Discovering Red

One can speak poetry just by arranging colors well.

Vincent Van Gogh

I grew up under the gray skies of western Washington. While heavy rains rarely fell, a light drizzle was a common occurrence, especially in the winter and spring and fall. . .well, almost all the time.

The trade off for this abundant precipitation was the color green. Fir trees were common, even in the city. My family had landscaped our yard in Tacoma with a nice selection of western Washington evergreens, including Douglas fir, Pacific Silver, and Western Hemlock. I took green for granted. Our summer vacations were spent camping in the Olympics and Cascades, where mountain peaks rose above our campsites by the river, and the deep pools were the color of jade.

I knew little about deserts, and my experience with them was limited to the rare occasions when we would drive east on Interstate 90 towards Spokane, where the world seemed colorless and boring. On such occasions I always gave thanks that I lived on the wet side of the Evergreen State, despite the persistent gray skies.

Sometime in my early twenties my husband and I took a road trip to the southwest. While I was impressed with the beautiful red canyon country we visited, the desert landscape for me was simply something to pass through on our way to another National Park. I remember the tedious drive across Nevada. How is it that I failed to notice that it was beautiful? I have no answer, except perhaps that I was too distracted by life to really pay much attention to it.

That would not occur for another twenty years. My daughters by then were teenagers, and I was on my way to Albuquerque with another soccer mom, where they were competing in the regional playoffs. As we drove past the entrance to Arches National Park I remember cars and RV’s ascending the steep switchbacks above the park entrance. I was captured by wonder at that moment. The color red was dazzling. The vehicles disappeared over the top of the hill. I wanted to go there. I wanted to disappear into red.

We were on our way to Albuquerque, and I was not able to disappear into that landscape until the return trip home. I had packed a tent in order to do some camping and sightseeing along the way, but Annie and Leah were eager to put the trip behind them after suffering defeat to a hotshot California team. As they complained from the backseat of the car I told them simply that I wanted to spend a night or two in Arches National Park. That was all I asked. They were kids. I was the mom. I got my wish. I enticed them with a raft trip the following day on the Colorado River. We returned to our beautiful campsite that evening. And I returned there again and again, not just to Arches but to Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, Capital Reef, and the Painted Desert.

I have just returned from one of those trips and am now at home in the mountains once again, surrounded by the color green, familiar and comfortable. Loving the desert has not made me love the mountains any less. It has instead enabled me to love the natural landscape, wherever I find it, more deeply, with greater wonder, and with an intensity that keeps me on the trails year after year.

Published by Colleen Drake

Colleen Drake (AKA Teacup) has over sixty years of hiking exerience (yes, I'm really old) and has seen some pretty big changes over those many years. Join her on the Solitude Trail & share some of these adventures while exploring with her the value of solitude in the wilderness.

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