Remembering the Desert, Part 2

This is one in a series of entries recounting the 2009 trip that Phil Rose and I took to the desert.  We are hoping to fund another such trip; for more details or to help out, please check out our Kickstarter.  The beautiful photography present in these posts is courtesy of my friend, the very talented Phil Rose.

The Moon in a Tree.
The Moon in a Tree.

The day after we’d given up on seeing the north rim of the canyon, we knew we’d have to lay some miles down to make it to the south rim and all the way around in time to catch our flight home.  We drove down out of the forest and through Arizona, scanning the map for a place that would be a likely overnight stop.  We stopped on the top of a scree-covered slope that billed itself as a viewpoint.  It was overlooking a lot of gravel and brush.

I take that back, the valley was really quite lovely.  We were looking down at Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir on the Colorado River.  The water looked brilliantly blue in comparison to the yellow of the desert surrounding it.  I walked around the barrier at the viewpoint and out on to the slope.  I remember that I was looking through the rocks for something; I don’t remember what, but I know I was looking along the ground, turning over stones with the toe of my shoe.  Maybe it was lizards.  I come from places without lizards, so I think I was a bit fascinated by them during our time in Arizona.  I do remember for sure that I saw my first jackrabbit on that slope.  They were bigger than I’d expected; wild rabbits in the northwest are little more than a double-handful.  The jackrabbits are as long as a cat, but lean, with huge feet and long ears.  Fast as the devil, too.

What sours my memory of this scene is Page, Arizona.  Most of what was visible from that slope was the Navajo Generating Station, a big coal plant on the bank of the river.  When we drove into town, we crossed a bridge and were dwarfed by the massive electrical equipment of the plant.  There was some kind of a visitor’s center there, and you had to show ID to get in, and I think there was a metal detector as well.

Lake Powell was charming, sapphire blue with laminated rims of rock rising straight from the water.  The surface of the water was decorated with colorful little rectangular house boats, like ladies’ slippers floating on the reservoir.  Page itself was pretty dire.  The only campsite we could find in town was a paved RV park.  Everyone looked kind of mildly unhappy in Page.  We stopped to eat lunch, and I got to see my first American cockroach, a three inch mahogany colored insect in the ladies room at the restaurant.

We decided to press on south.

Our moods improved significantly on leaving Page, Arizona.  We were all wide grins and thinking very highly of ourselves.  We drove south, and it wasn’t long before we reached the Navajo Nation.  We climbed a bluff and as we did so the land got wilder.  I mean, it was rural before, but as we crossed into the reservation, it became clear that nobody was making much effort to clear brush around there.  We asked someone if there was a place we could camp nearby and the man looked at us like we were idiots.

“Well, yeah, anywhere that’s not locked up, you can just go in and camp,” he said gesturing to the fenced hillside around him.  “Just buy some silver on your way out.”

After looking in a few fields, we found one with a nice clearing and pulled the car in, and set up camp there.  We saw in the dust the outline of a black bear paw; and in another place the track of a cougar.  I said to Phil, “a black bear will come into your camp for your cooler.  The cougar doesn’t care about coolers.”

The photograph above was taken after nightfall, of the moon amid the branches of a tree reaching out from the side of a bluff facing back toward Page.

I spent the night in the car, and Phil joined me sometime during the night.  The wind over the bluff had picked up so strong that the noise of it on the sides of the tent was too loud.  Later that night, probably around three AM, I woke up again and saw the empty tent straining to take flight, one single peg its only remaining attachment to the earth.

I nudged Phil awake.  “The tent’s blowing away,” I said, and went back to sleep.


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