Wilderness Volunteer Adventure Utah

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Finally time has come. I have been waiting for this day for one year. I have done lots of exercise to get in shape. Now it´s time and I´m not in the mood anymore!!! I can tell a thing or two about it…. But today is the day. There is no going back; my adventure begins.

Last year I thought a lot about my future path: job-related and regarding private matters. An upcoming birthday (a special one..) is making me a bit nervous.  All the things I had imagined to have achieved by this age have not occurred. I questioned myself.  For a long time I struggled with self-reproaches. I thought I let my life pass me by. So I had the idea of going on a journey – on my own – to do things that I love doing; to relax. I needed a change of scenery to clear out the cobwebs and recharge my batteries. I decided to do volunteer work in the USA.

I started to look for options and short-listed this: „Buffalo Field Campaign“ Montana, „Global Volunteer“ in either the Crow or Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, „Wolf-Studies“ in  Yellowstone NP, or „Wilderness Volunteer“. Considering participation fees I decided to be a Wilderness Volunteer in Moab. I have never been to this part of Utah. I didn´t know the “Manti-La Sal Mountains”. It would be our task to build a new hiking trail to “Gold Knob Mountain”. I had no idea what to expect but I was curious and willing to help. So after I passed my application I handed in my annual leave form. It was not easy to get a signature and I was annoyed about colleagues and my boss. When my leave form was finally accepted, it looked as though the program would be cancelled due to a lack of participants. This can´t be true! Fortunately all went well in the end. I spent a lot of money on gear, clothing and stuff, and today my journey begins.

I stayed with my Mom so we could spend the day together. For months she has been nervous and scared because her daughter would be alone on the road again.

We got up at 5.30 a.m. to have breakfast. There were thunderstorms at night. I tried to calm down my mother. I bought a USA sim card for my mobile phone so that I could get in touch with her. At 6.30 a.m. the taxi driver headed for Berlin Tegel airport. We arrived at 7.40 a.m.. The weight of my suitcase was 17 kg (37lb). Space hogs were things like sleeping bag, hiking boots, ground pat, three water bottles… I put camera, cables, batteries etc. into my backpack so I could at least take pictures should my bag be lost. With my backpack of 7 kg (15lb) I waited for the flight to Paris.

While I was sitting in the plane I watched how they put the bags into the plane. Yay, mine was flying with me. At 10.15 a.m. the plane lifted. The sun is shining, there are pretty clouds in the sky, and temperatures are quite hot. I sit in the last row on number 24F Window seat. The seat next to me is empty. I listen to music: „Karma by Delerium“ –. It is an album I first listened to in 1997 while I was an exchange student in Bozeman/Montana. The music reminds me of this great time I also spent on my own. Almost 20 years have passed and again it is me and the road. I hope for repose and wonderful new adventures and encounters.

We had quite a bumping landing and I was feeling so sick. I forced myself to stay calm. I guess you can say I am a little bit afraid of flying. In addition I have chronic stomach problems so I grabbed the little brown bag (and I don´t mean Bloomingdale´s). Fortunately I didn´t need it. The first of many of my chewing gums against motion sickness was gone. As I was sitting in the last row, it took quite a long time for me to get off the plane. I was in a hurry as my connection flight was due in one hour forty minutes. At first I couldn´t find a sign guiding me to my gate but after 15 Minutes I arrived and relaxed. I called my mom that everything was OK. Now I had time for a French Raisin Bun. I was hungry by now. So when I took a big bite into the desired pastry, I found that my eyes did not communicate with my gustative nerves. That thing did not taste like a Raisin Bun at all!!! My mouth was numb from the chewing gum! I wasn´t able to taste anything. Tell me, is there anything worse than not tasting a cinnamon raising pastry in your mouth?

At 2.01 p.m. we set off towards Chicago. The woman next to me came from Morocco. I helped her fill in the customs declaration.

We just had cheese crackers. They tasted – let´s say awkward. But I hadn´t had anything to eat since breakfast at 6 and the so-called Raisin Bun, so don´t be gentle, get it in there. A foretaste of America…

It is 5.01 p.m. and finally the TV screen works! I decided to watch „The second best Marigold Hotel 2“. Only a short time after its beginning I laughed out loud about the situation with the tea bag. How embarrassing… What the heck…The second movie I watched was called „The longest Ride“. Oh dear, it was weepie! The third movie was a thriller called “Focus”. Otherwise the flight was OK, no turbulences. I was fine. When we descented, I could see the great skyline of Chicago and took a few Pictures.

It is 10.35 p.m. by now in Germany and 4 in the afternoon in Chicago. The lines on arrival were enormous. I was not in the mood for waiting that long and went straight to the shortest line. That was the one for travelers with approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Great. That´s the right spot! I wondered why I didn´t see any human beings. There were lots of kiosks. A woman (the only human being) said I could proceed to the Automated Passport Control (APC). OK. I didn´t know what it was but let´s try. I tried to look self-assured. This was a cool electronic tool for moving quickly through the U.S. border clearance process by entering information at a self-service kiosk. I scanned my passport; I left my finger prints. It was a bit strange I must admit.

The final challenge was to take a picture of yourself, a Selfie so to say. As I didn´t know where the camera was, the result was a picture of myself showing only half of my head and me having a serious, doubting look; sceptic even. You could easily tell it was a mug shot. I took the receipt and again waited in a different line. I quickly dropped the receipt and went to get my bag. I was happy to find that it had arrived! Next I changed sim cards. It took a while for the phone to react and I called Mom to let her know I arrived. It was 1 a.m. in Germany. I called the hotel „Super 8 Elk Grove“ to ask for the shuttle bus. It arrived after 14 minutes.

The hotel is OK, a bit old. My room number 125 is sufficient for 2 nights.

I quickly wrote an email to let friends know I arrived safely and ordered the shuttle bus for the next day. It is 1.19 a.m. German time, 6.30 p.m. in Chicago. All I want to do is take a shower and to snatch a few hours of sleep. The first day is done.

Friday, July 24th, 2015

I went to bed at 8 p.m.. There were no good film on TV, and I was exhausted. I woke up at 2.17 a.m.. The fridge was way too loud so I got up to get my earplugs and went back to sleep – ´til 4. I couldn´t go back to sleep until 5.30. I re-set my alarm from 8 to 7.30 a.m.to have some extra time. I must have fallen deeply asleep during this time as I woke up at 7.48! OMG, I didn´t hear the alarm. The shuttle bus picked me up at 9…Quickly I got up and gathered my things and went to have breakfast. The breakfast room was too small for all the people. So I joined a table with a free chair. The air conditioning was right next to me and blowing like crazy (way too cold for a European girl). So I simply turned it off. There were white bagels, oatmeal, cornflakes and tourists crowded the waffle machine…

I had decided to stop in Chicago to have a little break from the long flight. After breakfast I checked the internet for shopping malls. I decided to go to the “Chicago Outlets” near the airport.

The shuttle bus dropped us off at the airport. I paid 5 Dollars for a CTA ticket only to ride one stop to “Rosemont Station“, from where I took the free bus to the mall. We arrived at 10 a.m.. At noon I called Moab to find out whether my pre-booked day trips would still be on or not. So far I had been the only participant. I signed in for a Sunset Tour through Arches National Park and a day trip through Canyonlands National Park. The Arches trip was on. Great! Regarding Canyonlands I was still the only participant so it looked as though it would be cancelled. That would be bad as I would have a full Sunday in Moab without a car and nothing to do. The lady on the line said she´d call back. She never did.

In the meantime I did some light shopping and again called the lady. We agreed that I would drop in on August 1st and we would see what to do.

I took the bus back to the airport at 6.30 p.m. In the hotel I tried to check in for my flight the next day, but it didn´t work. I ordered the shuttle bus and went to bed at 10.36 p.m. I was not in the mood for packing bags tonight…

Saturday, July 25th, 2015
As the night before I was awake quite often. Insomnia. From 5.15 a.m. on the first planes lifted off. The flight corridor was right above the hotel so it was quite noisy. I got up when the hotel service was vacuum cleaning the hallways.
I had breakfast at 7.30 am. This time the waffle machine was not occupied. Just to be on the safe side I took a “raisin bun” with me. I didn´t know when I´d have my next meal. Right now I am sitting outside in front of the hotel and write these lines while I wait for the shuttle driver.

The driver was late, the car full of bubbly kids. When I arrived at the airport, I tried to check-in for my next flight to Phoenix, AZ. I was not successful. There was not a soul I could ask. After a while I found someone who sent me to a different counter. Again checking-in at the kiosk didn’t work. In the end I talked to a real person and after a while she managed to check me in. Everything is done electronically nowadays, and you can only hope that there is not a problem. Ever since I travelled to Scotland I am sure that problems with checking-in only occur if I book a flight on one of these online flight search tools. From now on I will book my flights with the airline. I paid 25 Dollars for my bag. On domestic flights in America you always pay extra for your luggage.

I went on to security and again I was scanned by these lovely full-body scanners. I saw many young people in white uniforms and parents saying Good-Bye, crying. I guess they were starting their US Navy career.
We started with a delay for Phoenix. I switched seats so that a father was able to sit next to his little daughter. Now I was sitting in the middle seat. The two women next to me were quite funny. We chatted a bit and all of a sudden the woman on my right asked frightened: “Is it normal that there is fog coming out from above?” We looked and found it was cold air. We laughed so hard and she said that she is quite experienced in flying, and today is the first day she ever notices this.
The plane set off and there was an extremely loud noise from right underneath our seats. Again, we looked at each other, question marks in our eyes. “Is this normal?” We assumed it was the engine. We were sitting on the wing of the aircraft. After a while the noise disappeared. Otherwise the flight went well and I was not sick. We landed half an hour early, but weren´t allowed going to the gate. So we waited.

The airport in Phoenix was very small. I hoped to find something to eat. I found my next gate and had a chicken combo at “Wendy´s”. Oh dear. I was not in Chicago anymore, I´m in the desert: healthy food nowhere in sight. It is 2.35 pm local time, so two hours behind Chicago time. My next flight going to Colorado starts at 3 pm.
I wondered why we weren´t allowed to board. A voice said the flight was overbooked and they asked for volunteers to take the next flight. I felt it took forever ´till we could finally board. When I stepped into the plane – OMG – it was tiny! There was room for 50 people. My seat was in the very last row, number 12. A guy with full beard, scrubby hair and earthy looks sat next to me. He introduced himself as a guy from Alaska. I thought: I wouldn´t have guessed any different! He was great; the paragon of an Alaskan guy. His outer looks were rough and wild, but he was so sweet and as cool as a cucumber and asleep even before the plane set off.
Right after lifting off I knew this would be a tough flight. There was one airhole after the other. I immediately took another of my chewing gums. In addition I had circulation problems. I was fighting with sickness during the whole flight. I even took my stomach drops, but nothing helped. I can tell you, the moment we landed was one of the happiest in my life! Now the Alaskan guy woke up and said “Hey, are we there yet? That was quick! Are YOU alright?“
I was confused about the actual time zone here in Grand Junction, CO, but I was more than happy to finally have landed!
The airport was mini. I think it was even smaller than the one in Bozeman, MT. When I saw the posters displaying bears, moose, and mountains, and when I saw the gift shop, I felt set back in time. Everything reminded me of Montana. Could it get any better than finding out your bag has travelled with you all the way? I went to the Enterprise Rental Car kiosk. There was no other option as there was only one rental car station in Moab, UT. I signed papers, took my key, and headed for the exit.
Right at the exit my body came to a stop. I was so overwhelmed by the view! When you step out of the airport in Grand Junction you look right at the Colorado Plateau. This was absolutely stunning! The sun was low and left a golden glance on the mountains. All the sickness immediately went away. I was happy!

I walked to the parking lot, but what was THIS?! I looked at my key, looked back at the lot number, back at the key. Oh my God this was a monster car! Some SUV family car! I just hoped that the price would be the same as I booked a compact car in Germany. So I hefted my bags into the large trunk and dug for my GPS. It was so hot outside! The car was standing in the sun the whole day; I could hardly touch the steering wheel. Now I was ready to rock and roll! I bought a USA Map for my German GPS and tried to plug it in. It took a while to find a satellite, but then I typed in “Walmart”. I needed to buy water. I left the parking lot in snail pace towards “city”.
It was really easy to find my way; everything was quite clear. The car though was a machine of its own with lots of technology, rear-view camera etc. While I drove the quiet roads, I enjoyed the scenery until I needed to cross a big highway. But hey, no problem. I found Walmart quickly. I was looking for campsoap but there wasn´t any. So I got „Camper´s Toilet Paper“. I bought water bottles and a lunchbox, and loved to finally be in a big American supermarket again. All of a sudden I noticed that it was 6.35 pm.! Time was flying! I had a two hour drive coming up and decided not to take the Scenic Byway to Moab. I took the Highway instead.
That was a good decision as Highway I-70W (Grand Army of the Repbublic Hwy) was spectacular with the sun setting and blue skies. Nature was colored golden. It was simply beautiful. Me on the road, on my own. What a feeling. I was filled with wonder and caught myself speaking out loud every now and then „wow“ or „how beautiful“. How embarrassing, but nobody could hear me. I tried to take some pictures with my digital camera to capture the beauty.

I spotted a viewing area and stopped. Nobody was there. I walked up to the little hill and had a great view on the Highway. By now the sun was almost gone and colors were not golden anymore but a warm orange-red. There was this complete silence, interrupted only by the noise of birds and pikas.

After a while I saw the sign for “Cisco”, the ghost town. I remembered that I´d come through the town on my way to Moab. At first I was worried, as my GPS said I should go ahead. But after a few minutes I saw the turn towards Moab (Highway 191/163), and the road led me into a wonderland of red sandstone.
The road wound itself deeper into the narrow valley in which Moab is embedded. By then the sun was gone almost completely and the play of colors was dramatic! Everything was like in a fairy tale: red, brown, shiny golden. Unfortunately I could not slow down as I was on a single lane. I arrived at 8.30 pm when I spotted my motel “Inca Inn”. I checked-in, was asked whether I needed a hair dryer (what a question – yes!), and was pointed out that the room would be very hot. The hotel crew forgot to turn on the air-conditioning. Oh yes, it was cozy! I went to bed at 10pm and left the air-conditioning turned off. That was a mistake. It was so hot that I turned it on, got my earplugs and fell asleep in my cozy room number 13.

Sunday, July 26th, 2015
I woke up with a chill. The room had become quite cool, so I turned off the air-conditioning. I decided to get up and re-pack my things, so that it would be easier to find things in my suitcase in the camp. Tonight will be the first night in a tent…After packing I went to have breakfast. I opened the door and was frightened! There was something green sitting on the doormat. The creature stretched its tentacles heavenward. Uuh, I don´t like crawling creatures, and I thought about what to do. How would I be able to carry my heavy bag outside? I didn´t want to kill it, so I took a picture of it.

It must be a praying mantis! I have never seen this before, and how she is sitting on MY doormat, praying! So I carefully stepped over it and went to have breakfast. The room was the smallest breakfast room I had ever seen. It was full of people already. Some French tourists were chatting very loudly. There was toast, mini-muffins, hard-boiled eggs, cornflakes. Well, I had a bit of everything! It was disappointing.
It is 8.09 am. and I will start the day!

She was still praying. So I again carefully stepped over the doormat CARRYING my suitcase, not rolling it. Well, that´s the things you do to not disturb a creature in its morning prayer…I stowed everything away in the big car. The final and brief inspection view proved – my mantis was still alive and kickin´ – well, no – praying.
I left the parking lot to take a picture of the Moab town sign.

It was very hot already, the sun was up, clouds looked photogenic. Next I went to „Canyonlands by Night and Day“ to buy some souvenirs. Before I went back to the car I took a panorama view of the Colorado River. The light was perfect and the river course looked very quaint.

