The Story of Rain, The View From F6
Sorrel River Ranch
I woke up to rain pounding on the roof and lightning illuminating a John Wayne country of buttes and pinnacles. It was still hours before sunrise, but the storm rolled across the canyon cradling the Colorado River as though it was pushed by the heat of a summer afternoon.
It had been an usual, rainy week in the deserts of southeastern Utah. A few times a summer, typically in July or August, rainstorms like this roll across the land, drawn by streaming moisture from Mexico and the Pacific. The days all start the same: blazing blue skies. But by midday the air is laden with a prepositional heaviness. A few clouds gather over the mountains and high bluffs, then multiply in to more clouds that seem to grow from the south, and then the atmosphere is charged with electricity as the clouds unleash. Those days are an odd combination of anvil-headed giant pregnant clouds and relatively high humidity that leave flooded, sediment-heavy streams in their wake. In the morning, when light returns, the desert is changed by the rain - grasses turn a quick green, wildflowers make a sometimes-grand return, and the arroyos and washes that mark the desert are left deeper and more dramatic than before.
When it rains, it is a torrent. The balanced rocks and fins of sandstone are glazed with the moisture. Below, the washes fill with a sudden fury of water; quite different from the floods of the East, these desert flash floods groan from the sound of bounders being pushed along, and ooze with a thick soup of mud and stone and driftwood. In a few hours the bulk of the flood is gone, and in just a few hours the wash and the desert around it are dry; the air is pure and sweet and smells briefly like sage or juniper; new insects emerge from the still-damp frothy flood wastes to lay claim to their territory.
This morning I went outside my room at the Sorrel River Ranch, up the Colorado River from Moab in the waning darkness as the storm's clouds scudded away to the northeast. Lightning flickered from the clouds illuminating desert high country beyond, but a desert stillness had returned to these banks of the river.
The Sorrel River Ranch is likely the most sumptuous place in southeastern Utah to wait out a storm. Strung along a magnificent stretch of the Colorado River 17 miles upstream from Moab, the 32-unit resort first opened in 1997 by Robbie Levin as a bed and breakfast but expanded rather quickly. The resort's rooms, which start at $179 a night - quite a bit, by Utah standards - are on the edge of a 280-acre hay ranch that heighten the area's history and remoteness. Sorrel was last year named as one of the top 10 best small inns in the West, and has been reviewed by National Geographic Traveler and Shape magazines (Traveler called its rooms 'a visual textbook of fine carpentry'). Its restaurant, River Grill, is unrivalled locally, and its proximity to some of Utah's greatest attractions - Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Fisher Towers, a site managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and the La Sal Mountains - makes its location almost unbeatable.
Of course, if you get tired of seeing the parks, Sorrel is designed so you can hang out right there. Sorrel offers fishing, rafting and kayaking, horseback riding (and stables), a gym, a pool, massage therapy, a Jacuzzi, a meeting room, a playground, petting zoo and access to email. The rooms, most of which are arranged in four-plex pods around the restaurant, all have a large covered balcony out front with a swing and were designed by Levin's wife, Hope; they exude Western class and hospitalityand have exquisite tiled floors, bathrooms so nive you feel like hanging out in them longer than you need to, big picture windows, and exposed wood beams. Suites have a kitchen and breakfast nook, and some suites have separate bedrooms.It's the sort of class I could get used to.
But nice as the rooms are, the real treat of my stay at Sorrel, I thought, was a sunset dinner on River Grill's second-floor balcony. I had elk tenderloin kabobs and a medley of vegetables, washed down with a big Oregon pinot noir; the sommelier here lives a few miles down the road in his own vineyard and the cellar features a budding variety of Utah wines. When the sun set, the staff lighted candles, and we spent a quiet hour watching the stars multiplying; the sounds of the night were imperceptible - the occasional car, the occasional laugh from another table, maybe the shuffling of a chair. Soon it was very dark. A few hours later, the rain started again.
At sunrise, with clouds scudding away toward another state, I made coffee in the room and sat on the swing outside. The beauty of the view from room F6 is that from it, it seems like you are the only one in the desert. Most of the rooms are arranged to look on their own painted piece of desert, not on each other. Already it seemed like a day that would end too soon. When the rains began again, impromptu waterfalls erupted from the cliffs above, and a little more of the desert eroded and ran down to the river.
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