Moab, Utah - Our journey is a long one, but the dynamic geography we witness on the drive from Toronto to Utah is fascinating.
In three days we've passed through industrial Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, the rolling cornfields of Iowa, the flat Nebraska plains and the peaks and snow-laced wilderness of Colorado.
We meet the desert at the Utah/Colorado state line along Interstate 70 and wonder what we've gotten ourselves into. The legendary 24-hour mountain bike race in Moab was irresistible, but this bleak desert - so different from our expectations of a beautiful apricot expanse speckled with Joshua trees - makes our hearts sink. We wonder if we've been misled.
Following our map, we leave the security of the big interstate highway. The small road we follow streaks across a landscape of grey sand and gravel, dotted with small, blue, shrub-like sagebrush. Tumbleweed rolls by. The desert is like a ghost land, but we're only disappointed for a few moments.
The road begins to twist and turn. As we round a bend we see the grey bleakness of the uninhabitable, rocky desert give way to brilliant red sandstone formations that look like castles against the crisp, royal-blue late-afternoon sky. Soon the formations surround us, flanking the road; we stop the car and get out.
We are silent. No words can describe what it's like to see this for the first time. We simply stare at the red rock, which shines and oozes a greasy paint-like substance that we later learn is called "desert varnish" and is formed by living organisms.
Just an hour outside Moab, the road descends into huge red rock canyons. The mountains are flat on top - mesas. "Mesa" is the Spanish word for table, and the mountains do resemble giant tables, their underbellies layered with sagebrush, juniper trees and the reddest rock we have ever seen. To the right of the road is the Colorado River. Each new vista seems to introduce us to another world.
Around a final bend is our destination. Moab's one major street is lined with restaurants, coffee shops, a campground, a small movie theatre, a hospital and a grocery store. Small residential streets lead to sandy, tiny subdivisions. On either side of the main street are red rock canyon walls as far as the eye can see.
We pitch our tent in the Sand Flats campground. Though we know we should take it easy until we've acclimated to the altitude, we dust off our bikes and set out on our first ride through this new, utterly engaging territory. Our wheels move over the slick rock trail between juniper plants and piles of teetering orange sandstone. We're used to pine forests and mud, so our clumsy navigation must seem comical to other riders on the trail.
The coming days bring us many bumps and bruises as we cycle in the unpredictable terrain. Pushing our limits, we spend one entire day on a 60-kilometre mountain bike trail called Porcupine Rim in the middle of the desert, beside canyons that are thousands of feet deep. At that moment, we feel invincible.
Nearing our last day in Moab, we make the pilgrimage to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Accessible only by a moderately difficult 3-kilometre hike, this renowned geographical wonder looks out across the red rock land toward the La Sal Mountain Range.
As we approach the arch, which juts out from a huge, smooth bowl into an intensely blue sky, we're overwhelmed by a deep spiritual energy. As if guarding this sacred place, two large crows caw at anyone who dares to approach the edge of the bowl. We fall silent, as do other visitors. A group of strangers, we sit quietly looking at something so awesome that it demands a respectful pause from each of us.