Before I came here, I googled the shops in Moab. I intended to buy a good rain jacket. I checked some stores but found that they were like the one I already had. So I would simply continue to use it. No need to buy a new one. However, I have not found campsoap yet! So I went on to the biggest outdoor store in Moab: Gear Heads. Wow, here you find everything the heart desires. Campsoap! Yay! I asked the guys in the shop for a “toilet kit”. They didn´t know what it could be. I explained that I would be in the wilderness and I need it. After some serious thinking they sold me single-use toilet bags – 6 of them. I just hoped I´d aim well…Needs must when the devil drives.
It was so hot in Moab – 100°F. I decided to drive along the famous “Potash Road”. I had one and a half hours before I left Moab. This road leads out of Moab and along the Colorado River. It eventually ends at the Potash Mine. I only go for 15 minutes but these 15 minutes sufficed to overwhelm me. I marveled at the red sandstone formations that reached high into the sky. I saw petroglyphs and pictograms and took some photographs.

This landscape was sensational! Again it was only me on the road. Unfortunately it was time to head back. I went to have something to eat at „Milt´s Stop and Eat“. There were lots of people, and I waited for a long time to get my avocado-taco.
Time flew again, and I needed to return my rental car. I arranged with two other participants of the program to meet at 1 pm at the Enterprise station. Peggy and Roger (thanks for allowing me to print your names) were the only participants who agreed to pick me up to drive me up to the campground.
Unfortunately my GPS didn´t find the street and I got lost. Roger called to let me know they had arrived. I went to get gas and asked where the rental car station was. I was there in 2 minutes.
I quickly got all my things out of the car and double-checked, so that I wouldn´t leave things in the car. Peggy greeted me and we stuffed my bag into the full trunk. Roger has a very nice and calm personality. Peggy talks to me right away asking all kinds of questions. I like them, that´s for sure! I warned them that I get carsick and Roger was very watchful in taking turns. I didn´t get carsick! I could even eat my taco in the car! That´s amazing!
I told them why I was here in Moab and why I did this program. They were very interested and had a lot of questions. On the way up to Warner Lake Campground in the Manti-La Sal Mountains we stopped a couple of times to enjoy the scenery. When we came to the turn, we noticed a warning sign: beware of bears! At about 2.30 pm we arrived at the campground. We were puzzled over the handwriting and decided we´d take one round to find the free sites. We decided for number 8.This campsite was close to the vault toilets and had fresh water supply. Speaking of sanitary matters: I chose this Wilderness Volunteer trip because of the existing vault toilets. It was better than nothing!

The best spot in the campground was site number 16. It was already occupied by our group leaders. A big tent was lying on the ground, ready to be set up. This would obviously be our group meeting place. How pretty. Nobody was there yet. We set up our tents. Roger and Peggy brought a tent for me to lend. That was very nice of them and I was grateful. I didn´t have a tent of my own. By the way, I don´t like camping. They set up their own tent next to their car, while I was about 19 feet away. Somehow I had an unpleasant feeling to be so “far off” on my own.

We met the first of our team members and had a short little walk around the campground. We saw the turn for „Miner´s Basin Foot Trail“. This would be the beginning of our daily hike. We had a look at the information board. You could hardly spot the trail. It was quite overgrown.

The campground is located high in the La Sal Mountains at an elevation of 9,200 feet. I was not used to the altitude and was feeling dizzy. At 4 pm all the participants of the program met in site 16. Our task was to create a new hiking trail up to Gold Knob Mountain.  I had no idea what that meant but I was looking forward to it!
When I saw all the participants I was a little bit shocked. Yes, I admit it. I´m sorry. I felt I was totally out of place. There were seniors only! I was beginning to be seriously anxious about their health. Peggy told me that she and Roger have previously retired. I couldn´t believe this as they looked so young! Our leaders were still on duty, all the others were retired. Some for a long time. I doubted my choice.

We introduced ourselves. I astonished the group by telling them where I came from and why I came here. Next we were elucidated about safety. We were told that everybody would be on cooking duty for two days. I thought I´d be the first volunteer so I would be done with it for the rest of the week.

We all set up the big tent in which kitchen gear and chairs would be stored. Then I finally had time to walk down to Warner Lake. I could see it from site number 16, as well as the beautiful “Haystack Mountain”. The sun was setting, the reflection of the mountain was stunning, it was calm but the wind was strong. I paused for a while and enjoyed this unique view.

Unfortunately I was on cooking duty so it was time to leave. Our leader showed me the meal plan. There was pasta with dried tomatoes, artichokes, salad dressing and garlic bread. Huh? Salad dressing to pasta? I was curious.

I roasted the bread. By now it has become quite chilly, and I got my jacket. Every now and then there was a bit of rain. All of a sudden deer appeared and were not frightened by humans.

Pasta was very good! Roger, Peggy and I did the dishes. This procedure was as follows: the first tub was filled with cold water. The second one only half full with warm water. The third one filled to a third with cold water. We put camp soap into the first tub (camp soap was used for anything here, as you can see). We cleaned the dishes roughly with paper towels. Then we washed it in the first tub. Roger took a small cup to pour the clean water from the second tub over the dishes into the first tub. By doing this we avoided that the second tub full of water would get dirty. The clean dishes were put into the third tub. This one was filled with a bit of bleach. I then carried everything into the big tent to let it dry.

After dinner I saw three men approaching us. They looked like bandits with their full beards and camouflage. I thought: this must be the US Forest Crew. Everyone was quiet immediateley, it was an odd situation. Then I looked closer and noticed – they were good-looking guys! The first one introduced himself. He was the teamleader so to say. He explained in his very agreeable deep bass that we would work with them on the mountain every day. Gee, I just couldn´t look away and kept my eyes on his beard! I don´t like full beards at all! It was fascinating. I thought about whether his  meal would get tangled in it. Oh dear, I must have stared at him… The other two guys introduced themselfes. Hey, they all seemed to be very nice. Now it was my turn to introduce myself, and again they couldn´t believe I´d come from Germany to the US for a one week volunteer program! Suddenly the team leader said: “Wir koennen Deutsch sprechen.” I was mute with bafflement and shyness.

After this meeting with the Forest Crew everyone had a great time talking about the beards. Immediately the women suggested to set one of the guys up with me. I was flabbergasted. Where am I?! However, I liked it, because I had the feeling we would be a great team and have lots of fun!

Everyone went to their tents. I would be on cooking duty at 6.30 am. I wrote my diary and decided to go to bed. Back in Germany I had investigated about the Milky Way´s location.  I wanted to get up tonight to take photographs. Unfortunately it was raining and cloudy. So there wouldn´t be any chance at all.
I was cold. For a last time I used the vault toilets. I wanted to make sure not to walk over the campground at night in the dark. I put on my merino wool underwear and slipped into my sleeping bag. My boss had lent me his ground pad. I hoped to be able to sleep soon.

Monday, July 27th, 2015
Oh what a night! I didn´t sleep a wink. I was so cold! Got up at 6am, as I was on cooking duty. Again I repeated my daily washing-cleansing-whatever-procedure using my baby tissues. This morning I put on my hiking pants, a short-sleeve shirt, a long-sleeve shirt, my fleece, my soft shell jacket, a hat and gloves. You might think it was winter time…

This  morning we made scrambled eggs and toast. We had a small table on which we put our lunch. There was fruit, cookies, tomatoes and other things to make sandwiches for lunch. I told the others that I was very cold last night and couldn´t sleep at all. Everybody laughed. Well, okay… Peggy offered to give me her quilt.
After breakfast and dishes I filled my three water bottles. So far we still had clean water. Unfortunately the water on the campground had not been tested, so it was not recommended to drink it. My backpack was now filled with my lunch box, water bottles (about 0,7 Gallons), rain jacket, camera, tripod. It was quite heavy on my back. We started at 8.45 am, heading for „Miner´s Basin Foot Trail“. Again we listened to safety instructions.
My God, it was so exhausting to walk. The trail was only 2,7 miles long but extremely steep and rocky. We walked in slow pace. Every step needed to be taken with caution, otherwise you might trip or fall. On our left hand side the mountain was deeply sloping. On the very bottom we saw a stream.

