Ups and Downs. Days 7 and 8, St. Guilhem-Le Desert to Arboras, and St-Jean-de-la-Blaquiere to Lodeve. September 28-29-30

Distances walked: Saturday, September 28, 17 official km, and 11 iPhone Miles. Sunday, September 29, 14.1 iPhone miles

Rest Day in Lodeve, Monday September 30.

We have enjoyed a much-needed rest day in Lodeve. We arrived about 5 pm yesterday, hot and tired. No place to stay. Spied the Hotel de la Paix as we entered town, staggered into the lobby, and asked for a room. We’ve been treated like family here. Lovely room, great meals. We’ve washed clothes, gotten money, topped off my phone, visited the Tourist Office 4 times, run into the Canadian pilgrims as they arrived late this afternoon, and visited the gorgeous St. Fulcran Cathedral twice. We have worked out some details for the next week, and reserved some nights ahead.

St. Fulcran Cathedral, Lodeve

This evening our host with the large speckled dog shared his photo album of his trip to the US Southwest in 1995–Taos Pueblo, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Moab, then treated us to drinks.

One of my hearing aids is having problems, so I will try to get help at an audiology office in the morning, which will delay our start on a tough 22 km walk..

Days 7 and 8

We’ve had a wild up-and-down couple of days since we climbed up the cliff behind St, Guilhem at dawn on Saturday morning. Several pilgrims were just ahead of us, and one passed us, but by the time we had reached the top of the climb, all had disappeared from sight, and we have seen none of them since, although several should be here in Lodeve and leaving this morning.

We have decided to stay here a second night, giving ourselves a rest day and time to wash our clothes and figure out the rest of the trip. This town of perhaps 9,000 is the largest we will see for several days.

Back to the climb from St. Guilhem, where we had slept like four large sardines on the side-by-side mattresses that, except for a small passage from the door across the bottom ends, had entirely filled the room.

Cliffs above St.Guilhem at dawn

The climb was the first for this trip of over 1000-feet, and it was good to make in the cool of morning. The temperatures have been in the upper 70 Fahrenheit range, which has meant much hotter walking than we’d anticipated and than we would like.

The cool morning breezes helped refresh us as we climbed, and the views were spectacular. The walk though a forest at the very top was among the most pleasant anywhere. Then, we descended on less picturesque gravel roads. We looked out over a vast expanse of country, and saw the sun reflecting on the Mediterranean in the distance.

The official trail sometimes veered off the road onto scrubby brush trails, adding distance, but also variety. There were smaller climbs and then a very long descent, hard on knees and feet. Suddenly below us I saw the crenellated outline of a castle wall.

Views from summit
Castellas de Montpeyroux

We enjoyed some quiet moments without our packs, looking at the remains of the once-bustling Castellas de Montpeyroux.

Once down on the relative flat, it was an uneventful walk and then a bit of a climb to Arboras, where we found the cafe in the middle of town — the only business—serving delicious platters of salad with toast and chèvre.


This is where we had arranged to meet Emanuel, our friend and companion on our previous walk, who was driving from Grenoble. Meanwhile I thought I would call the number of the Arboras family that was to take us to our evening’s lodging.

It turned out that the number handwritten by the woman in the tourist office that I thought was an 8 was a 2, and I’d been calling the wrong number, leaving messages and annoying the folks who had no idea what I was talking about, nor did I understand their replies to me.

We waited more than two hours for Emmanuel to arrive, and it was great to see him looking just as we remembered him. By then the cafe had closed, and I turned my phone over to Emmanuel, who discovered my misreading of the number.

Kent and Emmanuel in Arboras

When he finally got the right number, we discovered that the people we’d been trying to reach lived just two doors from the cafe.

We ended up showering and having tea at their home, and then riding in Emmanuel’s car back to Montpeyroux and on to St. Jean Du Fos, where we’d accidentally detoured the day before, all this at a dizzying auto pace, past places where we’d recently trudged like snails.

