We’ve made it to Oregon (June 2021). We’ve been back on the road full time for two weeks. We’ve meandered across Idaho’s western side, checking out the sights we never had the time to experience. We had just come back to Salt Lake City to do some business, get our COVID shots and see some friends and family.
I am really torn between wanting to go back to Salt Lake. I really miss the physical presence of my friends and family. During COVID, it was hard to be distant, but the thought that, what if I caused a friends death or illness, always lurked in the back of my mind. Leaving Salt Lake a year ago, that first month or two, ripped my heart out, not being able to have a party, to give everyone a hug and even go to a communal campfire. Let’s just face it I love to be held and to hold, to share stories of the road and a beer.
Sorry for the ramble…
I don’t know if there is a right way or a wrong way to “become a vagabond” a “wanderer”, part of the allure is living off the clock. I know I’ve said it before, but not having a set schedule is more conducive to my mental state. The lack of deadline stresses, fear of letting someone down, rush, rush, rush… now we pick a direction and head that way.
We have maps and Apps, books and sometimes cell phone service, these all act as guides, but we now have the time to explore that dirt road to “somewhere?”… stop and take a nap when we are tired. If we see a hot spring or lake on the map, we may make that our destination for the day, which may turn into two, three or even a week…or it may be a bust.
What drives us to pick a place and stay? I was asked this question by more than one of our followers. Trash, weather, bugs, sound, people, cost, and access to water are all deciding factors. Of course we have to be able to access it with our van and trailer as well. We are 11’ tall, 8’ wide and 35’ long (but we bend in the middle). At times we seek out the most remote area we can find and have to get out our mountain bikes to check out the road and clearances, as well as someplace to turn around. It sucks backing up a 1/4 mile with a trailer. Good news though, Chris is learning how to back up a trailer!
We look for silence that is deafening, bird song, the sound of water, open space, tall, LIVE, trees in the mountains, shade in the desert, access to water, and a sense of safety and security.
What drives us out of a spot…even after picking the perfect spot…bugs, gun shots, people, noise, weather and other factors beyond our control. These things often come up after a night or are noticeable within hours.
We both crave silence. Normal nature sounds are welcome. You can hear yourself think. We perform our daily duties like a well oiled machine and most things are done without the need to speak. On the other hand, we have meaningful dialogue when off grid.
I will often get immersed into the nature that surrounds us. It is a means of creativity, an inspiration to dream. The life of a wanderer is never lost… perhaps temporarily delayed or caught trying to find the next shiny object.
It’s raining and we are confined to the van for a bit. The thunder and raindrops make us feel like we are playing tent. It makes us feel alive! The rain on the roof of the van, the smell of wet earth, the crackle of a campfire…the birds all vying for the loudest call, and being able to identify the bird by its call. The desert and spring time flowers. The landscape so beautiful I wrestle with the words to describe its grandeur. The sound of the winds. Each of these seeps into your soul until a city becomes a strange land of traffic and sounds, rushing people, such that you wish to do your business and move along.
Our world has changed in so many ways. Our lives are slower and more meaningful. Our demons hide from the joy of living! Living like pioneers on the way to the next new land or adventure.
One day while walking along a desert ridge, a small child met up with a lone burro walking in the opposite direction. The burro was dark brown with white circles around his eyes, his shaggy head low and solemn. The child thought to herself, what an interesting animal to be alone out here in the desert.
“What brings you to the desert?” quizzed the child.
The burro slowly raised his shaggy head and gazed deep into the child’s eyes.
He told her the story of his life without words. The child saw his sorrow and his joy. She saw him romping around on grassy plains where he ran and played with his family.
The burro told her of how he got separated from his family and ended up walking the desert alone.
The child grabbed the burro around his neck and gave him a big hug and kiss on his nose. I will be your friend she promised him.
The burro smiled and lifted his head and thanked the child. “What brings a small child to the desert alone?” asked the burro.
“I am looking for dinosaur eggs,” answered the child.
The burro was confused since he’d not seen any dinosaurs. “Are you sure you are in the right place my child? I have never seen a dinosaur here in the desert, and I have lived here all my life.”
“Oh yes,” assured the child. “My friends, the prairie dogs, told me of piles of them all over the ground.
It is a far distance and I have packed enough food and water for my journey,” said the child.
“Perhaps I can help you get there little one,” volunteered the burro.