I gasped in the mountain air. But thank God someone always called for break. So every few minutes we stopped for a breather. Peggy led the group. She was in great shape! To my surprise even the oldes participant (74 years young) was in astonishing great shape. I was so envious! She was talking without a pause in her lovely but loud voice, and we laughed a lot. That was another reason why we needed the breathers! Lots of giggling and laughing…
The morning was quite cool, I guessed 51°F. We had our snack-stopp on a beautiful, placid glade. That was the moment our teamleader admitted that he had no idea where our working area was. Eh? He said we should repair the hiking path and create water drainages. He showed us how to do this. Each one of us had his or her own area.

We found the tools lying in the grass on our glade. The Forest Crew left it there for us. So our leader thought: “This must be the place to start.” I worked with the so-called „McLeoud“. One side of the tool was multiple jagged, the other one looked like an ax. The tool was quite heavy, and work was (could it be any different) exhausting. I gasped for air. When we finished our piece of trail, we walked on to the next. We had lunch at 12.30. Can you imagine, I was not hungry! This was so NOT ME. Everyone told me I should eat, no matter how I felt. The mountain air caused my loss of appetite. Anyway, I needed to eat as I was working hard.

We were supposed to meet the guys on „Gold Knob Mountain Trail“, but where? The trail was not built yet! No sign in sight. We simply walked on until we came to a hill with few conifer forest left. Oh and here we saw the crew in the far distance working on the trail. So this must be our working area in the first place. I thought I´d drop! We would have to hike up all this way every morning to start our work? The Forest Crew was waiting for us, wondering where we were. They again explained our work, and told us that the trial would lead all the way up to the top of the mountain. I wasn´t able to see the top, as a bend blocked my view. It was probably for the best…

The Forest Crew had already begun digging a rough path into the mountain. Red and pink colored flags pointed out where the path should be. Again each of us had their own little area to work on. I removed grass, roots and earth and straightened the path. Before I began, I set up my tripod and let the camera take time laps shots.

Work was very hard. I took breaks every so often. Besides, the view was unequaled! I simply wanted to enjoy the landscape. We now worked in an altitude of about 10,400 feet, and my view down into the valley was vast.

I wished time would move faster. I was very tired. My hands hurt. The slope was quite steep and it was difficult to hold the balance. I simply wasn´t used to this kind of work at all!
Finally, at 3 pm, someone appealed for our way back! Now we hiked down all the way we had come from. We arrived after an hour. I was totally worn out! My shins hurt, and I saw that my left thumb and palm was swollen. Our leader was a nurse and she said I should cool it. Unfortunately the cooling pad didn´t work, so I filled cold water into a zipper bag. I was still on cooking duty. We had salad, chili made from beans, turkey and yellow pepper, and corn muffins.
Today skies were blue, but it was a bit windy. So I got my camera and made more time lapse shots of the moon rising and sun setting over Haystack Mountain. I set the camera to run for 2 hours, one picture every 20 seconds. After that, the second of three batteries was dead.
Dinner was good. My appetite came back slowly. Our leader did a great job making healthy food for us. Peggy and Roger gave me their quilt for tonight. I spent a little time down by the lake and just loved the vista. It is 9.40 pm now, I write in my diary and will then curl up into my sleeping bag. I will set the alarm to 3 am to try taking photographs of the milky way.

I woke up at midnight. Oh no, not the restroom again….I was freezing and felt I was about to get sick. I did a lot of soul-searching before I decided I´d only take a short walk in the dark. That cost quite some effort. The night was clear, but the moon was very bright. For the second time this month we had a full moon and it was big. I quickly crawled back into my sleeping bag and hoped for sleep.

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

This morning I was late for breakfast, I was cold and I dressed as if it was winter time. Everyone thought it was very funny…

At 8.45 am we started our hike up to Gold Knob Mountain. Again, it was exhausting, but we didn´t need as many breaks as the day before. I was absolutely astonished about everyone’s fitness. We were in a good mood, it was fun. After about an hour we met the Forest Crew, who had been up on the mountain for about 2 hours. Today I wanted to favor my hand, which was still swollen and hurt. So I took the clippers and cut little trees and especially invasive conifers. Our leader explained to me how and where to make cuts. If the tree was in the middle of where the path should be, there was no alternative. The tree needed to be chopped. It broke my heart to cut trees and remove flowers…

When I finished cutting, I was asked to saw a bigger tree – by hand. It was not allowed to use electronic devices up here, so everything needed to be done by hand. At first I cut a wedge. Then I started to saw towards the wedge from the opposite site until the tree fell down.

At about noon we took our lunch break. After lunch I took the hatchet (or whatever the tool was) and helped marking the path between the colored flags. The view became more spectacular now. I could even see Warner Lake from here. At 3 pm we finished work. Some of us had already started their descent. One of the rules was to never walk on your own. Take at least one other person with you. We took our time on the way down. At about 4 we arrived in the campground. Today I felt that my toes hurt, especially when hiking downwards. I talked to our leader, and he said my boots would be not tight enough. He used band-aid to prevent blisters and told me to try to tie my boots as tight as I could, so that my feet wouldn´t have space to move in my shoe. In addition, my back and hips hurt (well, that´s the sign, I guess. I´m getting old). One of our leaders is a scout leader and she said she would have a look at how I carry my backpack. I was grateful that I was taken care of! It was a good feeling. I felt I belonged.

It´s 4.40 pm, I will walk down to the lake. Peggy is still chaffing me about pairing me off…I honestly didn´t know what to think of that. I was confused and bashful.

While I was sitting at the lake pondering, a group of boy scouts arrived to ride their bikes and to fish. Despite the disturbance I stayed at the lake, gazing at the beauty of nature.

I walked back to our group site a bit earlier. I chatted with one of the team members. She has great knowledge of flowers. She told me that she was a teacher once. I thought: “Yeah, oh well, as if it wasn´t enough to be a teacher´s daughter, I have 3 former teachers in our group.” There is something special about teachers. They are great people, but I felt I have my Mom in front of me J. It´s hard to explain… However, we talked about the flowers we have seen on the mountain and elsewhere. She had brought books, so we looked them up to find out their names. This is when the magic happened: she was totally overjoyed when she found out we had “discovered” a new type of flower. The book said this flower was first found in 1985 and grows exclusively in New Mexico. Well – no. It can be found in Utah, up on Gold Knob Mountain. Its name is “holy ghost ipomopsis” (or some other form of ipomopsis).

We celebrated this “discovery” by cheering and laughing and sharing photographs. She was so excited, and her excitement and joy was infectious. She said she would contact her friend at the biological institute in New Mexico that “the books need to be re-written”. It was so funny and great to see her joy.

Today the weather was very nice. The sun was shining again, a little bit of wind, temperatures around 68-71°F.

There was potato salad, broccoli-fish-meatballs, and fruit crumble for dinner. I was hungry and again there was nothing left of the meal.

After dinner we discussed what to do on our work-free day. The Forest Crew helped us make a decision. We could either go for a short hike of about 4 miles to “Oowa Lake”, or we could go on a day hike to “Burro Pass”. I decided to join the group taking the day hike. I admit I was worried, as the others seemed to be in better shape than I was (which was a shame and I should never admit it out loud).

Peggy asked me whether I would still be cold at night. I told her that this was the sad truth. We believed my sleeping bag was too old. I bought it in 1995 and used it until 1999. After that it had been in a corner somewhere, rolled together. Peggy said she would give me one of their down feather sleeping bags, and she would take the blanket back. I was embarrassed but she insisted. In addition, our leader had the idea to fill my water bottles with hot water and to put them into my sleeping bag for additional warmth. Wow, what a great idea! So now I am sitting in my own sleeping bag, two water bottles next to my body. I slipped into Peggy´s sleeping bag. One of our team members came over to give me an additional blanket. So here I am, unable to move and completely wrapped up. I was not cold! The icing on the cake was an additional ground layer I got from Roger. I felt like a princess on my throne wrapped in my burrito.

