at the canyons edge

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.

DEATH Valley

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.

Nighttime:

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.

Journey Into Time

I step out of the van and feel the soft powdery sand beneath my bare feet. I like the way the coolness poofs between my toes. I open the side door and find my hikers and pull on the socks that are stuffed inside to keep out any little night creatures. I look at the trail map quickly and find my pack, which I prepared the night before.

A cool breeze awakens my sense of smell to the fading sage and the dry dusty air. I look up at the plateau as the sun peeks over. I squint instinctively and shade my eyes with my hand. The trail is laid out perfectly across the desert wash and into the slot canyon. Only a simple hike of 5 miles in and out, the first in the sand of a wash and scrambling around on a slot.

I find my thermal shirt and my hat, look around the van and turn off the lights. It’s me and the desert silence for the next several hours.

I listen as the wind tells its tale of winding through the canyons cool sculpted walls and into the warm light of morning. I acknowledge and plan to follow its path back into the canyon.

The stark contrast of the pinions against the red rock excites my mind and I fall into a stead stride. My plan is to hike about a mile on the Wire Pass to the opening of the first slot canyon, then another mile into Buckskin Gulch trail if there is time. Gets dark at around 6pm so I need to keep track of time.

The low angel of the sun in the mid-fall sky is still quite warm on my back. It accents the fall colors of the desert foliage that has survived another hellishly hot summer. I stop and shoot a picture on my phone and and check the sky before I enter into the wash.

The amazing cobalt blue cloudless sky stretches as far as the eye can see. The painted desert vermilion cliffs soar against the clear sky exuding their colors brilliantly. The ancient earth is exposed in front of me in the rock. I am intrigued by the years of history told in the colors and layers of sand and rock. The geology of time.

Aside from my boots on the sand and small stones and shells, there is only silence. My mind drifts away and my steps become methodical. I am overwhelmed with the magnitude of this isolated place. My mind visualizes the upheaval and twisting of the earth that formed these twisted layers of rock. The violence that lead to such beauty. How perfect.

I am brought back by a raven cawing as it hops along the ledge above my head. I feel a cool breeze blow out of the slot canyon and hear the swish of the raven wings as he takes flight. I look into the darkness until my eyes can adjust then up as the looming canyon closes in. In my minds eye I can see this crack in the plateau above, some 800-900 feet. I suddenly feel very small.

I turn back to the slot of mystical swirling sandstone, dancing and twirling in an intricate choreographers production. The amount of water that occasionally flows through these canyons, the very life force that created this menagerie, is evident in the huge logs jammed 15 feet above my head.

As I continue on the slot opens and closes, as if the walls themselves are alive and breathing. I have to gather myself from an oncoming panic attack when I see a huge choke-stone ahead and I don’t see the floor. I have come to the precipice of the hike and a down climb that is quite a technical climb. I toss my back pack and poles down to the floor 10’ below and inch over the edge on my belly, while my foot searches blindly for purchase. I slip a little further and find a perfectly placed hand hold that allows me to finally find the next rock below my feet. I down climb quickly and take a mental picture for my return trip.

I continue on, entranced by the shafts of light that constantly change the colors from drab to brilliant oranges and deep burgundy reds, adding depth to the deepening darkness. It opens up rooms in the darkness not seen without the lights illumination. Stunning!

An hour later I see the end of the slot. The brilliant sunlight pours in to meet and mingle with the darkness. The canyon shows off one last time as I exit it’s cool chamber and into the soothing heat of the sun. There are huge lakes of deep red sand piled high at the entrance of the canyon junctions. An old gnarled cottonwood eeks out a living in this sandy oasis protected by 1,000 foot walls. A few aspens struggle to secure the sandy bank they call home. Huge cholla cacti stand fuzzy with white spines protecting them from the kangaroo rats living under the canyons undercut banks.

On the far wall is a few panels of Native American pictographs, depicting the struggles and triumphs of raising a family in such a sparse environment. Such simplicity amongst such hardship. The solitude and isolation living in these canyons must afford… such as I am searching for in my own life during this time of viral invasion.

I sit down on a large piece of driftwood perched perfectly on two large rocks. I pull off my socks and sink my feet into the deep cool sand and daydream for a few quiet minutes. In my mind I climbed skillfully to the top of the wall of rock in front of me. I could feel the course rock on my fingertips and the vibration of the universe in the rocks against my body. Again the raven brings me back from my dreaming. I take a sip of cool water and eat a piece of fruit. The sweetness of the fruit soothes my parched throat.

