Westward Ho!: The Last Day

I woke up in the middle of the night and grabbed the lantern from the dresser at the end of the bed. As I unzipped the tent flaps and stepped into the moonlight to head to the communal bathrooms, I realized that the lamp was unnecessary despite the hour. I could see more of the desert under the full moon than I’d been able to see in the dying light the night before. Past the next row of tents, the cliff loomed bright over the quiet freeway. It was beautiful. After taking the shortcut to the potties and the long way back, I sat outside the tent for a while watching the moon, watching an owl circle the campsite, and listening to the crickets sing. When I’d got my fill of the desert night, I stepped back through the tent flaps and crawled into bed again. As I curled up next to her, Catie rolled over and kissed my cheek.

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Our lovely tent for our last night in the road.

A post shared by Emmett Speed (@em42speed) on

Thanks to a lifetime on Central Time, we woke up before the sun. As we dressed, the first hint of purple and red light was visible through the tent’s half-unzipped window. We wandered the campsite as the sun came up looking for the best vantage point to see the sunrise. The areas between the tents teemed with wildlife; Catie counted four cottontails before we even made it to the reception tent for breakfast, then met a particularly friendly bunny under a juniper bush that engaged in a staring contest with Catie (until she was dive-bombed by an attention-seeking hummingbird).

After breakfast and spotting a few more cottontails hiding in the juniper and sagebrush, we checked out and headed back south for a moment to enter Arches National Park. We oohed and awwed over several of the rock formations, but the big excitement came when Catie spotted the Balancing Rock. She loves to balance on curbs and the concrete parking blocks so seeing this giant rock perched so high up was THE BEST THING EVER OH MY GOSH. We had to climb us as close as possible so she could be “King of the Rock”.

After the Balancing Rock (and a jackrabbit and a beetle the size of my thumb that Catie insisted on telling her life story) we drove on to the Delicate Arch viewpoint. I neglected to check the difficulty on the trailhead but noticed it pretty quickly as I helped Catie climb the slippery gravel over a half mile uphill. Both of our chests heaved as we reached the top. Catie patted my back and told me to take deep breaths- “It help you feel better, Mommy!” I barely glanced at the distant Delicate Arch before deciding that Catie and I should head back to the car and guzzle as much water as possible. About halfway down, Catie declared that she was tired and promptly sat down right in the middle of the trail.

Heaving doubly hard after carrying my spawn a quarter mile downhill on my shoulders, we got back to the car. We attempted the short hike to the Windows Arches and turned back to the car after about fifteen steps. It was time to get on the road to Logan… after a short detour into the visitor center for souvenirs.

We wound northward through coal country and through Spanish Fork Canyon. Honestly, I was so excited to not be on the road anymore that I hardly noticed the scenery until the landscape faded into the city. Salt Lake City, by the way, is just as scary and frustrating to drive through as Orlando is. Especially when your daughter has a foam sword that’s she’s trying to redirect your attention with…

After a surprisingly short day of driving, we turned into the canyon that leads to Cache Valley, to Logan, and to Utah State University. As we neared the end of the canyon, I pulled Catie’s attention away from her movie and said “Look, Catie! We’re going to come into Logan now!” I watched her in the rear view mirror as she looked into the valley, broke into a huge smile, and said “Mommy! That’s our new home!”

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