Our night’s lodging was a picturesque stone building set in a vineyard, but it left quite a bit to be desired in terms of amenities and cleanliness. The toilet was an outhouse with a camouflage net for a door. The beds, with torn quilts, were up a ladder-like stair in a loft.

Breakfast at “the farm”

We had reserved dinner in the place in Montpeyroux at the Terrasse de Mimosa. It was a lovely dinner, although it grew cold as the evening deepened. It was 11 pm by the time we had retrieved our packs in Arboras, made several attempts to find our way back to the “farm,” and finally arranged ourselves in our beds for the night.

We had purchased some pastries and yogurt for morning (in Montpeyroux), found a kettle and some coffee, and then set out for St. Jean de la Blaquiere, deciding to skip the rough walk between there and Arboras, and realizing we were getting a late start.

We next wasted perhaps an hour seeking a shortcut that never materialized, then climbed through lovely forest paths to the tiny village of Uscias, where we rested briefly on benches in the shade, and looked at the medieval pilgrim grave markers in the cemetery.

There was a water spout, that we were assured probably had drinkable water although the sign said “non potable.”

Then came the long climb of the day, past some boar hunters, who said they’d shot a fox. We have almost no wildlife and few birds so far on this walk. Why would anyone want to shoot a fox high in the mountains?

Grave stones of medieval pilgrims

We encountered several times a large noisy group of hikers attended by a bus. Touristic pilgrims perhaps?

The turn-around point for Emmanuel and our good-bye took place following a tour of the Priory of St. Michel de Grandmont, the impressive remains of what had been extremely austère order. So austère that it ceased to attract members and after a long decline became defunct in 1604.

St.Michel de Grandmont Priory

The priory was also the site of several Neolithic dolmens and mysterious stones.

Emmanuel made it back to his car in less than half the time it had taken us to walk uphill, and arrived a good 2 hours before we would reach Lodeve with nowhere to stay. None of our phone messages, including those left by Emmanuel, had been answered. showed just one hotel, with one room left, on the far side of town.

The long descent into Lodeve on a steep and rocky path, hot in the late afternoon sun was torturous. The first brew of the city presented a huge cemetery along a highway flanked by commercial buildings. I felt ready to catapult myself I to that cemetery for a permanent sleep.

We ate a true shared, cobbled together pilgrim lunch—an apple, potato chips, small sausages, cookies, soft drinks and almonds and a chocolate bar. Then it was time to say goodbye.

Beautiful view near Soumont on our way to Lodeve

My feet and knees ached, but finally the descent slowed and ended quite near the center of town.

Across a lovely river, with water splashing over a small dam, and ducks paddling, we spied the 3-star Hôtel de la Paix.

The door opened when we tried it, and a gentleman sitting with a large speckled dog at his feet asked if we would like a room, and motioned for us to sit. A young woman appeared, took one look at us, came back with a key and led us to an elevator and to our room! Ah heaven!

Shower, toilet, crisp sheets, towels, and a view of the river and the ducks.

Abraham and Isaac in St. Fulcran Cathedral

We received a shock when our ATM card was declined twice. I had time this evening to check our Capital One account and discovered our withdrawals were coming from our checking account rather than our savings account, and we were over $800 in the hole! Yikes! Fortunately,

I was able to instantly move funds between accounts, so we should now be OK.

The adventures continue and the Camino provides.

How our Shortest Day Became the Longest, Thursday September 26, Day 5, iPhone miles 17.8 miles, and Day 6, Friday, September 27, 8.4 km, 8.6 iPhone miles (definitely doesn’t add up, although we did take a wrong turn). Plus at Least Two Unwelcome Surprises

We have been whiling away a couple of pleasant hours under the famous large old sycamore tree surrounded by restaurants in front of the historic Abbey of St. Guilhem, a place I remember from 20 years ago.

La Place in St. Guilhem with 1855 plane tree

Yesterday i discovered that the place where I’d requested a reservation for that night in Montarnaud, claimed it had not heard back, and had given away our places. I had had no email response from them. But, with the help of Laurent, whom we encountered at a little patisserie in Montarnaud, we booked at Aniane, another 14 km away for the night.

