Irresponsible Reality: Part Two Cultural Diversity

The wind finally blew us off the road but we made it a few more clicks closer to home. Chris knew this cute little place in Beaver to bed down called the DeLano Motel. It’s less than $80 usd all in. The guy that owns the place is a great business man of middle eastern decent. The place is cute on the inside and has a nice patina shall we say? The personal touch he put into the detail of the rooms reminded me of someone who takes pride in his business. In this rural area of Utah this motel would be known as “a dive hotel.” I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover. The Hotel McCoy in Tucson, Arizona, has the same vibe. You drive into the McCoy Hotel and it is a converted storage shed facility. The rooms are retro in style and very quaint.

While in Mexico, we mostly lived in our van and boon-docked or dry camped. We always tried to find a local eatery or roadside taco shop to get at least one meal a day. It actually costs less to buy a meal out, than to buy all the ingredients and make it for ourselves. Once a week we needed to find a hot shower or a place to use our own and refill drinking water. You could always get a room for $17 usd and use it solely for the hot shower and flush toilet. Costs a bit more than a camp spot on the beach, but the hot shower makes up for it. You then can park the van in a safe parking lot. Score! Two birds with one stone.

The Bufadora Hotel in Acension, BCS, Mexico, was one of those places that was a cute “dive hotel” by European standards… but we aren’t in Kansas anymore Dorothy.

When we pulled into Acension, it was a normal windy day on the Pacific side of the Baja and guess what… We were stuck in the van by the hurricane force winds. We found the hotel by a referral from my cousin, who lives in Acension permanently, at least for now. They had two small rooms around the back of the complex. The room had a large double bed a window, night stand, ceiling fan, and typical plastic chair. The bathroom had a warm shower, depending on who was showering, and a flush toilet. Best part of the hotel was the patio area which ended up facing the perfect way to block the wind and enjoy the sun. Everyday we’d gather on the back porch and enjoy the sun and the view. The tide coming in would cause the waves to crash on the rock buttress and blow up through the natural blow holes. The sound was thunderous.

The owner is a well known savvy business woman, whose personal touches made you look past the rusted chairs, rotting fish corpses, and the garbage thrown over the cliff side. Culture… don’t pass judgement.

As you drive through the small towns all up and down the Baja, you see the squalor and the pride side by side. Children play, woman gather on the porches and prepare the big meal for the day. Bright colored clothes hang in rows on drying lines. I am but a passer by on my way to where ever the road takes me. I am in their country, a visitor with permission to explore. Our money is needed in the local communities and those towns that have learned to entice the adventurers, keep a clean area and put pride in every taco, quesadilla, and pollo they prepare for their clients do well. These people are very proud, and kind.

I fought the urge the first few days to be super vigilant and to not be plain old paranoid. Why? Fear of the unknown. Fear because of a prejudice that exists in the recesses of my mind from childhood and cultural conditioning. As I walked across the parking lot of our hotel last night in Page, Arizona, I can honestly say that I felt more vulnerable and fearful walking there than I ever did in the Baja. I never encountered a crazed drug addict with a gun or homeless people lying around. The locals took care to be quiet and respectful and take care of their own. So many horrible pictures painted by the media, state departments and travel advisors that when you see the reality of the kindness of the locals and the communities, you wonder if you’re in the right country.

The people we encountered were always friendly and eager to talk to you. If anyone engages you, local, nomads or transplant, better not be in a hurry. This relaxed pace is a way of life that spills over into everything. For example, if you order food or a drink, it will take some time for it to arrive but may be the best meal you’ll ever have, and after you ask for the bill, your pleasant mood will not be dashed… drinks and a full meal for four people… less than $300 pesos or $15usd. It’s hard to believe such good service and great food can be so cheap… by whose standards?

