The title of this post makes absolutely no sense at first reading, and likely will not after, but I’m not disposed to explain it. It suits for now and maybe you’ll discern some part of it. After all, I’m not that subtle.
Twenty years ago tonight I was snug in a bed at the Sandman Hotel in Grand Junction, Colorado. I had been weeks traveling the upper Southwest and had been camping for about six straight nights. Even though it was really car camping, it was good to mix in the luxury of a room every so often for a hot shower, a place to plug in my laptop and a phone line to upload some pictures. This was pre-smartphone, so posting pics meant pulling out the camera’s CF card, slipping it into my PowerBook 5300 and after editing, actually connecting to a telephone with a modem to update my website and download email.
The night before I’d been snug in my sleeping bag in a tent inside Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. I’d come back from a long day of hiking among the formations in an area called Devil’s Garden. I’d strayed beyond the marked path borders, which all the brochures warned against because people got lost with great regularity among the sandstone formations. When they were found they were usually without water. Sometimes they were even found alive. I returned well after dark, using the massive illuminating field of stars overhead to find my way. I’d left my car in camp, walking to the trailhead, but when I returned something looked different. As I examined my tent, a man from a neighboring campsite emerged from his tent and ran over to me, obviously having already bedded down for the night. He explained gusts of wind had raked the campground around sundown and my tent had blown into a nearby ravine. He retrieved it and staked it down. He warned things might look a little jumbled inside, but he did not open the tent. I thanked him and sure enough, the few items inside were tossed around. Fortunately there was nothing breakable. I was so tired I didn’t bother with doing much more than washing my face and going to sleep.
The morning was desert-cool and clear as a bell. My neighbor and his female companion were packing up to leave. I thanked him again and returned his stakes. He said I should keep them as he had extras. The camp host came over to check on me, saying he and his wife were concerned when they realized I had not come back after sunset and my car was still there. I thanked him also and assured him I was okay. As was my usual practice, I fired up my stove to boil water for oatmeal and tea and pulled out my maps to figure out where to go next. I had no agenda and no timetable. My general destination was Ocean City, Maryland because I had originally chosen the route of Highway 50, billed as the loneliest road in America, and the link between that East Coast city and Sacramento, California. I looked to see what places looked interesting and how much driving I could endure each day. That morning I chose to go north because it would take me back up a scenic byway where I had camped some days before, on the banks of the Colorado River.
It was here that I went wrong, in a way. U.S. 50 continued due east, but the road I chose went north. I was mesmerized by the beautiful Green River, which merged south of me with the mighty Colorado. If one could drive through the Grand Canyon, it might look like this. Before I knew it, I was forty miles on with destination signs speaking of Carbonville, and Helper. I visited an oil company demonstration site just off the road and signed their guest book. I found a scenic dirt road into a slot canyon where the stained rock was covered in pictographs. I climbed a trail next to a wall and came face to face with a Kokopelli figure, part of a veritable magazine of etchings. I lingered here for a while, wishing someone could interpret what I was seeing. But the rangers will tell you it is pointless to do so. They are not even sure all the etchings were done at he same time. It could just be ancient graffiti. Not a story, only a message from a people who left these lands without a clue as to where they went.
I promised myself lunch in Duchense. Once there I looked for a route east and learned of a fossil dig in a town called Dinosaur. It boasted a beautiful museum with a fascinating story, but I hung out there too long before getting back on the road. Darkness was coming on I pulled over to check the map and punched a preset on my radio. To my surprise a San Francisco station carrying a SF Giants game bleated from the speakers. I listened for a while, learned the team was fighting for a playoff spot, and the next stop would be in Denver against the Rockies. So I set my sights on heading to Colorado, and made for Grand Junction.
But I was wiped out. I’d driven off and on some 325 miles, in what was essentially a huge circle, I’d hiked another six miles in the sun. My butt was sore. The distance from Grand Junction to Denver would be another long stint in the saddle. And most daunting of all, the map showed that beyond the Mile High City and Great Divide, the roads all suddenly straightened out like the EKG reading of a cardiac arrest. Driving through the synclines and anticlines of the high desert was one thing, but now I’d be in the Plains, and I wasn’t looking forward to driving east anymore.
I read through my email. One message was from a friend who wondered how much longer I’d be out here. I wondered if it would be worth going back to see her. It was still early fall but the forecast was for cooler weather.
I checked out and had breakfast in a nearby diner. I filled the tank with gas and the cooler with ice, and bought a paper. I nosed the car through the streets to Interstate 70 and headed west. My walkabout was over.