Sometimes on a road trip, it’s the little things rather than the big views that bring you the most satisfaction. Upon our exit from a horrendously hot and demoralizing experience of backpacking in the Grand Canyon, we were fortunate enough to have an oasis of sorts to go home to, hang our Roo’s and have a cold beer. Our oasis wasn’t necessarily physical to start, but rather a couple sweet, sweet unicorns that were also road tripping around the southwest at the same time we were.
Our friends, Risa and Michael, offered some much needed comfort, some killer cooking skills, and just the companionship we wanted at that moment. Over the next week, we made our way up and out of Arizona and into and across southern Utah, zipping through all those Utah state parks that without fail cause a shortness of breath and the occasional tear. We caravanned through desert, mountains, and even took refuge from the heat in a pine valley, a cool valley of pines, happily accompanied by the name “Pine Valley”. We saw nature in full Kodachrome, constantly astounded by the colors flying by and taking shape as the sun laid down for another southwestern evening, putting on a show and casting golden hues across our smiling, satisfied and full faces.
Our friends cooked, and when we say they cooked, THEY COOKED! They made meal after meal, carefully crafted on cast iron, heated only by the fires we tended, maybe a stove or two as well. Regardless, we were healed through food, fixed through friends, and when the time came to part there was a palpable bitter-sweetness to leave our comrades. And so we did, on to Colorado separately, while our friends stayed to explore more of the Mormon wonderland by way of Moab and Arches.
Fast forward 3 weeks and 3000 miles. We had figured we wouldn’t see our dear friends for quite some time, but as fate would have it, South Dakota had a different plan and we were once again greeted by Risa and Michael as well as an evening of crackling lightning, deafening thunder, and rain drops so thick they sting with their weight. An evening soaked in fear and soaked in a tent, and we were left a little tired, but happy to grab some diner breakfast and continue on our separate journeys. We said our goodbyes (for real this time), and each moved on to newer, literally greener pastures along the rust belt, every day pushing a little further East.
Photo Locations (from top to bottom): Camille taking pictures in Bryce Canyon; Zion National Park geology; Risa at Bryce; Bryce through the pines; Desert tree; Bryce Canyon rock formations; Desert flower; The depth of Bryce Canyon; Ty walking into Bryce; Bryce Canyon big view; Ty at Bryce sunset with camera; Risa’s Bryce sunset; Home at Pine Valley, UT; Michael cooking a feast; Ty’s Bryce sunset; Glen Canyon view; Camille standing in Zion; Desert sage and cactus in Utah; Risa and Michael at Bryce.
Photos taken on Canon AE-1 with 35mm film and on Canon Rebel SL-1.
You forget what it truly means to be on the road. You are rich in places to sleep, yet essentially homeless. Your car is your home. Your car is your kitchen. Every national forest is your home. Your hammock and tent, your nest. Every Walmart parking lot, a potential home if all else fails. You create systems inside your car that only you understand. Everything has a place. Five inches of space are as valuable as a whole room in your house. You become one. Your seats start to smell. The dashboard is thick with dust and dirt. You brought a bunch of clothes, but you wear the same every day. There’s a collection of rocks starting to grow already. Cold beer is god.
We alternated between trail and road. Sweaty then showering down in the campground bathroom. Or a bath in the creek, any cool water would do. The heat penetrated our souls as we careened across the south west of our country, and some days we felt like we may never be cool again. We began to deeply and carelessly long for our future in Maine; the notion of cold winter and icy fingers became an every day daydream.
A hike into the depths of the Grand Canyon brought us to our knees far away from the comforts of civilization. We struggled in a new way, but that discomfort made the reward that much sweeter: friends awaiting us at the rim with a campsite we’d call home where we hung our hammocks, drank cold beer and ate not-cliff bars. We slept like babies (until one of us was nudged by a burro in the night), and awoke refreshed, ready to find new roads to explore and new places to lay our heads for a night or two.
The options were endless, we chose the way. This was our new life.
Photo Locations (from top to bottom): Roadside stand east of Grand Canyon on AZ Rt 89; Crossing the Colorado River near Marble Canyon; Hermit Creek trail inside the Grand Canyon; Vegetation inside the Grand Canyon; Dreamcatcher on AZ Rt 89; The vast Grand Canyon National Park; Dealing with the heat inside the Grand Canyon; Rocks in Arizona; Comfort at Desert View Campground, Grand Canyon; Roadside stand flags east of Grand Canyon on AZ Rt 89; View of the Colorado River from the Tonto Trail inside the Grand Canyon.
As the wind blows free through the desert, meandering through groves of Joshua trees, cacti, and clumps of various Lichen, one can hear its sound; almost an echo. We can’t help but think that the desert is solitary, an encapsulation of a sort of insulated loneliness.
Coming from the thriving Sierra where vibrant greens top the tallest trees, rivers flow with deafening aggression, and monoliths of granite jut up through the sky, our wilderness is sheltered and comforting. Here, in Joshua Tree there is an awesome sense of nothingness and we are left with a clean slate to ponder the landscape, along with the sharp emotion of the nature of desolation.
Isn’t it ironic then to have inhabited places within a wilderness like this. As one looks at the crumbling buildings along the Salton Sea, there is the realization that it can understandably hold hands with a place like Joshua Tree despite the footprints of our predecessors. That the same feeling of quieted loneliness exists here as it does in the barren desert. That we as an invasive species built this and claimed it as our own with buildings, boats, and hotels… and yet, a short time later the desert reclaimed it and forced us out.