After First High Climb

Immediately upon leaving Montarnaud we scrambled up a limestone escarpment of 1000 to 1200 feet. There was a lovely breeze at the top, which helped cool our sweat-drenched selves.

Then we descended, and after another hour or two came to the village of La Bossiere, where there were tables set out on wooden platforms along the street, evidently belonging to a bar of some kind operated by some young people sitting nearby who invited us to sit. I took off my boots, propped up my feet, and we enjoyed our ham and cheese sandwich we had carried from the patisserie.

Perfect lunch spot

Along came Laurent, and then one we labeled the “fast walker,” who chatted for a moment as we filled our water bottles at the nearby park, and then rapidly disappeared ahead of us. We next encountered a long detour along a very rocky trail with almost no shade. At last the trail branched off and the grande randonee, which we followed, headed steadily uphill. In the distance I could see the large rock we’d seen before Montpellier.

Kent waited for me at the top of the hill, then pointed below. There were Laurent and “fast walker,” who had taken the low road. We’d probably climbed unnecessarily, although the views were spectacular. The track descended, we came to a road, followed the red and white bars or GR 653, but eventually realized we had to be going the wrong way—there was no Aniane in sight, and no more markers. We consulted our book and online maps. We’d gone about a km downhill in the wrong direction. Back up hill, we we trudged another 10-20 minutes, and right near the top saw our mistake—a small track had veered off to the right. We were very tired and discouraged when we finally came to the Hostellerie de Saint Benoit, which was, of course, on the road exiting the town. Laurent, who had arrived only half an hour before us, had sent the hotel owner out to look for us. He had taken a wrong turn, also, on that low road.

Hilltop above Aniane

All turned out well, and we joined Laurent for dinner, one of the most beautifully prepared meals I’ve ever eaten. I didn’t take a photo, alas, of a swirl of melon, and a salad in a cabbage leaf, holding up a skewer of fried shrimp, with berries decorating the edges. This was followed by a tender confit of duck, and finally a chocolate and cream dessert. We slept well in our private room, but it was all too short.

In the morning we said good-bye again to Laurent over a very elaborate breakfast. We revisited the village, picked up some packages of dried soup, insurance for the days ahead, and headed off toward St. Guilhem. Another short day, but again we got turned around after a lovely, quiet time at the Devil’s Bridge, and ended up in St. Jean-de-Fos, which added another two km to our walk in the heat of the day.

Pont du Diable

Final mistake of the day. At four pm we headed to our gite, only to find they did not have our reservation.

As I wrote on Facebook, there was a little note at the bottom of the welcome letter that I failed to understand . A reply had been required, so although very disappointed, we were fortunate to find two beds in the Club Alpin Francois, where we are in a room with 4 mattresses together on a platform, no space in between. We will see how the night goes.

Sadly, I did not understand that the wording below meant I was to respond “oui” or some such. So when we arrived just now, they did not have us confirmed, and they had no room. I had made this reservation several days ago and was looking forward to a lovely gite with the Carmelite sisters, and a place to wash sweaty clothes. Fortunately we have another place. St Guilhem is crawling with pilgrims and tourists. We are lucky to have a bed at all.

“Dans l’attente de votre confirmation, recevez nos cordiales salutations fraternelles”

We look forward to new adventures tomorrow as we climb a mountain and have lodging in a family home—and plan to meet Emanuel, our young friend from our walk last year.

Day 4, Villetelle to Vendargues, then bus to Montpellier. 12.4 iPhone miles the old Via Domitla (to Rome) Wednesday, 25 September, 2019.

Today was a surprisingly beautiful day of walking, given that we had chosen to walk the original Via Domitla Pilgrim way, rather than the considerably longer route.

Our concern was that this route followed a super highway quite closely, but in actuality, we walked through more wild countryside than we had previously. There were lovely patches through scrubby forests—I think there is a French name—but it escapes me now.

