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Our anniversary trip is drawing to a close – we drive the last stretch of highway home today. I found it hard to get online for much of the trip and plan to post a few more trip vignettes in the coming days. Here is one adventure about halfway through the trip – definitely one of the highlights!

Although we’d looked forward to warm sunshine once we left Humboldt, heavy clouds followed us as we drove across Nevada on Highway 50. Our windshield wipers swished back and forth for the next two days as we continued eastward, foregoing many of our planned stops because of the cold rain. Sniping at each other in irritation, our only relief was the book on tape we’d rented for the long stretches of driving. Rekindling the romance was elusive.

The weather clears as we approach Arches National Park in Utah

Finally, as we drove over Highway 70 towards Arches National Park, the skies lightened and we were able to pull over and view jaw-dropping views of red rock formations at the various vista points and rest stops on that stretch of highway. As we drove into the park, the temperature outside read a satisfying 70 degrees and blue skies outpaced the large white clouds on the horizon. We got ready for a real hike – our first of the trip.

“I think we’re the only fools who brought rain coats,” Tim said a little later, looking around at our fellow hikers carefree in shorts and fanny packs.

“Well, better safe than sorry,” I replied.

The hot dusty rocks caught in my sandals and I shook my foot to get them out. As the sun beat down on the top of my head and sweat beaded on my forehead, rain seemed so unlikely. But, just minutes later, as we approached the cliff above Delicate Arch, a stiff cool wind began to blow, and the sky grew dark. As my hair whipped across my face, I dug in the backpack for my sweatshirt.

Delicate Arch

We fought the wind as we traversed the rock ledge leading over to the Arch, but then it softened and died down leaving dark clouds overhead. The temperature must have dropped about 15 degrees in the last 10 minutes I thought.

We snapped photo after photo of the surreal rock formation, marveling at how it could withstand the assault of people climbing all over it every single day of the year.

Here we are in front of the Arch. Too bad she didn't zoom out to include the whole thing..

As a fresh crowd approached, we turned to leave.

We felt the first fat drops splatter our heads and shoulders. I quickly dug into the backpack, pulling out my raincoat which was stuffed into the sack of it’s own pocket. “It’ll probably stop by the time I get this on,” I laughed. Patches of blue sky still lingered and I felt sure this would just be a quick squall.

By the time I’d struggled the nylon material out of that pocket, I was already getting drenched as those first few drips and become a downpour in seconds. Although it was not yet 5 p.m. it looked like night was about to fall. Heads bent against the wind, we hustled down the trail. Cold drops trickled down my sleeve, soaking my sweatshirt, and I stopped holding onto my hood.

The raindrops turned hard and cold, stinging our faces, and we realized we were being pounded with hailstones the size of dimes.

“Let’s just wait it out here!” Tim pulled me into the shelter of a scrubby tree that clung to a rock alongside the path. We crouched there for a few minutes, slightly out of the stinging deluge and then spotted two older ladies struggling down the path. The younger one helped the other and they both dripped with rain.

“Here. You can have this spot!” we called, motioning them over. “Get some shelter.”

They looked over at us but then turned right and crossed the swale path, pointing to an overhanging rock ledge” We watched them hunch over underneath that rock and we could practically see their sighs of relief.

“There’s more room!” they called to us. We made the dash across and up under the ledge. I squatted down, noticing my shorts were drenched. I giggled a little. This was a real adventure!

“I’m sure this is going to blow over soon,” Tim said as the whipped the white hailstones around. The path we had just crossed began to run with water, the rivulet growing into the moving puddle. A young couple wearing summer clothes ran down the other side. The man looked up and saw us.

“Come on over!” I yelled. “There’s room.” The two waded across the growing stream soaking their shoes. I squeezed in closer over to Tim and we all crowded together to make space for them.

“Ouch,” the girl said. “Hail hurts!” She rubbed her bare arms, gratefully pressing her back into the rock. The overhang protected us from the stinging stones. Occasionally one grazed my kneecap.

In the following few minutes we watched our trail foam up into a rushing river as water roared down the canyon. The little tree we’d hunched under moments before was standing in several inches of swirling water. The young man stood up.

Our trail was beginning to look like this. But at the time it was hailing so heard no one thought to dig out their camera.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” he cried. “This is only going to get worse!”

The two ladies glanced at each other, alarmed. The frothy muddy red river roared and widened before our eyes.

“Shit, it’s like a flash flood,” I said. “Do you really think it’s going to stop?”

“Yes.” But the conviction in Tim’s voice wavered a little.

Meanwhile, the young man had dashed out and up the rocky cliff we stood on, looking for an alternate pathway down the canyon.

Seconds later he ran back and grabbed his girlfriend’s arm. “We’ve got to get out of here!” he repeated. “It might rain all night!

“Are you sure we shouldn’t just wait it out?” his girlfriend asked but he had already pulled her out from the shelter of the rock ledge and into the teeming hailstorm. She glanced longingly back as he pulled her over to the river and stuck his foot in. The water rose up to his thigh. He yanked his leg out of the cold water and hand in hand the couple raced up and down the swale searching for a crossing.

The two older ladies stood up. “Don’t you think we should go?” they turned to us.

I nodded.  I didn’t feel like giggling anymore. This was getting scary. I turned to Tim but he had disappeared up the cliff. “Tim!” I yelled, running up the rocks after him. “We should just get out of here too!”

The two ladies were now down at the water’s edge searching for a spot to cross.

“Tim!” I yelled. “Let’s just cross! He said it was a sheer cliff up there!” I turned back to see the ladies navigating across at a shallower point upstream, while clutching onto some bushes that hung nearby. The young couple was wading across waist-high water.

“Tim!” I yelled, running up the rocks after him. “Let’s just cross!”

Cold needles of rain pelted our faces. At least the hail had stopped. The frothing river raced down the swale and we could see the crowds of people, looking like drowned animals, scurrying across the rocks on the other side of the swale, looking for a route down, now that the trail was washed out.

I turned and ran to the spot where I’d seen the ladies cross. I stuck my foot in the raging waters and sunk nearly to my knees. I clutched onto the bushes and pushed through the water. Tim followed.

Relief flooded through me as we climbed up the newly formed embankment. “We made it!” We hurried after the two old ladies, and Tim quickened his steps when he saw them struggling up a steep patch. “Here, take my hand,” he said, helping first one then the other up the rocky and slippery patch.

We followed the other drenched hikers who picked their way over the cliff. Finally the sky lightened and the downpour diminished to a drizzle then stopped. We could once again see that this was a summer afternoon, nearing evening, but far from night time yet.

Tim and I looked at each other and sighed. We’d made it. We hugged. I felt lighter, looser, and suddenly in love with my husband again.

Waterfalls were everywhere once the storm subsided. We learned later that this was extremely unusual. Waterfalls can only be seen in the park once very few years.