December 24th, 2019 – December 30th, 2019
As I put Truck in drive and rolled out of camp I knew what direction I would go but not what I would see or where exactly I would stop. Armed with paper maps and AllTrails Pro I headed out for adventure. Slowly. I was exhausted from the epic town day, but also excited to explore. Truck was running smooth and I felt confident to take it as it comes.
Heading north I missed the backroad on first pass. It was only a single lane, and as I pull off the highway I wonder what I am getting myself into. Quickly the road opens up and I roll slowly. We aren’t really trying to get anywhere; more just going for the sake of it. Large information signs appear, and I can’t help but stop to read them. There are signs all over the desert telling you what you can and can’t do and where. We stop to view an impressive array of dinosaur trackways preserved in what was once the mucky algae covered bottom of a ancient lake shore. The rock is coloured green and there are some incredibly preserved footprints. It’s easy for me to imagine the environment this once was and the feel of the soft mud between my toes. The expanse of time between then and now at this very spot spanning completely different worlds. I saunter slowly back the parking lot pondering geologic timescales.
Off to the next spot on the map, dinosaur bones. Before I can fully realize what I had read it was too late. I had cruised past a sign reading ‘CAUTION Deep Sand Ahead 4WD Recommended’. Oh shit! I do not have four wheel drive. In a instant I am in the wash and re-live every sandy back road experience I’ve ever had and commit. ‘I cannot get stuck’ I think. With a heavier foot than normal minutes turn into an eternity as Truck gently slides through the bends. The sand is really deep in places. Deeper than I have ever experienced and in the same moment as I am kicking myself for getting into this situation, I am also in bliss. The sand feels like butter under Tucks rear end and I am reminded of carving through fresh, deep powder on a snowboard. It’s pure magic, thrilling and maybe a little foolish. Then a bump and I am out of the wash. The road is still rather sandy and my heart is racing. Instantly I dread the return trip. As we walk I read the signs, inspect the fossilized bones and release all worry of the deep sand. I will get out just fine I assure myself and enjoy walking through a short canyon and out onto the slickrock. Towers sprinkle the horizon, the sky is grey and I walk slowly with nowhere to be.
I pick up a water bottle and holder than has fallen off a bike and attach it to my pack. ‘Theres always something’ I say aloud as if Frank cares, and start back to the trailhead. Now really unsure of what kind of adventure we are in for we load up and take off. I pause for a moment with the wash in sight and assure myself ‘it’s fun’, then give it just the right amount of gas. I can see where my tires slid on the way in, and I am amazed at how easily one could get really stuck. Then it’s over and I can’t believe how much longer it felt on the way in. It feels like forever existed in a moment. A feeling I cherish but did not experience on the return trip.
I am careful to follow only the most ‘developed’ of roads but frequently wonder if I have taken wrong turn. I drive slowly, except where sand requires a little extra oomph and feel completely in my element. Just a little intimidate by the unknown but fully confident in my place out here. Alone in a vast expanse of desert wilderness. It’s a nice mind space in which to exist. Occasionally the road provides excitement and I repeatedly remind myself the name of the road has the word ‘wash’ in it. What else would I have expected? But then again I didn’t actually expect much. I stop amongst some gnarly old cottonwoods and enjoy a quick lunch. As I eat a tortilla stuffed with hummus and lettuce I imagine playing on them. Many of their limbs lay close to the ground. It’s inviting, but I continue driving. There is rain forecasted and I am not sure of crossing washes while it rains. After awhile I see a short spur, stop Truck and walk up it. A steep rocky driveway to a wonderful camping loop. The ground is high and solid; the view incredible. A wall of deep red rocks is very close and there are canyons one can easily explore. I decided I’ve driven enough for the day, and get myself positioned at just the right angle and very level. If the weather is horrible I can stay here a couple days, safe and content.
We set out for a walk following coyote tracks, We wander among the red stone and green junipers. A couple snow flakes fall as I am admiring a weakness in the sedimentary layers that allows water to seep. I wonder about the time is takes for rain to come through the unconformity and if the seep is steady or seasonal. Wandering about in curious fascination I suddenly stop, turn around and start home. We arrive moments before snowflakes begin to fall in earnest and settle inside for the night. Perfect timing.
I awoke at the crack of dawn to a vast landscape blanketed in snow. It had fallen in the early night, soft and wet but then froze forming a crunchy layer over everything. In the distance I could hear coyotes and small birds fluttered about. It was the warmest morning I had felt since leaving Canada and was happy to sit in the early morning sun. Frank, overjoyed by the snowfall got straight to the business of fetch. I tossed a ball and fried fresh bread in coconut oil to make toast while watching the morning unfold. I eat three hearty slices with hummus before enjoying a second coffee with the view. I was not driving anywhere today.