I felt at times that we were walking through landscapes not too different from those traversed by medieval pilgrims.

The noise of the sometimes nearby freeway was often buffered by trees.

We arrived at last in the center of Vendargues, to the Post Office from which a bus left to take us to a tram to the center of Montpellier.

It was all a bit stressful, because we didn’t realize there was both a bus and a tram, and didn’t know in which direction to take the bus. Google maps was not much help.

Iphigenie maps,however had been of great help at several intersectionns along the way.

But at last we found our way into the city by bus and tram, and with the help of Google maps found our way to the Gite Pelerins de St. Roche, right behind the church.

We had not reserved, but were relieved to find beds, and encounter once more Isabelle, Genevieve, and Georgina. We 5 make up the pilgrim contingent tonight.

This was a hard day for me in some ways, after a hurried start this morning.

I did find time to pray during long quiet, and often rocky stretches of the way.

But entering the Elglise de Saint Roch brought tears to my eyes. St. Roch was born in Montpellier, a saint I have sought out on my many pilgrimages. He always has his dog beside him,often with a piece of bread in its mouth. The story I know is that Saint Roque was a pilgrim to Santiago in the 1300s, and had a wound on his leg that never healed, but was kept free of infection by the dog’s licking of the wound.

Statues of St Roch and his dog are found in churches and chapels through the European pilgrim routes.

There is much more, but I don’t have time now to research the story. But at the front of this church is a painting of the saint on his deathbed, with the faithful dog at his feet. I have never seen this depiction before, only statues of St. Rich as pilgrim with his dog.

Since I have praying for so many I’ll friends on this walk, I was deeply moved.

We are in a true pilgrim gite tonight. Tomorrow we again take transportation to the edge of town, from where will walk 10-12 km to tomorrow’s stop.

The old part of Montpellier is lovely and charming.

No time for pictures tonight, but One from my phone:

Kent knocking at the door of the gite.

Day 3 Chemin d’Arles, Vauvert to Villetelle, Pilgrim Paradise,Tuesday, September 24

13.4 miles iPhone, or about 19 official km

Monet-like reflections

After a rather fast start this morning on country lanes in the cool of the day, we reached the small village of Cadognan in the company of Isabelle, Genevieve, and Georgina after 8.5 Km in just under 2 hours. Kent and I were hoping for a cup of coffee and a bit of a break, so we peeled off toward the town center. We passed a small supermarket and the post office with a bench out front, were motioned to continue by two women we had asked for directions. We ended up with pain au chocolat and juice from a boulangerie, which we took back to the bench, where we were greeted by friendly townspeople, including a woman in Muslim dress.

Unfortunately the rest of the way to charming Gallargues-le-Montueux was through large fields of grapes, along roads and industrial areas.

There was a lovely restaurant at the beginning of the old town, where we encountered Laurence and had a lovely shared plat du jour again, and a pleasant conversation.

Dessert in Gallargues-le-Montueux

At both of our stops we encountered the Canadian-French trio. The walk out of Gallargues-le-Montueux was also hot and shadeless, until we reached a river crossing just before Villetelle, where we said good-bye to everyone, but it turned out that all but Laurence, and Georgina (who had gone on ahead), were coming to the same Chambre d’Hote d’Aimardou.

A steep descent!
Near Villetelle

Now, I wasn’t expecting much of this place, but here behind a locked gate is a paradise, a Mediterranean-style house built around a swimming pool. Our private room here is bigger than that we shared with six people two nights ago, and contains a bidet, a toilet, a huge bathtub, two sinks and a television set, as well as a large bed. The bath area, which is up four steps, is tiled with images of saints. Everything is pristine and beautifully decorated. I was hoping for a bed with sheets. That would have been luxury enough!

Our beds in horse stall in Vauvert last night
Part of our room in pilgrim paradise
Our bed in pilgrim paradise Chambre D’Hote Amairadu

Our legs and feet are aching after the day’s walk, but I think we are getting stronger every day.

