After leaving Capitol Reef, we headed towards Zion. Last year, on my drive out west, I had planned to do one hike in Zion, but, in the end, I didn’t have the time. I reached Zion last year via Highway 9. That drive is a destination in and of itself. It is scenic. It can be one to fray the nerves in a couple of locations if you have an issue with heights with its steep drop-offs on both sides of the road and little shoulder and no guardrails. It winds through Escalante during this stretch, so the tendency to want to gape at the scenery does battle with the reality that veering a little too far off course could turn out badly. It is fortunate that there are plenty of turnouts. It is a slow-going drive, so by the time I got to Zion, it was getting too late in the day to stop. And then it was summer, which meant throngs of tourists winding their way through the park. Bumper-to-bumper traffic and no opportunity to even pull off for pics because all of the turnouts were occupied. It was frustrating. So, I was happy to be returning this fall. I was glad for the chance to seeZion.
We did not take Highway 9 to get to get there this year. We had driven a portion of that road, including the spectacular section through Escalante, on a separate day and hiked a trail along the length of a canyon to a beautiful waterfall: Lower Calf Creek Falls. I did not want to drive Knight on Highway 9. Maybe I’m a bit of a wimp, but the steep sections are very steep for his old bones and he is big enough that the outside curves with steep drop-offs would have been a bit uncomfortable. We went a different route and stayed for a few nights along the way in a campground near Kanab that was situated on a Paiute Indian Reservation against a backdrop of red rock perched at the edge of a high plain. The stay there was restful. Peaceful. Even the cats were chill and at ease. We made friends with our neighbors at the end of our stay there. It turns out that they are also full-timing it on the road with their baby and their dog. A casual greeting one afternoon turned into an hours long conversation sitting between our two campers. The conversation was wide-ranging and easy, in spite of some differences in perspective on some big topics.
We said goodbye to our neighbors and made our way to Zion. We were staying in the National Park this time. I was fortunate to be able to string together a total of three camp spots to stay for five nights. It felt special to be staying inside the park. The campground was booked until the end of November, so scoring a spot was sheer luck. And for five nights at that. We stayed in the Watchman’s campground, with a view of the Watchman right out our door and a trail of the same name leaving from the nearby Visitor’s Center. I hiked that one the first day. It was a weekend and I wanted to avoid the crowds as much as possible for the two hikes I was really looking forward to: Observation Point and The Narrows. Zion is beautiful this time of year, without the bumper-to-bumper traffic. And we seem to be chasing fall these past two months. I continue to be amazed at the color I am seeing and realizing how wrong my preconceived notions have been about fall colors in the west, generally, and in the desert, specifically. That’s what happens, I guess, from only seeing this part of the country in summer or winter, and from making a judgement based on what I imagined this region to be without knowing it beyond two seasons. What a happy surprise at how wrong I’ve been!
I had been reading reviews and planning for two good hikes in Zion, with a couple of the smaller ones leading up to those two hikes. I knew I wanted to do the Narrows, if possible. But I toyed with the decision between Angel’s Landing and Observation Point. Angel’s Landing spoke to the side of me that likes to push my boundaries a bit. The side of me who likes the idea of doing something a little scary. I am by no means an adrenaline junkie. Not at all. But I loved the idea of a hike that would challenge my comfort with heights. I don’t mind heights too much. I like high places when I feel safe, when I have something to ground me. I am not one to want to stand on a narrow precipice with only my balance to keep me on top. But I love the view from up high. I love seeing into the distance, into infinity, and all that is between where I stand and there. All I need to feel grounded is something solid to put a hand on, to hold on to. If there were chains or ropes all the way up, I’d be good. Because there are places where the path drops off on both sides. One side might be doable. Two sides is very questionable, unless there is a rope or chain. Angel’s Landing has this for at least part of the journey. I was intrigued. I wondered if I could do it without chickening out along the way. A big strike against Angel’s Landing, however, is the sheer number of people who make that climb. It can be a traffic jam in precarious positions. That did not sound like my idea of fun. It is one thing if I have to worry about my own self freaking out, and quite another if I then also have to worry about others as well.
Observation Point, on the other hand, is not supposed to be as busy and you do not get two-sided drop-offs. Just one side, with a path that is generally not too narrow. I’m good with that. Observation Point is also a longer hike by a few miles and has a view from higher up than Angel’s Landing. You look down on Angel’s Landing from Observation Point, and then all the way down canyon. Those two facts together sold me on Observation Point. I quickly discovered upon heading out that my idea of no crowds did not meet with the reality of what I found on the trail. It was a beautiful fall day in November. It was a weekday, but I still had plentyof company. I had to exchange my idea of solitude for one of camaraderie. Let go of the notion that I’d see few people and have plenty of quiet and the perch at the end nearly to myself. If I hadn’t let go of those ideas, I’d have experienced disappointment at every turn. Sometimes it’s necessary to change your expectations and see an opportunity in a new light.
It so happens that the day I chose to head up to Observation Point was the same day that three groups of, I’d guess, fifth graders were heading up to Observation Point. Definitely not quiet. Definitely not solitude. But I had to think how great it was that these kids were being exposed to a hike like this, that they had this opportunity. This was more than just a walk in the park. I also had to think, “what brave souls the leaders were to head up with a group of kids (I think about ten in each group) on a hike such as Observation Point. Glad someone was doing it. Glad it wasn’t me. I shared the Point with dozens of adults and all of the kids. And loads of rock squirrels who were doing their damnedest to be as cute and brave as possible to entice us humans into feeding them. Besides the view from up top, one of the most entertaining things about the hour I spent up there was listening to the kids talk about what they were seeing. And then I stayed long enough to see all the kids and several other leave, thereby giving me much more quiet and solitude for the journey down. The trek up to Observation Point was 4 miles up, with over 2000 feet in elevation gain, and then the 4 miles back down. A nice little workout for the lungs and muscles. My legs noticed that they’d worked, in a good way. I love that feeling of tired muscles, and I love being sore, even. You know you did something.