I did not set my alarm to take night shots, as I always woke up several times during the night.

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

I cannot believe it! I slept through and woke up being hot! What a cozy night in my burrito. Since I did not wake up as usual, I missed my chance to take night sky shots with my camera. This morning we had pancakes and baked bananas for breakfast. Peggy brought self-made jam which was so good! As promised, my team leader checked my backpack and corrected the way I carry it. At first it seemed a bit strange but it should turn out to be just perfect!

We started our work-free day at 8.45 am. I told Peggy that I had the best night ever in a tent! After a long pause she said that she had arranged some sort of blind date for tonight (no details on when or where). I laughed out loud as I thought it was one of her jokes and told her she is a great story teller.

The first leg of the route was simple. We walked through meadows and beautiful aspen forest. The hiking trail is part of the “Whole Enchilada Mountain Bike Trail”.  So we needed to be prepared to meet bikers on our way. The Whole Enchilada Trail is one of the best mountain bike trails in the USA. It connects the La Sal Mountains with the Colorado River near Moab. Every now and then we met exhausted bikers who pushed their bikes up the mountain. We cheered and clapped our hands to motivate them. On our way up to the pass we crossed several rivers. There was no bridge, so we either walked right through, or balanced on a log to cross the river. That was right up my alley! It was adventurous.

After we had crossed the last river, the ascent became quite arduous. Two of our team members turned around. We also met more bikers who came downhill in extreme speed. Sometimes we hardly had time to jump out of the way. I took a lot of photographs of flowers. We reached the top after about 4 hours and were now on an altitude of about 11.100 feet. What a feeling! The view was spectacular, and in the far distance we saw a big fire burning. That must have been somewhere in Colorado.

We walked on towards “Man´s Peak”. It was 1 pm and we sat on a log to take a break. The guys decided to walk on to reach Man´s Peak. To me the top of the mountain looked too far away. I was pretty tired and my feet hurt. So us women decided to slowly go back and meet the guys somewhere on the way. We talked a lot about flowers and plants. I saw pieces of quartz and other interesting rocks.

Then suddenly I saw some small animal. I couldn´t believe my eyes: marmots! I had never seen them before (in the wilderness) and was thrilled. We saw signs of glacier moving over stone.

So we strolled back to Warner Lake, when at 2.30 pm. the guys joined us. They tried to hike up to Man´s Peak, but found that it took too long and was quite exhausting, so they turned around.

I was leading with a little distance as I took a lot of photographs. Something was buzzing around and I thought it was a grasshopper or a giant butterfly. Then right in front of me, albeit in a distance, it sat on a little branch. Blow me down! I saw my first hummingbird! I was so extremely excited that my hands shook and I had problems focusing with my camera. I took several shots to make sure at least one is good. The bird sat there for about 20 seconds; what an exciting day!

We reached the campground at 4.45 pm, tired but happy. I was offered to take a solar shower. Of course I could not decline the offer! Shower!!!! Behind a camper we set up the solar shower and I started to undress. While doing this I asked whether it would be “safe”, and she said: “I´ve been taking showers every day and not a soul came walking by.” I noticed the look on her face when I stood naked in front of her. Oh dear, I forgot I´m in America! The water started running and the first visitor came by: a deer. I could have reached out my hand and touch it. It was that close. No problem with a deer watching me… When I turned around to get my towel, a couple walked by. So much for “not a soul walking by”. I smiled and waved to them. I don’t know how many people walked by to see me…

Oh I felt great now. Note: camp soap was used again, as for dishes etc. It was almost impossible to comb my hair. The sun was shining and my hair was dry within minutes. With my curls I looked like a mop. I noticed that my ears hurt extremely. Oh dear, I found out I had burned the skin of my ears. I wore a basecap and that was not enough to protect my skin. Well, another lesson learned.

I was hungry! Tonight we had tomato soup as a starter and Greek Pasta (spaghetti, dried tomatoes, olives, feta). Oh, it was good! Roger asked me: “So will you take night sky photography tonight?” I replied “Depending on whether I wake up or not.” He didn´t respond. Everyone went to bed early. It was only 8 pm! So I took my book “The Lakota Way” and read another story. At about 9 I curled up in my warm burrito.

I woke up at 4.45 am. I took my camera and decided to walk down to the lake. Since my tent lot was on the opposite side, I needed to walk around the whole campground. Shortly before I reached the path that led to the lake a voice said: “Be careful.” At first I was confused. I saw a guy with a flashlight. “Why?” I asked. Answer: „There are bears near the campground.“ What????!!! My heart nearly stopped. In a flash I turned around (I did not run). Me, who was a wimp when it came to walking around in the dark at the risk of meeting bears and other wild animals, decided I did not want to die tonight. In my burrito I was alarmed. I heard the slightest noise. Some animal was sneaking around my tent. It was moving quietly. My heart was beating so loud I thought it would scare off the intruder. The creepy thing was the fact that the full moon cast a shadow of the animal on my tent wall. It was deer. The next animal was smaller, looked like a raccoon or something. Shortly before I fell asleep I heard a grunt. Immediately I was wide-awake! I heard an animal moving more ponderous than the other animals. I was so scared, I had all kinds of horror stories in my head. The night before Roger told “Bear Stories” from his time as a Park Ranger. He said a Grizzly grabbed a girl out of her tent in Glacier Park. She was dead before she could make a noise. Her head was smashed. I panicked, crawled out of the tangle of sleeping bags and quickly moved over to Peggy´s tent. I woke her up and said: “Peggy, there is a bear!” In a very calm voice she said slowly: “Ooooh, really? Hmm.“ I said I was scared and asked her what to do. With an unemotional tone she said: “Well, you came out of your tent. This is something I would not have done!” She was not giving comfort here! She further replied “Maybe you can shine your flashlight so that the bear notices you.” Yeah, that was what I wanted! If he hadn´t noticed me yet, I would make it easy for him! Roger seemed to be unimpressed and suggested I should simply go back to my tent. Bears would smell humans and not attack us. So, Roger, what did you tell us the night before?! I went back, soon it would be dawn, and I would get up. I doze off…

Thursday, July 30th, 2015
I got up at 6. I was still working on my bear shock. I waved at the guy from the Forest Crew, he was talking to Peggy. Before breakfast she came over to me asking: “I just apologized for you. Where have you been tonight?” Puzzled I asked “Why? What do you mean?“ Peggy: „You had a date tonight. HE was here, YOU were not.” The disappointed look on her face broke my heart. Speaking of my heart, it sank into my boots. I was completely shocked and told her that I didn´t take it seriously. I mean she never told me when or where! I was so embarrassed! I could have spent a nice evening with someone at a lake in the moonlight; maybe the bear would have given us a great photo motif. My good mood was gone. How could I make up for that?
We had French Toast for breakfast. I was not able to enjoy my favorite breakfast meal.
We started at 8.15 for our hike. All the time I was talking about the stories I had read in my book. Peggy had been a teacher in a Navajo Reservation, so she was the perfect person to talk to about Native American culture. We didn´t take any break on our way up. With each day it took a bit longer to reach our working area. A major part of the hiking path had already been created and we were hiking on our own path.
I was wondering why my “blind date” wasn´t here. I wanted to talk to him and apologize. I was told he left for a job interview and would not come back by Saturday. Well, that would be the day we left. Chance gone.
I said to myself that I was here to work. So I concentrated on shoveling, hoeing, and raking. Our leader said I should go up to the top. This way I could take pictures of the “virgin” mountain before we would finish our trail. So I hiked up, which was quite exhausting. There was no path and lots of stones. I looked out for snakes. The guy said there would be snakes up here but I wouldn´t see them. They would be shy and very slow, but not dangerous. However, I did not want to meet the animal on my top 5 “most scared of creatures”. When I reached the top, my face was glowing. At first I saw a fireplace that was probably very old and made by Native Americans. I looked to my right and what I saw now exceeded all my expectations. A wide valley was lying in front of me – Castle Valley. The red sandstone was glowing in the morning light. The sight was stunning. It took my breath away. For a while I just stood there, marvelling at the valley, surrounded by complete silence. I could hardly believe my luck. Then I remembered to take photographs. When I turned around, I could see the valley Moab was imbedded, and further I saw our campground and Warner Lake. I could even see “Oowa Lake”.

