On the trail: Arches, tourists and … Mormons | AspenTimes.com

On the trail: Arches, tourists and … Mormons

Charles Agar

Last week I joined a lumbering parade of gas-hungry RVs and SUVs going to Arches National Park near Moab. Crossing the prehistoric red stones we looked like a pilgrimage to the fossilized source of our life-giving oil.I love tourist sites, and Arches is special to me not just for the otherworldly scenery, but for the people-watching. And whether Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon or Arches, tourist crowds are like a sea of diversity, a performance-art parade of haircuts, body shapes, accents, fashion statements and shoe leather.I play the “nationality game” and try to figure out where people are from. If you’re in a group, you can assign regions (East Asia, France, Germany, etc.) and keep score.I can tell by the shoes. Germans wear dark socks with sandals. Italians pad about in the latest chic designs and Americans wear day-glow running shoes and basketball high-tops.And I love that, “I’m tired and I want to go back to the hotel” or “Where are we going now, Stanley?” sound the same in any dialect – the international language of the dysfunctional family. I walked the Devil’s Garden trail at the farthest end of the park. It is a labyrinth of redstone ridges banged into towers and arches by time. The rocks on the main trail are worn flat with traffic and the arch sites are crowded with point-and-clickers. There is that awkwardness about whether to greet every passer-by on tourist trails. “Hello” and “Hot, ain’t it?” turns to a curt “Hey” from me and then just a nod and smile to the next few before I just look straight ahead and walk.I was at full greeting indifference when I got to the first high ridge and ran into a group of Mormons from Provo. They wore BYU hats, smiled a lot and were very chatty. I am afraid of Mormons. And there I am in Utah, on their turf, and I’m thinking they might drag me to some compound out in the desert and I’ll come back wearing a BYU hat, smiling and being downright chatty.I shook them on the switchbacks and rocky steeps of the “primitive trail” at the end of the canyon and found a quiet spot to watch the sunset light up the red rocks. I looked down at my very “American” day-glo running shoes and then felt bad. Maybe they were just being nice (or maybe they did put something in my water).Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com