After I hiked down, I went to rent my gear for the Narrows. The river was flowing and cold, so I had to have more than just boots and hiking pants. I opted for the canyoning shoes, pants, neoprene socks, and the wooden hiking stick that all came in one package. I could not fathom needing bibs or a waterproof backpack. I’d heard at the beginning of the week that the water was generally no more than mid-calf to knee high. Of course, the guy I talked to had taken his 6-year-old daughter on the hike and did not go the full length of the 5-mile day hike. I probably should have gone for at least the waterproof pack. On several occasions, I found myself holding my breath, hoping I’d not be in above my waist, while raising my backpack as high up on my back as I could. I managed to not get it wet, but one little slip, one little misstep, would have quickly changed that.
I was on the bus heading down the canyon at 8:00 in the morning. A great time to start out. There were few of us heading out at that time, so it was the quiet and almost solitude I had been seeking the previous day. I didn’t think the Narrows would be much of a challenge. It is pretty much flat, after all. I did not count on how rocky it would be nor how high the water would really be. Both ensured that my legs turned to rubber by the end of the day, especially as I did this hike right on the heels of Observation Point, and my knees twinged from the effort of dragging legs through water. But oh, the effort was rewarding. The water was cold. I nearly bit it on more than one occasion, but somehow managed to stay upright. I had the good fortune of being just behind a guy who was from Salt Lake City but spoke with a very southern accent. He was kind enough to wait for me to catch up in order to inform me of spots he discovered were tricky. He took the plunge more than once, and I benefitted from his misfortune. He did, however, think to rent a dry bag, so all his supplies were safe. We hiked in close proximity all the way to the end of the day hike, at Hidden Falls. There is an option to hike from the top of the Narrows down, which is a 16 miler, for which you have to have a shuttle to take you to the trailhead, and you have to get a permit so you can camp halfway down. The day hike up to Hidden Falls is supposed to be 5 miles. With my watch, however, I calculated it to be 6.25 (my watch connects to my phone GPS so is fairly accurate with distance). With all the navigating back and forth across the canyon to pick my way through the challenging course, it is no surprise the hike was quite a bit longer than 5 miles in one direction.
At 5.5 miles, I was ready to give up and turn around. A hard thing for me to do. I am usually not one to give up on reaching a destination or goal (another thing that can be chalked up to stubbornness). But at 5.5 miles, it was getting later in the day, and I wanted to be sure I got back before dark, as I did not bring a headlamp. I thought I’d go just a bit further. If I didn’t see the falls by 5.75 miles, I’d turn back. But just as I reached that point, I came across a couple heading down the canyon. They informed me that the falls were “not much further…just around two or three more bends” and that they were well worth that short a distance after I’d come so far already. Of course I had to continue. And of course they were right. I had a nice rock to perch on, pretty little falls, and some food to put into my too empty stomach. I’d snacked along the way, but I am one of those who is always hungry when I hike, and it was way past lunch time. The young guy I’d been following along with on the hike was already there when I arrived, and he left shortly after I got there to make his way back. I sat alone for a few minutes enjoying the feeling in my rubbery legs, the sound of the water as it flowed over ferns and rocks from a spring within the rock, and the bubbling rush of the river as it whisked by me sitting on my rock. Satisfied with journey and glad that I did not give in to the desire to turn around before I’d reached my goal, I packed up my pack again, willed my feet and legs to hold me upright, and moving in a forward motion, making my way back the same way I came.
It is a good feeling to know you reached your destination. To feel the effort in your every fiber, the satisfaction deep to the core of you. To know as you pass others that they will be rewarded in the same way when they get there too. But also to be glad that you are on the downside of those efforts, making your way back to a comfortable couch, more food, and a nice, cold beverage…and a really good night’s sleep. When I’d left, there were few of us entering the canyon. When I approached the mile or two nearer the start, it began to get more crowded. By the time I got to the end, I felt like a person who had gone on a long journey to a far-off place, returning to find a different landscape from the one she left, feeling a spectacle for the onlookers to ogle at. A bit of an outsider with those who had no idea what the journey meant and how it alters a person inside. It can feel that way out here, sometimes, too, though there are also plenty who get it. Plenty who share in the journey, even when observing from afar. And a growing number of others who are joining in this journey, for sometimes widely different reasons. I read recently that there are now over 1 million people living on the road.
Let that sink in for a minute. 1 million people, and that number is growing. I see all the time people who are in the planning stages for jumping off into this kind of life. Simplifying. Downsizing dramatically. And preparing to be rubber trampers. I find it interesting that so many people are opting for this life on the road. I find it fascinating that people are turning to a simple life of travel. Trading in consumerist consumption for a different kind of consumption. One of new experiences and natural spaces. One of closer relationships, with themselves, others, and the natural world. It is a re-tooling of the American Dream, it seems. It harkens back to our nomadic natures, to a time when traveling over the land was just the way humans lived and survived. There are no pre-requisites for who you have to be to live this life, just that you want it enough to make it work. There are people out here with jobs, people out here who make their own jobs on the road, people who are raising their kids and taking their pets (cats, too!). People who plan ahead for a long time to be able to do this, and those who wing it once they are out here. Retirees, middle-agers, and Millennials. It is a curious thing to watch. A curious tide to be a part of. It is one piece of a puzzle of many pieces that have the potential to fit together to create a new framework for our troubled society.
There is this hill you descend as you approach Capitol Reef from Torrey, UT. At the top of that hill, the expanse of Capitol Reef is laid before you in layers of rust and white. When the sun is low in the sky, the reds glow with the strength of the sun itself. There is no place to stop on the road as you head down that hill, so you are forced to enjoy the moment as you roll on down into the boundaries of the park itself, with no pause for a photo op. So you will all just have to trust me on the magnitude of this sight, unless you go there to see for yourself, which I would highly recommend to anyone. But go in fall. This part of the desert in fall will astonish the unsuspecting visitor with its array of color. Turns out that autumn colors are not just for the eastern third of the country. And this makes me very happy, as fall, back in my hometown, was my favorite time of year. Now, I can miss those color changes a little less.
