She stirs. Her eyes shudder open, “Ummm, that felt good.” Stretching languidly, “Are you awake?” she asks, her voice almost inaudible over the rush of air blasting from the vents. Getting no response she looks over and sees that her traveling companion is asleep in the seat beside her. “I guess not,” she says softly. She looks around, outside, to the desert landscape that they’ve escaped to from the city, at a palette of colors, bright in the midday sun; a supernaturally designed blend of reds, oranges, browns and yellows splashed on the walls of the surrounding mesas and the ground they’re parked on. In front, off in the distance, is a sheer wall of Moenkopi Sandstone, its face fractured into massive, brick red vertical columns and walls, stained with the glossy finish of black desert varnish. To the left and behind, the similarly colored ground rises upwards to a series of low hills which seem to support a more distant mesa topped by a contrasting cap of fractured, tawny yellow rock. To the right the desert marches off to the horizon, back towards the Burr Trail, the closest paved road, now 13 miles distant, its floor dotted with the ever-present combination of pinyon pine, juniper, yucca, sage and other desert flora found throughout the canyons, plains, gullies and washes of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
They’ve driven all night to reach this spot, a journey of nearly 12 hours. Arriving late morning in the town of Boulder, Utah, a small agrarian outpost set at the bottom of Boulder Mtn, they turned off state Rt. 12 onto the Burr Trail, a paved path into a section of the monument ringed by the Circle Cliffs and Waterpocket Fold. The Trail took them through the narrow confines of Long Canyon, perhaps the most scenic short stretch of paved road in all the state. Its richly red walls rise precipitously skyward to a height hundreds of feet above the roadway, at times so close together that it seems they might come tumbling down upon anyone who dares trespass, a visage not too imaginative as evidenced all about by the jumble of boulders and debris previously split off from above. Was their hold released yesterday, yesteryear, or eons ago? One can’t tell so one drives through silently and carefully lest a new torrent be unleashed, all the time admiring the confining beauty.
After leaving Long Canyon behind they turned south onto a dirt track, graded but still rough and, where it merely follows one of the many washes descending from above, soft enough in places to require 4WD to ensure unimpeded passage. The road went up and down, twisted and turned and was driven accordingly. Woohoo!! Shortly after passing the Wolverine Petrified Wood Area they found a perfect spot to set up camp, a large flat spot bordered by low hills with a bounteous arrangement of pinyon and juniper, some of which reached to heights of 15 feet or more, enough to provide relieving shade from the incessant rays of the hot summer sun. Though fatigued from the long trip they immediately proceeded to set up camp, a process that took over an hour - it’s amazing how much one can pack into an SUV and just how much is “necessary” stuff. By the time they finished the sun was at its zenith and the temperature was already over 90° and climbing. Mutually agreeing that the rest of the day should be spent relaxing they proceeded to do so, kicking back, chatting about their childhood, their friends, their families, life in general, about anything and everything and sometimes about nothing. But, after a while, the sun beating down mercilessly caused them to retreat to the cool shelter of their air-conditioned vehicle where the combination of sleep deprivation, sun, dehydration and the soothing sounds of Chris Isaak on the Baja Sessions CD soon caused them to both crash for a well-deserved nap.
“Hey! You sleeping?” she tried again.
“Not any more.”
“Oh, sorry. Just checking.”
Moments later, “I’m bored!”
“Ok, I’m awake. (pause) What’s the temperature?”
She looked at the temperature readout on the overhead console, “105°.”
“105!? What time is it?”
She looked at the clock, “Almost 5:30.”
“Wow! It’s hotter than when we ran in here”
“Yeah. Amazing, huh?”
They both looked out on the scene shimmering just outside their cool retreat. The harshness of the sun had softened a bit bringing out the richness of colors in the desert scene as well as revealing the intricate details etched into the edifices before them.
“Sure is pretty.”
(pause) “I’m bored.”
“You already said that.”
“I know. (pause) “I’m gonna go back out.”
“Ok, let’s go.”
She thought, “Well, he’s an agreeable sort.”