While I was walking around on top of Gold Knob Mountain, I saw a bright blue bird (a Jay?). It was quite tricky to walk down and find my way through the stones. There were lots of butterflies. When I tried to step over a black stick that seemed to be burned, it suddenly moved! Oh God, it was a snake! Panic! It was indeed moving extremely slow, but I jumped over it as if it would bite any minute. I couldn´t believe to encounter a snake on an altitude of 11.053 feet!
Our daily work now consisted of moving stones to make room for a path. It was not allowed to simply throw the stones or let them roll downhill. There were people working and you never knew where the stone would finally come to a halt. So we needed to carry the stones and place them somewhere. Today I worked with the tools “Polaski“ and „McLeoud“ (sources: Wikipedia und forestry-suppliers.com). The so-called switchbacks were a challenge.
Everyone was woking eagerly, no talking. At 3 pm, before turning back, we almost reached the top. The Forest Crew was working on steps made of rocks we were removing. This would make the steep ascent easier for hikers.
Today my energy was somehow gone. I took several breaks and it seemed work was harder than ever. On our way down to the campground, everyone was silent, lost in thoughts. By now I knew the path. I knew the meadow, the place where the old miners cabin was etc. The area we were in is called “Miner´s Basin”. In 1888 copper was found and lots of people came here to mine. We saw an old mining cabin on our daily hike.
I guess we were a bit melancholic today. Tomorrow would be our last day as Wilderness Volunteers.
As usual I was keeping my journal and walked down to the lake. At 6 we met for dinner. We would have a campfire tonight with the Forest Crew. We had curry for dinner. It was a quiet and contemplative mood, even around the fire. Roger started to tell of his famous bear stories again. Awful! We were laughing a lot. Later that evening we met the camp guard Andrea. She told us of the bears last night. There were two of them near the campground. Some people have seen them, others have seen a bear fighting for food with a racoon. This was a bizarre thought: a bear fighting with a raccoon. Some of us laughed their heads off at the thought of that. Well, Andrea proved that I had probably heard the bear grunting…
At 10 we all went to our tents. I was uneasy being in my tent on my own.

Friday, July 31st, 2015
I woke up a couple of times during the night but fell asleep in the morning. Again I was a bit late for breakfast. It was cold this morning: 45°F.
This morning we had oatmeal and English Muffins for breakfast. We all loved it. At about 8.30 we started for our last hike up to Gold Knob Mountain. Every bend, every new scenery was familiar. I was sad that time passed so quickly.
There was not much work left. We managed to build the trail almost to the top. I had a lot of energy today and worked hard. Most of our work was “cosmetic repair”. We walked on our own trail every day, and so we noticed every bump or root that should be fixed. At 11.30 we all hiked up to the top to have our last lunch. We sat right next to the old Native American fireplace. The view was gorgeous. While we were having lunch, we had our first visitors! A couple hiked up all the way with their two dogs. They complimented us for our great work. What a feeling! At 12.30 we started going back. Work was done. The trail had been built. It was quite hot today. While we had cool temperatures and wind the first day, it became warmer each day. We were very lucky as we did not have a drop of rain during the day. Every day I drank all my water even before we arrived in the campground.
In slow pace and in pondering silence we walked through the aspen forest. I kept my diary, sitting at the table next to my tent. I watched a wood pecker and enjoyed the sound of nature.
I decided to pack my bag, as I was on cooking duty the next morning. So I wouldn´t have time to do that tomorrow.
I knew that it was Peggy´s birthday today but I was told not to tell anyone. We had a surprise for her. Our leader hat picked wild flowers and decorated the dinner table with it. After dinner she brought chocolate (heart-shaped), cookies and as a substitute for candles she brought incent sticks (ocean). What a combination! We all sang Happy Birthday and had a nice last evening together with chocolate and cookies.

Our leaders also had a present for us volunteer workers. We got a bandeau and a neck-cooling scarf!
Tonight was the last opportunity to take night sky photography. So after everyone had left, I walked to the lake. At about 9.30 pm it was dark enough. Nobody was at the lake, it was me and the dark (wimp speaking). I admit it was an eerie situation. As I stood there in silence, something came moving towards my direction. I heard it and could see its surroundings. It was a small animal, moving slowly and clumsy. (Bear!) I was slightly panic-stricken, took my camera and tripod and went back to safer grounds. By the way, it was a beaver…
At 10 the sky was perfect and I took some shots for half an hour. The amount of stars was incredible. Unfortunately no sign of the milky way…The full moon was quite dominant…

At 10.30 I slipped into my burrito. Insomnia. We had new (loud) neighbors in the campground. They were drinking a lot. The party started when they emptied all the food and alcohol near the fence next to my tent. What a night! I just hoped the bear wouldn´t find this interesting and smell food…

Saturday, August 01st, 2015

I got up at 5.45 and unsnarled my sleeping-burrito. I packed my things and emptied the tent. At 6.30 I helped preparing breakfast. There was no sun this morning. The weather adapted to my mood – dull and sad. We tried to use everything that was left for breakfast: oatmeal, English muffins, jam, cookies etc. I did not want to leave yet! After breakfast everyone seemed to be bustling. Roger and Peggy would take me downtown in their car again. We took a final group picture and said goodbye to each other. Saying goodbye in general is something I can easily do without. I always hide tears (oh well, wimp meets sensible plant).

The Forest Crew came over to exchange email addresses. I never thought that I would take everyone to my heart that much. At 8.30 we left the campground. On the way down we met the forest crew member who had gone to the job interview. We waved goodbye, I knew I´d never see him again.

To my surprise I did not need the 6 pieces of “toilet kit”. Roger drove me to the store, and I was able to return it. Way too soon it was time to say goodbye to Roger and Peggy. I asked for their address, as I wanted to keep in touch with them (and send them a little Thank You note for not letting me freeze in the wilderness of Utah).

At 10 am I booked into my motel „Inca Inn“. I was too early, so I used all the outlets in the front office to charge my camera batteries. I took my backpack and walked downtown. It was very hot already, totally different than on the campground. I wanted to call my Mom to let her know I was still alive. But – to my surprise my phone was somehow broken. I could perfectly hear her but she couldn´t hear me at all. My phone was broken!

Downtown Moab is a nice little town. I checked a couple of stores to kill time and to take advantage of their air conditioning. At 2 I went back to the hotel, hoping my room would be ready to move in. I was lucky! This time my room number was 15, just opposite to the one I was staying at when I arrived. Right above my door there was German flag!

I finally took the long-awaited shower to feel like a human again. Next I called the company I had booked the day trip with. They said I was still the only participant for the “Canyonlands” trip. We agreed that they would call me by 4 pm (I forgot about my broken phone).

It is 4 pm now, nobody called. So I walked over. I was pretty angry about that kind of service. They confirmed that there were enough participants now so they didn´t call. Oh well, what random logic…

Next I took all of my clothing to walk down to the laundromat. I did not have a single piece of clean clothing left. I walked along Main Street with my big black bag. I felt kind of strange, as if hiding something forbidden. Maybe I just read way too many Stephen King books. I comforted myself with the fact that nobody knew me. This was the first time I had been to a laundromat. I looked at the big American washing machines and put my stuff into the first one I saw. Then I noticed that there were different kinds of machines, depending on the amount of clothing you had. I removed everything and loaded the smallest one instead.

While I was waiting, I watched TV. I walked over to the dryer and put my things into it. I put the money in and pressed the button. Oh no! I pressed the wrong button and activated the machine for someone else. The woman next to me corrected my mistake, without a word, straight-faced. After 3 minutes the machine stopped. I was wondering what was happening. She had put in just enough money for three minutes. „OK, keep calm.“ I took my wet clothes and left, straight-faced. Now I had enough courage to even walk into “Wendy´s” with my Bag of Bones (sorry, couldn´t resist the word play. I´m a fan.)

