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.
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.
It’s no small task to take off on a road trip of a lifetime. To become a traveler of both time and space. Exploring anything that catches our eye. Going with the weather, eventually heading North and cutting the umbilical cord from our life of 28 years. This of course means I need to get a good handle on my tribe and understand and work with Chris and Tracy to keep me in line if I should loose focus. It’s tiring to stay so focused, but I know it’s what I got to do.
Gandaulf is enjoying life on the road… or he just loves being with his moms all the time. Either way he is comfortable in the van and that’s a good thing. He has his own memory foam seat between us and is able to see out the windows. He is starting to even learn to sleep while driving. He’s such a good boy and everyone loves him.
WE did this 27 yrs ago. Sold everything we owned, and hit the road. Back then it was a silly dream, early middle age crisis… a healing journey that solidified our relationship. We both are at home in nature, be it mountains, deserts, beaches not so much big cities. This is a journey with no real destination. A healing vagabond journey. A wondering yogi. Two lost souls looking to release, relax and reconnect.
We decided to take this trip to Tucson…just because we’d never been there. We love the desert but Tucson just seemed like some far off retirement community. A dry desert town of little means but rich in Native American, Anglo and Mexican history. Why not?
We just got back from Nicaragua a few weeks ago and we are both already burnt out. The house we are renting has sold and we have 2 weeks to move. At this point I’m glad to be a minimalist.
We’ve submitted an application for a short term lease in a place where we can work on finishing the van and say our see ya laters and hit the road. A month or so to travel across the lower states getting used to the van and each other. This is actually where we melt together and enter into our element. Life from this point on will be fluid.
So back to Tucson, forgive my ADHD… We rented this cute 4 star eclectic hotel to camp out for the next few days. Great reviews. Earthy crunchy whole wheat little place. I admit when we first pulled in a part of me was not feeling it. I calmed down and thought how unfair that we would not even keep an open mind.
Hotel McCoy even racks my brain for appropriate words to describe it. Take it at face value, you’ll drive right on through the parking lot. Look deeper, take time to walk around…slowly. The artists that created this space left a piece of their heart behind on these walls. It speaks to the seeker in this land of saguaros and deadly critters. Grabs your mind and swirls it around leaving you spinning in your thoughts.
It has been nearly 3 months since I got sick. The last three months have found me working on my recovery and my well being on a daily basis. It took nearly 2 months this for me to regain my balance, my voice and my energy. I feel much more alive than I did before my illness. Much more at peace and much more grounded. Now it’s time for a much needed vacation. So off to the islands we go. First a few days in St Lucia to settle in and settle down. It’s said that it takes four days to relax, turn off and unwind. I guess that means my vacation can start today!
We left home four days ago. Chris did her best to stock up the store with great inventory. I made sure the house was properly prepared for a long time away. We made sure our guys were up to speed and had everything they needed to succeeded. What was left was only the unknown. It was time to go to catch our flight and start our adventure.
We chose to take the late afternoon flight than a stay over night in Atlanta before catching our flight to St Lucia, West Indies. Leaving a cold, wet climate to a warm, humid one will be a welcome relief. Enjoying the last of our “known” creature comforts to the unknowns of the Islands.
To say my life has taken a turn is putting it quite mildly. Over the last month I have experienced perfect bliss, extreme pain, illness, dis-ease, sadness, loneliness, fear and a greater awareness of love and compassion. All these exist within me. My physical being continues on its finite path of growing older yet I have awaken something dormant, something that has been there all along, but stuffed deep inside, buried under all the superficial pain and suffering, fear and longing. My soul, my spirit, my inner most aliveness. I have tapped into a wellspring of emotions and feelings and have made a safe place for these not so friendly parts of me. I have opened myself up to being mindful of all my surroundings, each moment as it unfolds, for good or bad. I have found a calmness that has long since eluded me. Through my practice and the teachings I have the tools to be content. I have found a silence that screams loudly yet does not break the peacefulness in my mind and heart. I am learning to make peace with my inner child, my fears, doubts and longings.
