Traveling this year has been full of trials and upsets, joy and sorrow. Mainly due to this pandemic circling the globe now for the second time…COVID, the *rona, the cove…by any name it still brings a certain amount of fear and a huge amount of cautiousness. We have done our best the last six months to be away from people and close social contact. This is some real shit, at least to half the population of the world that is taking it with seriousness.
We also have just come through an election that was pins and needles. The amount of stress we felt was overwhelming. The tension was felt even into campsites and passing through small towns. I have to wonder how someone’s mind can become so blind to the lies and prejudice this man exudes. At least now the flags have come down and people are just cordial and most maintain distance.
Our plans originally fell to the wayside with travel restrictions, closing airports and whole countries. We were going to drive to Alaska this past summer but the Canadian border remained closed. We instead played in Montana around the Canadian border towns at the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. We kayaked and fished, stayed in the wild outdoors until the weather crapped out on us. Then we headed south.
Our next plans were to go to the Baja for this winter. There were quite a few women travelers that had planned a trip the year before COVID. This border still remains closed.
Of course we could fly… but now-a-days that is only a guarantee one way. We have kicked it around several times over the last month. All our bag of tricks are slowly getting taken away with the third big surge of COVID in the US and worldwide. I have friends who got stuck outside of Ft Lauderdale on a cruise ship when the first panic hit in March. Travelers were stuck in all parts of the world and some took months to get home.
Things have kicked in again this year. This time the entire country is sharing in the East Coast’s fate from the first big wave of COVID. We are nervous about large gatherings and towns. We are hyper-vigilant, now more than ever. We avoid established, park here, park here type campsites for the more primitive. We are totally self contained so we can stay away for days and be totally off grid. The beauty of being completely off grid?… No cell, no XM… now that’s remote.
So here we sit, off a 5 mile washboard road from hell. Quite narrow and steep…then it opened up as we crested the hill. Before us, Lake Mohave, Telephone Cove, Nevada. We are near where all three states come together. This little cove is peaceful, quite and secluded. Pebblee stone and sand beach gently sloping into a bay of sky blue. The desert sprawls out before us, ten old cottonwoods hold tight to their small purchase of land, providing shade and shelter for the small desert birds and large loud Mina birds and ravens.
There are a few other campers scattered up and down the beach in assorted RV type vehicles right up to full on converted school buses. Every little pod is a world in itself. Children and dogs run up and down the beach. Adults talk to others from a safe distance. Roof top tents sprinkle the far shore, full on trumpees occupy the next cove, flags faithfully flying, then comes the various pull trailers and full on 5th wheels the size of half a city block… how the Hell did they get down here anyway?!? Then a few do it yourself van builds round out the mix.
The temps in the Colorado corridor range mid 40s to mid 50s at night and high 60-80s in the days. It’s a perfect climate for whatever you want to do. Yesterday we went trail riding with the UTV and came around the corner to the most beautiful private cove. BHAM!! There is no way anything other than a UTV, dirt bike, horse or snowmobile could swim threw the 12-20” sand oceans comprising the trail.
We returned to camp and cooked up a nice gourmet dinner. Nice end to the day.
This morning we woke to see a couple stand up boards on the bay, a kayak and a canoe. The bay was like glass and the sky reflected like a mirror, painting its best morning hues. We are planning a kayak trip after a few minor chores. The lake is higher but an algae bloom has got me worried so Gandaulf will need to stay dry today. I am not taking any chances with him either.
Slow lazy days sitting in the midday sun, stairway to heaven playing softly in the back ground, makes us think, “maybe this is as good as it’s gonna get this winter”…aside from a true “house”, this may be our pseudo Baja.
In my head I hear this stately gentleman’s voice, like the Nat Geo guy from the 60s and 70s, walking us through what we are seeing in this incredible, one to one encounter with everything from insects to archeology. Am I smart or just a parrot repeating a previously recorded message from being immersed in this reality. A city kid with absentee parents, handed off to who ever had time for me. Off in a rant…
So I’m experiencing life on another level, and with understandings of my mind, through the eyes of many. I have a 360 degree vista of the Sedona wilderness I’ll call it. The low drone of the occasional UTV or Pink jeep tour going to the native ruins down the trail a bit breaks the desert silence. The colors of the late afternoon sun deepen the reds and cream colored sandstone cliffs and mesas surrounding us until the last pink and orange of the setting sun paints the landscape. The night soon takes over and dismisses the last of the blues and purples for its inky blackness.
We decide to have a fire, which is my hypnotic friend. It takes hold of your consciousness and transports you to a dream like state of reality. Tomorrow I explore the Boynton Canyon vortex. The fire transports me into the universe and the energy that surrounds us. My senses become alive with the vibration. The warmth and brilliance of the flames brings me back. I take the last sip of my drink and head off to bed.
The night brings tormented dreams of a long gone past. I wrestle with the memories and wake up from a fitful sleep with tears running down my face. I quickly close one hand then the other and still my mind…it was only a dream I tell myself, but this place has a way of seriously messing with your psyche. I find Chris and reassure myself that I am here and now and drift back to sleep.