Looking down at my phone I notice the time and pack up and head off to explore Buckskin Gulch. I was hoping the fabled pools of knee high standing pools of water were reserved for the early spring hikers. It’s early November and only about 70 degrees in open air. In the canyon you can take 15-20 degrees off the outside temperature plus the absence of the suns warmth could spell hypothermia. I crossed my fingers and continued on.

This slot canyon is different in many ways from Wire Pass. The rock is much darker, almost charcoal, and it is more vertical. The walls tower much higher and are about 4-5 feet apart. There are weeping walls and plants and trees seemingly growing right out of the rock.

Again the shafts of sunlight light up the eerily looming cliffs ahead. The sandy bottom was littered with huge boulders dislodged from far away cliffs and deposited during a flash floods fury. At times the sand was almost impossible to walk in causing my calves to cramp. The pace was slow and arduous and every now and then one of the boulders became a convenient seat to empty the sand from my boots.

At precisely 4:00 I turned around and headed back to the van arriving just in time to watch the sun sink over the bluff and a lone coyote call.

Look down old soul

What do you see?

A world of wonder under your feet

Small and fragile. 

Under my feet is strength

My heart connects with all beings

An energy life force

A silent vibration connecting all

Every atom and molecule

The most minuscule of substance… all in sequence, in harmony.

The heart beat of the mother felt in the womb

The silence of consumption 

Delivered from mankind into the forest

The forest of the mind

The heart and soul of our being

The connection of all. 

I dig my bare feet into the soil and breathe

I release in a most complete way

Grounded to the very earth itself. 

Look down old soul

Love your mother

Feel her… she is life

Submersion

Submersion

I’ve all but cut my ties to SLC. Yesterday I backed down seeing Tracy to every other week which has cause a little rift in the Tribe but it is a step I need to attempt on my own. I don’t know if I’d consider therapy a crutch but it has brought me so much peace of mind from understanding my head and all the intricacies it holds. 

We spoke of the healing power in nature. I am already well aware of the energy that I tap into out here. I have a connection to the outdoors that I can’t find anywhere else. I am glad that Chris is also a much more calm and kind person. I plan to continue to practice  in the outdoors, being an observer, a seeker, a wandering Yogini. To find serenity inside by engaging outside. 

Soma… body. We spoke a lot about my mind and feelings or lack of understanding what I’m feeling or how to relate to it in a healthy way. This has made me physically ill where that energy arises or dwells. What he said struck so deep I knew he had hit bed rock. 

I have always sought out someone else’s words to describe how I feel. I feel very deeply but just can’t explain why I’m crying or what made me sad, happy or what-not… it never mattered so I run away inside. This in turn makes me sick physically. Another step in healing that seems like a daunting task. I just need to find balance. 

The rain fell all night last and everything is dewy and vibrant. The sun is shoeing away the last of the heavy grey clouds. I can here a small bird and the sound of the river. The air is crisp and smells of damp earth. The pine trees stand eerily still waiting for what the day may bring. My mind wanders off. I pray to the mother, to the ancestors, for the courage to continue to find things within myself that have lost their way and that the inner peace will flood my entire being with calm and serenity. 

I enter my mind through meditation, experience, sounds, vibrations and a connectedness with all living beings, animate and inanimate. I get to the center and see through many eyes, many time periods, many memories. I tremble as I look out through these eyes as they walk and talk. As they anguish in their roles to help me survive. 

Close Encounters of an Unwelcome Kind

I rise to the sound of the river. It’s fluid motion is heard above the birds welcoming the morning. I kick the covers from around my feet and sit up, bleary eyed and semi-conscious… another day in the solitude of the forest. 

My puppy hears me rustling and jumps up for morning scratches and a nice long stretch. He rolls over and I awaken my stiff hands in his warm fur. Mornings are tough when it’s cold and damp outside, but this is my world, my new existence. The outdoors have become my backyard. 

I slide to the edge of the bed. My girlfriend is already up and making some nice hot coffee to waken my foggy brain and warm my cold hands. It continued to rain all night and a low mist hangs around the trees in the mountains before me. The ground sodden from the rain and smelling of fresh wet earth. My senses delight in the sounds and smells. 

I pull on my clothes, left in a pile last night as I quickly undressed and ran for the cover of my warm bed, and breathe slowly as I inch my half frozen pants over my legs. The air in the van is damp and smells of the campfire we had all day yesterday to keep warm. The light is hazy as it struggled to break from behind the clouds and stream into the windows. I open the door and step into the morning. 

The sky has begun to clear and has been washed of the smoke that has been choking the air and hiding the suns brilliance. I can see the sun as it slides down the mountain sides, illuminating the changing colors. Bright yellow, orange, red and vibrant green accent the mountain side, as fall starts to paint the mountains with its magical brush. I long for the warmth. 

