How I Carpooled for Free over Utah’s Martian Desert Landscape


Without some form of proof, you might not believe this part of my story.

Before dawn, my carpool partner picked me up from the north side of Vegas for a journey that ended up spanning over 1,200 km (750 mi). And despite this 12+ hour trip through the deserts and forests, I arrived in Denver in time to be invited to a hilarious Halloween party. That’s right. We did the entire trek in one day. The surprising part? The entire ride didn’t cost me a dime.

So yes, I can understand if you have any trouble believing it. And I fully acknowledge that, although the photos below present the striking Utah deserts and Colorado mountains, it only proves that what I saw on our journey was bizarrely beautiful. The photos are not, however, proof that my ride was free. For that, you’ll just have to take my word for it. (But I swear on my mother’s life that it’s true.) And when we arrived in Denver, I was stunned by what happened.

Craigslist is Power

But once again I’m getting ahead of myself. You’re probably wondering how I found a ride all the way from Las Vegas though the desert and over the mountains to Denver. And if you’re a longtime reader, I’m sure you can already guess: Craigslist, of course! I’ve already written a guide about how I leverage craigslist, so I won’t repeat myself here. The short version is, through using craigslist, I got in touch with a man who was in the middle of moving to Denver. This would be his first trek to prepare the new place for his family who would come during the following trip. And he had one extra seat.

Divine fortune, indeed.

We swung by his place on the way out of Vegas; and I waved to his family from the car, wondering what they must be thinking of me, a cheerful blonde guy heading to Denver with nothing more than a Kestrel pack.

Everything went smoothly, and as we passed a Greyhound bus headed in the same direction, I couldn’t help but feel a bit smug (for the first time in months, actually) that I didn’t have to bother with the slowness (or the germs) of such a bus.

Soon we were in Utah, and I was stunned by the otherworldly formations around us. Rocks that seemed impossible were all around me, and for much of the trip we both sat in silence, admiring the view. The rocks were such that I almost felt as though I were on the surface of Mars. The hauntingly beautiful and bizarre red formations were unlike anything I’d seen on Earth before. (See the photos below.) Yet the moment we entered Colorado, the landscape became forest. In fact, I almost laughed at how closely Colorado’s border corresponds to the change of the land into a much greener complexion. Clearly this wasn’t by chance.

One Giant Leap Home

As it became evening, the snowcapped Rockies grew closer and closer. And when he dropped me off in Denver a few hours later, something amazing happened. When I went to pay him for my portion of the gas, he refused. He held up his hand and declined. He said it was fine. I was stunned. I looked at him and told him I could pay him, but he said no. He was being genuinely generous, and it really stunned me. I had just been given a huge leap home, for free.

Soon my friend picked me up and proceeded to tell me about a Halloween party that he’d been invited to.

I had done it. I had begun Halloween in Vegas and still made it to Denver in time for a Halloween party. (I had been hoping to be able to celebrate in some way even though I didn’t have a costume.) Yet upon arriving, I even found out that there were extra costume parts I could use.

And that’s how Zorro-Batman was born.

Photos

Orange dawnlight behind desert hills

Driving beside Greyhound bus

Strange eroded round rock formations by highway

Red sandstone formation above highway

Red sandstone formation beside highway

Eroded rock ridge in Utah

Glimpses of Snowcapped Rocky Mountains

— Bonus —

Marco appears in all 15 photos in the accompanying photo gallery. If you’re new to the “Where’s Marco” game, it’s similar to “Where’s Waldo” or “I Spy”.

Learn how to play →
Then find him in the photos! →

Coming up Next:

The story of the West Coast Adventure is now nearly complete! In the next article, a final look at Denver and rideshare match made in heaven:

See what happened next →


All accompanying photos are in the Crossing the Rockies photo gallery. With so much free, high-quality content, why not tell a friend and share this article?





Red Rock Canyon Natl. Conservation Area Review: 3 Unmissable Sights


Before I visited Las Vegas, I thought that the red rocks I’d seen in Denver were the most alien landscape I’d ever seen. But when I visited Red Rock Canyon on the outskirts of Las Vegas, I stood corrected.

