. Friends gathered to celebrate an engagement. My heart grew fuller, and yet my soul yearned for the desert, my teacher, my Mother. One night in Moab is enough.

Impeding rain, freezing temperatures, and the lowest cost lodging on Airbnb led us to Monticello and the Roughlock Resort. Saloon and brothel of the 1800s restored, or more accurately maintained, to reflect former glory. Five bedrooms overlook the once saloon, and you can almost feel Ms. Kate (prostitution license dated 1881 hanging on the wall) leading her whiskey reeking, outlaw clients up the stairs.

My husband is fast asleep, and we are the only living souls in the building. The handwritten register reads, “Ms. Kate’s room is haunted.” With a can of wine in hand, my nosey, anthropology-loving side takes the lead. Ancient relics line the walls and fill the “front desk:” dusty wood combs, gourds, leather, rusted tin, a gleaming white bone, two heavy swords, old hats (once somebody’s favorites), tools in which I cannot identify the purpose. The experience of feeling the stories in the walls proved to be well worth the cost of a warm bed on a snowy spring night.

Deep in a Crevasse of Mother Earth. Photo: Ashley Brown

We left Roughlock Resort and began the drive into the cold spring sky – gray and sporadically raining. We drove south of Monticello, then west. Barreling into desolation at a comfortable 70 mph, I in the passenger/navigator seat, and my husband the captain of the vessel.

Twelve days without “work,” and I still hadn’t managed to shed the weight of impending responsibilities, the burden of life. Yet, with each mile into the red rock, the load began to lighten. First, stop a spur-of-the-moment turn into Natural Bridges Monument. Out of the truck, on feet, we start a steep descent on well-planned ladders and stairs—the trail surprisingly manicured for its geographical location.

The immense white and black speckled arch loomed ahead- the patience of a millennium. All-knowing rock says, “Oh yes, you little immortal soul, I remember when huge beasts walked on this earth. I know that once this dry land was wet and teaming with life. A different lushness than the red desert.”

From Hanksville, uncertain, we proceed in a dangerous rain. We drive deep, hours into sagebrush country – isolated from messages, emails, calls, responsibilities, bills, expectations. Freedom. Searching, frantic for a place to park in the dark as the roads turn into mud. What a risk, and yet we soothe each other with the truth. We have water and food to last for days.

We park and eat a dry dinner out of bags as the rain pounds on the windshield, and we plot. Tomorrow we will go down into the crevasses of Mother Earth. Tomorrow we will let her swallow us, and we did.

Four days in a row, we descended deep into the orange and red labyrinths. Each step on silken sand, hardened slick rock, freezing potholes of water – I drop the stresses of adulthood. Child-like wonder fills my senses; crawling, scraping, sliding, griding, shredding skin and clothing, descending with ropes and acrobatics – down, deeper into our Mother.

Four days of descent in the morning and ascent to the flat, deceptive surface in the glow of dusk, less than 100 hours, is all She needed to cure me of civilization. On the fourth emergence, I quivered with exhaustion. How many miles had we trodden in the depths of the desert?

Fatigued, filthy, and renewed. It was nothing for the sun-burnt rocks to purify my weary soul. The power of nature is the greatest nurture. The first morning back in society, I was ready, refreshed. All thanks to the Great Mother!

A canyon rappel. Photo: Ashley Brown

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