The water l look at is different water than a minute ago as it continues to flow past me and sparkle in the sun. The wind has shifted, changing the counterpoint of the leaves’ rustling to the water’s chatter. The sun has moved imperceptibly and my shadow lies on a different part of the stream bank.
That was my 2nd day in Alaska. I had hiked to the middle of a river clearing a half hour out from the city. When I first arrived in the clearing, I experienced a sense of peace, calm, and a connection with nature and the universe. That moment had passed, but I walked back to my car happy that I had experienced the moment.
I stopped in that same clearing multiple times over the next year and throughout my years in Alaska but I never experienced the same sense of calm I had the first time.
I don’t know if a place can have any inherent power by itself. I do believe, however, that something deeper is at work. The combination of a place, myself, and a moment in the flow of time can create a slice of power, beauty, and harmony.
My wife asks me sometimes if I miss a place. It’s hard for me to answer. What if it was just a moment in time, and not the place?
I can reflect on a place and a moment and deeply appreciate it, but I’m not sure that a place, in isolation, without a moment of time, really exists.
But maybe places do have some innate power. It seems like some places can draw a person more than others, even as they are different each time. Let me tell you about another place.
Landing in a valley between snow-capped mountains and the Great Salt Lake, you arrive in the modern town of Salt Lake City. Heading out of town, you might pass Temple Square, which feels strangely out of time in the city, maybe from the 70’s.
You head south, and time seems to slip back more – Provo seems like it is from the 60s. Go East from I15 and the towns start going back in time even farther. Small towns with one story buildings, clapboard houses, and old time gas stations that only take cash seem to be from the 50s, then the 30’s.
Then, as you keep driving, at some point that you can’t quite determine, you are back 4,000 years. The only thing different between then and now is the paved highway you are on. Time keeps rolling back as you pass by ancient rock formations that extend as far as the eye can see, to the distant La Sal mountains.
You pass a lone cell tower that locals know is a marker for the turn to see fossilized dinosaur footprints. No signs to tell you where they are, you just have to know.
You pass raw copper deposits and sandstone arches, then you arrive in the small town of Moab.
This place is special.
Moab has a vibe and energy to it. The scenery and location are spectacular. After a summer squall, I saw one of the most beautiful double rainbows I have ever seen. Honestly, the colors were so bright you had to squint.
The town is set between the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Arches is for day trippers. Canyonlands is for a heartier breed – some parts so remote that it takes days to hike through wilderness to get there. I almost died in Canyonlands (OK, I had a day of slack), but that is another story.
It is unusual to see a car in Moab without a bike attached to it, and every morning they head out of town to attack the slick rock trails. Trails with names like Klondike Bluff, Navajo Rocks, Monitor-Merrimac, and even the infamous Poison Spider abound. You actually need a guide book so you don’t accidently go on a trail that is way above your skill level. There are trails where if you twitch at the wrong moment, you will die.
Offboard driving is also popular. The famous Rubicon trail is here, where the annual Jeep Jamboree meets for a week of off-roading and partying. Again, know where you are going. There are routes on 8 foot wide, hundred-foot-high sandstone “fins”. Again, if you slip off, you die.
There are also the hikes. Whether in Arches, or the surrounding canyons, it is easy to leave your car in a parking area and in five minutes feel like you are 10,000 years in the past. I’ve also been to a canyon just out of town where you descend a narrow slot canyon and then exit the canyon by rappelling off 150 foot high Morning Glory Arch to the valley floor.
This is the land of high desert. Petroglyphs abound and lend a deep mystery of their history to the area. The slick rock formations, the withered brush, and the crypto-biotic soil crust lend a timelessness to the land that sinks into your spirit.
Oh, and there is a really good pizza place and a few brewpubs!