Because this place is basically Martian.

Don’t believe me? By the end of this article, you will, because today I’m going to share with you the 3 top sights to see if you only have an afternoon to explore the canyon.

Even if you don’t have much time, you’re going to see some incredible rock formations. Like this one:

Red, Rusty, Eroded ridge under blue sky

But before we get to the canyon, I have a confession to make.

A Confession & A Goal

To be completely honest, by the time I reached Las Vegas my primary goal became very simple: to get home. Having been on the road for over 5 months, my money was running low. Actually, that’s not even the main reason.

The main reason was that my heart was homesick. I’d never travelled solo for more than a week before that trip, and by day 160 (the day of Red Rock Canyon) the pure adrenaline of adventure had already been worn off for a while, leaving only the desire for some time to truly rest. So, I had my eyes set on the East.

I switched hosts a couple times while in Vegas, waiting for any sane person who wanted to carpool with me to Denver, or any point east for that matter. Some people thought I was a bit crazy, but I knew something would work out. (Something did, but that’s the subject of the next article.)

And so, I waited. I waited for 8 days.

Turns out, the last Couchsurfing host I had in Vegas was a kind man who let me stay with him and his son. In the process, I taught him how to cook brown rice and sauté vegetables (resulting in incredible quesadillas), and he took me to Red Rock Canyon— yet another beautiful example of how Couchsurfing creates win/win situations.

Exploring the Red Canyon

Which brings me at last to our explorations of the Red Rock Canyon. After heading beyond the check point (most days it costs about $10 per car), we followed a narrow road past short cacti and bushes to the first stop. I’d heard good things about the Canyon, but I wasn’t expecting the formations to be so alien, which brings me to our first unmissable sight:

1. Somewhat More-Prepared People risking their Lives

Group of climbers along Rusty Cliff

Decidedly more intelligent than the people who risked their lives for my viewing pleasure back at the other park with red rocks, these people were actually outfitted with climbing gear and looked like they knew what they were doing. And it makes perfect sense. With over 1,700 climbing routes, Red Rock Canyon is a world-class climbing location, attracting climbers from all over the world.

People standing on ancient red boulders along ridge

Still, there were some people who were adventurous without climbing equipment, as you can see above. And as before, one part of me wished they’d been more careful, and another part of me enjoyed taking the picture. 😉

2. The Keystone Thrust

Turtlehead Peak and Calico Hills

Farther down the road that loops around the park, we came upon perhaps the most famous feature in the park: The Keystone Thrust. This set of sandstone peaks and walls showcases some of the oldest rock formations in North America.

See the grey peak to the left? That’s Turtlehead Peak which contains probably the oldest rock in the entire park. Although most of the rocks there have their origin in the towering red sand dunes that once ruled the area 180 million years ago, Turtlehead Peak stretches even farther back.

3. Las Vegas in Perspective

Las Vegas in perspective (from Red Rock Canyon)

Yet the most profound picture that day was one I took right before we left. Do you see the faint dots and lines in the valley in the distance? Beyond the red rocks but before the distant peaks. See that? That is the city of Las Vegas. (It’s easier to see in the larger version of the photo so you may want to click the photo to see it in the gallery once you’ve finished reading.) But that’s it.

All of the casinos, all of the greatest jackpots, and all of the inevitable losses. The old strip, the new strip, and everything around it is all contained in that valley below.

Kind of puts everything into perspective, doesn’t it?

— Bonus —

Marco appears in all 14 photos in the accompanying photo gallery. If you’re new to the “Where’s Marco” game, it’s similar to “Where’s Waldo” or “I Spy”.

Learn how to play →
Then find him in the photos! →

Coming up Next:

A journey back to Denver that ended up spanning over 1,200 km (750 mi). And despite this 12+ hour trip through the deserts and forests, I arrived in Denver in time to be invited to a hilarious Halloween party. That’s right. We did the entire trek in one day. The surprising part? The entire ride didn’t cost me a dime.

See what happened next →


All accompanying photos are in the Red Rock Canyon photo gallery. With so much free, high-quality content, why not tell a friend and share this article?