Autumn is a magical time of year for this part of the country. The heat is blissfully gone, the crowds are thinned. You can hike for long stretches on popular trails and hardly see a soul. Capitol Reef has turned into my favorite desert park out of the three I’ve visited thus far. It is less popular than Arches or Zion. I hope it stays that way. Even when I came through here in the summer of 2017, on my way to my brother and now sister-in-law’s wedding, Capitol Reef did not feel like it was swarming in park visitors. I went on one of the most popular hikes in the park during that visit (the Chimney Rock Trail, for those of you who are curious) and only saw a total of four people on that hike: two as I was starting out and two as I was finishing. As you all know by now, if you’ve been following this blog, I enjoy solitude when I hike. I enjoy being present in the moment, listening and observing the space I am in. I like letting my brain rest from the whirring patterns of thought of everyday life. It is a Zen space for me, being alone in nature. A place where I don’t have to perform; I just have to be. I might confront uncomfortable physical conditions, such as when I struggle for each breath as I push myself up a steep climb, or face fears induced by the very solitude I endeavor to find. None of this actually reduces the peace I feel. Indeed, in some strange way, I think it contributes to it. Maybe it’s because there is something about the effort and pushing your body and facing fears in nature that brings a person into herself, makes a girl (or guy) aware of who she really is, stripped of protections and social conditioning, realizing a strength and courage that often hides in the day-to-day world.
I came to this journey with the understanding that I needed to shift spaces. I needed to see the world through a different lens, to see the goodness in our world again. This did not mean putting on rose-colored glasses. It meant seeing the common threads that bond us all with each other and with the natural world. It meant seeing that these common threads exist in spite of the exaggerated divisions of society and the separation from nature created by artificial environments and technology. I knew that I wanted to change my own perspective on how I had come to view the world. What I didn’t realize as much was that I would equally, if not to a greater degree, begin to change my perspective of me. I am starting to understand that this change of perspective has to happen before I can honestly change my perspective on the rest of the world. Change starts at home, right?
I am an introvert. A shy person at heart. But I learned to talk over the years. I learned to fill the quiet moments between me and another with chatter to disguise my discomfort. I talked a lot out of nervousness. And I came to state my opinions at times in obstinate and unmoving terms. Stubbornness can be one of my not-so-fine qualities. This came from years of being too shy to speak up. Too fearful of being wrong. To afraid of not being heard. So, I went the other direction, demanding to be heard and not listening enough, thinking that, as a shy person, I was being courageous and strong.
Now I am realizing that there is courage in listening more than we talk, in observing more than we act, in silence over noise. There is strength in those actions. Yes, there is a time to speak out, absolutely. A time to make sure we are heard. A time to hold strong in our convictions. But how do we know who we are and how do we understand one another and the world around us when we cannot hear other voices over the din of our own, when we cannot hear the sounds of birds and trees rustling, of our own breath and heartbeat, of that of our companions when we fill the air with noise, when we can see no further than our screens and our tunnel vision?
In Capitol Reef, this time around, I hiked the Grand Wash and the Cassidy Arch Trail. One takes you through a winding, dry river bed, with strong and rusty walls towering impressively and imposingly above your head. The patterns in the rock and the diversity of formations are captivating. I was entranced in the views surrounding me and did not care to see what lie beyond. This was enough. I was happy with what I saw and heard here. After seeing a group of women of a certain age who spoke German and were, I found, from Munich and Grunwald and one of whose parents lived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen until the day they died, but who were now living in, of all places, Oklahoma, I saw no one until I neared the end of the Grand Wash Trail and began to head up the Cassidy Arch Trail. I was content with my views from deep inside the canyon, thinking that this was the highlight of the hike. Until I went up the other, the Cassidy Arch Trail, which leads you up challenging, steep, and not always well-marked paths to reach bald rock, a landscape laid bare, with grand views of a world spread out from that high point, diverse, yet joined together in an unbreaking sweep of the eye in a 360 view. Independent. Complex. Linked. Interdependent. The route to get there was difficult at times, but the rewards were great.
I met people on the Cassidy Arch Trail. People on their own journeys on this trail, on this trip, on this merry-go-round called life. We shared silence, and we communed in good-natured comments over the difficulty of the journey. We exchanged mutual wonderment over the views from above, and, on a couple of occasions, we got lost together and then found our way back to the path together. I am finding out here that I grow more comfortable again with silences and listening, not just in nature, but in the company of others. And in doing so, I also don’t find the need to chatter to fill the void. Not as much, anyway. It still happens, sometimes. But not always. And that’s an okay place to start.
If anyone were to ask me if I liked deserts, I’d reply with a resounding, “NO!” I have never liked the desert. I love trees and water. I love color and contrasts. I love cute, furry animals…even the ones who can bite your head off. Except I have caveats: I don’t like humidity. Or heat. Deserts, on the other hand, are all brown and tan. Monotonous. They lack “real” trees and water. And they are filled with slithery, creepy, stinging and biting reptiles, insects, and arachnids. No. Not for me. But I’d have caveats here, too. No humidity in the desert is a good thing. And lizards are adorable. This is what we do in life, as humans. We categorize everything, and paint with broad strokes the characteristics of members of each category, and then lump them into good or bad, likes or dislikes. When we run into a member of that category that doesn’t quite fit, we make exceptions or add caveats, while still maintaining that our neat little categories work for us, for maintaining our order and our perspectives on the world. We put people into categories based on religion, politics, ethnicity, skin color, economic status. Animals fall into cute and cuddly, dangerous and deadly, mammal, reptile, insect…or dinner. We put emotions and actions in simplified terms, defying the complexities at the roots of many of our actions and in the simultaneous and sometimes conflicting emotions we feel at any given time.
But now I’m out traveling in the desert. I first made southern Utah an exception to my desert perspective last year when I traveled these parts and hiked in Arches and Capitol Reef on my way to my brother and now sister-in-law’s wedding in California. Now, however, my exceptions grow. I am finding it harder to paint the desert only in browns and tans. I am not just passing through, glancing at beauty that surprises me and runs counter to my idea of what makes a desert. I move more slowly. I spend more time. I am getting to know more deeply the desert, from northern New Mexico to here, in southwestern Utah. I am seeing beyond the surface. I am having to shift perspectives, to broaden my conceptualization of desert and desert life. The scene of red, white, pink, and rust rock against a blue sky is full of color and contrast. A river running through a canyon supports abundant trees, and trees grow in transition zones or cling to life on rocky heights, defying and adapted to a lack of rainfall. I have a new-found appreciation for tarantulas now that I see them in their environment and I know more about them and their struggles for survival. I don’t want to surprise or piss off a rattle snake by stepping on its turf, but I like knowing they are here. I no longer feel a stranger to this land because I know and understand it better. The desert and I are becoming friends, and I feel a connection I never thought I would feel. Though, I can’t say I’ve made peace with scorpions yet; but, then, I’ve not yet had an opportunity to get to know them either.