After leisurely morning we set out down the road for a walk. I may have been the only human within sight or sound but the desert was a busy place. Crossing the road were tracks of coyote big and small, two varieties of ungulates, rabbit, and a small creature with tiny clawed hands left in the fresh snow. The washes now flowed with water and the smell of Sagebrush under the melting snow infused my entire being. It was a beautiful time to be in the desert. We climbed up onto the slickrock leaving behind gnarly Cottonwoods and Sage taller than myself. The desert smells amazing when it becomes wet.
We spend the afternoon wandering up, down and along the strata of time. The sun shines upon us and I swear it’s the most beautiful day ever. The melting snow reveals slope angles and aspect of the stone. The most porous or steep of southern aspects melt first. The shadows will hold their snow into the night. The surface layer of the stone now soaked with water feels relatively soft underfoot. Walking is extremely enjoyable and I could not be more content. Existing in solitude feels easy, and I feel a great culmination of every hard feeling experienced on the path here.
I spend most of the day reflecting on the lessons of the most inspiring and deeply loved human I have ever known. It’s his birthday today, and I miss him in the most beautiful way that I also don’t miss him at all. No, I’m not talking about Jesus. ‘The Mystery’, that’s what I call him. He’s a dark horse, a black wolf in the night. Truth and wildness permeate his being. Tall, dark and chiseled he is the perfect specimen of a man not used to the comforts of modern life. He was real in a way I’ve never know people to be. So free from societal conditioning. For a few seasons out paths aligned in a magical way. And then without knowing it was happening we said our last goodbye. It’s been years since I’ve seen him, but I still continue to learn from our time together. He could see the lies I told myself before I was willing to, and had a gentle yet brutal way of pointing it out that I couldn’t be mad at. He was the push I needed sitting scared atop the tall slide of my own choosing. For dinner I make the same type of meal I would have cooked us on the regular and eat the entire thing myself. It is exactly what I need to honour such an influential friendship.
I felt warm last night and slept well. When I wake I am not not sure where or when I am. I go outside to pee, walking through the fresh snow. At first I don’t think anything of this but after several moments this strange feeling washes over me. ‘Am I in yesterday?’ I wonder. I am so confused and can’t quite put it all together. I look across the valley, there is snow everywhere but it’s different than yesterday. There are no clouds in the valley and the snow is much fluffier. I am not living the same day again I conclude and return to my van recalling the events of the past few days. The story adds up but I still feel like I just appeared here, but again somehow.
The melting snow yesterday made a greasy mess and this snow didn’t make them any better. I decide driving could wait and crawl back into bed with a cup of coffee. After savouring a slow morning we head for a walk down the road. It is mostly sunny and very quiet. That is until I hear machines in the distance headed out way. My heart begins to race and I am hit with a rush of adrenaline. I motion to Frank and we scamper up a wash. For some reason I absolutely do not want to be seen. What I want to get as far away from the machines as possible. We get a couple bends up the shallow wash before they pass on the road and I am satisfied we were not seen. I feel like an animal. The kind of wild animal that you know is around but rarely see.
Now in the wash I decided we might as well follow it for awhile. It twists and turns becoming deeper and narrower. Occasionally there are smaller drainages that flow into it and everything around us feels like it could collapse at any moment. The loose sand and mud of the walls is a dark, rich red saturated with moisture slowly flowing downward. Above us smooth sandstone cliffs tower and I feel so vulnerable down in the wash. This stone is porous and becomes heavier when wet, making it prone to failure and collapse. We walk slowly my eyes scanning every surface. I am watching erosion and deposition in action. I feel like a child that can see the stories the Earth is telling around me. We aren’t anywhere that is a ‘place’ and it is amazing. I think about how this moment would look preserved in future stone. In the soft substate of the wash I leave deep, defined footprints. I know these will be erased in time but then wonder about every foot step out there. Right now in this desert there could be a footstep from before the white man. I wonder about the mysteries of steps left behind, where the oldest ones are and if any will indeed turn to stone. It feels good to use my mind this way.
On our way back home I leave the main wash to inspect some boulders and then follow the path of water up towards the walls. I find my first shoe print of the day. It is the same size as mine, one person and a dog similarly sized to Frank. It’s been awhile since they passed through, but it’s clear they were also checking out the rocks. I walk the same little loops as the fading steps and experience deja vu. It feels like I am following myself. After awhile I find a better preserved print and swears they could be the same shoe as mine. Leaving the boulders behind I follow the track back to the wash. It’s been such a weird day, as if time isn’t as all linear.