Day 2 Saint-Gilles-du-Gard to Vauvert, Monday, oil 23 September 2019

Irrigation canal

13 miles on iPhone, but officially 17. 9 km

Blue skies, light breezes and varied scenery made today much better than yesterday. Tonight we are sleeping in what was once a horse stall at a gîte operated by (according to his self-description in our MiamMiam DoDo guidebook) a ”pelerín ancien,” although he is considerably younger than we are.

We’ve just had a nice, simple dinner, and I’m having a hard time staying awake although it is only 9:30 pm.

The other guests are a young French couple, and the two women we first met yesterday on the digue, and whom we hadn’t seen since. Their names are Isabelle and Genevieve, and we will stay in the same place with them tomorrow.

Notable sights today: orchards of plums, peaches, and apricots — fruits already picked—apples still on trees, and grapes already harvested, but with a few low-hanging clusters at the ends of rows along the road, to which we helped ourselves.

We walked along the shimmering blue water of an irrigation canal, encountered a large number of domesticated pigs, rooting happily under trees in a forest mucky from yesterday’s rain, observed a few lovely white horses, and encountered some very fierce barking dogs, two of which escaped their fence and came after me. I turned and faced the, and looking into their eyes held out one hand in a stop motion, and shouted at them, « Non! » and « au revoir! » while I walked slowly backward, not wanting to risk s nip in my calf, until finally they turned away.

Finally, we came to eerily beautiful, totally burned forests, still smelling smoky. There had been awful fires in this area over the summer. At first I thought the oak leaves had just turned bronze, but then I realized this was the fire we had read about.

Kent in the burned forest, waiting for me to finish taking picture

Upon entering Vauvert, one of the first places we came to was a house with a menu du jour posted outside. We entered through a courtyard, climbed an outdoor flight of stairs, and were welcomed by a. Pleasant woman, even though it was near what must have been her 2 pm closing time. We shared one meals of salade miste, poultry and pasta. We drank 3 bottles of table water, and luxuriated in sitting in chairs at a table for the first time in two days.

There was so much more. As I walked I composed prayers for two friends confronting cancer, Anne and Anita, much-loved by many and so generous to others. May they be healed, but if that is not possible, may God hold them in his loving arms and give them peace and comfort. I prayed, too, for my friend Monica, also wise and generous, that her recovery from a stroke may restore some of the wonderful talents now eclipsed. And for my friend John who has lost his lifelong partner, Karen.

Now to sleep, so I’ll have strength to walk another day.

White Camargue horse

Day 1 Arles to Saint-Gilles- -du-Gard: Sunday 22 September

iPhone count 15.1 miles. (Official count is 19-20 km, which would be considerably less.)

The endless digue
Snails on the trail

The way was supposed to take 4-5 hours, but it took us nearly 6, from 8 am until 1:45 pm

This was a harder day than we expected, with seemingly endless along a dike, often with glimpses of Le Petit Rhône, but always with the oppressive heavy humidity that builds before rain, accompanied by swarms of flying insects, and sometimes by overbearing bamboo. We stopped once for a shared apple and two finger-sized sausages. We spread a poncho on a sandy bank, but there was almost nowhere to sit. It sometimes felt like walking through an endless tunnel, and the gravel surface became tiring on the feet.

There were many barricades along the dike. This one had a Chemin sign.

It mostly felt like a long slog. We got into St. Gilles just as the restaurants were closing for the day. In fact, every business in town, other than the church, which we are right next to, is closed up tight. We did manage to get a cold beer, before one restaurant closed, and we were happy for that.

We received a warm welcome from the hospitalier, who has invited us for wine at 6:30. He had offered to call a small restaurant and arrange dinner for us, but that place, too, was closed, so although we ate our bread and cheese, our carrot and remaining apple.

The Canadians and two French pilgrims are here tonight, too, sharing the six-bed dormitory. Some others are in another dormitory in the cellar.

We met two other French women on the path, but have not seen them here.

