Most people would die sooner than think; in fact, they do so.” – Bertrand Russell
The day began like many other Saturdays: slowly. Brandon and I roused ourselves from a well-deserved rest and grabbed a quick breakfast in Moab before piling into our trusty Aveo and driving the short distance from the city into Canyonlands National Park. It was a gorgeous day and we were eager to get started, unaware that Death would be breathing down our necks before the day was over.
Like Crater Lake National Park, Canyonlands was another of our ‘might-as-wells’ — a destination we hadn’t planned on visiting, but figured we couldn’t skip since it wasn’t out of our way. As we walked along the Grand View Point Trail in an area known as the Island in the Sky, we immediately noticed the absence of the crowds we’d come to expect in Utah’s National Parks. A good majority of the visitors were locals, including one who admonished us to “keep this (place) a secret”.
High on the mesa, the views were immediately stunning and didn’t relent for the duration of the short hike. Massive rifts gouged the earth, cracks shooting off from the main canyon to form strange patterns. We heard the faint whine of engines, and spotted tiny specks racing along the canyon rim — dirt bikers riding into the outskirts of the park.
The end of the trail was impossible the miss; the mesa tapered to a point and plummeted to the valley below. There was nowhere to go but back.
We couldn’t bring ourselves to be finished with Canyonlands just yet and made a short detour to Mesa Arch, one of the main attractions in the park. It was packed with people, crowding around the arch with viewfinders pressed to their eye sockets, seemingly oblivious to the grandeur of the view. We found a rock and perched on it, trying to ignore the frenzy below.
Without warning, the temperature plummeted and ominous clouds filled the sky. Daylight faded as the sun was blotted out, and within minutes we found ourselves alone as people hustled back to their cars. We snapped a few pictures of the arch, then headed back to the parking lot ourselves.
The sky was even more menacing in that direction, and we had only just closed the doors of the Aveo when the sky opened and the deluge began.
As is common with folks from the Pacific Northwest, both Brandon and I love a good rainstorm, so we decided to make one more stop on the way out. Green River Overlook was nearly empty when we rolled in — only one other car was in the lot with a single occupant sitting inside. We stepped out of the car and were almost immediately soaked. Thunder cracked and rumbled as lightning forked in the distance.
It was an invigorating moment. Standing there, looking out over the valley as the thunderstorm raged overhead, we saw a landscape forged by the sheer force of Nature as that very force raged around us.
Annoyed, I swatted at the mosquito. It didn’t occur to me how weird it was that a mosquito could be flying around in such a downpour.
This time the mosquito hit my ear. It felt like someone had flicked me, and I swatted at it frantically. That was one massive bug. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Brandon swatting something away as well. As each of us noticed the other, realization set in and our eyes widened.
We turned and sprinted for the cars. A girl we hadn’t seen previously came running from a side trail, her hair standing on end. As we all ran for our lives, an agreement was reached: yes, we’d almost been hit by lightning, and yes, we all desperately wanted a beer as soon as possible.
As we drove back to the hotel, it finally dawned on us how stupid our decision to head to high ground during a thunderstorm had been. As the adrenaline — and, no doubt, the electrical charge — dissipated, we decided we wouldn’t be doing THAT again.
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