I am finding the same out here with the people I meet. We are all in this together out here. I walk to the restroom past rigs older than mine; rigs new and ginormous and glamorously outfitted; tiny little trailers that I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how two people can possibly sleep inside (though I still think they are awesome little things); vans; and tents. All sharing this space, sitting side-by-side, with few delineations between neighborhoods or jobs or socioeconomic standards to determine who sits next to you. I’ve been in places where I am sure my neighbor has been forced into this situation because of hardships or where people have turned their rigs into more permanents structures because they’ve set down roots (whether out of need or desire is really irrelevant). I am sitting now in a National Park where some have no trouble affording the sites here, while others, I’m sure, save up all their pennies just for the opportunity to see this wonderous landscape.
To be sure, not everyone out here escapes their judgmental tendencies even when escaping “real” life to come out into the “surreal” life of nature. It is also certain that there are those places where the artificial boundaries erected in society exist just as strongly. There are those RV parks I would never be allowed into, even if I wanted to, because my rig isn’t bright, shiny, and new enough. But most of my experiences since arriving to the west have shown me kindness reigns when people shed their blinders. When they find themselves in a place where a majority have an awe and wonder of the space they are in. When there is the common ground of appreciation for this life and for travel. When you are in a space or engaged in an activity that erases stress and worry and anxiety, even if only for a time, and puts a smile on your face and a lightness in your step, you greet your neighbors with kindness without even thinking about it. You don’t ask or wonder their politics or religion or socioeconomic status. You just smile, say hello, and receive the same in return. And maybe you strike up a conversation or exchange small talk. And sometimes you find yourself sitting next door to someone whom, after much conversation, you realize has differences that would have divided you in the “real” world, but, out here, you can still get to know them and enjoy their company and even have discussions around those topics that would have never been discussed under normal circumstances. And you discover you enjoy this person’s company, and a friendship is formed that will continue beyond the goodbyes of moving on.
I am not blind to the issues that exist in this world right now. They are plentiful. I know and understand they are out there, and I realize that these problems did not go away just because I moved into a new space. But it seems to me these very real issues stem from artificial sources we humans have created in our society. Can we fix the problems by continuing on paths that offer up divisiveness and anger, anxiety and fear, a me before we mentality? Or would we be better served to loosen up the strict and confining bounds of our categories, to allow for the possibility of more exceptions to the characteristics we assign members of any given category, to get to know those whose differences normally keep us separated and find the common threads that tie us all together, and to let kindness reign? I don’t know what the right path is, but the path we are currently on doesn’t seem like it leads us to any positive outcomes. I don’t believe there is only one right way, just that the way we’ve chosen creates a much harsher and cruel reality. It seems to me a smile and kindness for your neighbor or the stranger in the shops or the person you see as you leave the voting booth today does more to start healing what ails us than a scowl and angry words. And a walk in nature sooths the soul and quiets the mind more than our screens do. What I do know is that we really areall in this together. And time spent in the desert teaches us that there are more exceptions than our confining category of “desert” can allow for when we slow down and take the time to get to know and understand it.
The last day of our friend’s visit brought us yet another taste of adventure with finishing notes of peace and gratitude. Our friend had an unasked-for upgrade on her rental car for her visit. It was a beast of a vehicle, with high clearance and 4WD. How could we NOT take advantage of the opportunity such a contraption would allow?
We had read about middle-of-nowhere Ute Mountain, sitting alone at the northern edge of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, brushing up against the border of Colorado. Ute Mountain is an extinct volcano, its cone top long rounded out and smoothed over by time and the elements. It has historically been an important location for Native Americans. It has long been a place noted for the peace it engenders within, between, and among those who stand within her shadows or upon her slopes. She sits alone, off unpaved roads and at the end of misguided directions from map apps. It takes effort to get there. And a vehicle better designed for rough roads than a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid doesn’t hurt, either.
Upon leaving the maintained and paved portion of the National Monument, we punched in our desired location, Ute Mountain, on the map, and I pointed the nose of the beast down the first dirt and gravel and rocky road, with the mountain sitting in the distance beckoning us onwards, looking tantalizingly within reach. We bumped along stretches of grasslands and fence rows, past occasional adobe or faded and worn wood structured houses. And landed, after a time, at a gate, with a sign warning against trespass and indicating Chevron’s rights of ownership. Yet, clearly, the map app indicated we go just this way. Nothing to do but turn around and opt for an alternate route offered in the faded blue lines on the map directions.
More bouncing, more jarring, more testing of bladder strength and a couple more turns brought us past this:
A piece of art in the desert that apparently also served as somebody’s home, and with a wide view of Ute Mountain in the distance. Who lived there? Better yet, who designed and painted such a brilliant splash of color out in the middle of almost nowhere?
The road (of sorts) led us by other creative, architectural marvels, though I’m not sure these others would qualify as art. Like the house someone made from a short bus built out to create extra rooms. A hybrid of sorts between a school bus and a wooden home. Quirky and fascinating. Creative and amusing in its clever use of materials. Maybe some would call it art. A short distance beyond the bus house, it looked as if we were nearly to the final turn that would take us to the road leading to the north side of Ute Mountain. But, in reality, it led us to another dead end, at a house this time. With bones hanging from a fence post at the end of the driveway. No other warning needed. Time to turn around again and seek out that third alternative route.
The third route took us all the way back out to the highway, down a stretch, and at last onto the unpaved road that appeared to take us to the turnoff we needed to reach our destination. But, in this case, the third time was not a charm. We would hit one more wrongly indicated turn that led into the gates of someone’s ranch. Perplexed, we drove on, thinking maybe it wasn’t for us to reach the peaceful grounds of Ute Mountain. We were all satisfied with the exciting drive and succumbed to the idea that we might just have to give up and head back. We opted first to cruise down State Line Road as a last-ditch effort, for which we were rewarded a few miles down the road when the BLM sign rose into view. At last!