The morning comes early these days. We have parked so the sun comes in the windshield and begins to take off the chill. We sleep in today, making up for too many fitful nights for me. I roll over and snuggle in deep to Chris’s chest and drift back off. Gandaulf will have none of this and decides its time to get up. Licks all around, and he begins running circles over top the covers then bounds towards the door.
I get up and open the door. A rush of cool air fills the van and I shudder with it, standing in only my oversized tee shirt and bare feet. I mill about the van making coffee and getting breakfast for the dog. Chris finally slides off the end of the bed, sleep still hanging on her eyelids. A cheerful good morning as I slip on my jeans and shoes and head out the door.
The morning air is still and I survey the vista that surrounds us. I can smell the fire from last night and hear a small bird in the trees. I take a deep breath in and raise my arms to the sky, stretch and release into the day. The coffee is beginning to perk and the heavenly aroma fills the senses.
Today I go one way and Chris another. She’s not much into the spiritual sights so she decides to go for a trail ride on her bike. We pack up for the days adventure and I get Gandaulf in the UTV and head towards the Boynton Canyon trail.
The dusty road to the trailhead covers me, Gandaulf and the UTV is a fine layer of silt and I squint as my eyes become dry and irritated. Only six more miles and we will be free from the choking dust. We putt along trying to read the heavily dusted brown USFS signs to the trailhead. As soon as the NO PARKING signs begin to appear I know I’m close. I secure a parking spot, glad I am in the UTV since the parking lot was quite full.
Gandaulf springs up and stands up, paws hanging on the door barking with joy…the dog loves to hike. It’s only a mile hike but I soon realize, it’s all uphill. After quite a bit of slick rock scrambling I reach a ridge and I see hundreds of carrins stacked in every direction. I can see Kachina Woman, the female portion of the vortex. She stands stoically in deep burnt orange against the clear blue sky. There are trails leading all around her base and makeshift alters under the cedar trees and along rock outcroppings. I stop for a minute and feel the energy. Gandaulf looks up at me tilting his head inquisitively.
Another hundred feet or so and I crest the saddle between Katchina Woman and her male counterpart. Several juniper trees stand atop, twisted and distorted in ways unlike anything I’ve seen. Cacti grow bent into circular shapes. The piñon pines grow in abnormally twisted trunks and branches, as if drawn towards the vortex.
Sitting atop the male pillar is a gentleman playing a Native American flute. It’s shrill soulful melody calls out the native in me and I transform into energy. I ground myself under one of the twisted junipers and sit upon its gnarled roots. Gandaulf cuddled up beside me and drifted off to sleep.
For what seems like hours, I sit quietly in meditation. The energy flowing through me, giving and taking from Mother Earth. My mind empties and not a thought exists, only the vibration and ebb and flow of the energy. In my minds eye I become one with the tree, feeling my roots deep in the earth as if in a lovers embrace. I see the ancient cliffs and feel the ancestors speaking of peace and love and deep sorrow. I can feel a troubling sadness and want to weep in this sadness. I am startled by voices and return to my place under the tree. I hold the tree and let it hold me in an embrace of loving kindness. I thank the Mother for this time and the message she gave me. Gandaulf rolls over and I scratch his belly as I return to the present. I breathe deeply and rise, scanning the 360 degree horizon and feel gratitude for this beautiful encounter.
I stand at the edge of the vast canyon laid out before me. The various colors of red, orange, greens and browns all delight my senses as I stand quiet, feeling the chill of the early morning breezes.
The ancient sandstone pillars stand silently atop the massive plateau dotted with grey sagebrush. On the thermals soars a raven, circling ever higher in a balancing act of wind and wing.
I stare deep into the deep grandeur of the canyons below and imagine the strength of the river and wind… what marvelous architects.
Again I feel the warmth of the sun and I’m brought back.
The mountains stand steadfast in the distance. Dark purple and grey, climbing high above the desert floor in a majesty all their own.
The songs of the past whisper on the wind, telling stories of hardship and a love of the land… a spiritual connection to the vast night sky full of starts and the brilliant blue of the day. The blazing sun and the parched land yielding only enough to eek out a living. I can hear the cries of the warrior, the yelp of the coyote, the singing of the canyon wren, the rustle of the dry yellow leaves of the mesquite.
My heart sighs, my mind settles and my eyes take in all it sees with gratitude for this new day.
We pulled in late last night, as is our norm with the short days. Since we crossed the time line in Nevada, and lost an hour with DLST, sunset at 4:30, dark is around 5:15-5:30. Of course, fire restrictions are on high alert, so we pretty much retreat to our van after gazing at the sun fire red clouds and the darkening skies of sunset. On our new schedule, that means we have about 4-5 hours to play/drive, before it’s dark.
We come upon the park at about 4 pm. The parking lot that the NFS calls a “campground” (Sunset) reminded me of parking at a drive-in movie. It was all that was available. No fires, dogs on leash, just our kind of place. Not.
The morning comes super early as well and by 6 am it’s full on light outside. By 7 am the big RVs in the “campground” have turned on their generators. The van is pretty well insulated from sound so it’s just a dull roar. We decided to set out early and explore the other campground above us. We drove through last night and checked it out, but it fills everyday by around 2-3:00 pm.
