Day 20: Bryce and Arches

It’s amazing how quickly a space can become “home”.

After just a few weeks on the road I’d not only adjusted to life on the bus, but I’d forgotten what living in a building was like, and I didn’t really miss it.

As the sun peeked in through the bus windows that morning, the crew slowly rose to meet the day. Probably a bit too slowly. We initially anticipated rising before dawn to catch the sunrise from nearby Bryce canyon, but I sure as hell didn’t set an alarm, and if anyone else did they ignored it. After missing our entirely-insincere self-imposed deadline, we felt no particular need to pack camp with any sense of urgency. We had already missed sunrise. The sun will rise again tomorrow, and we can catch that one. If we feel like it.

After casually transitioning the space from sleeping-mode to driving-mode we made the short drive to Bryce Canyon to witness some of the strangest rock formations I’d ever seen. From our vantage point protruding from the plateau, we could see a sea of bright red stone columns peppering the valley below.

Due to the geology of the site and a very specific kind of erosion, all of the red columns had little white caps of limestone, and all the columns rose to exactly the same height, creating a datum line across the landscape with an almost surreal precision.

Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon.

Inspired by the view Hannah asked Ethan and Sam to participate in what was becoming the routine acrobatic yoga poses. Justin and I knew the hippies could be at this for some time, and bacon was waiting for us on the bus.

Hippies being hippies.

Hippies being hippies. (photo by Lacy)

While the others captured some great photos of their exercises (which looked to my untrained eye a lot like that “Superman” game you play with your parents as a child, pretending you’re flying while your poor parent is lying on their back and holding you up in the air with their feet and trying not to drop you directly on your head), Justin and I returned to the bus and started preparing breakfast right in the parking lot. Little benefits like cooking breakfast anytime, anywhere, make bus life worth any perceived drawbacks.

After the entire crew returned to the bus and recharged with coffee and grub, we took off towards Arches National Park, hoping to arrive before sunset. The drive through Utah that day was much more beautiful than I anticipated. I had always imagined the state was a giant barren salt-flat relieved only by a super-saline oasis populated exclusively by Mormons, and conspicuously lacking alcoholic beverages. While we didn’t get close enough to Salt Lake City to challenge the latter half of my assumptions, I can assure you our drive through the state shattered my understanding of greater Utah.

The Utah landscape.

The Utah landscape.

Not only was the terrain not flat, but it was not-flat enough to give our underpowered engine a bit of grief. At one point, the bus was even struggling to go downhill, a new and disconcerting development. We pulled over to a rest stop to open the hood and take a look at the engine, as if any of us had a damn clue what we were looking at. We were a little relieved to find a giant 8-inch hose had fallen off the engine’s air filter. While not a great sign, it was sure a cheap and easy fix. After that we were smooth sailing.

Hank inspecting the engine somewhere past Salina, UT.

Hank inspecting the engine somewhere past Salina, UT.

Throughout the drive we were largely out of contact with cell or internet reception. This was a little bit frustrating, as I was anxious to check if the internet had anything else to say about our Gizmodo piece. I was still riding the high of that publicity, and feeling a sense of accomplishment. Being acknowledged on such a popular blog was a great capstone for the project. It felt complete.

We made it to Arches with some time to spare and staked out a location to watch the sunset. We drove the bus to “double arches”, a site that features (not surprisingly) two giant natural arches. The space created between these two massive stone bridges and the adjoining rock face created an open air chamber as grand as any cathedral. The thrill of the space was heightened because it was entirely unencumbered by signage, railings, or any of the usual sightseeing sanitization.

Ethan enjoying the view of Arches National Park.

Ethan enjoying the view of Arches National Park.

We were free to explore the natural phenomenon as we pleased, and scramble like children we did. The soft yet grippy sandstone was perfect for gripping with bare feet and fingers, and without much forethought i started clamoring straight up the wall. It wasn’t until I paused to consider my next move and Justin asked playfully, but with slight concern, “you ok, buddy?” that I looked behind me to see the wall I had just scaled. Like a cat in a tree, the way down somehow seemed much less manageable than the way up.

Looking towards the Windows from inside Double Arch.

Looking towards the Windows from inside Double Arch.

Justin scoped out a spot in the arch to catch sunset, and stood guard by his camera, striking up a conversation in German with a few travelers from Deutschland. Lacy, Ethan, and Hannah laid low, relaxing on the floor of the cavern, while Sam and I scrambled up any corner we could reach. It was a fun bonding moment with Sam, because there wasn’t a lot of one-on-one time for anyone on the bus, and I didn’t know him terribly well before the trip started. From what little time I had spent with him, I knew he was a bit unconventional, and I wasn’t sure how that would play out for 10 days on a crowded bus. Thankfully, not only were my concerns misplaced, but Sam turned out to be one of the stickiest ingredients in the glue that held our group together. The impromptu pop-ukelele sessions, bus-top tai-chi, waxed mustache, and hilarious non-sequiturs were major contributions to the magic of that week.

Light disappears inside Double Arch.

Light disappears inside Double Arch.

After the sun set, we were in dire need of food, and decided to drive down to nearby Moab for some grub. Justin was seriously enjoying the park and was eager for some playtime with night photography in such a scenic setting, and opted to stay behind. The park was accessible all night, so we would have no problem picking him up later, and I was not-so-secretly grateful that I could scarf down a burrito without a camera being shoved in my face. We drove down to Moab with dusk still hanging in the air, and found a great little Mexican joint that was still serving. We got our food to go, but I still finished my burrito before we made it out the door.

Enjoying the moon-lit landscape from on top of the bus.