So they ventured back into the oven from which they had earlier retreated. When they opened the doors the heat outside rolled in in an explosive wave, immediately usurping the cooler air they had been so gratefully soaking in. But, after a few moments of adjustment, and after setting up in the shade now available by the larger pinyon pines, they were soon enjoying themselves once again, relaxing, drinking in the panoramic sights, and just listening, listening to the shrill keen of a hawk soaring effortlessly above, to the warbles of the canyon wrens and other small songbirds flitting to and fro, to the gentle (and refreshing) breeze as it rustled it’s way through the trees and bushes spread about them. They watched as jackrabbits went loping by unafraid of, or at least unconcerned with, their presence so close. They enjoyed the sight of a chipmunk, chattering endlessly all the time, as it scampered up and down a nearby tree. And soon, as the sun dipped lower, the air started to release its torrid grip upon the land and the day turned into a pleasant, warm and balmy evening.
Whilst preparing the evening’s repast they were presented with a pretty display of colors as the sun, retreating to the west, finally sunk below the horizon. The few clouds in the sky were lit underneath with a cast of golden yellows that soon turned into various shades of orange and pink. The show was short though and after a bit the sun’s rays finally released, till the morrow anyway, their grip on this part of the world. The dinner was heartily enjoyed, takeout heated up in foil on the camping stove, and afterwards they passed the time playing games and enjoying the delightful night air.
Finally tiring of winning (ok, kicking his butt), she said, “Let’s go check out the stars”. Being the agreeable sort that he was he, well, agreed. So they packed up the board game, turned off the lantern, leaving only the gently flickering glow of the citronella candles as the camp’s only source of light, gathered the beach chairs and blanket, and headed off for a short distance. Settling comfortably into their chairs, arranging the blanket just so, they leaned back and closed their eyes so that they could adjust to the night sky.
She opened her eyes and let out just the slightest little gasp for the stars fairly leaped into her vision, a myriad of silver, blue, white, red and green specks scattered all above, too numerous to count, almost to numerous to comprehend; she was truly overwhelmed at the sight. She looked around. Stars were everywhere. From horizon to horizon was an endless tapestry of bright twinkling lights, so prominent in the clear evening air that the landscape was, almost imperceptibly, bathed in a soft stellar glow.
He looked up high in the eastern sky, “Are those clouds?”
Looking too she said, “No, that’s the Milky Way.”
They were both transfixed at the sight of the Milky Way. It was as if someone had sprinkled great handfuls of diamond dust upon the firmament from above, a soft, shiny gossamer upon which to place the larger jewels of light. The glittering backdrop stretched endlessly above them and as they gazed skyward they were lost in the vastness they beheld. They shared their knowledge of the night sky with each other and reveled in the evening show presented to them - a satellite passing overhead, it’s man-made hull reflecting the light of the sun which earlier had so heated the desert sand upon which they now rested, fiery meteors whose evanescent presence was made known to them so briefly yet so brightly, the far off flash of “heat lightening” on the western horizon, a portent of tomorrow or a spectacle for their own special pleasure? They watched and wondered, gazed and gawked, looked and listened, were enchanted and enthralled. It was a most beautiful night!
But soon, as all good things must, it was time to end the show so they gathered their things and headed to the tent for a good night’s sleep, their way lit by the tiny little lanterns above. Tomorrow was to be an early day with a long hike into the canyon just up the road and it was time to slumber. Snuggled into their bedclothes they were lulled to sleep by the quiet chirping of the desert crickets. Before passing into the land of dreams each said a silent little prayer of gratitude for being in this land of arid beauty and wonder, each looking forward to what the next day had in store for them.
She stirred. Sleep slowly released
its grip on her senses and she poked her head out of the enshrouding sleeping
bag. Her gaze drifted towards the front of the tent and when she looked
outside through the translucent netting covering the entrance her eyes opened
in delight at the sight before her. The sun, not yet fully above the horizon,
was just casting its beacon upon the great sandstone escarpment rising high
to the west. The wall was alive with color, a river of reds flowing from the
sun to the rocks to her eyes. She basked in the view out her very own picture
window. Good morning! She huddled in her sleeping bag enjoying it’s warm
embrace for a few final moments as the air had cooled significantly overnight
and it would be a while before the heat of the day returned. She glanced to
the side and saw that her traveling companion was still asleep. She got up
carefully so as not to disturb him and climbed carefully outside. Standing up
and stretching to her full height to shake off the night’s stiffness, she
breathed deeply the clean, pine and sage-scented morning air, savoring its
coolness and freshness. Wrapping herself in a blanket she plopped into her
beach chair, turned her face towards the rising sun, closed her eyes, and
just sat there, soaking in it’s radiant energy, readying herself for a
brand new day, a day with no cares, no concerns, no worries - the escape was
complete - a brand new day in paradise.