Canyonlands – a bunch of rocks and sand .. well yes but also the destination for yet another group of intrepid Skedaddlers keen to hone their riding/hiking/drinking/altitude acclimatising skills.
To describe a Skedaddle holiday ( sorry – adventure ) involves many superlatives – Canyonlands is no exception!
Arches National park had the most isolated campsite. Utah had the most stupid drinking laws Moab slickrock was the weirdest surface to ride on. The sunset gallop through Monument Valley was the most exhilarating ride. The Grand Canyon was – well the Grand Canyon – in a rare moment of British understatement one member of the team described the view across the North Rim of the canyon as … pleasant – short hand for truly spectacular. Las Vegas seemed to be the biggest adult playground.
From the first, I defy anyone to gather together such a mix of abilities, ages and backgrounds as were collected at Salt Lake City Airport for the first portion of the holiday. Alasdair – our brave and upstanding guide for the first part of the holiday shepherded us all to our hotel where we all met Charlie – the driver/cook/ Davy Crockett look alike ( or was that Catweazle !) who was to be with us for the duration…
For our first night we were to enjoy the comforts of a hotel room before the camping proper began. Arches National Park was to be our first destination and as we set up camp in what was effectively the desert – yes, the desert complete with sand, clear crisp nights and hot days.
The packed day which followed our first night under the stars set the tone for the rest of the holiday – fun, tiring, full of spectacular scenery and all organised to perfection by a constantly jovial Charlie and ever efficient Alasdair…
Dinner under the crystal clear starry night was perhaps Charlie’s finest hour, tacos with a choice of fillings including salmon. By this time it was clear that sand would form a prominent of my luggage during this holiday as it found its way into everything. Washing facilities at this and indeed the other campsites we visited were as expected – rudimentary but the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere more than compensated.
After Needles we had our first gentle taste of biking amongst this John Wayne scenery – then off to experience what this small town biking mecca of Moab has to offer by way of entertainment. 3 or 4 hours later we return to the tents slightly bemused by the strange drink laws which require that you only drink when eating and then only one at a time !
The next day, the day I was personally waiting for, we were to tackle the famous slickrock trail. A moonscape of slightly porous rock criss crossed with white markings up and down impossibly steep surfaces. “Advanced riding skills required” warned the information notice, who could resist. 3 hours later, absolutely shattered, covered in sweat and with bikes strangely transformed into rattling heaps of metal we finally rode back to camp with Cheshire Cat grins and “I’ve done it” smugness. Definitely a high point ! Little did I know there was more to come.
The group was gelling well by now once the traditional British reserve had receded and scenery, ailments and .. shopping seemed to bond us (don’t ask how). After a few more days sampling more of the canyonlands scenery and stunning bike trails – Imagine “The High Chapparal” on wheels – there was a seamless changeover of Skedaddle staff with the arrival of Andrew “come on” Straw. Alasdair left leaving high expectations of professionalism and devotion to duty. Straws gamely upheld these expectations… with a few hitches including an off the wall taste in afternoon TV which gave afternoon hikes in the wilds of the Utah countryside a slightly surreal edge.
We eventually pitched camp and hit the road to the Grand Canyon and eventually Las Vegas. first we stayed the night in Monument Valley which simply took my breath away with its sweeping scenery and majestic rock formations. For those who managed to grip the saddle, ( Tony ! ) the sunset gallop across the basin of the valley was just another – remember it later and sigh wistfully – type moment. Sleeping under the stars courtesy of the local Navajo I was already planning to return, with Skedaddle of course.
What next … only the Grand Canyon ! we camped on the Northernmost rim and on the first night, those of us who slept outside witnessed the most amazing electric storm which lit up the entire canyon stretched out under us. As far as I was concerned this holiday could not get any better.
The next morning we hiked down into the canyon as far as our lungs (and vertigo) would let us then on to Zion National Park for a few more days of simply awesome biking. I use the word awesome advisedly, it was fast and technical and also led by a guy and his dog who along with others had lovingly chosen, tended and protected these trails which were a joy to ride.
Did I leave out all the hiking ? Oh yes fantastic hike to Angels Landing apparently for those who liked that sort of thing.
Group bonding now almost complete thanks to various campfire discussions and yoga exhibitions we were ready to take on Vegas under the best possible conditions – arrive sunset leave sunrise. All talk of sleep rudely brushed aside by those of us ( and we know who we are ! ) who celebrated Straws’ birthday in showbiz style. Vegas…
Go on this trip if you’re happy or sad, old or young, fit or unfit enjoy company or solitude … but don’t go on this trip if you don’t want seriously good fun.
Ben Foley, London