Early last year, I managed to convince two buddies to go camping with me at Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park — in the dead of bone-cold winter. We knew it was a fool’s errand, with daytime highs in the teens and overnight lows in the ... well, let’s just say I still shiver to think about it. When we set up camp, we realized we were the only hikers crazy enough sleep out in that bitter cold. Ours were the only tents in the entire national park. It wasn’t comfortable, but we didn’t suffer. We came prepared with warm clothing, good sleeping bags and a passable bottle of bourbon to accompany our campfire. (Fact: While liquor does not actually warm the body, it is good for morale.)
The frigid temperatures were a small price to pay for a magical trip I’ll never forget. Capitol Reef is beautiful any time of year, but with the usual palette of reds, pinks and purples complemented by ephemeral, brilliant patches of white, it was breathtaking. And the sounds. We heard the bubbling of distant creeks, birds chirping from cliff tops, squirrels crunching through snow — the sounds that few humans get to hear any more. Amid this snowy solitude, we knew what it was like to be pioneers, to visit a natural and incredibly scenic land — and to have it to ourselves. During our visit, the park would only see nine other tourists.
It doesn’t take a trip to central Utah to have this kind of experience. For a few days each year, Red Rock is overcome with nature’s bitter chill. Icicles hang from red cliffs; drab browns and grays are replaced with a vibrant white. The park, already beautiful, is transformed into the kind of place that wins photo contests. Best of all, the usual throng of weekend warriors is nestled snugly indoors.
There’s a saying in the outdoors community: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices.” When “inclement” weather has me stuck indoors, I think back to these fleeting moments, grab my coat and camera, and head for the hills. Maybe you’ll see me there. Or, better yet, maybe you won’t see anyone at all.