Saying Goodbye to Canyonlands

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The view from 313, the road to the Island in the Sky

Well, I’m all moved in here at beautiful Mesa Verde National Park, but before I delve into the stories of my third season here, I wanted to write about a recent trip Austin and I made a few weekends ago.

Austin has worked as a backcountry ranger at the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park for four seasons. And over the course of the past three seasons of interning, volunteering, a short emergency hire, and visiting, I have also been welcomed into the community of this beautiful, beautiful place.

I owe Canyonlands my life, really. It was there that I made the decision, years ago now, not to return to city life and an office job. It was there that I decided I might try to make a go of this Park Service thing. It was there that I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. And it was there that Austin and I fell in love.

This is a landscape that moved me to the point of turning the course of my life around a complete 180 degrees. This place has changed me. And I am so much better for it.

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Sunset at Dead Horse Point

Two weekends ago Austin and I made the drive out to red rock country to collect our things, and to say goodbye.

Due to a series of inefficiencies, petty power plays, red tape, and frustrations, I made the decision last fall to, for the first time since 2010, not apply to work or volunteer at the Island in the Sky. It was a painful decision for me. It felt like I was giving up on a place I loved, and certain people that supported me. But I decided that if I wanted to continue to love it, I needed to keep it pure of the conflicts and dramas I had experienced there over the past spring.

I made that decision, however, under the assumption that Austin would continue his work there (some of the most important work in that park, in my opinion). I never doubted that my lack of defined ‘job’ would keep me away, since as long as A was around, I’d have an excuse to visit every other weekend.

Not long ago, we found out that the funding for Austin’s job was cut due to the sequester.

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Sunrise from the Island in the Sky visitor center

Going into detail on my feelings about this on this blog would simply not be smart. I’m frankly too emotional. And too many eyes have access to this space to make it safe. But in case it hasn’t been made clear: I was not happy to hear this news.

But when the Moab valley opened up in front of us that Friday afternoon, I found myself letting go of my anger. I will never tire of that beautiful town nestled in between the towering walls of red, shining rock. And the drive up to the Island in the Sky, as often as I have driven it, will always leave me awestruck.

When we arrived at the park we were greeted with open arms by the people who love us, and we feasted with them in true Canyonlands style – potluck BBQs are an ISKY staple.

It was happy. It was so happy.

The housing area at the Island in the Sky, taken just before we left for good.
The housing area at the Island in the Sky, taken just before we left for good.

The trip was short, but it was sweet. Driving back to Colorado I felt content about our new direction for the first time in weeks. Austin was able to find another job for the season at Rocky Mountain National Park, and my supervisors at Mesa Verde had worked hard to keep my job safe and waiting for me. I feel fortunate for all the time I got to spend at Canyonlands and the surrounding areas. I feel thankful for everything I learned and experienced, and for all the people who taught me, supported me, and fought for me. You know who you are. If you are reading this, thank you. I love you.

I feel content that I have made every effort to give back to the place that gave so much to me. I am at peace with my place just slightly to the east of where I started and wanted for so long, so badly, to be. I am uncertain about what direction I may go from here, but I’m okay with that. And although I don’t know when, I do know – and I did know, as we drove away from the canyons and salt valleys and that great, red river that carved so much of it – that I will be back.

A & I on my last day at Canyonlands in 2010, watching the sunset from housing.
A & I on my last day at Canyonlands in 2010, watching the sunset from housing.

6 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Canyonlands

  1. Knowing when to move on can be tricky — but when you know, you know. I’m privileged to have come to know and love you guys over these past three years, M, and look forward to seeing what unfolds now for you and A. It will be mighty fine. Yes. HUGS.

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