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November/December 2005

From the Grand Canyon to Canyonlands: Hiking At The Speed Of Sound

Seven national parks in 7 days--starring a ragtop, Red Bull, and one scary rabbit.
Backpacker_Magazine_Zion_NPZion National Park, Nick Driggs/Utah Office of Tourism

©Jackie Ney

In the morning, the sun came out and the chert glimmered and I felt renewed. I drove into town and discovered that Jackie had found her own renewal, as well as a place to wash her sleeping bag. We shared caffeinated beverages, toasted the second half of our adventure, and got back on the road.

Back at warp speed, it seemed possible to live two parallel lives: that of the nitro-powered road warrior, fueled by petrol and tiny cans of joy, and that of the contemplative backpacker, enriched by a prickly-pear blossom and the wind swooshing downcanyon. We could start the day 5 miles from the nearest car, and then enjoy roadside Navajo frybread with pinto beans for lunch. We sped past Monument Valley, snapping Polaroids and singing along with old Morrissey songs. Everything flew by in such an easygoing blur that time seemed elongated.

A classic Canyonlands trek unfolded in slow motion. Jackie and I hiked a 9-mile loop through the aptly named Lost Canyon. We dropped into a slickrock bowl with red and white color bands as delineated as Neapolitan ice cream. We brushed past overgrown cottonwoods and ended the day listening to silence in an otherwise empty amphitheater.

At Petrified Forest National Park, the solitude was more literal. Thanks to the hard work of scoundrel fossil-hunters, the rangers lock the gates each evening. And on this searing early July day, we were the only registered backcountry visitors. After a short cross-country hike, we set up camp atop the pastel badlands in the southern precinct. We sipped Shiraz and watched the late-day light refract over the wildfire-hazy western horizon–kind of like an L.A. sunset but without all the moral ambiguity. It was odd to be there, locked in a national park, the only witnesses to such a beautiful show.

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