A week exploring Arches National Park, Canyonlands and the Rocky Mountains
I arrive in the Kansas City suburbs with my boyfriend, Carp, and we do laundry and eat Chipotle with my Mom while we wait for my Dad to get home from work. We’re going on a family camping trip- four nights camping in Colorado and Utah. Two 26 year olds, and two 53 year olds. We are not bringing deodorant (well, at least my boyfriend and I are not) and we are bringing minimal changes of clothes. When you’re camping for four days and are unable to take a shower, what’s the point of changing clothes anyway? We pack toothbrushes (though I will only use mine once during the five day span… I know!) and we pack a few backpacks full of books. As usual, I will read heavily for the first five hours on the road, and then after that the books go by the wayside as the traveling focus takes over. Traveling is a full time job, and must be taken seriously at all times. Or, at least when you’re not passed out in the backseat of a van.
My Dad arrives home around mid afternoon, and we all hop in the van with our belongings. My Mom has packed snacks for the road, and we dig in. Boiled eggs, peanuts, peanut butter and chips. We cruise out toward Western Kansas, making our first stop in a little town in Kansas where my grandparents are buried. We leave flowers and say hello, then get back in the car and continue to head West.
Six hours following I-70 west through the state of Kansas pass easily enough, and soon we are stopping to get gas in the little city of Quinter. My mom and Carp get 50 cent coffee, and are ever pleased. My mom also asks the cashier at the gas station about Castle Rock, a natural rock formation that we have never visited in Kansas. She tells us it’s worth our time to visit, just be prepared for rough roads and watch out for rattlesnakes.
We drive out on a country road with minimal marked signs, and begin to question if we’re heading the right way. At one point, we find ourselves having pulled onto a private farm’s tractor trail out in the middle of nowhere. The view is great, but we’re definitely trespassing so we beat it out of the area.
Finally we find Castle Rock, right down the road from a few oil rigs. I am so surprised to find this landscape in Kansas- they are just like mini Badlands from the Dakotas!
We see jackrabbits zigzagging in the grass around us, and we see yucca plants in all their desert glory.
Later that night as I’m driving, my parents ask me to turn the music down in the front. I can barely hear the music in the front, and realize that my allergies are acting up. I can’t hear out of one of my ears, which is a common allergy symptom for me, but I’m worried about what will happen when we arrive in the mountains tomorrow. The three other people in the car help me to brainstorm natural solutions, and soon I am chewing on spearmint gum and my ears are popping, and I’m eating wasabi almonds and my nasal passages are opening up.
We’d planned to sleep somewhere in Kansas tonight originally, but with the Colorado border so close by, we can’t help but want to cross it. We use the fantastic app Ultimate Campgrounds to help us find a campsite that we would never have found otherwise. Though, as the night wears on and we all begin to get tired around 9:30 at night and we still haven’t found our campsite yet we begin to get skeptical.
“Oh my lord jesus…” my mom laments as we pass through the second railroad track in the middle of nowhere dark.
We pass at least one more railroad track before we find our way on the backroads to the dispersed camping area. We find a beautiful little clearing surrounded by trees, and park our van and our tents for the night.
Waking up in the morning to the fresh air and the quiet campground, we all share a breakfast of hard boiled eggs, tomatoes and bananas at the table. We pack up the tents and head out soon after. A few more hours down the road we make it to the mile high city, Denver Colorado, making note of all the weed dispensaries around. We stop and have lunch at Casa Bonita, a cult classic in the mountain city.
If you’ve never heard of Casa Bonita, you should probably check it out at least once in your life. My parents brought my brother and I here lots when we were kids, and it was always amazing. It’s a little different going back as an adult, but it’s still just as fascinatingly weird. The restaurant features “live entertainment,” including people diving off of cliffs, rogue gorillas, caves to explore, and pretty much anything you could dream up for a little kid’s wonderworld.
We must arrive just as some sort of daycare center has, and we are soon waiting in line with what seems like thousands of children. I hold my breath and try not to get claustrophobic in the tiny cavelike atmosphere with children reaching out and screaming in all directions.
