The EPIC Plan

Last month, on our road trip home from Anaheim to Salt Lake City, we met up in Las Vegas with my brother Eric (who flew in from England for a visit), my sister Andie, and my mom, Carrie.

The plan? Pick up Eric, play in Las Vegas for a night, drive home to Utah the next day, and stop at The Valley of Fire National Park on the way and bring our nice cameras for some incredible photography.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • My awesome Mormon mom took an Ambien and started telling us what tattoo she would get if she got one, and where she would put it.
  • Andie must have been inspired by this, and got an impromptu tattoo of a cupcake on her ankle.
  • Noah giggled all night long on Fremont Street as he found himself seeing many of the freakish wonders Vegas has to offer.

The EPIC Discovery

Eric had found this not-too-far-off-the-beaten-path Valley of Fire National Park on a Google Search. None of us had heard of it before, and we had all passed by there who knows how many times. It looked pretty cool, but nothing could have prepared us for this place.

We came around a curve in the road, and were suddenly greeted with the most insane, expansive, vast, beautiful red rock hills, caves, mountains, and naturally formed structures we have ever seen. Our salivary glands began gushing as we squeezed our cameras close to us, anxious to find a place to get out and start exploring.

The sky was blue. The weather was perfect. Stopping here was the best idea Eric had ever had, and he’s had at least a couple good ones in his life.

HIGHLIGHT:

  • Noah eagerly put down his iPad to take in the beauty, all on his own, no coaxing needed.

The EPIC Exploration

I parked the car at a pull-off where another car had parked. We gathered our camera gear, and set out.

It was a glorious ten minutes. Everywhere I looked there was something new, and wondrous and amazing.

We approached a little cave and Noah excitedly wanted to go check it out. I started licking my Instagram chops.

And that’s when it all started going downhill.

HIGHLIGHT:

  • My legs, which had barely been used at all for who knows how long, seemed to be happy and willing to work for me. I thought they’d be vindictive turds, but quite the opposite.

The Half-Eaten Lizard

Noah got to the cave first and stopped dead in his tracks. Sitting in the red dirt was the carcass of a little lizard, half-eaten by a bird by the looks of it.

Something about this spooked him out big time, and he now wanted nothing to do with that cave, or any cave. Suddenly, those caves were caves of death.

HIGHLIGHT:

  • I got to be a hero and go kick the dead ½ lizard out of the way in order to cover it with dirt in an attempt to calm his nerves.

The Forced Smile

After much coaxing, Noah would not be persuaded to trust the caves, and I finally coerced him into letting me keep tight hold on him just long enough to stand in one little cave for a picture. “Smile, just one smile!” I told him. He mustered what he could, anxious to get the heck out of there.

HIGHLIGHT:

  • My mom was able to snap this picture before his terror officially took over and he demanded we get out.

dan-Noah-pearce-valley-of-fire

The Storm Clouds and First Drops of Rain

Out of nowhere, freak dark clouds rolled in. A few droplets of water started hitting us here and there. It was so weird. The sky went from blue to dark in a matter of minutes.

Knowing that places like this, with freak storms like that, can lead to danger in a hurry, I kept my eye on things and we continued to explore. For about two minutes.

HIGHLIGHT:

  • The occasional droplets of rain were… refreshing? I don’t know. I’m grasping at straws with this one. I had a bad feeling going on at this moment in time.

The Freak Storm

Suddenly the weather went from tiny trickle to torrential downpour. I’m talking the kind of downpour that soaks your clothes through in seconds.

We were a good five minutes from the car, and huge puddles began forming all around us. This is where Noah’s ability to be functional ran out.

I know the danger of flash floods when freak storms roll in. The rest of my family had long before gone ahead. I knew they were smart and would find high ground or hunker in a cave. Right now, I needed to get my son out of there.

HIGHLIGHT:

  • My nice camera was slung over my shoulder, with nowhere to stash it. I put some real effort into trying to keep it as out of the rain’s way as possible, but it was becoming harder by the moment.For those of you who are camera junkies, my camera is a Canon 5D Mark III with an L-Series lens attached. Not exactly a cheapy.

The Foot Cramp and The Terror

This is the moment when I really hated that stupid bird for dropping that stupid half-eaten lizard and filling my son with an irrational fear of tiny harmless caves. I needed to get us up the hillside and into a cave to get out of the rain and out of danger of flash floods.

But my son couldn’t do it. The thought of going and hiding from the storm inside a cave filled Noah with terror. “Okay, come on, let’s get back to the car, fast,” I said. And then things got worse.

My son’s foot, for some reason, completely cramped up on him, and he found himself unable to walk without extreme pain.

HIGHLIGHT:

  • The puddles were turning into lakes by the moment. And I feared death would soon be upon us.

The Mad Dash

I decided (and by that, I mean that I didn’t really think about it at all) that my camera was not as important as getting my son to safety, so I slung it around to my back where it was completely exposed to the downpour, scooped up my fussing, whimpering son, and began quickly making my way over the now treacherous path toward the car.

My ninja like skills and sudden adrenaline-filled body had a destination and a purpose, and I navigated that terrain like a boss, all the way to the street, and to the car, where I tossed my sopping wet son into the front seat and half-dove into the driver’s seat.

We were safe.

HIGHLIGHT:

  • Sitting in the car, hoping beyond hope that my family was being safe and cautious and somehow staying out of the storm. It was a smidge nerve-wracking.

Three Minutes to Sunshine

No flash flood ever came, and almost as quickly as the storm came, it disappeared again and the skies were once again blue. It was the strangest storm I had ever seen, and wherever it was going, it was going in a hurry.

My family all made it safe. They had hunkered down in high-up caves just like they should have, and would soon reappear to make sure all was well with everyone.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • For the next hour that my son was still too terrified to explore the gorgeous terrain (which was somehow made even more beautiful by the moisture), we stayed near the car and hunted for cool rocks. We love rock hunting and that hour is one of my favorite memories with my kiddo.

The EPIC Exploration

Our rock hunting took us nearer and nearer to all the incredible formations, and soon we found ourselves neck deep in them, exploring all their wonder. My son still wouldn’t venture near any caves of death, but it didn’t matter. Turns out I don’t need to be inside a cave to appreciate its coolness.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Getting back to the car, turning the power on to my camera which I had let dry thoroughly, and discovering that… It was dead. Busted. Water-damaged. Short-Circuited. RIP, camera.
  • We were alive. Go, us!

The End. Until We Go Back.