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The Favorite Place

Carrying Oru Kayak on bike

By Brianna Madia

There’s a particular stretch of desert in Utah that feels more home than any bed I’ve ever laid in. I can trace the skyline with my eyes closed. My soul reads the rocks and the ruts in the dirt road like braille on a page. The bleached reddish dust nests itself in the cracks of my skin and the corners of our van.

It is, by all accounts, my favorite place.

But a favorite place is a funny kind of thing. It’s an unrequited love. The desert doesn’t care how many stories I write about her…how many photos I capture or pilgrimages I make. She won’t ever love me back.

Kayaking on the San Rafael River

In fact, sometimes I think she downright hates me. She’ll fill up her skies with dark thundering clouds and send glowing-purple bolts crashing into the earth. She’ll blow in something fierce from the east…ripping up tents and knocking over tables…sending us scattering for the dry interiors of our dust-covered vehicles. She could whip up torrents of flood waters that barrel and wind their way through crevices of her sands, hitting me with the force of a dozen freight trains, permanently punctuating my love affair…and yet, I love her still.

So, I tiptoe carefully around her edges…around her prickly cactus hairs that pop up from every pore of her dirt. We climb her walls and slide our way deep into her canyons and trace cattle trails through her vast open fields. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we float her rivers.

Oru Kayak on the San Rafael River

Kayaking with dogs

Rivers that most established adventurers would barely consider streams. And yet, still we go. We scrape our kayaks along the smooth rocks of shallow corners and paddle around wading cows. We weave in and out of the shadows of towering red canyon walls as tiny swooping swallows drift overhead. We tilt our heads way, way, all the way back to look up from the river we’ve looked down on so many times.

A shift in perspective.

Paddling on the San Rafael River

Biking with Oru Kayak in the desert

And when the day is done, there is no epic story to tell…no class 5 rapids or gnarly hairpin turns… We simply floated along, barely missing the bottom, for 19 lazy miles. We drank from sun-cooked beer cans and inhaled granola bars, as packing actual food was too tedious a task. We watched our dogs dart back and forth from boat to bank…chasing beavers and jack rabbits and talking tough to grazing cattle on shore. It was slow and silent and sacred. It was exactly what we intended it to be.

Just another day in a favorite place.

Oru Kayaks in a van