The final highlight of the day is still ahead of me: the Sunset Tour through Arches National Park. After I had spread my wet clothes all over the motel room, I left for my tour at 4 pm. We were about 9 persons. At first I was not too optimistic, as the sky was cloudy. The young guy though was very positive that we would have a great sunset. On the way to the park he was telling us interesting stories about Moab, mining times, and the park itself. After about 15 minutes we stopped to see “Park Avenue”. Wow, THAT topped it all! I was thrilled to see such an awesome view. I couldn´t wait to find out what else there was to see. Almost on demand the sky cleared off. We drove along the „Scenic Drive“, marveling at balancing rocks, the fantastic formations of „Fiery Furnace“, and stopped at „Sand Dune Arch“.  This little arch was hidden and it reminded me of two polar bears touching each other´s nose (the romantic in me would say “they kissed”). Our next stop was „Skyline Arch“. 

By now the sun was setting and the light was more than perfect! We came to the road that led to the „Double Arch“ rock formation. I have seen a lot of marvelous natural wonders but this clearly is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen! The sight of it in its singularity (especially with the golden glow of the setting sun) captivated me. Double Arch put a spell on me!The sun was almost gone but we kept going to see a last panorama of the balancing rock with the La Sal mountains in the back. You could see that it was raining in the far distance. The contrast in light was great! To conclude the evening we all had snacks and watched the final rays of light set over Arches NP. We arrived at the hotel at 9.30 pm. This trip left its mark. Its unique scenery deeply touched me; the light was gorgeous. I was overjoyed to have been given the privilege to experience this piece of nature. Exhausted but happy I dropped into bed, my head spinning with thousands of impressions.

Sunday, August 02nd, 2015

I almost gave up hope, but today I will go on a day trip to Canyonlands National Park. I was supposed to be picked up at 8 am. They were late, so I called the office. They hadn´t even left yet. Oh dear. I´m German and punctuality is one of my top 3 virtues. I waited in the cool air. While it was quite hot yesterday, it was cold this morning; the sky was dark and cloudy. When the car finally arrived, I was introduced to a couple from Golden, Colorado. What a coincidence: by ex-boss now lives in Golden. It´s a small world.

So first we headed towards Potash Road (I had been there on my first day in Moab to look for petroglyphs). Our driver explained a lot of interesting things about the history of Moab and the national parks around. He showed us almost all of the spots revealing petroglyphs on the walls. I took a lot of photographs.

Potash road ends at the “Potash Mine”. We passed large pools with tropical blue water. These were the so called “vaporization pools”. The mine is still operating. Workers pump the potash out of the earth, the sun vaporizes the water and leaves salt crystals. The water is colored artificially, so that the heat is absorbed quicker. The whole vaporization process takes 300 days.

I remembered that I saw bright blue spots in the far distance when I stood on top of Gold Knob Mountain. Nobody knew what that could be. Now I know that I could see the ponds!

We were driving on the White Rim Trail which is in the north-east corner of Canyonlands. This path is not paved. It´s a wild drive! We saw old, rotten mining tools and ruins from pre-historic Anasazi and Fremont cultures. I was prepared for this trip and took my “beloved” chewing gum against motion sickness before we left. Our driver had great fun. The jeep was bumping, sometimes you couldn´t see a path at all. Sometimes the car fit to a hair on the narrow and rough terrain. It was quite a ride, especially if you sat on the wrong side of the car where you saw nothing but the steep abyss. The other woman was screaming and laughing, then wimping again. We had so much fun (I chew on my gum as if it was the last thing I´d do).

Our next stop was called “Thelma&Louise Point”. Post-diary note: last week I saw the movie and recognized many of the film shooting locations, especially the final scenes in Canyonlands. I was there! Yay! Our driver said that it took two cars (two tries) to shoot the scene. As I stood on the edge, looking downwards to the Colorado River, I thought about my Mom and her fear of heights. She would probably have a panic attack standing here. Poor Mom. We went on driving along White Rim Road to „Gooseneck Overlook“. It almost looks like “Dead Horse Point”.

The weather was anything but great, but all those clouds caused the scenery to even look more dramatic. I took several HDR shots to make sure the quality of the pictures would be good enough under these circumstances.

Every now and then it rained a bit until all of a sudden it was pouring. The “White Rim Trail”  in fact looked completely white. Colors of rocks and the scenery totally changed when it was raining.

Next we stopped at “Musselman Arch“. At first I was not able to see it. It was hidden and fit perfectly to the scenery. Technically it is a bridge. It’s five feet thick, six feet wide, 187 feet long (as measured on Google Earth®)–and 300 feet down! The guys walked over the arch first. I watched them. Then I came closer and decided that I had not come here to be a coward in the end. So I also walked over the arch. I am so glad not to suffer from fear of heights! I felt great: it was me, the wind, solitude, the arch and some drops of rain.

This has been a great day so far. I had no problems with car sickness. Our driver constantly asked whether I was OK, and he drove carefully, no harsh breaking, no fast turns etc. However, every chewing gum dies sometime. I started to feel a little sick. There was one important decision we all had to make though. We were standing at the turn that would lead us to „Lathrop Canyon“, and intended to have lunch down at the river. There were lightning and thunder in the distance. So our driver called Moab to find out about the weather forecast. Nobody took the phone. We watched the clouds moving and were pretty sure that it wouldn´t hit us. There were two possibilities: we did not go down Lathrop Canyon at all and would look for a different spot to have lunch, or we would go down and up again and then look for a lunch spot. We all decided that we would go and hoped that the rain would pass us by. I decided not to take another gum as my mouth would be numb, and I would not be able to taste any lunch. This ride was the weirdest I ever had! It is a 4 mile road one-way from White Rim to the river; elevation gain 1683 ft. We looked for the cairns that would mark the way on the slickrock trail. We did not find all the cairns and got a little lost for a minute.

No rain yet, everything was fine. When we arrived at the river, we enjoyed the view for a while before we headed back.

I don´t know what was worse: the descent or ascent. When we made it to the White Rim Road again, I was feeling really sick. We now drove to a place called “Washerwoman”. It was starting to rain. While our driver prepared lunch, we took a walk into the Canyon.

Despite the weather conditions we managed to to see most of our planned tour destinations. Time flew and we needed to head back. After lunch I took another gum and couldn´t wait to see “Shafer Canyon” and drive on “Shafer Trail Road”. This is a really cool road but you should not be afraid of heights! The road is extremely twisting with hair pins. Everything was fine until there was opposing traffic! We were going in slow pace as there was room for one car only on the road. Don´t ask me how our driver managed (I closed my eyes as I was sitting on the wrong side of the car and I didn´t see anything but “free fall”) to let the other jeep pass us by. The rule said traffic going up had right of way. Our driver saw the tourists and decided to make room to let them pass (ignoring the whining and begging of its own passengers). When we arrived at the top (must have been around 4 pm), we were rewarded with a spectacular view. Unfortunately it was quite dark and it rained every now and then. Our driver showed us a white spot in the cliffs. That was a car that crashed down when tourists forgot to use the parking break.

The day was nearing its end and I had a thousand more impressions in my head. It was almost completely dark by 5 pm. When we returned to Moab I packed my bag – again. My time in Moab full of exciting adventures end encounters was over – way too fast. This would be my last night in Moab under the German flag.

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

I had arranged to be picked up by the car rental service at 10 am. I had breakfast and sat outside waiting with my luggage. With a 15 minutes delay I was finally picked up. The woman had gone to the wrong hotel…It seems people here are not very well organized…

My service agent was in quite a hurry. It seemed she wanted to handle everything quickly. She rattled through the insurance details, hurried around the car and said “No defects.” Well, that doesn´t work with me! I pointed out several dents and scratches. She wrote everything down, I signed my contract and off I went. I stopped at the supermarket to get water and a little bite to eat. For one last time I drove along main street.