We turned into Monument territory and wound around until we hit the place where the road continued up, and onto surface where nothing more than high clearance 4WD would do. Not another soul around. No cars. No people. I stopped the car at the place I felt no longer brave enough or skilled enough to drive. We got out and climbed up. There is supposed to be a trail, of sorts, heading to the top. It isn’t an official trail, and it is one that is necessary to bushwhack for each person who happens to locate it. We did not locate the trail, and just made our own way up through low lying sagebrush and other desert plants. We did not go into the trees, where the way gets harder and the path gets steeper. That would have to save for another day. Instead, we climbed to a rise about a third to half way up the side of the mountain.
Looking back from where we started, the beast had become an insect, the rock-strewn road simply a trail drawn out behind the insect’s path through the dirt. The quiet up there bound us to the mountain, to the earth beneath our feet, the air drifting across our faces and arms on its way up the slope, and the sky above, with dark clouds forming a moving edge leading from the distance up to just above our heads. Yes, there is peace up there. A peace you can feel resonate from the mountain itself. A peace that speaks of a place’s long history, of all she has witnessed over the millions of years of her existence, of all the heartbeats and breaths of the people and animals who have sidled up to her sides and across her surface, of the secrets she would whisper in your ear if only you’d listen close enough.
We peeled ourselves off of the surface, reluctantly, when the first drops of rain dropped languidly from the clouds beginning to drift overhead. We saw our second rainbow of the day when we reached the insect-turned-beast again, gave a moment’s pause to take it in, before climbing in and heading out again to State Line Road to begin making our way back. Except that we weren’t quite finished yet. From on the mountain, Gail had spotted what we made out to be the canyon that held the Rio Grande on this northern edge of the National Monument. We had turned right, to head back, but began pondering whether or not we could reach the rim if we turned around and followed the road west. We could not resist this temptation.
Much to our delight, the road ended at a path that led a short distance to the rim of the canyon. We stood on its edge, in a place that felt far from everywhere. The wind was less than gentle here, serving as a reminder that nature ruled, and if you did not heed the caution in her roar, you could be taking a quick trip to the bottom of the canyon. The power of nature is palpable here, and while you know that she can quickly dash you to the bottom to meet your end, she also makes you feel alive in her energy. And she continued to deliver as we made our way back down State Line Road. Rainbows began revealing themselves to us along our way. A full double rainbow spread itself from a distance on the north side of the road to a distance on the south side, linking New Mexico and Colorado in ribbons of color so vibrant touching them seemed possible. We saw so many rainbows, we lost track, each one reflecting back to us the joy felt at the turns of this day. The peace offered up by Ute Mountain and our gratitude for this offering, and the opportunity to experience it together, three friends bonded now by a mountain, with a canyon to remind us we are all alive, and ribbons of rainbows wrapped around the whole package.
I struggled with whether I should write this post or not. After my visit to the Crazy Horse Monument and the stir of emotions my experience there elicited in me, I was reluctant to share the experience at the Taos Pueblo. I did not want to be disrespectful of the people living in this community. I did not want to contribute to an exploitation of their lives and livelihoods. In the end, however, I decided to share, because I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see the Pueblo, to have a glimpse into Pueblo life. And it is only a glimpse. But I am ever grateful for it nonetheless.
The Pueblo was built sometime between 1000 and 1450. The people who live in the Pueblo today maintain many of the traditions practiced by their ancestors and passed down across the centuries. They had recently held a fall Feast Day, which I sadly did not make it to. For these feast days, the Puebloans allow visitors, but absolutely no photos are to be taken. The feast day honors a combination of traditional beliefs and beliefs incorporated from Christian efforts to convert the “heathens.” As such, there is a melding of custom. A blend of old and new. A demonstration of a people not quite willing to give over their beliefs, but open to influence from the outside. It is an outcome often seen throughout history in conquered peoples. They might be forced into submission, fed a new system of beliefs that they are told they must live by, but they don’t give over completely. Sometimes, they just go underground. They practice in secret. They hide symbols at the base of newly constructed churches that pay homage to their old gods. They hold feast days to honor Christian saints, while performing ancient rituals that only those belonging to the Pueblo understand. They invite people in to share in the celebrations, but keep them at a distance, only allowing them just so close. Close enough to see hints of the history and spirit of a people and system here on this continent long, long before the arrival of the Europeans. But not so close that we share in their secrets. Those they hold closer. And I understand why. It is a way to ensure that their traditions are not turned against them. It is a way to hold on. It is a way to maintain what little power they have to go on living the old ways to any degree.
The Feast Day I had missed was held the week before my visit. We had been unable to go that particular day, and we had also wanted to save the trip there for when a friend of ours was to be in town. The day we went, it was just an ordinary day in the Pueblo. A day when work was being done on maintaining walls and structures whose purpose I could not fathom and was too afraid to ask. It was a day when artisans were selling their goods to the few tourists who arrived on a chilly weekday morning in October. It was a day when the bakers were selling their fry bread from an entry way into their home. It was just an ordinary day. An ordinary day in the life of today’s Puebloans in Taos Pueblo. A place that is now set up to be on display for visitors, where community members sell things to tourists as a way to make a living. They have somehow managed to fit this life into a way of living that still honors private gods and death and tradition and community.
The first thing I noticed, before even stepping inside the walls of the Pueblo, was the dogs. So. Many. Dogs. They were everywhere. For this animal lover, the sign stating the do not pet or feed dogs rule was the only rule it killed me to follow. Not pet the dogs? How does one NOT pet a puppy who is weaving around your legs? How does one not pet and even hug a dog who is shivering in the chilled air? Now, to be clear, these dogs were not neglected. They all looked fat and happy. But still. I had to shove my hands into my pockets more than once to keep them from straying down to the top of a furry head or from impulsively scratching an upturned belly. Inside the Pueblo and just outside its walls, the dogs were roaming with little concern for cars, as there were few around. They greeted visitors but were so well behaved. Not one jumped up on anyone that I saw. Not even the puppy.
As the three of us wandered through the Pueblo and into a few stores, we wondered at the age of the Pueblo. At the history palpable in the adobe walls and outdoor ovens still in use and emitting smells that caused my stomach to rumble. We passed by one abode with a dog laying at the door, which was just barely cracked. I noticed the signs on the door. One said, “Not my President” and another said, “Water is Life.” And a third said, “Open.” As the other two wandered down the adjacent narrow walkway to see what it held, I ventured over to the door. I’m not going to lie. One of my first thoughts was that maybe the dog wanted inside, so if I went in to see what was inside his home, where the sign read “Open,” he would be able to go inside, if he were allowed. I opened the door slowly, unsure of what I’d find.
Paintings lined the walls and a fire burned in the hearth. It smelled of incense. An earthly, calming, peaceful smell. A young man sat at the only table in the room, a small desk lamp casting a glow on the paints and works in progress strewn across the table in front of him. He greeted me with a warm smile, and his dog with a chuckle and kind words as the dog took up post at the man’s feet. I wandered around the room, looking at the paintings and spoke a little with the young man about his work. I found a magnet. A perfect addition to the magnet collection adorning the cabinets in the RV. I called out to the other two when I heard them passing by so that they would know where I was, and they joined me inside. I went up to buy the magnet, talking with the gentleman a bit more about the pieces he was currently working on. I pulled out my money as he wrapped my purchase and laid the cash on the table. The man did not take my money. I pushed it a bit closer to him, to be sure he saw it. He still did not take it. It was as if he was purposefully avoiding touching it. I was a bit perplexed as I took my bag and headed out the door.
We finished our wanderings and made our final stop at a home selling frybread near the entrance. Inside the door, the fire glowed and flute music played. An older man worked on some sort of craft at a desk in the corner of the room, while a woman worked in the kitchen. We claimed the last two pieces of frybread and sat down in front of the fire to share in the sweet goodness. It was the perfect end to the visit.
It humbles me to witness this life. To be welcomed into a community, even if it is a welcome that has become a necessity for survival. I never sensed from the people inside the Pueblo any regret or any resentment for my presence there. I am sure they must feel it sometimes. But I did not see it. I only felt welcome and an openness and kindness from those I encountered. Gail shared with us something else. Something that made the day for me. Something that signified what is good in a place where private gods and death and tradition and community take precedence over the mighty dollar. After I had taken my little brown bag with my magnet inside and turned to leave, Gail had turned back to say something to me. It was then that she saw the young man pick up the money, when he thought no one was looking, cup it in his hands, and bow his head over the top, in gratitude for the gift he received.
But this was my gift too. It wasn’t about the purchase. It was an understanding that my action brought a gift to this young man. My small gesture meant something to him. It was a gift he did not take for granted. And for me, this simple act was in itself a gift of gratitude. This young man, unbeknownst to him, gave mea powerful gift that day in his private gesture of gratitude. It is this that has stuck with me. When we can all look to our everyday and be grateful, when we can see the gifts in the smallest of interactions, in the receipt of a smile or a kind gesture, praise for a job well-done, and even in the mundane, and be grateful for these gifts, we make the world a more forgiving, kinder, gentler place. When we can show a bit of the spirit of Taos Pueblo in our everyday lives, we might touch on something that reaches beyond politics or division or selfishness or self-preservation and into a gratefulness born from honoring private gods (whomever those may be for any of us) and death and tradition and community.
The image below is from a plaque at the ruins in Mesa Verde National Park.
I had wanted to do a hike in the stretch between Questa and Red River. I had planned on it. Somehow, I had not gotten to it yet, and found myself sitting on a day before a friend was coming to visit and the realization that, if I were going to do this hike, it was now or never. The weather was dictating that we leave at the conclusion of our friend’s visit. I found that in the two and a half weeks we had been staying in Questa, I was compelled to hike more in the Rio Grande Del Norte. The National Monument was spectacular, and its proximity to where we were staying also made it convenient. So, I almost missed this hike between Questa and Red River. I almost missed the chance to experience a new favorite hike. It seems that in each location I land, each new environment, I find a new favorite hike. I can no longer name just one. I cannot say I have one favorite hike above all others. There are several, each with its own personality. Each with its own significance. Each bringing about a different set of emotions and thoughts for me, different senses of my self. This hike, then, is another favorite. Another special place to add to my growing tally. I think I might need to start a list before I lose track of all these favorites.
After reading up on my options in the Red River area, I decided on hiking the Columbine Trail. Not the entire thing; it is approximately 8 miles long in each direction. I would have liked to have hiked the whole trail, but it would not be this time. It was not until I got to the trailhead that I realized that this trail is a National Recreation Trail and that it wanders up a river through a designated wilderness area. This immediately rendered the trail meaningful and significant to me. And here I was, hiking it on a Monday afternoon in October, with only two other cars and a truck pulling a horse trailer in the parking lot. Not likely that I would see many people on a trail that is 16 miles round trip. I immediately sensed that wildness upon entering the trail, with towering rocky walls rising up on one side and forests on the other. This was a place for (mountain) lions, not tigers, and bears. Oh my! Add to that the aspen trees changing color—their leaves glimmering in the sunlight, quaking in the wind—and the green of the conifer needles providing a contrast to the yellows of the aspen leaves. Wilderness indeed.
The trail hugged close to a river, crossing over it several times in the distance I traveled up the narrow passage between mountains. After crossing the river for the first time, I found myself looking up to rocky outcroppings and ledges perfect for mountain lions to perch, eyeing the scene below for their next meal. I saw a cave, dark and deep. Deep enough to not know the end of it. Curiosity aside (and I wascurious), I was not about to climb up to check it out lest someone be home. It was then that I realized I had forgotten my bear spray. Again. I was not worried about it for the bears I might see, was hoping to see. These would, as in previous areas so far, be black bears. I was less concerned about becoming a meal for black bears since cubs would not be so young and they are not the carnivores grizzlies are. I wanted the bear spray for the mountain lion I was hoping not to see, for you are very unlikely to see one unless they are hungry. I did not want to become the main course for a mountain lion’s next meal. So, I wish I had not forgotten the bear spray. Again. As a poor substitute, I took out my hiking poles, not needed for the actual hike, and prepared to wield them as swords should the need arise. I hoped it did not. I eyed the rocks closely as I walked. I turned around to look behind me frequently, as these big cats prefer to, quite unfairly, sneak up on their prey from behind. I hoped I did not see a mountain lion, unless, of course, I spotted her up high on some lofty ledge, dozing in the sun and not at all interested in me.
I did hope to see a bear. I really, really want to see a bear. Not from my car, as has been the case in the past, but out on a trail, where I am a part of the wilderness with the bear, and not simply a spectator in a fiberglass and metal can with glass windows keeping me still one step removed from the experience. I do not count seeing the bear on the Lost Lake trail, since I only saw its bulbous backside as it ran to take cover as I approached. I did not get to see its face. I did not get to see the grace and wisdom and secrets held in its eyes. So, I do not count that as a real sighting. Of course, should the occasion arise that I get to look a bear in the eyes, even a black bear, it’ll probably scare the crap out of me. I’d have to resist the urge to both pee myself and talk to the bear and scratch it behind the ears as I do my cats. It is maybe a good thing I’ve not seen a bear up close and personal. But I still want to. I did not see one on this trail either.
What I did see is llamas. Three llamas. Three llamas carrying tremendous, bulky packs for their humans. I was heading up; they were heading down. I was no more than a half mile into the trail. There were four adults, two children of around 4 or 5, and a baby. And three llamas. I asked if they were just out for the day, eyeing the llamas’ burdens as I did so. They were. They had just gone up for lunch, they said, and were on their way back down. That must have been some kind of lunch they had, and I wondered if I’d see another 20 people following them down the mountain. After some small talk and petting the llamas, I headed on my way and they on theirs. I then kicked myself for not asking to take a photo of these three gentle, beautiful beasts of burden.
I never did see those 20 people I imagined had to have been a part of the lunch party. I did not see another soul walking the trail, in fact. No people, no llamas, no mountain lions, no bears. Just me. My boots shifting through fallen leaves that provided a resting place for raindrops that had fallen the night before or sinking into soft soil overlaid with brown needles muting the sound of my footfalls or scuffing over rocks and small boulders sporadically strewn across sections of trail. Birds flitted through the trees, one of them calling out a warning that I took to either mean stay off my turf or a mountain lion is right on your tail. Either way, I hastened my pace just a bit. The gently flowing stream provided a consistent humming, threading its way through my own breath and heartbeat. And twice, the woods opened up into a broad meadow, whose grasses and spongy soils I wanted to lie upon to watch clouds dance in the sky and leaves sway to the music of the wind.
My soul melded into this place. I lost my edges for a time and became a part of all that was around me. Even in my nervousness over the very unlikely potential to become prey to an element of this landscape, to a creature who belonged here more than I ever would or could, I still felt wholly a part of it all, welcomed into its fold for a time. It is a place I will return to. Maybe next time, I will throw my camping gear on my back and make my way to the end of the trail, to camp out there for a night, maybe more. To see what new magic the rest of the trail holds. What mysteries can be felt in the nighttime space of this wilderness.
The first time I experienced Red River, NM, was at the end of a drive around the Enchanted Circle. It was the last stop before returning to Questa, the town outside of Taos where we were based for three weeks (before we had to head out because of a forecasted winter storm and near record cold temps). I had no big expectations, as I was primarily interested in the scenery on the drive. And by the time we got to Red River, the scenery had become majestic. We moved from a broad valley to a narrow passageway between towering and rocky peaks, and into a ski town with an identity crisis. Red River, it seems, cannot make up its mind as to whether it is Wild West tourist town or Bavarian ski village. I loved it, but especially its Bavarian persona. It is always nostalgic for me to find myself in a town in the US settled by Germans. The Bavarian flair, with hotels that are always named Auslander, takes me back to the home of my heart: Garmisch-Partenkirchen. No matter where I am or what I am doing, Garmisch will always be special. It still holds people near and dear to me. People with whom neither time nor distance can erase the friendship we share. Each time I return, I feel I am home again, welcomed into the fold as if no time has passed. And the town itself, with the mountains surrounding it, opens its arms as well. I relax into my surroundings every time. I often fantasize a return to living there, as it was also a simple life, full of good people, nature, and travel.
Thus, I have an affinity for Bavarian-themed towns. They make me smile. This is what Red River did for me when I first saw it, especially since it was also a ski town with a form and color familiar to me. That first visit, we made our way into the Red River Brewing Company and found ourselves sitting outside by a warm fire eating a massive bowl of edamame, drinking a beer, and people watching. And planning to return to this town for their Oktoberfest the following weekend.
I have been to a few Oktoberfest celebrations here in the US and enjoy seeing how each of them, though all celebrating a German tradition, reflect the character of the town holding them. This one was no different. It had the obligatory Oompa band, whose leader spoke German and English. It had beer. And I even tasted a local gluhwein, though it's still a bit early for this winter drink. Most of the beer here was locally or regionally brewed. You will not find Miller Lite at the beer stands in Red River. I had a taste of one of the best weissbiers I've had outside of Germany, along with two really good Oktoberfest beers (entry to the fest came with six beer/wine tastings). All of this was great. It was the stuff that makes an Oktoberfest no matter where you are.
Then, there is the local flair that makes each Oktoberfest its own experience. Here, there were plenty of lederhosen and dirndls to be seen, for sure. But often with a twist. Like cowboy boots paired with a dirndl:
Or lederhosen on a chihuahua:
But...the best part of this Oktoberfest? The best part was the people. The happy spirit of people enjoying a beautiful fall day, surrounded by mountains with the aspens changing color, sunny skies, and temperatures warm enough to shed the coat. The stalls sold local goods. As such, they were not German, but, rather, mostly of Native American and Mexican traditions. The mix of cultures was impressive. It was also moving. It was as it should be, everywhere and all the time. Here, no one cared the color of your skin or where you came from. Here, everyone greeted others with a smile and a laugh over some shared comment (and even offers to share a drink). Here, there was a carefree spirit and a pleasure in the company of others. It made this Oktoberfest one to remember. It was a special event given our current atmosphere. It was evidence that when we drop our guards and shed our preconceived notions of "other," we can still be kind to one another, still see the humanness of the other, and still take joy in shared experiences. For an afternoon, all was right with the world in this little corner of New Mexico.
