The Worst Day of Camping…

Sally and I walked the dogs around the perimeter of the camping area and discovered that there was a strong cell connection at the South end of the mesa. I took advantage of it and responded to some text messages from my sister and nieces.

We also discovered a recently vacated camp site atop a rocky knoll with a nice copse of juniper trees that offered morning and mid-day shade. We immediately re-positioned our camp site.

This site had the advantage of being up wind of most of the dusty roads and there was only one other occupied site close by.

Bella got more than her nose under the tent.

After setting up our new camp, we drove up to the Kolob reservoir. All three of us piled into Sally’s little SUV (wearing masks and with all windows open) and all three dogs shared the back hatch area (without masks or social distancing).

Sadie with Bella sitting on Molly

We stopped at the little market/restaurant where I’d bought ice the day before and ordered one Hatch chili burger with pepper jack cheese to share. The woman who took our order was surly and I didn’t tip. The cook/waiter, who served us on the deck, was cheerful and attentive, zipping around on bandy legs, tattooed from ankle to the bottom of his shorts (as far as I know).

Sally, who replaces her vehicles every few years, didn’t mind driving on dirt roads a bit, so we drove around the reservoir. The locals were camped cheek by jowl (by my standards) and had all the accoutrements I detest in camping neighbors: motorcycles, amplified music, kids, etc. We encountered a small herd of cattle and a few horses in a pasture and stopped to take some pictures. The horses were friendly and came over to the fence for some attention. When one grew too assertive and started pawing her front hoof through the wire fence, we beat a hasty retreat lest she hurt herself or damage the fence.

Jordy and Bella make friends with Flicka

Jordy had an essay that was due by midnight so we headed back to camp where she worked on the essay and Sally and I prepared dinner. Jordy had made a delicious concoction she called pizza in a pot and I made a fresh vegetable salad. It was the first real meal I’d had since leaving home and it tasted out of this world! Then Sally and Jordy drove down to La Verkin to send her essay in, and I washed up the dishes.

A well-deserved and much appreciated meal with other campers in the background.

During the evening more campers streamed into the mesa and soon our secluded site was surrounded by other campers. By dusk, each campsite had a fire going, never mind that it was over 70 degrees on the mesa, and once again the smoke drifted up the hill and an asthma attack forced me to put on my N95 mask.

Shortly after the girls left, the large group nearest our site fired up rapid staccato dance music over which they shouted and laughed uproariously. One woman in particular had a most annoying laugh that reminded me of my neighbor’s dog that barks incessantly in a regular rhythmic pattern. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d driven 400 miles to escape smoke and noisy neighbors only to be surrounded by smoke and noisy neighbors. Well, at least the latrines had finally been pumped and it was cool.

By morning I’d pretty much decided to leave Smith Mesa. Sally and I took the dogs for a walk around the ranch perimeter looking for a more secluded camp site, but the entire meadow was populated with campers. We found a trail that was evidently used for the guided horseback rides (2 hours @ $99). It wound through the remains of a juniper forest that had burned some years ago. It occasionally veered to the rim of the mesa to offer a panoramic view of the canyon below.

I noticed string of horses on the trail ahead so we called the dogs and stepped about 20 feet off the trail to allow them to pass. The ride leader, a boy of about 18, was riding a young, blue roan who noticed us first and pricked his ears at us in mild alarm. I spoke soothingly and moved in a calm manner a little farther off the trail, allowing him to identify us as nothing dangerous. But the young wrangler, happy to have an excuse to show off his horsemanship skills, stirred up the nervous horse and lost control as the horse began sidling off the trail, snorting at us and disrupting the progress of the dude horse that were following with their greenhorn riders aboard. The confused animals left the trail nearly scraping their hapless riders off on the burnt remains of the dead junipers. When the junior ride leader regained his composure, and his paying customers resumed their line behind him, I heard him say, “I don’t know what they’re doing out here anyway”, as if it were our fault that he was riding a green horse over which he had limited control. As a former trail horse rider, I have little patience for people who take their inexperienced horses out on trails and then blame others when their animals get spooked.