I take a chair close to the edge of the river and sit down to a piping hot cup of joe and feel it warm me as I take a sip. My girlfriend comes over and softly kisses my cheek and says “good morning.” I reciprocate with “thanks for the coffee.” She pulls up a chair and sits beside me. I take another sip and concentrate on it as it warms me on the way down my throat. This is life…and life is good. 

The past week has been a tough one as far as breathing goes. The Northwest is on fire and the smoke follows the wind. We were fortunate to not have had the smoke all summer until this last week. I am reminded of the damage caused with a deep rattling cough. Between the dust and the smoke, my lungs are burning to breathe fresh mountain air once again. Today the rains have scrubbed the sky brilliant blue and the air fresh and cool. 

Out of the corner of my eye I see a quick brown flash of movement. I turn my attention to two squirrels as they chase each other through the branches. Their acrobatics bring to me a sense of joy as they jump and scamper from tree to tree. Chattering wildly as they the run around, Gandaulf sees them and enters their game of chase. 

We’re packing up for a hike along the Selway River in the Selway Bitterroot NF. We’re planning on about a 5 mile hike… it is the first real hike of our trip. Gandaulf is suited up in his green neoprene fleece jacket and orange bandanna. We layer up since it’s cold now but by the time we get to the trail head, 12 miles away by UTV, it will be warming up. 

We pack the essential do-dads and emergency stuff, and pack it away in our day pack. We pack the jetboil and some chicken enchilada freeze dried backpack food and some lunch for the Boo. We pack some extra water, the .38, bear spray, and rain jackets. Nothing tastes better after a strenuous hike, than a cold beer, but we have decided to forgo those until our return to camp. 

I topped  off the gas in The Thing (our UTVs name) and take a rag to the thick layer of dust coating everything, mixed into a nice mud slurry from the rain the last 24 hours. We load up and do a double check and are off to Paradise. 

We knew from speaking to the Fish and Game warden, that there are bears, wolves, mountain lions and rattlesnakes along the trails route… so we packed the .38 and the bear spray in close proximity to our front so if by chance we happen upon one of these predators, we can run… Ever read the label on bear spray? Remove the safety and spray a tiny test to see which way the wind is blowing! Do they really think anyone will have time to follow the directions? Hell no! Shoot to kill, mame, or injure then run! Instinct will win with most people. 

We hop in the UTV and take off for Paradise, at the end of the Magruder Corridor. It’s a beautiful semi-primitive campground and the host to many of the trails in the area. We set out, packs on our backs, hiking sticks, Gandaulf in his finest wear, the .38… no bear spray!! No good… So I head back to the UTV to get it and run into a line of pack mules heading up to some random hunters camp. The mule skinner was polite and we let him pass. 

We hiked about 2.5 miles through a heavily forested trail lined with white cedar trees thick with old mans beard. The rocks were carpeted with the most vibrant green moss and old dead fall was reduced to sodden fibrous skeletons, providing a new fertile place for low forest floor plants.  As we came upon the cutoff for Bad Luck Creek, we saw our first bear track. We just brushed off the berry filled scat as old but these tracks were new. The hairs instantly rise on your neck when you realize you are in the presence of the top predator in the area. 

I moved my bear spray closer and removed the safety, Chris checked her .38 and we laughed as we hiked on SUPER VIGILANT! We came to a stream crossing at around 3 miles in and decided to turn around and head out. I grabbed the keys to the UTV and fastened them to my hiking stick as a makeshift bear bell. You’ve never heard a set of keys make as much noise as it did today.  

We hiked on and heard some footsteps coming up the trail and I noticed our Fish and Game Warden, Victor, coming around the corner. We exchanged pleasantries and I showed him the picture of bear poo that was fresh as of a few hours. He said a hunter almost walked in top of a bear yesterday by where we saw the prints. He was in for a 15 mile hike to an airfield in the wilderness where hunters and outfitters take clients to hunt elk, deer, bear… whatever is in season. We wished each other well and took off. 

We were getting hungry and knew of a nice area right by the river for a stop for lunch. Of course we made sure we were up wind from our food smells. Gandaulf barked and created a safe environment for us, at least from bears. We made our chicken enchiladas and scarfed it down, each of us secretly thinking of the same thing… bears. 

