Milky Way Lessons, Part 1

In a small U-Haul, we’d driven almost the entire length of Utah. The sun had woken us in Twin Falls, Idaho, and now, mere miles outside of Moab, the orange sun set fire to red rock and sand. Google Maps showed our hotel was close. At a bend in the interstate, we saw the entrance for Arches National Park.

“Want to drive through real quick?” Zach asked.

I was excited at the spontaneous opportunity, but felt silly taking to winding narrow roads in a U-Haul. I felt ridiculous when I spotted Delicate Arch. How had I forgotten that that was here?

And, for that matter, how had I missed that we’d be so close to Arches National Park?

It was not the first time that night I’d feel silly, ridiculous, and unprepared.

At the viewpoint for Delicate Arch, we saw a line of people and cellphone flash bulbs making electric the world famous rock structure.

“Want to hike up to it?”

I did, but didn’t. We’d travelled all day. I was wearing my new Sanuk sandals. I was starving. That granola bar Zach was packing would not cut it. The sun had set; the park was shadowed and cooling. I questioned how long it would take to get up to Delicate Arch. Did we have time?

To my relief, the trail is about a mile long. Even at sunset, it is clogged with people. But, by the time we reached the trailhead, it was a mass exodus. Only a few tourists and photographers took to the trail now. They all wore headlamps or brandished flashlights. In the afterglow of the day, we climbed over wide rocks and shone our cellphone flashlights on the dirt trail.

I felt silly.

Especially when a fellow hiker from St. Louis lent us the fancy flashlight we still use. That night, it saved our cellphone power, and made what had become a night hike much easier. Oh, how had I misjudged the time so poorly? I should have known it would be pitch black by the time we reached Delicate Arch. Zach, totally unaffected by fear, suggested we do more than experience it from the outer edges. He suggested we sit in the bowl like the reclining assembly of reverent photographers letting time-lapse settings work their magic. 

If you’ve ever been up there in the daylight hours, you know what it looks like. I do not. I only recall the silhouette of the arch and the way smooth rock sinks like a bowl around it. And the way my feet kept slipping out of my Sanuks as we made our way to a good spot.

I felt ridiculous.

I’d never foolishly hiked in sandals, or at night, or showed up to a trail so unprepared. I no longer felt hungry for all the fear that ate at me from the inside. I was a little angry when calm Zach pointed out the Milky Way.

It was incredible. It’s why everyone had gathered.

When enough time had passed, I persuaded Zach to head back to the U-Haul. Through lonely darkness, we kept our eyes down so as to keep to the trail. Occasionally, we looked up. I tried to be thankful for the unique experience and the stars. Oh, the stars! Yet, anyone we saw was a photographer on their way up the trail.

We were alone in our short descent to the pavement.

Then, we got lost.

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