Enjoying the moon-lit landscape from on top of the bus.

The drive back into arches to pick up Justin was amazing. We had made the twenty minute drive back from the entrance to double arches twice already that day, but now the full moon washed the landscape in cool, crisp light. Riding with my head out of the hatch refreshed my senses and cleared my head as looming monolithic formations passed slowly by.

We found Justin on the side of the road where we left him, excited to show us moonlit captures. With one final lap to the park entrance, we made our way to the next campsite. Ethan had lined us up with yet another cushy RV site with all the amenities, including a charming mini-putt course.

As we got settled in most most of the crew was ready to crash, so Hannah and I took a walk around the property. Just before leaving, Justin and I took a few minutes to check in on our website, but it was down. Being that it was late on a Sunday, the server was probably down for maintenance. Not a big deal, we’ll just deal with it in the morning…

Not finding any appealing fields to sit in (and fearing we might startle another rattlesnake in the brush), we sat underneath a streetlamp on one of the greens on mini-putt course, and talked about architecture, making, and our uncertain futures in design. Hannah also came from an architecture background, and had a similar passion for working in the shop. We bonded over the course of the week discussing our shared interests and desire to approach design from a different perspective, and it was nice to have some time away from the group. Eventually we returned to the bus, and all but the pull-out bed was occupied. Unfazed, Hannah and I quietly set up the bed and huddled up for the night.

TL;DR  It was not a bad day.

18 Responses to Day 20: Bryce and Arches

  1. Alice

    Glad to see the update. What a wonderful pilgrimage through Arches.

  2. Emma

    Your blog makes me want to sell all my things, buy a bus and travel across Australia.

  3. Andrew

    Wow, I’ve never seen pictures like that! I especially love the pictures of the bus, Justin has a wonderful eye for photography. Great job guys!

  4. dan

    Good to see the bus is still on the road – although strange time-lapse between us here in the UK – the leaves are falling and it’s already October here!? 🙂

  5. Antony

    Whew, thought we lost y’all. Utah is beautiful.

  6. Carolyn James

    In 1979-81 I traveled around the eastern U.S. on a bus with a kitchen and generator, with a tree planting crew. You’re right, it’s really fun to have a kitchen along while on the road. And being able to camp so many places.

  7. Dallas

    As others have stated, I’m glad to see this update – I feared the worst for the bus and its engine! It says these events transpired on August 19, which was over a month and a half ago; are you just behind on writing the updates? I live in central Iowa, and a friend and I were hoping to accommodate you for a night or at least meet up on your way back to Minneapolis. Is the trip over now, and you are back already? Feel free to email me, thanks!

    • Hank Butitta

      Sorry! Initially the posts were written a few days behind, but as the crush of media fell upon us they began to slip further. After we returned to Minneapolis our lives were turned a bit upside down as we tried to figure out what would happen next. Sorry we didn’t catch you in Iowa!

  8. Duke Trimble

    Like you, I was completely caught off guard with my misconceptions about what the desert southwest is and how much i would enjoy it!
    The first time I visited there, I thought it would be just one huge sand box I would have to navigate my motorcycle through in order to get to my destination. Turns out, the entire journey ended up being my destination! I have been there several time in the last 20 years or so but not enough to satisfy my itch for adventure!

  9. Samara C

    I saw a pictures and bits of your blog on tumblr.
    It was so interesting that I wanted to read more about your adventure! Now I’m completely hooked and can’t stop reading! I’m surprised you guys didn’t pass through Los Angeles (that’s where I’m from). Maybe next time! I know a lot people here would of loved to here your story!

  10. Luisa

    May I ask what camera you used? The photos are stunning!

  11. Sandra

    Thanks for continuing the story. Thought we’d lost you!

  12. Shelly Murphy

    I so love stories where preconceived notions about Utah get vaporized. What a beautiful and varied place it is. I hope you see some of the glyphs that are just outside of Moab…talk about awe inspiring!
    I am reliving my dream of living in a bus with you all, thank you. I have always known it would be great. And happy trails.

  13. Mishelle w.

    I found you guys on tumblr and at first I thought “what the hell?? These guys are nuts.” but i became interested seeing all the ways you can change that bus around, and now I am in love with this website and your amazing journey! I aspire to be photographer so this is very inspirational to me, I really can’t get over the beautiful pictures, and scenery, and adventures etc. This reminds me of me of the movie UP. This is going to be huge once the whole trip is done. These pictures and stories are going to be all over tumblr, and instagram, with a bunch of inspirational quotes in front of it and I am just so happy this popped up on my dashboard. I am very excited to see what else life brings you on this epic. I will definetly be spreading the word about this.

  14. hyunmi

    Wow!! it is really amazing. awesome!!

    I’ve just found out about this second hand bus camping car through one of korean internet website’s article.
    The view of America, which I’ve never been so far, is also beautiful.
    These beautiful pictures make me to be there soon and really want to enjoy it.
    I definitely can tell you this! “you have a fantasic life.”
    I want to see your beautiful pictures continuously and hope you have a good journey!!

  15. Antony

    lol…Hank bought a bus to drive us all crazy.

  16. Sandra

    Love reading about your adventure! Got totally sucked in. Disappointed, though, that you left us all hanging……..any chance that well see the rest of the story any time soon? Happy new year.

  17. Ron

    Very compelling, got sucked in and read the whole blog non-stop. I especially relate to your “SOMETIMES THE BEST PLAN IS TO NOT HAVE ONE…” some of my best moments in life came from traveling just like that. Kudos to the photography, awesome job. Hope the bus lives on to travel again…….cherish these years and especially your friends..

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