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Desert monsoon

Joel Stonington
Anita Hannig runs amid puddles and rock fins in the Devils Garden section of Arches National Park. (Joel Stonington/Aspen Times Weekly)
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With the closing of an Aspen winter, the Utah desert calls. So I drove out there in mid-March with Anita Hannig, a college friend recovering from a Chicago winter.We arrived at the San Rafael Swell during a classic, sunny desert day with a long evening, and lit a campfire following a hike into the swell. Our campsite, three miles from the nearest highway along a curvy dirt road that rose and dove through shallow washes, was deserted except for a few wandering cows.

In the morning, our mood matched the weather as we watched dark clouds roll in and sheets of rain come down in the distance. We stayed put and hoped it would clear, but as the darkness neared we decided that rain would make the dirt road impassable.We came up with a new plan: Embrace the rain by going for a run. We made our way over to Arches National Park and decided on Devil’s Garden, a 7-mile loop.The rain had transformed the desert into what seemed like a lush, rain-forest green, with red rocks turning to white as they reflected the clouds. Everyone we passed was entranced. The scenery seemed almost too bright and vibrant as we stood on top of cliffs and ran along rocky ribs while the views stretched out below.

Later we cooked dinner under a tree near the Garden, shivering. We ate in the car and drove to a campsite. The next morning we awoke to fog and more rain. Many of the views in Canyonland’s Island in the Sky were completely obscured, though a hike along part of the rim and later, around some of Upheaval Dome provided unparalleled glimpses of half-obscured crags, cliffs and mesas.And right below our feet the desert had decided to bloom. Flowers sprung from some of the most despondent-looking plants, which had suddenly come to life. I felt much the same.

I had come expecting bright sunshine and hadn’t even brought a raincoat, but the moisture was perfect. It brought to mind author and poet John Ruskin’s comment: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces up, snow is exhilarating; there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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