Live Freein' or Die in Deseret

With just enough time to unpack the parkas and load up the bike and climbing harness, I went south from polar bear country to Zion National Park with Josh and Katie from Mountain Time. Katie grew up in New Hampshire, so her state motto, for good reason, was a recurring motif throughout the week.

Fleeing religious persecution, the Mormons packed up their wagons in 1847 and left the Midwest. They traveled westward, looking for a place where they could live as they pleased, and on their own terms. One day, they came through a mountain pass and found themselves in an endless expanse of towering, snow-dusted mesas, lazuli skies, and vivid, glowing earth, painted with every color of the sunset. And they had this expanse all to themselves! So here they settled, and named this place “Deseret*.”

I can begin to imagine what the Mormons felt when they first saw this landscape. We drove through the night to get to Zion, so our first look at its gargantuan cliffs was upon exiting our tents at first light. The Tetons welcomed me from my tent door the first time I visited that park as well, and the experience felt very similar: Expansiveness, exploration, solitude, self-reliance, possibility, freedom. The sight of Zion Canyon was an affirmation that everything unwanted in life could be put on hold for a brief time. Everything else must be relevant to the immediate present.

I'm sure the Mormons felt the same relief when they first rolled into the desert. Live Free or Die, they probably thought as they trudged across the continent, looking for their new home. The three of us weren't escaping anything in particular, but like the Mormons, we wanted to have everything on our own terms and live as we pleased. When I was a kid I would "run away" from home a lot. This usually took me as far as the back yard, and only for a few hours, but there was a sense of adventure about it, so I kept doing it. That's what we were doing in Deseret, just enjoying the feeling of running away. Live Freein'.

Here are a couple highlights from the adventure.

Mountain biking atop Gooseberry Mesa, with Zion Canyon in the background.
Near The Big Bend in Zion National Park, taken from the base of a climb.

Enjoying a sunset along the Virgin River. Zion National Park

Virgin River in Zion National Park

*Deseret was the Utah Territory’s original name for only a short time, but the Mormon’s “Deseret” is still an unofficial name for the desert southwest.