Thankfully, soon we grab our food on a lunch tray, and head up into the restaurant. Finding seats up on the cliffs by the divers, we eat Mexican food and take in the life around us. After dinner we get sopapillas, and pour honey into them.
After leaving Casa Bonita, we leave Denver and head west through the Rocky Mountains. I’m getting a little bit of headache due to missing my morning coffee, so we stop in the little mining town of Idaho Springs to check out a Starbucks. Soon, everything is better and I realize I need to take everything a little more lightly. All I really need is a nice black coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon in it, a refill of water, a clean bathroom to shit in and I’m ready to enjoy the day. It begins to rain slightly as we sit outside in the hazy mountain air drinking coffee.
Continuing on, we drive through the Rocky Mountains- seeing snow on the peaks in the middle of the summer. We climb higher into the mountains, and get close to the tree line. We pass many waterfalls, and feel the insignificance and peace associated with being within these big walls of nature. I feel removed from the rest of society, and for the first time in a long time I don’t think of trump’s america. We pass through the Continental Divide, heading through a tunnel that goes straight through the mountain. Carp mentions that he can feel pressure on his eyeballs from the weight of the mountain above us.
Later in the day, we stop at the Eagle, CO welcome center for coffee, postcards, a bathroom break and ambiance from the wonderful mountain lady at the front counter. She tells us some good places to camp, but warns us that it might rain tonight and we don’t want to find ourselves driving mountain cliffs with wet mud underneath our wheels. We thank her for the advice, check out the nearby river, and then continue on our way. We check out a few campsites, and finally settle on a beautiful little space right by a running creek bed. We get to work right away setting up our tents and securing our spaces, and then make fettucini alfredo and green beans that night on the little Coleman stove.
After dinner, I sit on a rock with my parents and begin writing the novel, “How to Go Camping as Germaphobic,” which I’m sure will be the next bestseller. It’s funny because it’s all so terrifying to me right now, get it? Haha. But really…. how do I laugh? I’m losing my shit a little bit. I’m so out of my element. My regular writing routine with my office space, bottomless coffee and flush toilets. But this is the way that I grow, and this is what has defined me: travel. It’s very important for me to stretch til I hurt sometimes, so that I can go back to normal life and feel relaxed in it in comparison.
Camping and Traveling as a Germaphob
Every new place (rest stop, coffee break, lunch, hike, welcome center, camping spot) that you visit without needing to use Germ-x= Success
Every time you’re sitting out in nature- trees above catching most of the rain gently falling, babbling stream ten feet from your campsite, sweatshirt pulled around you, bare feet in the muddy river sand- and you smell the smell of recently applied anti-bacterial Germ-x emanating from your skin= Feeling of Ultimate Failure
…It starts to rain, and I abandon my efforts at the Next Great American Classic, hiding my notebook under my sweatshirt to keep it dry.
Mom makes the executive decision that we are leaving and looking for another campsite tonight as expresses her fears,
“I couldn’t even tell my son goodbye if we drowned here tonight, we don’t even have reception.”
Soon after, we pack up and leave the campsite as the sun is setting. We are off. We are rootless. We have no idea where we will sleep tonight as we are ripped from our previously seen as idealic river campsite. Two hours down the road though, our camping app comes in handy again and we find a nice little canyonland campsite right by Grand Junction, CO. There are coin showers available, and my parents are delighted. Carp and I decline a shower, much to my parent’s disappointment (though they are polite enough not to show it).
We wake up in the canyon, with big gorge walls on either side of us, the Colorado River running by our campsite. My mom makes coffee and oatmeal on the Coleman stove, and we pack up our tents and head onto the road as early as we are able to. We’re planning on spending the day in the desert, and the earlier we get started the better.
We take a scenic route out to Arches National Park in Utah, spotting a prairie dog, pronghorn deer and expansive vistas.
We arrive at Arches National Park around noon, and it’s already topping 108 degrees. Carp and I decide we still want to hike to the famous Delicate Arch, and my parents take a break in the shade while we face the relentless desert sun.