The child thought carefully and agreed it would be faster and nice to have some company. She drew a map in the sand and showed the burro where the eggs were said to be. The burro shook his shaggy head and bended a knee for the child to get onto his back. She grabbed hold of his mane and they trotted off.
It took most of the day to get to the special place. The two looked around and saw no dinosaurs. The child was very saddened that she and the burro came all this way and there were no dinosaurs.
Just then a small lizard darted across the ground. He was turquoise colored with a bright yellow band around his neck. He scampered up onto a rock above the two. He looked with his googley eyes at the two with a puzzled look.
“Hello Mr Lizard,” the child said politely, “ we are on a quest to find dinosaurs so we can get some eggs.”
The lizard flicked his tongue a few times and told the child he knew where the dinosaurs were, and agreed to take them.
The lizard darted from rock to rock, shade to shade until they came upon a tall butte. There is where you will find the dinosaurs gesturing to the butte. She and the burro trotted off after thanking the lizard for his information.
They got to the butte by late afternoon and the shadows were growing long. “I will share what food I have,” offered the child. The burro raised his head and thanked the child for her kindness. After a fine dinner, the two curled up together and fell fast asleep.
The birds welcomed the sun as it rose from its slumber. The pale light revealed a cave at the base of the butte that was covered in vines and sage brush and seemed a good place to start the search. The burro trampled down all the brush and the two went in.
It was damp and great rock features came down from the ceiling and rose from the floor. The light filtered in and the two looked up and all around the cave. There were ancient bones that had turned to rock all surrounded in beautiful crystals. Whole skeletons of huge prehistoric creatures that were half buried in rock and mud. The girl was feeling defeated when she saw and odd rock sitting on the floor of the cave, the more she looked, the more she saw.
She bent over and picked up one of these odd rocks. It was perfectly round and felt quite heavy. The child gathered as many as she could hold and went outside into the sun. “These must be what the prairie dog saw!” exclaimed the child.
The burro looked at the rock and saw nothing special, just a round rock. He kicked at one of the rocks and it broke open.
The child ran over to see what the burro had done. Both stood wide eyed as what they saw was the most beautiful thing ever! Inside the dinosaur egg was the best magic they ever saw. The child remembered the cave in which she found the eggs. She remembered that all around the bones were crystals of every color. “Dinosaurs must’ve been magic,” the child suggested. “These crystals inside the eggs must have happened when the young dinosaurs died in their egg.” The burro shook his shaggy mane and agreed.
The child gathered as many eggs in her pack could hold and climbed back on the burro’s back. The two rode off into the vast desert in search of more adventures
One morning a child woke from a peaceful dream, the forest was buzzing like nothing she had heard before. She swung her legs over the side of her hammock and looked around.
Everything looked the same…
She took a deep breath, following the air, identifying the smells…no nothing different.
She listened as the trees seemed to vibrate and hum a foreign sound.
The animals of the forest and streams became frightened. Squirrel ran to the sleeping place of the human child. Darting here and there, all in a tussle, Squirrel could hear nothing but the insistent buzzing of forest trees. It was driving him mad. “Please make it stop,” complained Squirrel to the child.
In just the most perfect squirrel talk the child promised to look into this strange occurrence of sound.
She packed just the right amount of food for a child her size and pulled a wicker pack she made out of a hole in the tree she called ‘home.’
She went in search of the black and white Magpie.
As she remembered a dream she had once about a caterpillar that turned into a beautiful flying creature. She remembered the cave paintings in her dreams. Perhaps it is this phenomenon that is causing the sound.
The Magpie appeared with a blue settler jay and they sat high on a perch in a lovely oak tree.
“What can we do for you today child?”
She went in to explain her dream and the buzzing in the trees. None of her friends had heard this sound. “I supposed since you eat in the trees you might know,” quizzed the child.
They had seen no caterpillar cocoons and only a strange hollow casing of an alien being, half mantis and half beetle.
The child was puzzled and quarried the two further, “Who else can know the answer to this?”
There is a fable told of a curse placed on an ancient beast. It would devour entire forests in a weeks time, leaving no shade for the baby birds. Huge trees died and grasses were stripped next.
The Jay said that only Mother could answer this question since it was long before their lives. The child thanked them and they flew off.
The child went to her favorite place to sit in quiet meditation. She asked for The Mother’s help. A day passed and she dreamed of walking through a canyon playing a flute. Above her was a hawk gliding on the currents. Soon her flute became the cry of the hawk and she saw through its eyes.