After some Coffee and a quick breakfast we grab our e-bikes and are off to seek out our new home base. The host told us to go up around 11 am to secure a site, so we grabbed our chairs and a backpack and headed up to the campground to find a spot. After riding around for 20-30 minutes, we found a few empty spots, got together and picked one. #71 Home base.
It ended up being a lazy day. Chris was still recovering from some gastric issues (day 3) so our bike ride was about 3 miles too many. We are desperately in need of showers…going on day 4 tomorrow. We rode around to find the “showers” that showed on the maps but they never materialized. I’m guessing tomorrow will be bath day…
Ya know what sucks about National Parks is that they are so “structured”… ok, strict?… in the year of COVID or *rona, that’s people on people. Everybody and their uncle is out in the parks, wilderness, trails and so forth. We all practice social distancing and depending on the state/county, some will wear masks. We are incredibly paranoid about getting this. Maybe we won’t die but what if we have a month in the hospital? That could literally bankrupt so many families and ding us pretty good.
Social distancing in DEATH Valley… I think I read somewhere that like 1.7 million people come to Death Valley every year… Hmmm that means that from late October to early March, which are tolerable temperatures, over 635,000 a month, 21,000 people a day, entering the park in those 4.5 months, from all over the US, the hotspot of the pandemic.
Now to say this doesn’t weigh heavy on our minds everyday we have to use a gas station, toilet, go grocery shopping? Sometimes I find myself in a pure panic and can just envision the germs invading my nostrils. LOL. Then I’m reminded that we are all dying anyway… so live your life as safe as you can but not in fear. Not buying into any herd mentality mind you. More like impermanence.
Day two. Lazy morning. Coffee outside in the sun. Slight breeze blowing and the sound of new campers driving around looking for a camp spot. The low murmur of people talking to one another. Our van has been quite a hit and we continue to get compliments. It’s a conversation starter for sure. Gandaulf has also touched so many hearts. Kids and adults alike. It’s really hard to draw boundaries when people are kind and interested. I really don’t want to be afraid of people but I am.
The parched landscape of Death Valley whispers solitude and isolation. The multi-colored rocks, sand and salt bring to life thousands of years of history. Scattered along the landscape are brilliant green oasis where the brutal force of tech tonic plates grinding together forcing super heated waters to seep to the surface. From this violent beginning comes life in all its magnificence. In the middle of the hottest, driest place on earth, life in its simplest form can survive.
The color pallet laid out before me in the rocky landscape is soothing to the eye. The earth tone browns, yellows, reds, greens, a whole miriad of colors, blending together. Countless eons of time, layer upon layer, thrust up into the air by forces I can’t even begin to know, but my mind imagines the violent beginnings. Now all that remains are majestic, multicolored mountains, outlined in cobalt blue and wisps of white.
After a day of exploring the depths of the once inland sea -301’ below sea level, we wandered over to the Devils Golf Course. It looks like a frozen river at thaw… huge chunks of salt crack and move. We stood quietly and listened to the metallic ting as the salt moved in the heat. The beauty and starkness boggled my mind and my child just wanted to explore… so we did. Chris one way and I the other.
We drove around and did a few hikes and took lots of pictures. We had lunch on the side of the road and chilled taking in the view. We drove back to the camp site with our jaws dropping view after view.
The sun sets so early these days. I am grateful that it is so warm outside when it is “pitch black”. The campground looks like a small encampment of like minded people. Fires blazing against the inky blackness. People laugh and there’s music drifting on the warm air. The sky peppered with millions of pin pricks of light. The stars are thick and the milky way shows itself against the absolute darkness. I stare off for untold minutes loosing myself in the vast starlit sky. I am one with the universe. My mind mingles with the infinite wisdom and light… I feel minuscule but incredibly voluminous. I return to our little village, as Gandaulf tugs on his leash trying to relieve himself.
4,000 feet Day 4:
We decided to pull up stakes and head up into the foothills in the Death Valley Wilderness area. The breeze is blowing and it’s 15 degrees cooler. There is an abundance of life and even a solitary big old cottonwood in showy yellow. I just want to hug that big ole cottonwood and listen to its stories. At the mouth of a wash dug deep into the desert floor and that tree. The image is burned into my mind in all its ancient glory.
Our camp is quiet, except for the occasional vehicle going up the narrow canyon. The road said 25’ maximum length… I didn’t see it until I was already committed so I crossed my fingers and carried on. It was one of those scary windy 1 1/2 lanes wide. The turns were tight and 40’ meant hogging all of it through the turns. We arrived at Wild Rose Camp and picked a spot over looking the canyon and trees.
We settled in and set up camp. We kinda messed up and went to a camp with not much to do around it. We made the best of it and explored further up the canyon, minus the trailer. The hills up above the valley floor look like they are covered in velvet. The rolling folds accented by the late afternoon sun were a sight to behold. The fact that anything can eek out a living in this bone dry place is amazing in itself. Quite the contrary, this place is teaming with life from wispy grass like plants, sages, to several varieties of hardy trees. Nature has found a balance of life and death in this DEATH Valley.