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Life in Missoula, Montana.

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Capitol Reef National Park is a great place to connect to the elements of earth and stone. Here you'll find vast monoliths, huge rock formations, and towering cliffs in tones of brown, tan, orange, pink, red, white, and every color in between. As the daylight, weather, and cloud cover changes throughout the day, the colors change like a massive kaleidoscope.IMG 0599

 

The best way to experience the power and scale of the earth element here is by hiking. When you hike, you experience the rock up close and really feel the power of stone all around you. You hike through, over and between the rock, and the trails often take you along slickrock shelves and ramps. You may start in a low canyon with brown and red walls looming high above you and end up climbing up among white layers of navajo sandstone.

 

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I won't go into a lot of technical detail about the geology here. Whole books have been written on the subject and most leave me more confused than before I read them. Two things you need to know about Capitol Reef, though. One is that there are more layers of rock exposed here than almost anywhere in the Southwest (except the Grand Canyon). The other is that the elevation in Capitol Reef ranges from near 9,000 feet in the northwest corner to around 4,000 feet in the south. All this means that you can see lots of layers of rocks, each layer representing a different time in rock history. Rock dominates here and the variety is phenomenal. Above is a photo of the white knobs (domes) of Navajo Sandstone with black volcanic rocks in the foreground.

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The layers of rock represent 200 million years of clay, sand, gravel, volcanic ash, evaporated salts, and aquatic fossils that have been deposited here over time. It's easy to feel a connection with the past here among the ancient elements of earth.

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The Golden Throne (above).

You'll find monuments here, monuments of rock. Also spires, domes, thrones, natural bridges, and arches. When you gaze on the steep canyon walls, it's difficult not to see faces, animals, and spirits.

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When you are among these stone walls and formations, it is easy to feel the power of these places. There is a feeling of solidity, strength, and age-old patience in the rock formations here, and its easy to get a feeling of awe when surrounded by the high canyon walls.

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Cathedral Rock on the far right (above)

While the earth element is strong here, there are plenty of vistas with great views of the wide open skies to balance things out. The heat of the desert is balanced out by the green, lush growth around the visitors center, where giant old cottonwoods and a variety of fruit trees grow.

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In the last year, I’ve climbed ten different mountains. I’ve learned some things about myself and a lot about mountains. I’ve found that most mountains don’t let you just stroll to the top. No, you have to earn the top and most peaks make you work for it. They do this in a number of ways. They hit you with snow, wind, rain, and sleet. Trails are choked with deadfall. They offer you terrain so steep that muscles burn and you struggle for air. You sweat, you strain. One step, then another. How about some self-doubt? Are you a quitter? The mountain wants to know. 

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A mountain can turn you around, confuse you. If it doesn’t want you on its flanks, it can shrug you off like a dog with a tick. Sometimes you have to bushwhack through dense forest that slams your shins and grabs at your clothes. If you get overconfident, think you’re prepared and fit and raring to go, some mountains throw in additional obstacles. Snow so deep that the trail disappears. Trail signs that underestimate distances. Scree fields. False summits. A mountain makes you work, to struggle. It decides if you’re worthy.

 

Even for those who persevere, the summit can be a triumph or it can be the mountain’s final lesson. Fog, snow, or low clouds can rob you of your scenic payoff. Beautiful summit view denied. The mountain has decided that if you want that nice bonus, you’ll have to go through it all again. That’s right, you’ll have to work for it, and the mountain has decided you’re only half done. I believe that mountains want respect. They punish those who aren’t prepared, people who don’t bother to bring the right gear, or the right attitude. Some are fairly forgiving, while others really make you pay. And pay. 

 

You don’t conquer a mountain. Instead a mountain decides whether or not it allows you to get to the top. It decides how many obstacles to put in your way.

 

Most of the mountains I’ve climbed are relatively small, 7,000 to 10,000 feet. Not the high Andes or the Himalayas by any means. The consequences are not as severe, though the lessons are the same. A mountain can make you struggle, or a mountain can kill you. Bring the right attitude and be prepared and maybe, just maybe, it will let you see the top.

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