The conversation must be had… COVID in Mexico… we met a gentleman in El Trufino who came out of a clinic door and announced to us that he had just gotten his shot and he was proud to do his part. The man was thinking about others as well as himself. Every establishment took our temperature, required masks and cleaning your hands, before entering because COVID has effected so many families on the Baja, no one argues, travelers and locals alike. Some had lost their entire family on the main land. Everyone respects everyone. How kind. I know a country that could take a lesson from these kind, hard working people. Masks all around, even in outdoor settings. End of subject.

Religion and celebrations seem to always go hand in hand in most Latin countries. The predominant religion is Catholicism and these lovely people have made it fun! The traditional Mexican folk lore and celebrations have been incorporated into the catholic celebrations. Missionaries for hundreds of years have been trying to break this spirit but it seems that a compromise was made, or the Mexicans are just stubborn. This religious stance makes their family key. It was not unusual for an entire family of 9 to pile out of a Ford truck at the beach and spend the day swimming, eating and drinking. We always seemed to be included and they would send over the person who could speak the most English and ask us to join in. We were always served first as the family watched… a bit uncomfortable the first few times but how can you say no? Fresh ceviche anyone? There is a lot of hand jesters and laughing as we all try to communicate.

Traveling has afforded us with experiences beyond our wildest dreams. An open mind and acceptance can take you into a world feared by so many who don’t. “Women shouldn’t travel alone…”

“You will get mugged or worse…”

If I listened to the naysayers my life would be very boring.

Mexican families are matriarchal and no family would ever abandon their elder parents outside of their own home. The men respect women. Families are a community affair… meaning everyone makes sure that if help is needed for a struggling family, everyone steps in. In a way I truly think that they have much better respect for family of all ages.

My friends have moved to Loreto, settled in, and bought an 18 year old house and Louisa, who has been the housekeeper since, came with the house. She and her daughter had been taking care of the cooking, cleaning and whatever was needed since the house was built. Sound strange? Actually it is common to allow the house keepers to keep their job. It’s her livelyhood and source of income for 18 years. They want to keep their jobs and continue to be a productive member of the community, but also support her family. One of the hardest things for a traveler, seeker, an outsider to understand is we can completely ruin the lives of the native peoples if we try to impart our gringo views, meaning… our wealth and extravagant life styles are not theirs. We shouldn’t pity them or try to save them. Guidelines should be observed in tipping and paying for services. We could literally set them up to fail if you should move away. We all spend more when we make more. The concern is… the gringos can always leave.

There is so much more to say but we are coming up on our stop for the night. We just drove down a road in Beaver, Utah that had every religion covered. One denominational church sits beside a different and so forth and so on for 12 churches. I bet that only on Sunday, if ever, will this town wake up to the sound of the church bells. Those are things I will miss from our travels into the neighborhoods and supporting the local economy. I hope that things have changed… I am afraid though that my hopes will not be found so I will let things be as they are and just be.

Irresponsible Reality

Baja Decompression

Part One

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.

Awake

The warmth of the sun

Thaws my frozen heart to the splendor of the spring

The birds sing wildly

Searching for a mate

My bare skin…Bronzed from this life giving source

A stirring deep inside

Beckons me to be free

Love returns to my weary soul

A calmness of immense silence settles in

The day has begun

Welcome to my morning

Baja Easter Emptiness

I awoke today, not sure if I was hot or cold, half under the pile of comfy covers, pillows cradling my head. I laid still with my eyes closed, listening to the cactus wrens calling back and forth. There’s a heavy smell of dew in the air which makes the dust layer smell sweet, like fresh dug dirt. The fans that keep us comfortable all night, are still whirring silently in the background. Gandaulf rustles and turns over with a huge sigh. It’s morning in El Pescadero, Baja California Sur.

I sit up, rub my eyes, and peel off the layers of blankets, fluff my pillows and sit bleary eyed for a second before the alarm goes off. It’s Easter Sunday and the washboard road below camp is strangely quiet. The sun is now high in the morning sky which reveals the dark shadows of the marine layer clinging to the shoreline, obscuring the wave break. The sky above is clear blue and hurries the fog away with the help of the blazing sun. It’s gonna be a hot, humid day.

