The Professor Goes West//Day 4//Sleeping Bags

Day 4—Wednesday, May 23, 2018

We arrived at our hotel in Moab, Utah late last night. The dark drive down into the valley on US-191 with the ominous ridges on either side filled me with a sense of dread. In the morning I read in On the Road about Sal’s dream of a shrouded traveler following him through the desert:

“Something, someone, some spirit was pursuing all of us across the desert of life and was bound to catch us before we reached heaven. Naturally, now that I look back on it, this is only death: death will overtake us before heaven. The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sign and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death. But who wants to die? In the rush of events I kept thinking about this in the back of my mind.” (Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Pt. 2, Ch. 2, p. 124)

 This is what the desert stirs up in me—the awareness of death—but for every dead tree and bare branched bush there are hundreds of living sagebrush and juniper bushes, cactus flowers, red ants, and little lizards.

 The red rock of Arches National Park made my heart swell with emotion and a kind of ecstasy when we climbed up into the North Window, stood under it and looked out over the rocky canyons below. The full breeze swept through the arch and I simply felt my prayer of awe and praise and desire for God.

We lunched after a hike to view the less mighty but iconic Delicate Arch. Later we drove up the cliffside to the Island in the Sky. I have longed for years to go to the top of a mesa, mostly because of the story of Tom Outlander in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House. Tom falls for a mesa while cattle herding:

The hillside behind was sandy and covered with tall clumps of dear horn cactus, but there was nothing but grass to the south, with streaks of bright yellow rabbit brush. Along the river the cottonwoods and quaking asps had already turned gold. Just across from us, overhanging us, indeed stood the mesa, a pile of purple rock, all broken out with red sumac and yellow aspens up in the high crevices of the cliffs…It was the sort of place a man would like to stay in forever. (Pt. 2, Ch. 2)

Our mesa was a red-orange rock which they had cut a road in up the less steep side. When on top it just looked like normal range land except for the steep drop and the canyon beyond. We sped along through the park with mountains and canyons and mesas on the horizon. We hiked out to the mesa arch, and then just sat on the yellow rock in awe of the steep drops and the maze of canyons of black and red below. It was incredible. I think I will long for it even more now that I have seen it. With reluctance we left and returned to our hotel for showers and supper.


Besides having a good sleeping pad, a good sleeping bag is essential. The professor has a mummy bag from his scouting days rated to some crazy temperature below zero. I used it once sleeping outside in the Fall on a retreat college, and it was extremely warm (but as I did not have a good sleeping pad my sleep was not so great). He is super happy with it.

I asked the professor to pick out sleeping bags for the rest of the family. He did quite a bit of research and settled on the Coleman Palmetto Cool Weather Sleeping Bag. We decided on the adult size bag all of the children, since we figured it was worth the investment. It is designed to be used in 30-50° F. We do not currently plan on doing extreme winter camping as a family, but the Minnesota summer nights often drop below 50°, especially if we camp up the North Shore. This range was perfect for the high elevation camping we did at the Grand Canyon and Great Basin National Park, but also worked well for the campsites near the coast in California. The coldest night we slept out in was upper 20s in Custer State Park, South Dakota, and we all stay plenty warm.

In case you were wondering we used our own pillows. I put them all in washable pillow protectors to keep them free of outside dirt and bugs. The covers worked well—we still use them inside for the kids!

Tomorrow I will talk about nighttime sleepwear.

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