Many hundreds of moons ago, a witch came to the land and was made a deal by a prince. The lands were being ravaged by an ancient dragon that would consume the fields and forests. The animals called on the Witch to slay the ancient dragon. They paid a fair price for the spell and went on with their lives.
The witch found the dragons favorite watering hole and lay in waite. Sometime after the setting of the moon, in the inky blackness of night, the dragon appeared.
The witch had poured a potion into the water and the dragon soon froze in place.
The dragon asked the witch kindly to forgive its hunger and if it could, it would eat much less. The witch smiled and spoke a spell that caused the dragon to remain dormant for up to 15 years. The dragon was not happy and lashed out and the witch turned it into a small insect, and it would be imprisoned underground, only to emerge every 15 years.
The hawk released the child and she heard only her flute again echoing in the canyon.
She woke from this dream and ran quickly to the meeting place by the big lagoon. She explained her talk with the magpie and jay, her dream and the hawk.
The fear slowly faded from everyone’s minds. The sound of the creature under such a spell should be enjoyed.
Eventually one day a cold air blew from the north and the buzzing stopped.
Everyone settled in for the coming of the colored leaves.
In not so recent past… maybe when the moon passed into the darkness two times in one cycle of time, the animals of the lands and streams had a feeling of dread. The Mother Earth and Father Sky had lost a child and they wept and wept. The sky lamented and huge clouds formed storing the mournful tears and heavy hearts The animals could no longer see during the day and gathered in fear in the highest peaks as the tears began to rain down on the land The child that lived on the beach, at the edge of the forest, saw the rage of the sea as the furry of the clouds made huge waves that thrashed the delicate sand.
The child knew her friends were in danger and ran over the ancient trails to the secret meeting place of the night seers. The night seers could see when the others could not. They had special powers and summoned the animals and fishes of the sea. The child was instructed to go to the lagoon and seek the Sleepy Turtle. It was said the Turtle was the most ancient of all creatures… so ancient that the earth itself had been fooled by its slumber and grown trees and mountains on its very back. The child knew this journey would take too long and went to find the falcon that lived in the side of the the canyon that held the great river of red.
The raven knew the exact place and agreed to help the child. She climbed onto his silky black back, held tight to the scruff of neck feathers and they took off. The journey took the whole day and most of the night. In the darkness of night, huge burst of light flashed in the sky and you could hear the the very breaking of The Mother’s heart. The sky filled with streaks of light that flashed sometimes more bright than the sun. The heavens broke open and the rains once’s again flooded the land. On the second day, the child arrived in the great canyon of the river. There was a huge cave in the wall of the ancient exposed rock and the falcon sat waiting.
He had heard from the swallows of her arrival. “How can I help little one,” asked the falcon? The child told the story of the Sleepy Turtle and that only it could save the lives of the animals of the forest, deserts and streams. The falcon looked at the sky and knew that there was little time left. “I will fly faster than time,” said the falcon. The child was grateful for the eagerness of the falcon to help her friends. She jumped onto the falcons back and he jumped off the cliff and soared so fast the world became a blur. In less than the blink of an eye, they arrived, but where was the Turtle? In a dream, the child was given a small pan flute by a native she met. He told her it would help her when she needed a miracle.
The child reached into her sleeve and there it was. She pulled out the flute and an enchanting melody shook the land. The earth shook, the sky rumbled and the clouds flashed. Huge landslides tumbled down and when all was quiet… an eye opened like a giant mirror and the child saw herself but not as she knew herself. She was a beautiful woman with long hair as black and silky as the otters tail. The eye blinked and more earth fell from the huge figure they were standing on. The clouds flashed and the rain began again. The last of the trees and rocks fell away as the earth beneath their feet shook violently again. A sleepy old turtle rose from the land and on its tremendous back was a whole world of lush green trees and high top mountains, deserts and valleys, rivers, lakes and streams tumbled down the craggy peaks on its back. It opened its eye again and spoke softly in the child’s mind so only she could hear. “Your friends are fine.” The child let a single tear fall. The turtle told the child that a deal had been struck with the elements created by the sorrow of Mother Earth and Father Sky. The clouds flashed once more and the ground trembled but not a drop of rain fell.
