Today is overcast, but I doubt that it will rain. The place where I am camping—somewhere between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in southeast Utah—gets only 9 inches of rainfall annually. So I am betting that it will not rain today.
I’m camped on a sweet spot of federal land with a view and handy access to both parks. This is the final stretch of my tour through southern Utah with its five glorious national parks. I spent the previous two days exploring Canyonlands. Not nearly enough time, but all I have for now. Yesterday, after a 6-mile hike (The Neck Spring trail, but I saw three springs), I returned to my trailer to find the wind whipping red dust into a frenzy with the sun baking it like a potato. I opened the door, and the dust made itself at home, settling in a thick layer on every horizontal surface and some vertical ones. Red dust was in my ears, nose, and hair. I was chewing sand. I rigged up a sheet over the doorframe to get some semi-dust-free ventilation. I swept the floor and wiped countertops obsessively. I vegged in the hot, enclosed space until the sun went down.
This morning is cloudy, and the wind is still tying itself in knots. Even the dog doesn’t want to go out. Cloudy weather is good because it blocks the sun. Cloudy is bad because it doesn’t give me enough juice to recharge my computer, and I am staying “home” today to finish some work. I work until the computer is wrung dry, then I read Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.
Abbey was a ranger in Arches National Park when it (the park) was just a baby—all gangly with gravel roads and only a handful of intrepid visitors a year. By comparison, Arches received a million visitors last year. A dubious milestone.
Abbey is an outdoorsman who knows his flora and fauna, his rocks and rivers. In the book, he observes the same landscape as I and interprets it for me. It’s like having my own private ranger. Cliffrose? Oh! There it is, and it does smell sweet! Pinyon jay? Ah, that’s what I’m looking at. Single-leaf ash? Check. Blackbrush? Check.
But Abbey is also an immature, cantankerous bore:
“My God! I’m thinking, what incredible shit we put up with most of our lives—the domestic routine (same old wife every night), the stupid and useless and degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and slimy advertising of the businessmen, the tedious wars in which we kill our buddies instead of our real enemies back home in the capital,…” and on and on.
Obviously, to Mr. Abbey, anyone who doesn’t grow a navel-length beard and live in the woods is misguided, degraded, or downright evil. As he rants on, I feel myself sinking like a waterlogged tree floating sluggishly down the river, too dull to head for the far bank. I also become a little crabby myself.
I eat. I nap. I listen to the wind. Finally I take a half-hearted stroll through the desert, chewing sand all the way.
I don’t notice when the sun sets because the thick blue-gray lid of clouds is screwed on tight across the heavens. The wind shakes the trailer like a coyote with a rabbit. There’s enough light to see waves of dust scudding across the road.
Tomorrow I will go to Arches and next week I will be in Colorado, but tonight may be a wild ride.