When the light from the first few rays of sun began to glow on the horizon, I could tell there was magic in the air. I wasn’t sure if it was delirium or real magic, but it was something noticeable and profound at that moment and I later decided that it was magic, without a doubt.
Betty the Beaver had been climbing uphill for hours, the San Raphael Swell on Interstate 70 is brutal. She was getting hot and Brandon pulled over to let her cool down a bit. She’s old, though, and some of her (brand new) spark plug wires actually melted while we sat. We had replacements but no flashlight, so we slept roadside for a couple hours until the sun came up.
We had no idea what the terrain would look like. In the night, whenever another vehicle would pass, I could see the twinkling eyes of a thousand hungry creatures reflecting from under the nearby bushes. I didn’t know if they were mountain lions, coyotes or rabbits, but I was sure that they were watching us.
As the sun began to rise, though, it wasn’t the ravenous beasts that caught my eye, it was the landscape. At first, of course, everything was black and then, slowly, the skyline was silhouetted and the shapes of the rocks were revealed at first, in shades of good-morning-grey that slowly transformed into the most colorful thing I’ve ever seen. The colors were straight out of woody woodpecker. The rocks were terra cotta red, bright white and deep saffron-yellow, in perfect stripes, columns and bubbly boulder shapes. Steep canyons were carved by ancient glaciers and gnarled juniper trees housed rattlesnakes and their prey.
I read that this land was desolate, treacherous and unfit for inhabitation. But here we were, housed safely in the Beaver, brewing coffee at sunrise. While Brandon took advantage of the morning light to fix the wiring situation, I took my coffee outside for a stroll, braving the hungry beasts (because they’re nocturnal, right?) in order to see if there was, indeed, a downhill slope around the next bend (there wasn’t).
When I returned from my walk, Brandon was able to get the motorhome started again and we were on our way.
Again- maybe it was the delirium, but this place was so beautiful that it made me cry. Every time the road delivered us to a new view, the shapes and colors made me gasp, jump up & down with excitement and cry tears of joy. The song “America the Beautiful” was playing in my head as we rounded corners to find deep canyons, surprise spring-fed streams, Martian-like landscapes with the reddest soil you’ve ever seen. I took photos, I took videos and at every moment, I took complete gratitude for that breakdown. We would have driven straight through the area in darkness and never seen any of this, if Betty hadn’t demanded a break when she did.
Utah Drive Slide Show
Once we descended the mountains We arrived in Richfield and I googled RV parks. The first place I called didn’t answer their phone so we went to the second place. Only it wasn’t simply an RV park; Mystic Hot Springs was a Gypsy’s paradise. First of all, Mike (also called Mystic Mike) was a sweetie on the phone, I felt welcome before we even arrived.
We chose a shady spot near the grass and we left Brandon alone to get a nap while we explored. I’ve never seen real hot springs before and this place was the most magical place in the world. The warm welcome made it feel like home, I’d been there 5 minutes and already knew I wanted to stay the night. I had never seen real hot springs before and was anxious to check them out. WOW. If hot springs aren’t on your bucket list, please go add them right now.
We parked near a grassy area and when we stepped out of the RV we saw a real Gypsy Wagon, a homemade coach that was just as adorable inside as it was outside. On the grass outside were people sitting in a circle, drumming around a bonfire and singing a song (I couldn’t make out the words).
Only here’s where I failed as a traveler. I made a mental note to stop and talk to the guy later. Except, he wasn’t there later, so these were the only pictures I got. I hope our paths cross again Lesson learned: don’t hesitate, tomorrow the opportunity may be gone.
We hiked up the hill to see the steaming ponds where the water bubbled up. That water was too hot to touch, but as it flowed down the hills and into the soaking tubs, it cooled down to a little over 100 degrees, leaving beautiful mineral deposits in a rich shade of orange-yellow. I hope the pictures are as intense as the reality was. I thought it would smell like sulfur, but it never ever did.
