April. Early morning. GSE visitor's center.
We walk into the building. There is a diorama in the middle of the main room. Taxidermied animals and photos line the walls. Beyond the diorama, opposite the front door, is the information desk. A plump, fifty-something woman sits behind the desk. She is bundled in her forest green, employer-issued GSE fleece.
My partner and I walk around the diorama to the desk.
"Hi, how can I help you?" the woman asks.
"Hi. This is our first trip to the grand staircase national monument."
"Oh! Welcome." She is all smiles.
"Thanks. We were planning on doing some back country backpacking this week. We have a map from National Geographic. But we have some questions about the trails, and wanted to know if you have more detailed maps, backpacking suggestions--"
"Sure. Let's take a look." Her smile broadens. She pushes up her glasses and looks at our map and the trail heads that we have starred on it. She talks to herself and pulls out a couple of maps from a drawer.
"I was thinking of this trail." I point.
"That's a great one. It's in a creek bed along the bottom of a canyon. It's pretty flat."
"The creek will be rushing right now. Did you bring your dry suits?"
"No," I say, slightly stunned by the suggestion.
"Well, that will be a great one to do in July. This one is also fun." She points to another starred trail head. "It takes about three days."
"I would start at this end and just see how far you can go. Because up here the canyon will be clogged with ice and mud and debris. You won't be able to get through. Unless you brought crampons and climbing gear?"
"Uh, no. Okay, what about this trail?"
"Oh, it's a nice canyon. There's some quicksand, but it's not the kind you see in the movies. It won't swallow you whole, it will just take one of your boots."
"Huh. Quicksand!" What! My partner and I smile at each other.
She cheerfully moves on to the next trail head. "This one is a breathtaking slot canyon. Did you bring your canyoneering gear?"
"Um--" I think I have a bewildered smile on my face.
"You'll need ropes at least." She looks excited. "There are places where you have to go like this, and this, to get through." She tucks in her arms, squeezes her shoulders together, and makes twisting, ducking motions with her upper body. "And then you'll have to lower your packs. People get stuck!"
"We don't have any rope." I'm embarrassed at how underprepared we are. My partner chuckles. What were we thinking?
"Then these slots are out." She points to a few more stars on the map.
"Are there any multi-day hikes that don't require gear?" I ask.
"Sure! Most of them are on the southeast side of the park. Do you have a high clearance vehicle?"
"No," we laugh.
There is one more starred trail on the map, but we give up after we read "poison ivy is unavoidable".
Next time GSE. We'll be ready.