by Michael Weybret
With tired eyes and sore backs we navigated our way through the small town of La Verkin, Utah. Chiming in with it’s robotic never-quite-comfortable voice my GPS reminds me that we are about 15 minutes away from our campsite just outside of Zion National Park where we plan to spend the next few days. A long day of driving had brought my girlfriend and I across 3 states and we were eager to be done with the day and, since we were driving two separate cars, be together for our first night camping alone on our first big road trip together.
As we neared the end of our day’s journey, the sun was nearing the end of it’s. The great light and life giving orb hung low in the sky, crawling towards the horizon with trademark unwavering diligence. Being so anxious to find a campsite and get out of the car I was only just noticing the light, wispy blanket of clouds, which all day had loomed over the Utah desert, had begun to dissipate in the waining hours of the day. The shadows cast upon the red rock cliffs grew long and tired.
We expected finding our campsite to be a bit of an adventure. We have each become experts, in our own right, at finding free campsites near our destinations, whether it be by word of mouth, local advice, or a good ol’ fashion google search. This saved money on long trips and often provided the much coveted isolation and solitude that can be difficult to come by in many of the more popular national parks we planned on visiting. The downside of this tactic is you never quite know what you are getting yourself into.
The light began to fade fast as we rambled down a long dirt road past the few mountain bikers returning from their rides. I had heard their is a magical spot to camp along this road, nestled alongside the creek the flows from the adjacent hills, but the turn off was proving hard to find. Stopping for a quick team meeting, Laysea, in her infinite wisdom, suggested we cut our losses and just find a place to turn off. She had noticed a small offshoot of the road just a bit back that looked promising.
“I’m just ready to set up camp,” she said. “Plus, it’s starting to look like it’s going to be a pretty sunset.”
She was right. The horizon was bright yellow and the surrounding cliffs were beginning to glow their famous shade of Utah red. She led the way down the bumpy road where we easily found a campsite. I am certain we are not the first visitors to get the sensation that this patch of earth was made especially for us.
The cars went into park and the dog jumped out of Laysea’s Westfalia to mark and secure the perimeter of our new temporary homestead. Laysea and I greeted each other, finally relaxing in each other’s arms after 8 or so hours in our respective cars, and began to marvel at the scene we have found ourselves in.
The striated rock faces to the northeast, the beginnings of Zion National Park, were blooming. Deep crimson, red, and orange erupted all along the ridge line as a canopy of pink and purple sky enveloped us. It was, to put it simply, a spectacle. Being photographers, we both instinctively reached for our cameras and began to play in the light, documenting our first impressions of Utah’s remarkable beauty. We snapped photos of each other, our cars (we commented on how they make quite the pair), and Koda the dog who was perhaps the most excited of us all in the moment, even if it just because she was finally out of the car.
Then, by some slow but sudden divine grace of the universe, the beauty of that moment suspended us in time. The colors hung in the air above us and our busy world came to rest with the red rocks surrounding us. There wasn’t a sound but for our own breath, and the breath of the gentle wind tickling it’s way across black brush and snakeweed blanketing the open plain. In a return of Utah’s ancient past, a great ocean of calm washed over us. The rush of photographing came to pass and we could simply marvel at the site. With cameras idle at our sides, we stood basking in the stillness for what seemed like an eternity.
Sunsets are by no means a rarity, even ones as beautiful as this. But time is, and it is not so often we afford ourselves enough time to enjoy what is a daily occurrence on this planet. Our busy worlds have a way of sweeping us up and carrying us away from moments like these. Beauty is not in and of itself hard to find, but the presence of mind required to witness and truly appreciate it can be.
I am quite aware that I live a blessed life. I do however, at times, feel that I suffer the curse of the photographer. A curse that can means when I get to witness moments like this I am watching most of it through the confines of the my viewfinder, a barrier of glass separating me from the very experience I intend to capture. It can feel like the difference between being present for a moment and watching it on TV. It as if life passes me by before I can really appreciate the beauty of the moment I am in. But that would not be the case on this day.
The overhead canvas of pastels slowly gave way to the night sky and pinholes of light appeared one by one. The once vibrant bluffs were now mere silhouettes, great beasts standing in the distance. With the ease a feather settling on the ground, the earth began to spin again and we became aware of time; dinner time to be specific. We retreated into the warmth of my camper to cook, drink wine, and feel safe in life and in love.
Michael Weybret is the founder of Do Something Cool and acting editor-n-chief. Born and raised in California, Michael now lives on the road exploring the US in search for untold stories, hidden gems, and cinnamon rolls.
In addition to his work for DSC Michael is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer.