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A Taste of the Desert Day 8


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Our last day. We pack up without ceremony and take off, heading back to Las Vegas to catch our flight. Nestled in the wide, empty flatlands that follows beside us as we drive the long highway, we notice a sign advertising museums and tourist info. Intrigued and in need of a refuel we decide to make a pit stop to fill up on gas, food and, with luck, enjoy some complimentary wifi. We pull into what I can only describe as the back drop for the movie, The Hills Have Eyes, in which a suburban American family is being stalked by a group of psychotic people who live in the desert. It feels like the eeriest town I’ve ever encountered, and Tom and I break the tension by joking about the ‘humpin’ log’ that we assume these places are full of. The signs to the "museums & info" led to, quite literally, nowhere. We follow them to an empty parking lot and decide to give up our search for civilization.

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It is for this reason that we find ourselves beginning to feel desperate as, a few hours later, our gas tank carries us further into the barren wasteland. We decide to take an exit off the highway, following a barely legible gas symbol down a tiny, windy road. In any other situation, I would have found the canyon we were driving into scenic but, in this case, it was all I could do to keep down the panic bubbling up inside of me. Then, as if on cue, the road takes a sharp curve to the right and a gorgeous blue oasis opens up like a panorama to us. It appears that luck was on our side after all, we had stumbled across Lake Mead. We park and step out; there are dozens of happy, sun-soaked people milling around, completely ignorant of our near brush with death. T and I catch each other's eyes, giggling with relief, and decide to make the most of our unplanned stop. We walk to the end of the dock with a bag of bread ends to share with the ducks flapping playfully on the water. After taking a few moments to appreciate this spectacular blue mountain lake, we hop in our car, turn on a Radiolab episode and begin a deep and serious conversation about life, the universe, and everything; which keeps our minds busy for the last few hours of the drive.

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Eight days of constant companionship and we are left craving more time with each other. The prospect of going back to spending just our evenings and weekends together is disquieting, making the last moments of this traveling experience bittersweet. This little journey was a test of our ability to travel well together and we’re happy to find out that we make a good team. After a quick jaunt through a casino or two; we make haste to the airport to board the redeye flight to the east coast. On the plane ride back, I am happy to mark the last day of this trip as the first day in my countdown to our move out of NYC and into our new life together.

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Posted by Yonderlust 22:36 Archived in USA Tagged travel lake south las vegas west mead Comments (0)

A Taste of the Desert Day 7

sunny 96 °F
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We woke refreshed, having gained an extra hour of sleep from switching time zones, and gulped down a cold breakfast. Armed with lunches, sunscreen and high energy we struck off for the Rim Trail, a 9 mile trek offering stunning views of the canyon, with the highest elevation point at 6,800 ft. The last time T and I were hiking at this altitude, I admit to feeling a bit winded. This time around, I handled the altitude fine as we meandered along the rim at the doddering pace of 33 minutes per mile, which afforded us ample opportunity to stop and marvel at every scenic outlet.

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I noticed that T was so engrossed in the journey he nearly walked into a bush on the edge of the cliff, I laughingly pulled him to safety, successfully avoiding potential disaster. T has pinned me with a reputation for clumsiness, so it was particularly satisfying that, this time, I was the one saving him. After some rigorously scientific calculations, we decided that about 10% of our conversation was specifically allocated to me talking T out of committing very dangerous acts. Damn him and his over confidence; although, honestly, I like watching him saunter up to the edge of a mile + long drop, stare down and laugh like the world hasn't just dropped out from under his feet. Me being the more risk averse of the two of us, I crawled on belly to the very edge of the Grand Canyon and peered down. Afterwards, I scribbled three words in my journal: vertigo, breathtaking, dazzled.

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We passed the evening with card playing (tying 375 to 375 in rummy) and laundry doing. Dinner was cheesy potatoes, asparagus and onions roasted over the fire. Dessert was a delicious half gallon of chocolate milk; we justified this calorie splurge as our reward for being counted as being part of the very small portion of tourists to complete the south rim trail entirely on foot.

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I feel asleep remembering the days little delights. In the bathroom of the Grand Canyon South Rim Shop and Mountain Museum a sign over the toilet bowl gave me pause. In big, bold letters, it read: “WARNING: Recycled potable water. Do not drink.” I wonder how many people took a sip before posting a sign became a necessity?

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Posted by Yonderlust 21:26 Archived in USA Tagged canyon arizona on grand south west camping trail foot journey rim campfire Comments (0)

A Taste of the Desert Day 6

sunny 94 °F
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Upon waking, T looks at me and murmurs, “I love waking up in your arms.” The words are bittersweet as today we travel to our last stop on this trip, the Grand Canyon. We both feel the sadness that comes with the nearing end of a great thing and are doing our best to stretch out every remaining moment. We indulge in a hot shower after enduring a swarm of nats while breaking the tent down and packing up our gear. T's response to the nat swarm: “Staying here is not a good idea.” So off we go, taking a short cut via Cottonwood Canyon road, a dirt road that takes us through the Grand Escalante.

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Though it is tough on our little putt-putt, the short cut reduces about 1/3 of the driving and affords some beautiful views along the way; we pull over to take in the panorama and collect a stone. Tom still takes the time to point out every cactus flower and desert lizard that jets across our path. Seeing Tom marvel at the landscape and native animals compounds my enjoyment of the experience, and, as I am thinking this, T turns to me and says: “I love doing the things I love with someone I love.” Me too.

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We reach Mather Camp Ground after six hours of driving the winding roads up and down and up again. We stop at the charming general store for supplies but find it is geared towards day trippers so a bit lacking in essentials. We hike over to the enormous and fluorescent grocery store to stock up on food. While there, I point out a massive sign with “eat a rainbow everyday” scrawled across it in bright colors hanging from the ceiling. T & I giggle over this, finding it way more funny in our low glucose level state then we normally would. T became a philosopher while checking out, responding to the clerk's polite “Have you found everything you’re looking for?” with a whimsical “Not in life....”

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While we are feeling sluggish, we can't help ourselves and climb up the stairwell of the tall Watchtower at Desert View with the rest of the tourists for a spectacular first sighting of the Grand canyon. It was so vast and many layered that it looked as though it were a painting rather than the real thing...so majestic in magnitude and grace that I felt overwhelmed looking into its deep chasm.

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Finally, we check in with the ranger and reach out tent site. Our section is aptly named 'Juniper Loop' and Tom and I joke about making juniper moon shine while setting up for the night. As soon as the tent poles are secured we scoot into the tent and spend some time cuddling and napping. We emerge a few hours later, in the nearly pitch dark, and Tom quickly makes a cook fire. We nom on some (humane) ham & cheese sandwiches, salad and popcorn then watch the embers die. While back in the tent, we listen to the animal sounds of the nocturnal world and I break out in goose bumps. I beg Tom to whisper ghost stories to me and he relents, relaying spooky bits from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark until we fall asleep in each other’s arms, warm & cozy. Today was so full of grandness.

Posted by Yonderlust 20:22 Archived in USA Tagged canyon arizona grand south west road camping journey campfire cottonwood story escalante telling Comments (0)

A Taste of the Desert Day 2

sunny 94 °F
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Wake up late at 9AM (which feels like 11AM for us, we lost 2 hours). We took advantage of the free breakfast at Care Oscars Bed & Breakfast then drove our little putt-putt (which is what we named our car) to Zion National Park in Utah. The winding, dipping roads are treacherous to drive on and the mood noticeably lifts once we are past the worst of it. We take in the gorgeous landscape as we check in at the Watchman Campground; the high canyon walls are punctuated by the numerous mesas surrounding us, “Every time I look around I’m startled” I exclaim, overwhelmed by thestratified layers of the rock formations and deep canyon walls of the Colorado plateau. The rock formations here have Native American inspired names like Navajo sandstone, Kayenta and Moenave.

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Our first order of business, after setting up camp, is to pick up wet gear at the Zion adventure company to hike The Narrows. After seeing the equipment needed (which added up to around $100 each) and a training video that teaches you how to negotiate shoulder height water, we decide playing in the Emerald Pools is a better idea.

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We spent a glorious 7 hours hiking in Zion Canyon National Park; mainly wading in the emerald pools & hiking along a 2 mile walk deep in the valley along the river. The bleached white,orange and red peaks which comprised the 3,000 ft high canyon walls made us feel like we had been swallowed by the earth.

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An older couple chatted with us a bit, they told us in a disbelieving tone that it was 94 degrees out. We couldn't feel the heat but our bodies did tire out more quickly & seem to need much more water than usual. It felt like a tantalizingly dangerous climate; one could forget they were in the desert with the lush undergrowth, desert grasses and leafy trees. The plant life grows low to the ground, even the houses & buildings seem to hug the earth as though in deference to the magnanimous heights of these otherworldly rock formations.

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I commented that I felt like I “stepped into another universe or an alternative reality.” The solemnity didn't last long as T came up with a new game, which entailed entirely of him hollering ”DETOUR!” and pushing us both off the path. This, somehow, led to the both of us skipping arm in arm as we sang, "We're off to see the wizard!" off-key and at high volume.

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We took a break to pick up matching water shoes (50% off) and a camel water pack for R then decided to continue our explorations of the area by hopping on a very informative guided bus tour. The morbidity of one rock formation etched it's image into my memory, it had two long red vertical streaks that outlined a white triangle on it's rock face and is appropriately called the Alter of Sacrifice. At the end of the tour, we were exhausted and ready for dinner. We headed back to our site and T started a fire while I made quesadillas & s’mores. Curled up in the tent, I begged T to tell me more ghost stories, which he did without complaint, and as I fell asleep his words made their way into my dreams.

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Posted by Yonderlust 12:19 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes hiking canyons camping Comments (0)

A Taste of the Desert Day 1

sunny 85 °F
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The day felt like it went on forever, and it nearly did, as it began at 6:30AM and didn't end until 3:00AM. We made a lot of ground, touching down in four states in one 24 hour period. We hopped in the taxi we ordered the night before that was waiting for us outside of our apartment at 8:00AM. It's a jerky 30 minute drive to JFK Airport and already we're making a list of things we need to pick up once we get to Las Vegas. Rachael needs a hat, Tom needs a fleece. A friend's text comes in with last minute advice to pick up aquaphor. While boarding the Delta 737 my flight phobia kicks in and I sigh with relief, a larger plane means less turbulence and there are 6 seats per row. The in flight movie is a wacky version of the Wizard of Oz from the wicked witches perspective. We snack on multiple packs of peanuts, pretzels & tomato juice (but no wine). Tom looks out the window, “It feels like we’re looking at an alien planet.” We speak in hushed tones while flying over the canyons. As we begin the descent, I squeeze Tom's arm and bury my head in his chest. The plane makes a stomach lurching landing at the McCarren airport and I can finally relax.

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It takes 3 bus rides, but we make it to luggage pick up, grab our packs and head off to CVS to pick up a few last minute items. While there, the loudspeaker comes on and a less than pleased sounding cashier says, “Assistance needed in the liquor isle.” Startled by this pronouncement, I look across the store and low and behold there is a wall o’ liquor that runs the entire length of the far wall. Tom notices it the same time as I do and we exchange wide eyed looks, he laughs, “Las Vegas” I respond, “Yeah, apparently.”

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We head to Wholefoods for dinner and are tickled to find that they have their own 365 brand wine. The 3 hour time change means I'm not hungry for dinner so I just munch on a snack, T is not pleased, “Peanuts do not a meal make, Rachael.” We sit at picnic tables in the middle of Whole Foods and Tom eats a real meal while a random old man repeatedly asks me if I'm Russian. This wasn't the only case of misidentification that day. When we picked up the rental car from Fox rentals an older guy approached Tom and asked what branch he was in. Paired with Tom's recent, high and tight hair cut, jaunty stance and the tan camo coloring of our vehicle, I could see how people could get confused. I told him he should've said Marine Corps, those guys are hard core.

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As soon as we hit the Las Vegas border, the desert’s true nature reveals itself. There are no more imported palm trees, just native cacti and other flora. On the road, T is in awe: “The sea of power lines is so other worldly.” We roll down the windows and let the ethereal atmosphere soak into our bones. The air smells sweet as we drive through 3 states, Nevada to AZ to Utah. We made a quick detour before our ultimate destination to catch the sunset in the Valley of Fire, Nevada.

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As Tom takes hair-point turns at 50 MPH our compact car weaves its way down to the Valley of Fire. “This land feels like it was made for giants & gods, not humans, everything is on such a grand scale.” T remarks, and he’s right, for the first time the iconic idea of the road stretching into the horizon becomes tangible to me. Riding into the valley, Tom turned to me and said, “Now this is a good example of a blue highway.” I asked what that was and he said, "small, forgotten, out-of-the-way roads connecting rural America."

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We hike up a large rocky outcrop, looking for rock gollums along the way. Climbing here is like exploring the terrain on Mars. We rock scramble up a little peak of rocks amidst the red sandstone and stay there to watch the sunset. It was like watching the sun set the world ablaze as it slowly dipped below the rock formations.

R: “Being here make’s me acutely aware of how precious life is.”
T: “This really is a valley of fire.”

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During the long, dark drive to the bed in breakfast room waiting for us in George, UT, Tom & I engulfed long mouthfuls of melted chocolate in the dark, me using my fingers to feed it to T as he drove through the moonlit desert.

Posted by Yonderlust 13:03 Archived in USA Tagged canyons sunsets Comments (0)

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