We reach the road again and I am suddenly ravenous. I hadn’t felt like eating before our walk and didn’t intend to be out so long. I prepare a massive salad, toast and a veggie sausage. As I eat it is the only think I am doing. I am completely absorbed in the flavours and textures of my meal and it takes an hour to ingest. ‘I’ve had dreams that felt more real that today did’ I think. The day seemed to hang as if the outside world doesn’t really exist. Like it is something one wakes to when leaving the wild expanses of material and mind. Or more accurately I should say; falls asleep into.
Once again I awoke warm and cozy and lay content in bed until I hear a lump of snow slide off the van. Opening the door I am shocked by the sight. Wet heavy snow blanketing everything and still falling. In the flat lighting I cannot read depth and I stumble on the way to relieve myself. I return to my van frustrated I was so hesitant to leave the day prior. Upon leaving town the forecast seemed better than what had transpired.
I bundle up and play fetch with Frank. He loves the snow, and the concept of being stuck here does not exist in his mind. I can hardly make out the rocks across the valley and there is no wind. The world is so quiet that if we stay still all I hear is the wet snowflakes gently landing.
It feels like a rainy west coast day. I listen to audiobooks and we cuddle passing in and out of sleep. A few dune buggies go past waking me from a deep slumber and I wonder if I would try leaving. The snow is only getting deeper and now there is wind. I figure with the lighting I wont see drifts well and crawl back into bed.
Mentally I take stock of our provisions and calculate that the first items I will run out of are coffee and toilet paper. Not an ideal situation but not the worst, and even that would take several days to happen. Frank has several weeks of food, and myself months which I could share with Frank if needed. I have water for more than a week, and have become quite proficient at locating it this time of year. Besides if there was no water to be found getting out would then be easy. I have several weeks of cooking fuel and am nearly impervious to boredom. Realizing how well prepared I am I decided that at this point I am happy to wait it out. I am far more interested in watching how the desert responds to this influx of water than I am at risking becoming stuck in the result of it. The way in had been rather exciting and I did not intend to retrace my steps. The way forward while longer appears on the map to go through drier terrain.
If I could charge my laptop without running the van I would have passed the entire day writing. I would happily stay as long as it takes for the snow to melt and the road to become reasonably dry. This daily practice of writing has begun to take hold and words flow easier than before. All day long the little voice narrates my life and regales me with tales of past adventures. Events I had completely forgotten are brought forth in surprising clarity. But alas, I do not yet have the power of the sun to fuel day long escapes into transcribing these tales. I must savour what little battery I have left and instead spend the day curled up in our den like I imagine any other creature out there is doing.
The snow continued through the night and the thick blanket on Truck meant we were very cozy. Unlike yesterday, though, the sun shines bright as it rises. We play and I make breakfast squinting from the reflection off the snow. It is intensely beautiful, and very quiet. A pair of Ravens swings by to check us out talking loudly to each-other. Anytime I am ever in the high desert there is a pair of Ravens. They are often very talkative and I see them at least once each day. I tend to be alone when in the high desert and if not I had been with ‘The Mystery’. Their presence always makes me aware of being alone alone instead of alone together like I feel the Ravens are. I imagine this doesn’t really make any sense, to be alone together but it is a distinctly different experience than either being together together with someone or being completely alone. Two people doing mostly as they would if there were alone but in the same space and time as each-other. A quiet sense of camaraderie paired with complete independence. It is a feeling that I find extremely rare with anyone other than him. In general people exist so much more than they realize and even their silent presence feels like a lot. Even in his presence my mind could exists as it does in complete isolation and I appreciated this. Perhaps it is just difficult to be alone with someone who does not find ease in being alone with them-self.
The day is cold, but the sun is melting the snow. The steep stone is once again being revealed and below us in small wash between Truck and the red walls I can hear water flowing. A dune buggy goes by and then from the south comes a procession of (mostly) Jeeps. 13 in total, all very new and none of them stock. Snorkels, huge wide knobby tires, neon flags waving above them as they passed. I imagine each vehicle had one to two men inside and the whole lot travelled together for safety. They could help get each other unstuck if need and the security of of numbers could allow them to take bigger risks. I wondered if I am being foolish being out here alone without 4WD. My tires are ‘mud & snow’ but they are smooth and skinny in comparison to this caravan. Either way I am here now, waiting patiently. For what I am not yet sure of but I enjoy being alone.