By the time we had made it back to our UTV, we had seen more fresh scat than we cared to, like it wasn’t there when we hiked in. Bear for sure, some other smaller animal that also loved the blue berries, and a white, well formed large poo full of fur. Guessing wolf or maybe mountain lion. At our lunch spot was an old moldy, very thick leg bone that had been caught between a long tree root and a rock, probably during high water. It had been snapped off in a very clean break. The bone was about 12” long and at the point of the break about 3” in diameter. We found many other bones and lots of scat to indicate maybe a favorite dinning spot. It’s is kinda creepy to think about being 4th in the predator line. 

We made our way back to camp (home) and settled in for a good cold beer and to discuss all the sign we saw. Play ball with Gandaulf and nurse our sore bodies. 

And you seek

And today you seek refuge
In the vastness of this time and space
The longing for enlightenment
The end of a samsaric existence
To be a champion for those
Lost in the darkness of the matrix of life
An endless cycle
Refuge in the jewels
Refuge in the way
The middle ground
Today you seek
Not for an answer but an awakening
To open the heart mind to a deep feeling
To release the bondage
Of the monkey mind
The closed off heart
To become selfless and kind
Today you seek

mindfullness

I pick each stone, a siren in color or shape calling to be placed: for the West first pointing to the oceans, rolling waters, here, one for the earth; for the South that hot ball of fire now shadowed by the trees and mountains; then the North the bone strength of clarity, a stone for the great emptiness of Sky; and for the East illumination and new beginnings.

I step gingerly into the middle of the mandala. In my right hand two small rounded shiny black pebbles. I rattle these precious stones of the mother earth in prayer, not for a vision, not for words or guidance. I rattle to rattle, to remember my place in all things. 

I shake my palm listening to the rhythm of sound to know this moment…and … then gratitude arises like a wave, I give thanks to the blessings of being in love, and the delight of living my life in this unfolding expression. 

I sometimes forget the power of ancestors and community to heal. And to give thanks.  

We live in a field of connection in which we are the inheritors of grace and strength passed on from one person to the next one generation to the next. 

River

The sound of the river rushing by in constant flow

The towering cliffs stand tall and hard against the deep blue sky 

Carved by this liquid snake over eons of time

The trees stand and watch the the endless motion of this fluid architect

Gently the bubbles make their way down the current

Rocks hold to their purchase of land against the rivers flow

Others roll along without putting up a fight

My mind is sucked into the current… empty… constantly fluid… clinging to nothing

Wilderness Travelers: Part Three

Life on the Road 

We are but babes when it comes to living on the road. We left the comforts of a masonry four walled building to the comforts of our van/RV. We gave up only the creature comforts that require you to spend mindless hours staring at something that turns your mind to mush. We still have hot water showers, a toilet, a bed, AC, heat, a stove, running water and a sink, chairs to sit on, an IK, a UTV, hiking poles, fishing gear, decorations in the walls and plenty of cabinet space. What more do we need?

Living on the road requires a little more attention than falling through the routine that is “responsible living.” We both have jobs… I take care of the mechanical breakdowns and fix-it stuff and Chris takes care of organizing and anything financial. We both share in driving, cooking, and clean up. 

Our routine varies, depending on where we camp or the weather. Coffee is of course first on the agenda and we make some of the best! Italian expresso makers, Hydro Flask mugs to keep it piping hot and the finest ground coffee. 

We find the most perfect vantage point, looking over a river or canyon, in the early morning sun to warm up. Then we set up and sit as we listen to the sounds, or lack there of. We talk about the day and what we might do or see. Maybe a day in the hammocks reading, maybe a river float, fishing, hiking, sight seeing, or shopping for the weeks meals. The world is our pallet we choose how to color it. 

It took a little time to trust leaving our camp unattended without locking down the place like Fort Knox… After all, this is now everything we own and our home space. We choose to live mostly outside which is where we both feel the greatest connection. There is an unspoken rule between campers that needed to be trusted before we could go away from camp and be ok that no one will mess with your stuff. So far we have not had any incidents. 

We rely heavily on maps and Garmin. Trip Advisor is a good source, as is local word of mouth, for finding the out of the way gems that tourist tend to over look. Although electronics are pretty reliable, they don’t always show you the single track road that goes to the most beautifully isolated valley, stream or lake. In a way we are explorers in own own back yard, after all, the world is our back yard. 

Sometimes we are forced to stay in established campgrounds, rest stops, gas stations or a neighborhood or parking lot. This is just part of life on the road. We prefer dispersed camping on Forest Service land or BLM lands. Sometimes the only human life is miles away and the silence can be deafening. I enjoy being very still and slowly allowing my senses to awaken to the intricacies of the world around me. The colors, smells, sounds, feeling of the sun on my bare skin, the vibrations of all around me, all these create a world of peace and imagination.