Gandaulf greets me with a smile, kisses and flops over for belly rubs, then bounds across the bed and onto the cabinet, waiting patiently to be set down on the floor. The door is flung open and out hops Gandaulf and in floods the damp morning air.

The humidity immediately makes my bare skin feel damp and clammy. I take a deep breath and welcome the day.

I can smell the coffee wafting through the heavy morning air. Just the smell energizes my senses. I pull on some loose fitting clothes, since everything is damp, and step into the sun. There is no mistaking that we are closer to the equatorial sun. My bare skin feels the intense heat and I quickly retreat to shade. Chris and Gandaulf are nowhere to be seen so I stare off into nothingness and I drift away.

I begin daydreaming. This last month has been an exploratory journey for us. Why we ever feared crossing the border is beyond me. Perhaps it was the fear of the unknown, the language barrier, if I am honest…it was just plain fear. Fear of what, I now ask myself, having reached the southern tip of Baja without any major incidents.

In all my wildest dreams, I never thought the day would come when I could escape the cold, follow the sun, be a free spirit and not worry about ‘what’s next?’ I feel that I deserve this slice of peaceful life. A full life…full of new experiences, new friends, new places, new joy and triumph over anything I allowed to hold me back.

I look at our tiny home and feel a sense of pride. It has been our home for ten months. Our blood, sweat and tears poured into this metal shell. It’s everything we have…it’s all we need, beside each other.

Talk today is of a bike ride to the beach. The roads are dusty and extremely washboarded. The temperature is forecast for 79 degrees, typical breezy afternoon and humidity hanging around 50%, a beautiful day for beach exploring. It’s Easter Sunday and we are hoping the locals will stay home.

The southern coastal beaches of Baja are mostly devoid of shells. The waves line up in sets of three, breaking in rolling tubes of froth and foam. The thunderous crashing waves draw the brave and foolish to tempt their fate riding these angry tubes of water on surfboards. It makes for an engaging hour of fun to just observe their antics.

We are now in the middle of Samanto Santos or Holy Week. It is similar to Spring Break. This year, COVID still holds a tight grip on the country, so the Federal government put out guidelines to help quell the outbreak due to hordes of partiers and beach goers. They have closed beaches to camping, limited the capacity and close them at 7:00 pm. It’s just strange to see ample space to walk around the small pods of families and friends claiming their personal space. The sound of Mexican polka music hangs on the air, pumped from huge speakers brought to the beach. The atmosphere is light and jovial.

We find a small patch of sand, at the edge of the tide line, and sit down to be silent observers of the surf, screaming and laughing children running up and down the beach as the wave rolls in. Body surfers being ground into the beach as the wave unleashes on top of them. Dogs dancing with the water, bounding in gazelle-like leaps, barking wildly with joy.

I soon find myself lost in the emptiness of the vast ocean and sky, each blending into the other in the deepest blue imaginable. I am at rest, calm, at peace with all around me. I can feel the fury of the waves, the intensity of the sun, and the endlessness of the cloudless sky. I begin to float and feel weightless, a oneness with the vibrant energy surrounding my empty shell, as my awareness is freed from the constraints of my body. I drift in a state of primal awareness, energized by the enormity of this space. A movement across the waves returns me to the beach. I watch as a pelican glides along, inches from the waves, never breaking the surface of the water. I grab a handful of warm sand, dig my toes in and release an audible sigh.

The Sea and The Darkness

The sound of the waves

Lapping at the shore in the darkness

It needs not be seen in the light

I’ve seen it so many times

It is burned into my memory

I can see the froth

The glistening sand as the water recedes

I can hear the rocks rolling as the waves recede back into the inky blackness

I can smell the salt air and feel the coolness

The stars in the heavens are doubled in the reflection on the sea and the endless horizon bends ever so slightly

The moon shimmers on the ripples as they return to the sea

I get goose bumps as I open my eyes and feel the cool night air

I sit back, take a drink and breathe

Ahhhh…

Pseudo Baja

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.

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.

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.