It’s a trek. Two hours later we’re back, barely. We check out Balanced Rock, walking around it. After, we decide to head to the nearby town, Moab, for some food and drink. In Moab, we visit the only brewery in town. Carp and I each get a few beers and many, many waters, and my parents get soda. It turns out that Moab beer is not so great, but nevertheless we buy a whole box full of local beer to haul back to our campsite with us.
Back at the campsite, my parents take showers again and love them. We walk along the Colorado river, and then make spaghetti with mushrooms for dinner. We are all pretty exhausted, drink a can of the watery Moab beer (Mom has a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream), and then we all head to bed.
Waking up in the canyonlands again, we make coffee and oatmeal again, and enjoy the morning. My dad enjoys watching the ravens at the campsite, he says the ravens seem “insightful.” Soon after we get on the road again, and travel back into the Rocky Mountains. About an hour and a half from Denver, we get into stopped traffic. As annoying as traffic is, it can make for great scenic viewing in the mountains. My mom spots a herd of bighorn sheep on the mountainside, and we see their shaggy fur molting because of the summer months. Around noon, we take an exit into a little mountain town called Georgetown.
We stop at the welcome center for free coffee and camping advice, and are directed up the mountain to a height of 10,000 feet. My dad loves driving in the mountains, and he swoops up the mountain with ease while my mom and I are closing our eyes to the drop below. Up high, we find a perfect place to set our tents down, and check out the trails leading back from our campsite.
Staking our spot, we decide to go back down the mountain to Georgetown to explore the shops, and maybe buy a little weed. Back in town we immediately find a weed shop, and we all show our IDs and head in. My mom buys some chocolate brownies for her “friend,” and then we continue to walk around the town. A little while later, Carp and I head over to the local brewery in town, hoping that Georgetown beer is a little better than Moab beer. And it is! We buy a flight of all six beers, and taste the mountain freshness. A few drinks in we are both toasted with a combination of dehydration, altitude, lack of food and an abundance of good beer. We sit outside on the patio, enjoying a mountain view in front of us and behind us.
My parents join us awhile later with ice cream cones, and then we all order dinner and enjoy the mountain view with bluegrass banjo music playing.
Georgetown turns out to be a hidden gem, definitely somewhere I will travel back to.
We eat dinner, and then travel back up the mountain to our campsite. Carp and I go on a hike and find bear scat, and soon after make our way back down the mountain as it gets dark. There are two long sharpened spears at our campsite, which my mom is sure someone carved as a protection against bears. We decide we might as well sleep with one next to our tent. You know, just in case.
“We have to trust that there are stupider people than us on this mountain that the bears would gravitate toward first,” my mom honestly states what we’re all thinking. “Our tents basically look like big Happy Meals for them to rip into if there’s food inside.”
We set up a hammock at our campsite, light a fire, and my mom makes hot chocolate on the Coleman stove to share. Soon after we all head to bed as the cold mountain air takes over the mountain and we sleep under the full moon.
Around five in the morning I hear my mother above our tent. “Time to pack up. We’re leaving.”
“Five more minutes,” I state, which really translates to “please don’t wake me up.”
My mom is insistent, and doesn’t allow for five minutes. Soon Carp is packing up the tent and I’m throwing our sleeping bags into the back of the van in the early hours of the dark mountain morning. We all jump in the van, saying goodbye to our beautiful mountain campsite, and we hit the road. We take the winding curves down the mountain road, and pass through Georgetown again on our way back to I-70.
The next ten hours of driving pass relatively quickly, and soon we are back home in Kansas City- exhausted and satisfied. It was a wonderful trip, and I am so thankful to my parents for all they do for me and for the traveling gypsy spirit they bestowed on me from an early age. I am so proud to call them family, and I will miss them so much when we move to New York. But hey, I don’t think my parents have been camping in the Adirondacks before, eh? Road trip #2?
Want more? Check out my published articles on Medium.
Help support my writing financially on Patreon.