Today I wanted to drive on Route 128. I read about this byway, the scenery was supposed to be very unique. So I decided to take this route to Colorado and intended to briefly see “Castle Valley”. When I was on Gold Knob Mountain I saw the valley. Today I wanted to see a different perspective: Gold Knob Mountain seen from the valley. Besides, I wanted to stop in Cisco, a Ghost Town on my way. I intended to spend the afternoon riding on Rimrock Drive in „Colorado National Monument“. Here I am, ready to start my final stage of my adventure trip. I decided to spend about 30 minutes driving into Castle Valley. After a few minutes I reached the rock formation „Priest and The Nuns“, and „Castle Tower“. From here I was able to see Gold Knob Mountain (though I am not sure which one it is). I looked back at my volunteer experience with great nostalgia.

I arrived in Cisco at noon. It was very hot! I was the only one and drove through the empty streets. I took some pictures of this “lost place”. Since it was very hot, I left early. I was afraid that my “Kia” would give up in this heat, and I would be stuck in a ghost town. So I went on to the highway that would lead me to Fruita, Colorado.

At first I stopped at the tourist information. An elder woman immediately approached me. As always I was asked where I came from etc.. She was so happy to hear I was from Germany…She was very kind and explained a lot to me.

I drove to the entrance gate of „Colorado National Monument“. When I reached out of my window to pay, the young woman became very excited and said “Oh my God! This is the prettiest watch I´ve ever seen! Where did you get it?” I explained that I bought it in Moab (it´s a beautiful silver watch in Native American style with Dry Creek/White Buffalo turquoise).
I started my drive on the 37 km Rim Rock Drive that starts in Fruita (west entrance) on an altitude of 1430 m.

This landscape was very different from what I had seen in Moab. The road was winding, and I drove slowly. There were different viewpoints along the road. I stopped in each one. Each turn brought me further up the plateau. I met the same group of seniors at every viewpoint, so we took pictures of each other and arranged to meet at the next stop. They were very funny and laughed all the time. The highest point is called “Ute Canyon View”, on an altitude of 2024 m. The view from “Cold Shiver Point” was breathtaking. From this point on I went downhill, approaching Grand Junction. After about one and a half hours I arrived at the east entrance (or exit) of the park. It must have been around 4 pm, I did not write it down. I was hungry and decided that my last American meal should be my favorite: burrito. So I searched for “Taco Bell” on my GPS and arrived at a shopping mall. I enjoyed my meal (oh I love burritos…). Maybe you remember that I had bought “Camper´s Toilet Paper” when I arrived two weeks ago. I did not use it and went to Walmart to return it.

It was time to go to my hotel at the airport. Econolodge was right opposite a gas station which reminded me that I needed to return the car with full gas. I have bad memories about Econolodge and was curious about this one in Colorado. When I stepped into the lobby I thought this was a 4-star hotel. Everything was so clean and I smelled fresh cookies.

I was a few minutes to late. A group of bikers had checked in and the guy at the reception (very old guy) did not manage to check them in. It took forever (20 minutes) and 4 cookies until it was my turn. I took my bags to the room and parked my car on the other side of the hotel. For the umpteenth time I spread all my clothes on the bed and tried to figure out the most efficient way to pack my bag. I left my disused sleeping bag in Moab and had a little bit more room now. After a long time I was finally able to close the zipper (but don´t ask how I managed…). Then I sat on my bed, on my last evening. Only a short time ago I was sitting on my bed in Chicago, on my first night, my adventure ahead of me. Time flew. I looked at my photographs on my camera and did not want to return to Germany…

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

I got up very early, as my plane lifts at 8.20 am. The breakfast room was more than tiny. Only one person had room to get food from the counter. I was dressed in my workout clothes and went to and fro between my table and the counter. One of the other guests commented that I already had the right clothing for my morning workout.

It took me 5 minutes to drive to the car return. I took my “beloved” chewing gum against motion sickness and waited for boarding. For one last time I enjoyed the beautiful sight of the Colorado Plateau. The plane was small, there was room for 50 people. I noticed that a woman was sitting on my seat. It was obvious that she was a shortspoken and unfriendly person. So I decided not to quarrel. She did not even look up when I sat down. When the plane lifted, I took several pictures as the view was very nice. A person sitting behind me asked whether I wanted to swop seats so I could have window seat and take pictures. How nice of her! I kindly declined. The woman next to me was strictly fixed on her laptop. Then all of a sudden she closed the blinds! Without any facial expression she said “Tell me if you want to take pictures.” I couldn´t believe it…

I looked at her laptop to see what she was doing. Oh my God! She was a teacher!!! Poor children…

The flight was unexpectedly calm, and I had no problems. In Phonix I left at 9.50 am for Chicago. I arrived at 3.59 pm Chicago time. I arrived at a totally different terminal than before. It took me a very long time to find the exit where the hotel shuttle would be waiting. I was on the move all day and I was hungry. When I finally found the terminal and the right exit, there was nothing to buy food! The only place sold pizza. Then I saw the sign “Cash only”. Oh dear, I spent all my cash for one tiny pizza!

I was nervous that the hotel reception would not hear me but fortunately they did (I was hollering into my phone). This time it took 45 minutes until the shuttle found us. I had enough time to eat my mini-pizza.

When I arrived I sent an email home. I checked in for my flight tomorrow and printed my boarding tickets. Next I arranged for the shuttle tomorrow. My flight was scheduled for 4.20 pm, but check out was by noon.

Since I had spent all my cash on the pizza, I could not wash my clothes. Well, I´ll be going home tomorrow, it´s ok. I tried to call Mom and for whatever reason I pressed the button for hands-free-speaking. Mom said “Why do you scream, I can hear you perfectly well!” Now I knew that the internal speaker was broken. We chatted for a while and Mom was happy to hear my voice. So this was my last night in America before heading back. 

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

I did not note when I got up. To be honest, I disregarded my journal. I was either too tired or too melancholic… However, I brought everything down to breakfast to be ready. I sat down in the lobby as all the tables were occupied.

I ate a lot for breakfast because I knew, I wouldn´t have much time or chance to eat for a while. The shuttle arrived late and for the last time I drove to the airport. There were lots of detours and road works. When I arrived, I realized the airport dimensions. It took me a while until I found my gate. When I arrived, I simply got in line of one of the lines. I intended to go inside to be able to see some of the shops. I still had a lot of time. So I was in line. Something was strange. I was asked to throw away my water bottle. OK, I forgot. They took my backpack for an inspection. Then it dawned on me: I was already on my way to the gate! I stood in the wrong line! I have been flying for many years, and this was the first time I messed it up. I hadn´t even checked in my bag! So I asked a security officer for the way out. There was no other way than to wait for 3 hours for the counter to open. I read in my second book “Selected Poems” by Emily Dickinson. After 3,5 hours I went in line again. The same procedure as 3 hours ago… This time my backpack was OK. Hm. Same line, same officers, same backpack… I found my gate quickly. This part of the airport was rather small. Not much to do. I was hungry. There were two options: fast-food or Chinese food. I decided to have real food with vegetables.

I strolled through the shops, had coffee and a muffin before we were allowed to board.

There was a young woman next to me in the plane who immediately started chatting. Oh dear, she told me where she was going, where she was coming from etc. She was a chatterbox.

Turbulences started after two hours. I was feeling sick. My little chatterbox offered me chewing gum and was very worried. Despite the turbulences, the pilot did not activate the signs to buckle up for about 10 minutes. Oh well…After that the flight was OK and so was I. Shortly before we landed we saw the most beautiful sunrise. I did not have my camera with me, it was stowed away! The sight of the sky and the clouds was amazing. Europe was welcoming me in pink colors.

I spent the following weeks arranging and editing my photographs (about 2.000). I did not find enlightenment or answers to my questions. No breakthrough… However, I was on an amazing adventure, I met wonderful people, and spent time in nature.  And no, I did not have blisters on my feet! Many other little aches and pains, but no blisters. I made my dream come true and have collected new and precious impressions of a unique landscape. Whenever I am lonely I can take my travel journal and read of this incredible time in my life.

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