The Heart of the World

Colorado River State Park, Connected Lakes Section,

Near Grand Junction, Colorado

Funny, I never thought of myself as a desert person.  I spent more than the first half of my life doing everything I could to be as close to the ocean as possible, with mixed results.  I went there a couple times a week in the 70’s.  I lived at the beach briefly in my late teens, and then I moved inland but spent at least 2-3 days a week there again in the late 80’s.  I took my kids with me, and they loved the playground at the main beach in Laguna when they were little.  Then, I moved to Denver in the early 90’s and grew to love the mountains in a similar way, spending as much time as I could there, in all seasons. I would say this was truer in the second half of the 90’s than in the first half. Now I find myself living at the edge of The Colorado Plateau, a massive desert with amazing rock formations which were carved over millennia by The Colorado River.   In some places, it looks like pictures I’ve seen of Mars, and it often feels just that other-worldly.  It’s a mystical, magical kind of a place, where shadows masquerade as dragons in the late afternoon.

Shadow Dragon, Arches National Park, Utah

If you look at the map of The Colorado Plateau, The Grand Valley, where I live would be at approximately 1 or 2 o’clock.  On the map shown, Grand Junction is right next to The Colorado National Monument, the first of the national parks on the way around The Grand Circle, if you’re driving clockwise from here. The Grand Canyon sits roughly diagonal to where I am, at about 7 or 8 o’clock, if the map of The Plateau were a perfect circle, like a clock.  Many people who visit The Colorado Plateau start from Las Vegas and drive “The Grand Circle” clockwise from there, which takes you through 6 National Parks, including The Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef. There are also several other national parks and monuments in the area, and a couple of tribal parks as well, including Monument Valley Tribal Park, Antelope Canyon, and Canyon de Chelly, among other amazing places to explore and photograph.  The place is like a never-ending playground of desert awesomness!

Map of The Colorado Plateau

When I was in my early to mid-teens I spent a fair amount of time out in The Mojave Desert, specifically, at The Colorado River, across the state line from Parker, Arizona.  My best friend’s family had a mobile home out there and we would go out between Christmas and New Year, on any long weekends we could get, and then again during “Easter Vacation”, which is now known as “Spring Break” and has been disconnected from any religious holiday.  We spent hours and days there soaking up rays and jumping off the end of a small jetty, and then floating down the river and doing it all again. For no reason.  It’s called doing something while doing nothing.  No goals or agenda, just living fully in the present moment as the transistor radio played A Horse with No Name or something similar. 

Other than as a place to do nothing, my impression of the desert was as a vast wasteland where people dumped trash and left old cars to rust in the sun. 

Then last year, John and I took a road trip to spend a couple days in Death Valley National Park.  I had visited this location when I was a kid in the 1960’s with my family. It wasn’t even a national park yet in those days.  Death Valley is in The North Mojave Desert and borders The Great Basin Desert in Nevada, so not a part of The Colorado Plateau.  However, if you’re in Las Vegas, you might as well plan to spend a couple days in Death Valley, which is only about an hour and a half drive away.

Zabriskie Point at Sunrise, Death Valley National Park

And then, while you’re in Nevada, you better spend some time at Valley of Fire State Park, a super colorful desert playground.  But, I mean, other than that, there’s nothing to do or see out in the desert.  Just drive through as fast as you can. 

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Come to think of it, the desert that is known as The Colorado Plateau, and the road trip known as The Grand Circle trip, may be a misnomer.  The area resembles a circle less than it does a heart.  This may truly be the heart of the world right here.  Just sayin’.

Heart Diagram

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