It floated on westerly winds, a beckoning. A tidal flow that swelled towards me, encompassing me, pulling me back with it. The quintessence of wild and free, of the art behind beauty and the love that binds it all; the desert.

Sunset in the Kaibab Plateau
p: Ashleigh Potts

With the mountains in Colorado covered in snow and silence, it was time to nourish my soul and drive west. My forever companion, the pilot of our tiny Tacoma, loaded with water, gasoline, cameras and our cozy bed tucked in the back, accompanied the crusade towards solitude. We had plans, minimal though fervent plans – to visit the parks – oh, the National Parks! Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, the promised land of Zion. We intended to explore the wonders of Antelope Canyon and feel the sacred stories of Monument Valley. Except, however, these places
when encountered were disastrously disappointing.

Camped next to Escalante River
Bamboo forests & starry skies
p: Ashleigh Potts

Zion; a place where God lives, wonderful feeling. No doubt, cars idling on paved roads, colored brown instead of gray, attempts to conceal man’s invasion. Fifty dollars to enter The Gates of Zion: no not quite angelic, instead, greeted by swarms of greedy tourists. The feeling of entitlement, I bring back a feeling of enlightenment, one with the echoing mosaic walls, feeling of belonging, connections to the ancient immeasurable uncaring, forgiving rock. Overwhelmed by the masses of selfie taking tweens, the smell of diesel, the glare of glass and eyes as they quickly enter and exit yet another completely packed chain burger store.Not quite defeated yet, this is the township, the money-making scheme, head towards the dark canyons full of promises.

River crossing into Coyote Gultch
p: James Delaney

Access denied into nirvana. The simplicities of life, hiking in our worlds natural wonders, backpacking under the sun and the stars. Our dreams were abruptly crushed as we learned about the perilous permit system. We were unable to do what we set out to do to be free and explore the untouched land.

New routes into Coyote Gultch
p: James Delaney

We continued on our journey, faster than expected, giving no time to wondrously misleading Zion, on to Page, Arizona, and Monument Valley, where we found the government towns to be constructed around the monstrous Glen Canyon Dam, a toxic Coal Plant, 16 churches and paid tours through the spiritual canyons and valleys of the Navajo’s. We sped past these tourist traps, past the destruction of the primitive land and disappointed monoliths. We drove until the sky regained oxygen and breathed azure once again, we drove until we found Escalante.

Welcomed by wash-board roads and grazing cattle, the endless horizon of low sage brush and juniper trees, the shy hues of green and pink blending into oblivion. GranStaircase-Escalantete National Monument. Hugely controversial, hugely beautiful, magnificent, commanding, the place we called home for 28 days.

Sunrise in the colorful canyon land
p: Ashleigh Potts

The heart of the West, almost 2 million acres of protected land of glowing canyons, emerald rivers, bamboo forests, enchanting slot canyons filled with shoulder high freezing water. Rewarding in open temples filled with light and color and the sound of echoing waves against the rock, the sound of balance between elements. Caked in dust and solitude, we showered in the open plains as the sun burned the horizon and illuminated the dome of scattered clouds. I fell in love with the land around us and the world beyond. I learned that a dirt road is a road to freedom,
and that is how it needs to remain. This land speaks for itself with quiet enchanting words, begging for peace and solitude, heard by ears willing to stand up for the beauty behind those words.

Exploring Zebra Canyon
p: James Delaney

Featured Image: James Delaney
Words: Ashleigh Potts