We will see what tomorrow brings. We have a place reserved with dinner, as most restaurants, as well as most shops, are also closed on Mondays. Tomorrow promises to be a somewhat shorter day, hopefully with more interesting walking.

The St. Gilles church is quite lovely, and here I saw for the first time the Camargue Cross

The Camargue Cross

Rain and Preparations: Arles, Saturday September 21

Tomorrow we walk, 20 or so km from Arles to Saint Gilles. Our pilgrim life will truly begin.

Cloister, St, Trophime

There were many last-minute things to take care of today, foremost among them getting a French SIM card for my phone, so we can follow our location on map apps as we walk, call ahead for reservations, and get keys to gites.

The SFR phone store could not sell me a card. For that I had to go to a tabac. Yes, if we bought their brand of card, the fellow in the SFR shop would put it in for me. To get to a larger store where They could do everything, would be a long walk or a bus trip. Two visits to Tourist Information told us this.

We did find the card after queueing in a tabac, and had it put in at the phone store. We are now good to go, with 5 g of data (that I’ll need only when there is no wifi) for the next month.

Coffee and croissants for breakfast. delicious! Why do American croissants taste nothing like these?

Selfie from atop the Arena

We ran around in the big Saturday outdoor market as rain started to fall—buying bread — 4 slices cut for us— 4 apples, a small sausage, and a round of Camembert. On the way home we picked up a bottle of orange juice and a carrot, and with some ice and a borrowed knife from our AirBNB hostess Ariane, we had a fine lunch. The rainy afternoon was spent visiting some of the many sites of interest in Arles, including St.Trophime Basilica and Cloister, Les Allycamps Cemetery (Roman and Medieval), the arena, the theatre, the baths of Constantine, and other places.

We got our Pilgrim Credentials and first stamps.

At 5:15 we returned to St. Trophime to the Accueil Pèlerin (pilgrim welcome) office that we’d been checking all day. Mass was being said, but 3 people were waiting at the back of the church wearing rain gear and sturdy sandals. «Pilgrims! » I said. And they were: two French Canadian women, Marie and Ginette, and a French man, Jean, who have walked together before. They will also be heading to Saint Gilles tomorrow and finishing in Toulouse as we will. Younger than us, and probably better walkers, we will be with them for at least awhile.

Sign at Les Allycamps

More rain is predicted for tomorrow, although it cleared a bit at sunset. It is cooler, so we will not be walking in blazing sun and heat.

We finished the evening with couscous, chicken, meatballs and vin rouge at a Moroccan restaurant. Arles is a delightful place.

Ultreia! Bon Courage!

Sunset, Arles

Barcelona, September 18-20, 2019

Waiting for Flamenco

In my ten or so years as a college student, I always thought getting through registration was the hardest part, and if I could just get through all those lines, and put the right numbers and names into boxes, I could make it through the coursework. Flying to Europe to walk a Camino is a bit like that. Getting here may be the hardest, and certainly most boring part.

I’m looking forward to three days from now, when we will start walking, just putting one foot in front of another, when all we’ll have to worry about is finding a place to sleep and something to eat. And maybe whether we are lost, and whether our bodies will hold up.

Thé Hostal Central is friendly, clean, comfortable, and well- located, although the room and bathroom are very small, We have enjoyed exploring several neighborhoods, and attending a Flamenco performance in the fabulous Art Deco Palau de la Musica.

We survived the trans-Atlantic flight, getting searched and wanded at Heathrow, and Surviving long lines in several places, including the taxi queue in Barcelona, but now we are here.

Despite its being a bit crowded with tourists— we could hardly walk around the outside of the Sagrada Familia, let alone get tickets to get in — and despite walking nearly 10 miles today, partly due to a few wrong turns, we have enjoyed our short time in Barcelona.

We did get lots of great looks at the imagery on the outside of the Sagrada Familia. I thought Gaudi must have had a wonderful time dreaming all that stuff up. I was able to capture some with the zoom on my camera.