As my life unfolds in this new awareness, I am utilizing as many tools as I have available to try to incorporate this into my life. The silent movements of T’ai Chi, the quietness and inner searching of my meditation practice, taking in the beautiful world in my own back yard, all these are teaching me in their own way. The suffering of an illness way beyond my control and acknowledging the fears that it brought. The courage to put my unraveling life into the hands of caring professionals and friends who nursed me back to health, each in their own way. For all these things I have a grateful heart.
Everything that will happen today, that is happening in this moment, will all be gone tomorrow with just an imprint on my memory that will soon fade away into that which was my life, my past. I no longer need to make those memories, my past, my current life’s story or influence my path. They are just experiences that I have had, today is a new day, tomorrow is unknown, so I choose to live in this moment and make myself the best I can be for this moment, this day.
It is hard at times when I am bombarded with outside negativity on a constant basis. Some of these influences I can turn off, like the TV and social media. Others are present and part of my daily life and I am learning to listen with one ear and hear the lessons of my teachers with the other. I have chosen to stop internalizing those negative influences as this is like a cancer eating at my very inner most being, it is poison to my spirit which wishes to be free and happy. I am brought back to this moment by my puppy who sees me as perfect in all lights. He lives a simple life, happy just to get scratches, play, eat and sleep. Ah…to have such a simple life.
This is a second, third, maybe forth chance at this life. I have messed it up so many times before. I listen, learn, practice and then as time goes on… as life presents itself, I allow myself to get drawn back into the haste and forget to take care of myself and I end up in the same situation over and over again, with the same results. Some people call that insanity. So, as always, this new awakening I am incorporating into my “new life”. My intention this time is to cultivate it, nurture it and feed it on a daily basis with silence and practice. I choose to separate myself from the expectations of those around me that would love for me to be sucked back up into the games. This has to be about me this time and that needs to remain my constant focus. I don’t know if I’ll get another chance at another “do over”.
Each day starts out before the dawn. The sound of bells, deep, low gongs. I awoke in a great deal of pain today. Perhaps from sitting and walking…or maybe it was the bed? No matter, just one more hurdle in my day. It could be pain caused by emotional upheaval manifesting itself in physical pain. The things we put ourselves through to achieve peace of mind, body and spirit.
I roll out of bed and head to morning meditation, 6:15 sharp. The first few meditations were guided, the last few however, have been left to us and our personal practice. After sitting for forty five minutes we have walking meditation and then breakfast. Today I had a special awareness on my walking meditation. I heard a small bird calling in the morning light, hidden away inside a tree. I paused and listened to its tiny calls and finally found it amongst the tangle of branches…it was the smallest hummingbird sitting on a branch singing away. It sat and watched me as I listened. Nothing else around was present, just me and this small bird. I thanked it for its early morning song, and continued on my walk. It is this awareness, this awakening that can only be achieved in a silent meditation.
Have I told you how loud silence is? Silence is very loud at times and very calming others. I can hear the pounding of my heart, the rush of blood through my head, my belly is always making very loud noises since I am eating delicious food that is totally foreign to its system. In silence you can here the wind, you can here the rustling of the trees, every sound you normally wouldn’t even notice is ten times louder when no one is speaking. You can hear birds feathers on the wind as they glide by. In silence I have come to appreciate all that goes unnoticed. You can hear distant buzzing from the bees collecting nectar. The world is silent when we are making sounds and full of incredible sounds when we are quiet.
I have also noticed, when silent, all other senses are heightened. Like I said earlier, I hear even the smallest sound. I wish I could bottle the smell of the air here. My eyes see colors more vividly. My mind thinks clearer. I just want to touch everything as if it were for the first time. A heightened awareness of all my surroundings. The world is alive an vibrant and I have only to be silent to take it all in.