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.

My Tears

You can’t see my tears…
They’re really not there.
They’re actually memories melting away from a troubled mind.
You can’t see my tears…
I won’t let you.
Instead I’ll wear my heart on my sleeve.
You can’t see my tears…
My heart heaves.
I struggle to breathe sometimes.
I won’t let you see my tears…
I am stronger than that.
At least that’s what I tell myself.
My tears will show themselves…
I’ve lost that control.
They are my heart overflowing…
With happiness
With sadness
And with love and compassion for others.
I will show you my tears…
They are part of me.
Share with me, if you will, this journey with all it’s twists and turns.
Hold my hand
Dry my tears
Assure me when I am confused
Give me hope when I feel hopeless.
Here are my tears…

The Trust

I am but a small child

I trust you

I love you

I would do anything for your love

Anything?

You call my name

Take my hand

Close the door and

I have a dream…

I am standing in the rain

You are keeping me safe

You hold me close to keep my dry

I listen to the rain and feel you

I close my eyes and you dry me off

You take my hand and lead me away

Again you hold me and tell me it’ll be alright

You must me right… you love me I trust you

You rub my trembling arms

I can feel the warmth in my belly

I don’t feel well

I am scared

I close my eyes tighter and see a flower

I touch its petals

They are soft and smell like old spice

A bee is hovering I can hear the buzzing

It lands gently on the flower

And the flower becomes me

The bee tickles me with its tongue

I reach down to touch the bee and it stings me

I hold back my tears

It was my fault and it didn’t mean to hurt me

As the flower closes I fall asleep

A dew drop runs down my cheek

You pick me up and put me to bed

I close my eyes tight and pretend to be asleep

This is our dream you say

Our secret place

My tummy feels sick again as I roll over and wish I were dead

What does it feel like to be alone?

In the wilderness, it’s being the only two humans around. Nothing but the sound of your heart beat in the silence. Your breath. Then the wind far off as it rushes through the willows and the trees that line the river in a wave until it reaches me. The green turns to silver as it brushes over the tops of the willows and grasses. The smooth surface of the water becomes disturbed and shivers as the wind touches it. A fish jumps. A shrill chirp of a bird. The sound of the air cut by the wing of a passing bird. The sound of the hollow rattle of the wood pecker. To be able hear your thoughts and watch them pass as they find no ground in your quiet still mind. Chris stands still out among the elusive trout in the river. Her line shimmers in the early morning sun light. Gandaulf sits…barely tall enough to be seen waiting for her to catch a fish.

To be alone is not to be lonely but to become one with all that lives and breathes around you without having to say a word. You, inside your own self yet cognitively aware of all that’s around you. To be separate from the thoughts of others…not influenced, you, yourself. Lack of stress. Living in the moment. Allowing a silent tear when you think of the others you love and how they suffer. Alone with the vibration of all that’s around you.

Alone at 9400 ft. Amazing, peaceful, alarming, silent yet very loud, small, powerful, beauty beyond words only felt. Clear air, clean water, bright sunshine, starry skies, incredible moon! Timeless, unstructured, fun, meditative, no cell phone, internet, Pandora, XM, only the song that rattles around in your head all day – the mantra. FULL! JA

An Awakening…

The Tribe has Gathered

The stirring ceases

The mind clears

The thoughts drift away

We sit as one tribe

The moment we all sit silent

I can hear my heart beat

The tiny birds in the canyon

Crows talking above

The wind in the rocks

The incense burningQ

We meet as one

Each in their power

The silence brings tears to my unfocused eyes

I drift off…

I am Alex the protector

The strong warrior

The wild child

I seek instant gratification

I would fight to the end for the Tribe

I am LJ the broken hearted

I feel the tribes pain as my own

My tears are your tears

This world is beautiful

And I am home here

This world speaks to me

It listens to me

The animals are my friends

I am Aubrey the lost one

I am scared

This world is big

I miss my new friends

I only want a hug

I am Otter the Empath and Healer

I am bodhichitta

I am shaman

I have a heart of love and compassion

This is my world

I walk with the tribe

Into the unknown

And comfort the fear

The universe is my father

The earth my mother

I am most powerful

I am Butch the two spirited

I have the energy of love

Misdirected at times

I am the jester

I bring overwhelming love to my new tribe

I need direction

I am Zak the Poet

I hear the thoughts

I am the scribe

The record keeper

The story teller

I am powerful yet equal to the tribe

I hold wisdom and knowledge of the ancients

Together we live in this vessel

This mind, heart and soul

Together we are one united

A balanced driving force

Individual we loose the focus

I return to my soft stare

The wind cools my body from the heat of the sun

My mind calm

My body relaxed

Good day world

ja 2020

Now You Will Listen

And the hand of the creator fell upon the earth

With a calm loving voice

I have asked you to care for what I’ve given you

I have warned you about exploiting the Mother Earth

I have sent warnings and yet you continue to rape her

I have asked you in a gentle way

To protect the waters

And yet you continue to poison them with your waste

I have requested you

To comfort the animals of my planet

And yet you still kill and plunder for sport

I have implored you to protect the skies…the very air you breathe

And yet you continue to pump tons of pollutants into your own life force

I am tired of asking…

Now you will listen

As I blanket the earth and all human occupants with this plague

Now you will listen

But not not by choice

Now I will bring you to your knees

I will rob you of the precious life I have given you

I will take away your freedoms you hold so dear

I will throw you into silence and isolation that your fear will force you to Up hold

Now it is your lives I pollute

I pillage and I steal from you

Now you will listen

Emptiness

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

Awakening of the Heart

My heart has been chained

Whipped and beaten

Broken and bruised

Someone always feels

I don’t get to choose who

I can feel deeply

“But it’s not allowed”

They scream

I try not to listen

A touch

Not physical

But energy flowing

One to another

A mingling of souls

A melting of hearts

From a distance

But mingling in spirit

Wordless pause

The ache

The release

Tears

Heartbreak

Feeling strong

Yet vulnerable

And the love

Overwhelming

An awakening

Of the heart