During a Happy Hour break (2 pints for 6 Euros) in the back of a bar, we watched music videos, which had me thinking that in my next life I’d like to be a music video creator. If only I could hear the words— maybe some come with closed captions? Most were from the US, I think—Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Justin Bieber (Canadian)— but one was Japanese.

Tomorrow afternoon we are off to Arles, from where we will start to walk.

Hostal Central Barcelona
Basilica Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia
Serpent detail
Red Shrimp, Boquete Mercado
Stained Glass Ceiling in Palau de la Musica
Chocolate and Sticky Fingers

San Francisco: First Stop on Our Camino From Arles to Toulouse

Tuesday, September 17th

Our packs seemed too heavy as we sped through the Albuquerque airport yesterday, and again as we exited the Oakland airport and rode the BART and MUNI to our stop at 7th and Irving near Golden Gate Park.

We are still considering what we can leave out—sleeping bags, most likely. We fly to Barcelona this evening.

Meanwhile we managed a nap and enjoyed some family time as Kent practiced carrying a load of a different kind on his back.

Riding on Grampy’s Back

I am nervous about this Chemin, as there will be several days in isolated, rugged mountains with few services, but all that is yet many days away.

Meanwhile, I will live in this day, and start with this meditation from Paula:

Morning Meditation

I give thanks for the journey.

I give thanks for the arriving and leaving.

I wake to freshness and do reverence.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

A Pilgrimage to the Moab Music Festival: September 6-8, 2019

Moab Music Festival: Music in concert with the landscape

Imagine the lush sounds of a Brahms string sextet filling a red rock grotto, as a rapt audience sits around the perimeter, on rocks, on logs, and on the sand beside a small pool. This was a hike-in concert at the Moab Music Festival in Moab, Utah, now in its 27th year.  

To arrive at this spot involved a twenty-minute ride on a school bus, followed by a hike through an overgrown, brushy, sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky trail that led under and over some fallen branches through a narrow slot between red cliffs.  Finally, after about half-a-mile, the canyon widened into a glorious natural amphitheater aptly named “Middle Earth.”  

Playing Brahms in Middle Earth

People of all ages had come from from places near and far, including Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, Chicago, and New Zealand.  Kent and I drove scenic roads from Albuquerque.  A PBS feature on the festival last fall introduced us to the festival and inspired us to make the trip.  We were not disappointed.

We attended “A Paris Revue” in historic Star Hall on Friday night, an eclectic program introduced with panache by Festival Music Director Michael Barrett, very much in the style of his mentor Leonard Bernstein. 

Mill Creek Overlook

Then early on Saturday morning, we took a bus through the red rocks east of town, to a one-mile hike down a mostly sandy wash to Mill Creek Overlook, where we heard classical and modern pieces performed by wind instruments, singly and together.  Claude Debussy’s “Syrinx” for unaccompanied flute was followed by a “Duo for Oboe and Bassoon” by Heitor Villa-Lobos.  Modern pieces by Toru Takemitsu, Adam Raph (for unaccompanied trombone!), and Bohuslav Martinü, were followed by several Italian baroque ensemble pieces that concluded the concert.

Wind players at Mill Creek Overlook

On Saturday evening, we traveled again by school bus, upstream along the Colorado River to the Sorrel River Ranch and Spa for a concert under a tent, in celebration of the Jazz-age genius of Bix Beiderbecke.  Food and drinks were available for purchase, and intermission came just in time to allow us to walk about the grounds along the river and view the red rock buttes in the distance turn even redder in the setting sun.

For Kent and me, whose musical tastes are eclectic, who enjoy nature and a bit of adventure, and who are willing to risk a bit of uncertainty, the Moab Music Festival was pure delight.  The uncertainty? The dreamy performance of Brahms in Middle Earth was abruptly interrupted by a flash rainstorm, resulting in an unplanned, hasty exodus along that narrow brushy trail, followed by a return to Star Hall for the concert’s conclusion, with performers and audience alike still dressed in their hiking gear.

Tickets for the more expensive concerts, which involve travel by raft are already on sale for the 2020 season.