Utah, Canyonlands, Music, and Photography

Canyon Lands Cello

I journeyed to Utah and Canyonlands National Park at a time of year when summer was transitioning into autumn. The drop in temperature made the weather perfect, sunshine, clear blue skies with a few tiny white fluffy clouds, and gentle breezes. The perfect weather gave many other people the same idea to visit Utah. Canyonlands was crowded and it was necessary to get there early to avoid big crowds and long lines. The beauty of the landscape and rockitecture was unsurpassed.

The large parking lot was packed even though it was early in the morning. As parking lots go the scenery was pretty nice. Utah has become something of a mountain biking paradise and the parking lot was filled with happy healthy enthusiastic young people showing off their athletic bodies in spandex clothing. It is a handsome vision of humanity.

I had arrived without a camping reservation and was told there were only a few camping spots available on a first come first serve basis. I had hours to kill before the camping spots became available. May as well hike a little, enjoy the park, and see how the dice roll.

Canyonlands is gorgeous, painted deserts landscapes filled with giant carved stone formations. I visited vistas, arches and had an encounter with an exotic looking lizard. I had already made plans for the next day’s hike, preparing to leave at sunrise in search of a rock art site in a distant canyon when it became time to search for a camping spot.

Other Canyonlands visitors had the same idea. There we were slowly circling the camping areas waiting for people to leave like a game of musical chairs involving automobiles. We circled round and round and hardly nobody left. I was watching my gas gauge slowly drop and I knew I needed to leave, cutting short my trip to Canyonlands. I could no longer slowly circle the campground parking lot like a spiraling vulture.

I drove out of the park and to the closest gas station and almost as an afterthought asked the attendant for camping recommendations. There were several overflow camping spots mostly filled with party hearty mountain bikers and that was not really the wilderness experience I was looking for.

Then the gas station attendant said, “When you get to Moab, take the right turn between the Burger King and the McDonalds. The road will wind through residential neighborhoods for a couple miles and eventually you will end up along the shores of the Colorado River. The river is real pretty here and there are some campground is right on the river.”

“This time of year” he continued “I would expect the bugs to eat you alive. Do you have a four wheel drive vehicle.?”

I was in my Jeep Cherokee.

“If you keep driving you will end up in a private quiet canyon that sounds just like what you are looking for.

I wound through the neighborhood and found myself driving alongside the Colorado River. The river was slow, green, and wide, framed by beautiful bronze sandstone cliffs. The campground along the river was tempting, lots of big cottonwood trees providing shade, but I was afraid of being devoured by small, winged insects as I slept. I kept driving and the long, twisting, winding road took me away from the river and into the mountains and deep canyons. I found a beautiful camping spot not far from a spring loaded with desert wildflowers and a gorgeous natural amphitheater. I had set up camp rather quickly (god bless dome tents) and had been sitting around reading and relaxing for about a half hour when a guy came walking past.

I was a little startled to see anyone walking in this remote rugged wilderness but this guy had a cello case strapped to his back.

“Do you mind if I play here?” He asked with a thick European accent.

“Not at all.” I replied.

He set up chair in the arroyo across from my tent, I had a recommendation.

“If we hike just a little further, you will end up in the pocket of the natural amphitheater and the acoustics will be much better.”

“How do you know?”

“I always hike the area before I put up my tent, making sure there is not a mountain lion kill, badger den or whatever in the area.’

We made the short walk to the natural rock amphitheater and he set up his folding chair on a sandstone slab. He unzipped the cello case and produced the beautiful, large, wooden, musical instrument. The bow sawed across the strings, creating a slow and somber melody. The whole notes held slowly filled the canyon, echoing off the cliffs until the stones vibrated with the song.

He picked up his bow and we both listened as the last echoes faded. When the last note drifted into silence the birds erupted in cacophonous chattering that resembled rapturous applause.

“You were right about the rocks.” He said. “It sounds like a cathedral.”

I asked him, “Do you play a lot of cathedrals?”

He blushed and nodded with a big smile. “I have been fortunate. I have played a lot of cathedrals.”

Then he played another song and then another. As the swallows soared overhead it was almost like they were dancing to the melody as it floated atop the wind, song filling their wings.

He played for another 45 minutes, classical melodies echoing off the cliffs, before his support van arrived. The support van included cameras, video equipment, microphones, and recording equipment. My new friend was one of the top cellists in the world. He was in Utah to record a new album in the canyonlands country. They were currently rehearsing and testing both the equipment and landscape. He played for another hour while I listened and shot some photos and video. I returned to camp and read while the cellist continued to drag his bow across the strings, creating beautiful music for another hour.

Then the van loaded everybody up and drove away.

I spent the evening around a silent campfire while the stars came out, illuminating the heavens, and the flames danced to the music inside my head.

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Gary Every is the author severl books including “The Saint and the Robot” “Inca Butterflies” and has been nominated for the Rhysling Award 7 times

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Gary Every

Gary Every is the author severl books including “The Saint and the Robot” “Inca Butterflies” and has been nominated for the Rhysling Award 7 times