Mystic has two stages for live music and music just about every weekend. When we arrived, they were setting up the sound equipment for a show at the upper stage; Delta Nove was playing that evening. Because Mystic is halfway between Denver and Las Vegas, they can bring in bands who are traveling between the two destinations. I read an interview from one of the bands and they said that the environment at Mystic was so beautiful and friendly and magical that he thought it was their best performance ever. I believe it, some places just bring out the magic in you and this is certainly one of them.
Down the hill, where the hot springs flow into warm ponds there’s a grassy area with another stage. I was so excited to find hula hoops on the grass by the stage. The kids fed bread crumbs to the tropical fish in the pond while I rocked out to someone’s music and these borrowed hula hoops.
It was there that we met our tourguide.
Soleil climbed up and down the hills like a spider. She says she’s lived at Mystic for ten years or so. She showed us a hidden cave, gave us a list of rules for keeping safe in the rugged hills and showed us where the best flowers grew. We heard the legend of the dog who got caught and boiled in the hot springs, then was covered in mineral deposits before anyone knew. It was a cautionary tale and we all promised not to fall into the boiling water at the source. It was difficult to keep up with her, but her knowledge of the terrain, the plants and animals in the area was impressive. She’s 5 years old.
The kids played while I tended to housekeeping in the RV. I had a little laundry to wash, dishes to do and after a relatively sleepless night on the side of the road, I needed a nap.
When I woke from my siesta, the heat of the day was wearing off and other campers began to come out of the woodwork. The band has a trailer with 20 or 30 drums mounted to it and I walked up the hill looking for my kids and listening to the drumming. A guy on a bicycle slowed down and said “Wow, is that the band?” and I looked over and answered him slowly “I think that’s my kids.” Sure enough, the kids (mine and other visitors) were banging away on the drums, cymbals and tambourines. Each was playing their own rhythm but it sounded like music. The band members were smiling as they unloaded their gear and didn’t seem to be offended by the cacophony, even talking to eachother almost as if there wasn’t a thunderous riot occuring between them. The smiles on the kids’ faces were so pure and sweet. Every now and then an adult would walk past and stop working for a minute to join in. I didn’t join in, I just watched in awe as the music in their hearts filled the air.
As the evening wore on, live music from the festival below was drifting up the hills. Today was Monroe’s annual summer celebration. I’m not sure what the name of the event was at the bottom of the hill, but there were vendor booths and several stages and artisans and craftsmen and families walking around with snow cones and cotton candy. I found a Youtube video of the day’s parade and apparently the event commemorates the Mormon’s settlement in the area. We intended to walk down the hill to the festival, but couldn’t bear to walk away from Mystic once we arrived. The draw was very “Hotel California,” I didn’t mind missing the festival for a minute, Mystic was home for the moment and I don’t think we missed much.
The closer it got to sunset, the more awesome it got. I looked up at one point and the sky was filled with hang gliders. Someone said there were 60 of them in the air that night, I kept losing count. If you’ve never stood under 60 hang gliders and heard their howls of delight as they skim over treetops and, incidentally, hot springs… then you’re missing out. It was amazing.
The entire valley was celebrating and fireworks were everywhere. As the band played, the sun set, the hang gliders came in for their landing and the hot springs bubbles and steamed around us, I was grateful once again for that breakdown. We would have driven right past all of this magic. I could have gone my whole life and not realized that heaven is in Utah.
The party went on until the wee hours of the morning. There was no bar, there was no cover charge, just good people, good music and beautiful Utah.
Walking down past the drum-trailer, jumping over streams and pausing to watch fireworks periodically, I was reminded of those Southern California rave parties I used to go to with my girlfriends in the summer of 1992. The changing lights and night shadows make everything look different, but here I was, tromping through the juniper in my flip-flops, just like I was 18 again. Only this time, I was sober and a mother of six and headed back to the shelter of Betty the Beaver.
Thank you, Utah. And thank you, Mystic Mike <3