Back at camp, I packed up the trailer and bid Sally and Jordy a fond adieu, inviting them to join me at Red Rock Canyon later that afternoon.

Red Rock turned out to be a bit farther out of the way than I’d anticipated and the small campground was full by the time I arrived. I did and internet search for BLM camping and found Lovell Canyon, allegedly 35 minutes away, in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, Nevada. Highway 160 was lovely but it was under construction most of the way, so the thirty-five-minute drive turned into more like an hour. No problem, I had nothing but time and the scenery was expansive and the traffic light.

At last I came to the turn off for Lovell Canyon, a narrow paved road that climbed gradually up a broad valley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKdG9A_E2Bo  (my campsite is at 6:46 in the video) lined by junipers and desert scrub, a quintessential western landscape.

In minutes I’d found an acceptable flat spot to spend the night. I soon had everything set up, even the temperamental refrigerator. Feeling quite smug about events, I opened a bottle of Pinot Noir to breathe and prepared to take a “shower” at my outside shower.

The term “shower” isn’t exactly descriptive as the shower consists of a hand-held nozzle that kind of drizzles tepid water (there’s no water heater). But it serves to rinse off the dust and grime of the trail and leaves one feeling refreshed. The air temperature at 5,000’, in the desert, was a lovely 80 degrees and I luxuriated in my bath al fresco. Since there is no privacy at the side of my trailer, I wear a loose, sleeveless shift of sorts, and clean myself under it.

Clean and content, I settled into my camp chair with a glass of wine and some sliced apples and yogurt. A group of Hispanic (I guess the current politically correct term is Latin-x) folks down the road were playing their music loudly enough for me to make out some of the lyrics but not so loud as to be annoying. I enjoy ranchero music and it’s fun to try to figure out the gist of the Spanish ballads. A little less enjoyable was the frantic barking of their Chihuahuas. It sounded way too much like my own neighborhood! But I relaxed with the belief that they were not spending the night. The ranger had stopped by earlier to remind me of the “No Fire” edict and in chatting him up, I mentioned the music. He said it didn’t look like they were staying overnight. There was only one other tent, a hundred yards down the road, but I saw no evidence of occupation.

Happy hour

No sooner had I settled into the cooling dusk when the music ceased and a motor of some sort was fired up. Hoping they were preparing to leave, I calmed myself. But no, it must have been a generator, because it droned on for over an hour. Around 8:00 it was shut off and the silence was almost palpable until I registered the songs of nighttime insects. Within a few minutes I heard their trucks coming up the hill. Since I was camped right on the edge of the road, they passed within a few feet of my trailer. Two vehicles passed by but the third and fourth ones stopped right next to my trailer that was parked behind a tree. I was suddenly aware of my vulnerability. Peering out, I contemplated what course of action I should take if anyone approached my Wanderlust. I didn’t even have my canister of pepper gel with me! The thought that their Chihuahuas would be no match for Sadie, my Klingon Dog Shepherd and Molly Bear Dog Border Collie, I relaxed and started composing greetings in Spanish. “Buenas noches, no me gusto la migra y ICE.”

To my relief, they continued up the road after a minute or two, and at last I had the peace of the desert I had traveled so far to find.

When I went out to pee, I noticed the glow of Las Vegas, almost forty miles away, on the eastern horizon, as bright as the waxing moon. There was no sign of the Milky Way but I reveled in the sounds of silence.

There truly is no rest for the wicked. Awake at 3:00, the moon had gone down, yet Las Vegas provided sufficient light to stumble to the edge of the clearing to effect some dust control. It was too cold to do anything but crawl back under the down comforter and try to find sleep again. When that failed, I read for an hour or so. I soon felt restless so, dressed in all my layers, I started a pot of coffee and then packed up in the dark.

Truly, the worst day of camping is better than the best day of anything else.