Many, many long years ago, Mother Earth was a small child herself and was cast out by an old witch and her father was never seen again. She was thrown into the primordial seas and left for dead. The huge ancient beings with wings tried to save her, the fish of the ancient sea couldn’t hold her above the waves and angry wind blown seas. Finally a giant otter appeared and knew the only creature that could save her and dove deep into the inky Black Sea. All the fish and flying animals took turns helping the young child to stay afloat. She finally could no longer stay awake and drifted off into a deep dreamless sleep and slid beneath the water. As the otter rose out of the darkness she brought with her a huge sea turtle that had been asleep on the sea floor for years untold. It rose to the surface with enough fertile soil to sustain life and the small child. She grew and created a world of beauty. It was grief that has brought this suffering to your friends.
The turtle lumbered off to where the lagoon and forest met. The earth had risen up above the angry waters and her friends had gotten on with their lives as if nothing ever happened. The child turned to the giant old turtle and put her hand up, the turtle laid his head gentle on her hand and he fell back into his deep, deep slumber.
I’m sitting in my van outside Kanab, Utah, USA, being pummeled by 30-50mph winds from the SSW… storms coming. I’ve been driving only an hour or so but it’s been a constant two handed battle against the wind. We choose to find the shelter of a grove of pinion and juniper down a well worn red dirt road off Rte 89.
We can’t go outside, the fine silt of red rock desert gets into everything… even if closed. Within a minute you’re seeking shelter as your eyes feel as if they are wrapped in wool. Another gust and a burst of red sand whips across the dirt road and into the side of the van. It’s just impossible to do anything so what better time to decompress.
Part One: The Landscape
I look outside the window of the van to a familiar yet foreign landscape from the desert of Baja California and Sur, let’s just call it “the Baja”. The greens, although vibrant, seemed muted in some way. The alien foliage and fauna of the Baja became like wandering through a page of a Dr Seuss book. The odd shapes and contorted tress, the giant cacti that made travel off road dangerous. One of my favorites is the giant Cardon Cactus, which was blooming when we left. I was told it only blooms at night and attracts bats to is succulent nectar. They fly to the flower, a large white multi petal flower that protrudes off the body of the main cactus, on a soft green, fruit like bulge, and the bats drink till they literally fall away as if drunk on its nectar.
The desert in the Baja was coming to life even under the cloudless skies. The plants have adapted to this unforgiving landscape and put forth a spectacular sense overload of heavy sweetness from the most delicate of flowers. Again, these small delicate flowers are also a feast for the birds and the bees. They buzz and flit and fly in and out of the trees and flowers, some looking for the flowers and others, those the flowers entice. In such a harsh environment the whole place thrives.
The sky, well the sky definitely rivals any cloudless high Rocky Mountain summer day. The key word is cloudless. The sun shines brightly 365 days a year. The humidity rises quickly through the day near the ground, only to be heated up, creating well placed clouds that create the most enchanting sunsets. These vibrant sunsets can turn the entire bluish green sea, into the most beautiful pink and golds. The sky and sea become one without a horizon.
The mountain ranges, always visible from any location on The Baja, are the work of some amazing artist. The newly formed peninsula, by a geological time frame, has the most diverse mountain ranges of anywhere I’ve ever seen in such a short relative distance. The bed of the ancient sea was thrust up by tectonic activity, pushing with it all manor of fossils and bones. The huge sea creatures that became entombed over eons now exposed in the rock slides of the ancient sea floor as it tumbles hundreds of feet and is exposed by the elements.
Some mountains bear the scars of mining, big corporate and small village operated co-ops. Others soar to the highest of heights and seem impenetrable. These lofty giants can catch entire weather systems and wring it out on one side or the other. The great arroyos are testament to the power and ferocity of these rains.
Further south, in Baja California Sur, there is evidence of volcanic activity. These beautifully sculpted mountains are verdant green from the constant humidity of this region of the peninsula. They have hidden entire stone Catholic missions and preserved ancient cave paintings from indigenous tribes of Cucupas and Puipui.
The sand on the southern beaches are softer and the seas range from a kite surfers dream, a surfers haven, a wave lovers and thrill seekers dream… to the calm blue green waters of The Sea of Cortez and Bay of California attracting lovers and fishermen, tourist and drug runners. The Sea pours into the Pacific and the two become undistinguishable.
My mind can still see all this clearly. Our two months exploring the Baja has waken a sleeping dragon, sparked creativity and created a deep spiritual connection with the very essence of this strip of land. Life here is an intricately choreographed dance of life and death and rebirth/rediscovery.
I focus my eyes back outside the van as a gust of wind shakes us and whistles through any space it can find. The beauty of this red rock desert, speckled with sage brush, tall lodge pole pines, stunted cedar, pinion and juniper, brings me back in touch with my love of the deserts of southern Utah.
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.