By: Kelly Anderson
Hank the Cowboy
Our trip continued from the Rockies to Mesa Verde National Park where we saw incredible cave dwellings carved into the sides of mountains, and kivas, which are large circular rooms carved into the ground, used for spiritual ceremonies and survival during the brutal Colorado winters.
We visited the Four Corners Monument where I laid on the ground and touched Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all at once. At the monument, we met a couple celebrating their 26th wedding anniversary. Suddenly, two years of marriage didn’t seem that great of an accomplishment.
Caleb and I adventured to Arches National Park where we saw formations created by wind and time, and hiked to the top of the Delicate Arch where we ate Clif Bars and watched the sun rise. It was exhilarating to hike while it was still dark and sleepy, and humbling to see something that might not exist, or be the exact same structure in twenty years. At Zion National Park, we walked through the cold waters of the Virgin River trail, and conquered Angel’s Landing; a strenuous hike where you first climb 21 steep switch backs called Walter’s Wiggles, and then grip onto chains built into the mountain to climb the last few miles to the top.
But something I’ll never forget is our time at Bryce Canyon National Park. When we arrived at the park we checked into our campsite, and then checked in for our horseback ride through the canyon. We had hiked on foot through so many difficult trails, so I was ready for a change of pace. The cowboys took our tickets, and decided which horses we would ride. Caleb was put on a horse named Dollar, and I was given a sweet palomino named Vodka. Somehow, I also ended up riding at the very front, and quickly decided that this was going to be one of my favorite memories.
Our trail guide’s name was Hank, and he started off our trek by yelling, “Hey there, cowgirl! Show that horse who’s boss!” I used the whipping technique he showed me, and Vodka shot forward with a fast trot. Hank yelled, “Whoo-wee, Cowgirl! You’re a mean one! I love it!” From that moment on, Hank and I were best friends. As we rode through the steep red canyon, we talked about our lives, and he shared everything he knew about our surroundings. We passed by a hummingbird’s nest, and a rock structure that looked exactly like Robin William’s in Mrs. Doubtfire. Hank told me about the times he used to race horses, and showed me a purple flower called the Columbine that grows specifically in Bryce Canyon.
I told him about my dreams of teaching English overseas, and he responded with a slightly racist impression of someone learning English. Somehow, he was still endearing.
I learned how to ride Vodka, and even though he walked incredibly close to the steep edges of the trail, I found that knew what he was doing and after a while I was able to trust this animal to bring me back safely. I mastered the whip, and went flying through the trail, soaking in the beauty that was everywhere. The dirt was beautiful. The sky was beautiful. My short-lived friendship with Hank was beautiful. Sure, there were about 10 other people on our ride, but most of the time, it was just me, him, and our two horses; bonding over our love for nature, photography, and the fact that I was actually a pretty good rider (or so he made me think).
Our trail ride ended too soon, but Bryce Canyon continued to deliver. We hiked the hoodoos, which are tall, skinny rock structures formed once again by sand, wind, and time. I even got a special pin that says, “I hiked the hoodoos” because we completed the Hike the Hoodoos Challenge; hiking over three miles and finding three out of the nine special trail benchmarks. On our last night at Bryce Canyon, we hiked to Bryce Point with folding chairs, hoodies, and a blanket. We watched the sun set, and saw hundreds of bright stars twinkling in the darkness. It was us and God, and peace washed over me as I quietly thanked Him for this grand adventure.
As I write this, I want to cry. I want to go back and experience these days and nights over and over again. Yet, I can’t wait to make new memories with Caleb, and one day, with our little babies that will grow into adventuring adults like us.
I want to be like Hank the Cowboy, and teach someone about a special purple flower, and have a lasting memory on passing travelers.
Most of all, I want to still be traveling and adventuring with Caleb after 26 years of marriage, and I want to continue to grow in love with this man who took me to the top of Bryce Point and gazed at stars while holding my hand. It’s possible. It really is. I just know it.