I woke up today determined to change my location. It was bitterly cold and I felt neither like staying in bed or wandering in the same terrain. Once again the day was eerily quiet and before I could finish coffee I had changed my mind and decided to stay. I reasoned with myself that the Jeep brigade had left a very nice path to attempt escape. A compromise. I will clean up the van as if to leave and then if it still feels right I will attempt it.
After a short time I am cleaned up and everything is within the van. I get out of my spot and lined up to make an escape. The short spur between where I am and main road is steep and rocky. I decide to go for it, and more or less seem to gently slide down and then I am on the road. I contemplated putting chains on, but decided to see what I am capable of without. It doesn’t take long before it’s clear I would NOT be escaping if not for the path left behind by the Jeeps. I can tell the ground below is rocky in places and always most so at the steepest points of the road. Frequently I need to give er more gas than I would prefer and occasionally find myself sliding. I realize that I have made the assumption that they came in the way I want to leave and am lucky to find I am correct. I’m glad I left when I did. As this snow melts the road will become much worse, as it was the short bits of exposed mud clogged my tires causing them to spin on the snow until they were cleared out. I think of my last home, the small Mazda MPV which if I had been lucky enough to make it into where I was camped most certainly would have left me trapped there until all the snow had melted and the ground completely dry. With this onset of deep cold (below -10c at night) that process may have taken weeks and my attitude about being holed up most certainly would have changed.
As I near a paved and plowed road I see numerous vehicle driving by. It is Sunday and what seems to me to be hoards or people in expensive and perfectly clean SUV’s are headed into the park. It’s not even close to what busy is around here and I immediately pull into a viewpoint to gather myself. I take some time to sit inside, make and eat a wrap. I absolutely cannot be around people without eating.
I read the natural history information boards despite having read them before. The sun is intense reflecting off the snow draped landscape making it appear as new. Four years have passed, but I feel different beyond what I imagined possible in that time. Continuing down the road memories came drifting back. I could hear the music that played and recall the thought loops I fell into driving. Everyone is in such a hurry and I wonder why I was so determined to get out only hours before.
We look out over a wide canyon; the snow highlighting the stratigraphy and I hear someone say ‘It looks like a mine but I guess it’s the nature’. I am dumbfounded. The air is cold and dry, and I don’t actually feel like being outside at all. Frank and I go for a walk for which he is happy. We didn’t go far, but by the time we are back in Truck I want to hide from the day. My entire face inside and out as well as my lungs feel a horrible combination of sun and cold burnt. I have a hoarse cough and realize I am indeed still sick. All I can think about is laying down and getting warm.
I tried not to get up today. It’s so cold out I don’t have to worry about the road turning to mud. The snow isn’t going anywhere and I don’t want to either. The cold morning air leads to a round of dry hacking and Frank isn’t impressed. My chest hurts and even though I’m wide awake I crawl back into bed. It is where the warmth is, and I need the warmth to heal. I am grateful that today my hip and back allow me to stay in bed instead of crying out in pain for movement. Frank of course is always happy to stay in bed, but even more so if I am under the blankets as well. I am grateful for all my blankets and our combined warmth.
The morning passes slowly as I listen intently to ‘What If? Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions’ by Randall Munroe. He is the creator of the comic XKCD. I learn and laugh out loud (which then leads to coughing), and am deeply engaged. I listen to most of the book but make sure to save a little for tonight. By mid-afternoon I feel like being upright so I eat a can of green olives and head into town. It’s a strange ‘breakfast’ but it’s the only thing I feel like eating. I crave sauerkraut but have none and forget about this craving until after I have left town unfortunately.
I drive slowly to savour the warmth of the engine heated air. It’s so beautiful that I want to walk everywhere but I also don’t want to be outside at all. I imagined I would be hiking a lot more during my time here but easily accept my current situation. The cafe is pleasantly warm and in comparison my computer feels like ice. I order a decaf for perhaps the first time ever and then proceed to waste time on the internet. I am really only there for warmth and power and have not prepared a to-do list like usual. Afterwards I take Frank to the Moab Barkery for a sniff about and treats. Then I top up our water, and grab a couple food items before heading back out of town.
The night is dark and the waxing crescent moon glows orange as I pull off the dirt road and park next to a Juniper. Across the clearing I can see a rabbit and am so happy to be out of town. Frank and I eat and then crawl back into bed. I completely disappear into writing, for awhile forgetting about everything else. We are home.
Distance travelled: 165km