Several weeks ago, I fantasized aloud about a dream trip to Escalante, Utah. Recently President Biden reinstated the original boundaries of the Staircase/Escalante National Monument, thereby deferring the desecration of the area until the next administration decides that mining is more lucrative than tourism. MFN Tamera, who lives almost as far east of the monument as I am west of it, said, “Let’s go!”
Almost in disbelief that a life-long fantasy was going to come to fruition, I began plotting my course and planning every step. Google Maps and Google Earth facilitated the research (and I must also credit ESRI, my hometown mapping company). Traveling solo is always fraught with some trepidation about unanticipated complicatons, so it calmed my anxiety to be knowledgeable about camping options, hiking opportunities, and expected weather. A week before departure, the preparations began in earnest.
Something young people don’t plan around much is bodily functions. But as a mature traveler, it’s essential to consider the demands of one’s digestive system. It’s a complicated formula, one that can be manipulated with the use of caffeine to influence the timing of ablutions. My first stop was planned for about 2 1/2 hours into the journey, The Mojave National Preserve. The details of this stop will be left to your imagination but suffice it to say, it’s a rather sparsely populated area with only desert scrub for privacy. The girls enjoyed the walk.
I had little hope of finding a camp site in Valley of Fire State Park as all of the sites are available on a first-come-first-served basis and this was Friday. But, I was tired of freeway driving and decided to make the side side trip to the park anyway. The campground was full but, remembering that the group camp sites allowed up to 15 vehicles, I had the bright idea that I might be able to inveigle an invitation from a small group to join them. As luck would have it, a couple representing the Henderson Presbyterian Church had reserved the best group site and graciously invited me to join them. They turned out to be ideal companions for the evening.
If there is anything more beautiful than dawn over the desert, I can’t imagine it at this time. I was awake long before daylight. I reveled in the absolute silence that can only be found in the desert environment where there are no noisy insects or animals. Tarantulas, unlike crickets, don’t attract mates with sound.
How quickly the stars retreat from the glow on the eastern horizon! Only the planets, Saturn & Jupiter (according to my fellow campers), steadfastly held their positions, glowing companionably but appropriately distanced.
A lone plane droned somewhere in the distance to the south, then faded to silence so profound my own heartbeat sounded loud in my head.
The girls lay contentedly on the hard-packed gravel, Molly shunning the plush, dog-sized rugs I had bought for them, as much for their comfort as to keep them (the dogs; not the rugs) clean. With ears pricked they watched the surrounding brush intently, hoping against my hope that prey would show itself. The mountain sheep here are practically tame, having long grown accustomed to the sound of shutters clicking.
With dawn comes the intrusion of sounds of human presence. From the road, a half mile away, early arrivals can be heard and the first jet of the day growls, unseen, in the cloudless sky. Time to hit the road.
The road back to the interstate highway follows the Muddy River which is lined with immaculate farms and a beautiful Mormon temple. The tiny communities of Overton and Logandale are apparently conservative bastions where every lamppost bristled with an American flag and gated homes were hung with banners proclaiming support for Trump and the police. Said supported police were in evidence: one over-sized, 4WD pick-up truck with more chrome than paint; and another luxury SUV, both emblazoned with their law enforcement status. Another hand-crafted sign advertised, “Pistols & PCs”, an interesting collaboration. Suffice it to say that this female with California license plates was careful not to exceed the posted speed limit.
The drive to my next camp site was as scenic as it was long. The Virgin River Gorge has to be one of the most spectacular sections of highway in the country. Squeezed between towering canyon walls, it snakes along the course of the Virgin River, crossing it and recrossing as often as the engineers chose to show off their road-building genius. The most jaded truck drivers must still feel a thrill as they navigate this four-lane roller coaster.
Zion National Park stood between me and my destination, and I debated whether to drive through the park, braving the bumper-to-bumper traffic, just to experience another feat of extreme road building, this time in the form of tunnels, or detour south of the park. The more expedient route won out since I knew there would be splendid scenery no matter which route I took.
We reached our reserved campsite in the tiny burg of Cannonville shortly before dusk which allowed me to set up the trailer and take the dogs for a short hike.
The night was freezing cold and the heater in the Wanderlust wouldn’t light. I had only two dogs on a three dog night.