When we first decided to come down to Taos, it was the town itself that drew me. I have always loved the town in the impression it imprinted upon me on those brief meetings I'd had with the place when passing through. I don't think I ever stayed the night or spent more than a couple of hours wandering the streets and taking in the vibe. I identified with the town's free-spirited nature, embodied in the hippy artists walking the streets, the art galleries, and the shops selling New Age spiritual goods. I liked the looks of the old town. The adobe buildings with their rounded edges, flat roofs, and a low center of gravity against the backdrop of wide blue skies and soft mountain peaks. Taos held a bit of the exotic for me. I envied the artists and their hippy ways. Envied their talent and the idea that they could live doing something creative. I occasionally like to dabble in creativity in the form of drawing, but I do not have the patience for sticking with it beyond a sketched drawing in a book that then gets stuffed away for several months or years. It's the same way for all things having to do with sewing or knitting. Or cross-stitch. I tried those things. They were supposed to be relaxing. I found that once I got past the parts where images take shape and colors change frequently, I got bored. And then anxious. I could not stick with the tedious background for the life of me, and there were many an unfinished project tossed aside for something more interesting. I guess that says something about how I live my life, too. Though out here I am growing more patience, while also having the benefits of changing shapes and colors at the same time. I still don't see me knitting any time soon, but I may pull out those sketchbooks more often now.
When we arrived, the plan was to stay as long as the weather allowed. There is now snow on the peak outside my window. The weather has allowed until now, but we will push through some below freezing nights for the next several days while a friend comes to visit. There is a big reluctance in running the rig's heater all night. It uses a lot of propane for one. For another, it uses a lot of propane. And with that, there comes the visions of the RV going up in flames in the middle of the night that does not compel me to tempting that possibility unless I have to. Prior to this RV becoming the place I call home, it was used almost entirely during the summer months. Since 1993. Imagine the dust buildup inside the furnace. I had cleaned up the outside when remodeling, but for all I know, the inside is a jungle of the accumulations of time. We did test the heater. It turned on. It smelled (yes, they always do upon first use, even in a stationary home). It set off the fire alarm, which happens to be located on the ceiling just above the location of the furnace. That was the end of our test of the heat. I am sure we will brave it again, taking it in small doses, to see if we can clear out the cobwebs without disaster striking. For now, though, the ceramic space heaters work just fine. On Tuesday night, when the low goes down to the mid-20s, if all six of us wake up as popsicles, we might have to revise our plan.
I am glad to be staying for a little while longer. The daytime temperatures are going to be good fall temperatures. And I am not finished yet with this area. I had assumed that Taos would be the big draw for being here, and that I would hope to find some good hikes to go along with forays into town, but, as with other places we've been so far, the natural spaces are where I am drawn. The town is secondary. Thus far, it has primarily been the place to go to run errands. I will be glad for the opportunity to wander the streets with a visiting friend, without the distractions of feeling like it is necessary, since I am there, to get some shopping done, and thereby foregoing the wandering through the old town to peek into galleries and admire the history of the place.
I have wished for that sketchbook on a couple of occasions as I have explored a place I never knew existed. Taos is in the mountains. It was the place where I breathed more freely again when passing from the even drier areas south of here to this transition zone where desert meets alpine on my way into Colorado from Texas. But the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument is something different still. And I never knew it existed. It was only named a National Monument in 2013. Prior to that, it was a state park and BLM land. It is wild. It has a sense of age around it, seemingly almost unmolested because it does not get the traffic seen in other, more popular canyons. This time of year is perfect for hikes into and above the canyon. There are even fewer visitors. The company you keep is more likely to be lizards, tarantulas, and big horn sheep than it is to be another human being. And maybe a rattlesnake because, apparently, this is the time of year when they are most active, with feeding frenzies in the morning to prepare for winter when they don't hibernate, but they do become nearly inactive. So far, I have not seen any rattlesnakes. Or heard them. Which is fine by me. I am okay knowing they are there, and I would even be okay seeing one, as long as it was stretched out (they can only strike when they are coiled), sunning itself, at a nice and safe distance. Safe enough that it would not feel threatened by my passing. I have seen tarantulas. Several of them. I don't fear them in the open, out on trails. They are in their place, and they are not likely to decide that my leg is something they want to crawl up. So I have the freedom to be fascinated by their big, furry bodies. They still creep me out a little when they scamper off.
Walking along the rim of the Rio Grande Del Norte is quite the experience. The steep canyon walls and the river below invoke a sense of grandeur. But to go down into the canyon and sit by the river, watching the flow of the water as it tumbles over rocks and glides southward to form the border between Mexico and the US, while often not quite making it to the Gulf of Mexico these days because of drought conditions and water usage upstream, and looking up at the canyon walls above, gives a person a feeling of timelessness. The Chislo trail was a short, but steep, hike from the rim down to the banks of the Rio Grande. Each round of the bend in a switchback brought with it a new perspective on views below and above. The rocks above give texture to the space rising above your head, and the precariousness with which some are perched give pause for the thought of how they continue to hang on. They could come crashing down at any moment, adding to the din of river and wind and landing below to provide another obstacle for the river to flow around as it passes through. The river itself gets larger and louder. Louder isn't really the correct word. It isn't all that loud, as the rapids along this stretch are not that big. The water actually flows quite gently through much of this section.
It is the wind that is loud, and it doesn't let up during the entire hike and the time I am out there. I used to love the wind. I found it invigorating. Except when I am on my bike. The wind would make me feel alive. Somewhere along the line, in the stressors of day-to-day living, the wind became something whose presence only served as another force pushing against me in my goal to reach a destination or to move freely about my day, making my way more difficult than I felt it needed to be. As I've shed those stressors, I find that the wind is my friend again. I admire its strength when it gusts through canyons or across grasslands, or its gentle presence as it passes softly through the leaves on trees. Even when I am driving Knight and it feels the wind will surely blow us all over, I am nervous as hell and scared, but I still admire this force of nature.
I am going to be sad to leave this rugged wilderness before I've had a chance to explore more of the mountains around it. There is so much to see here. I know I will be back. I will find my way again to the banks of the Rio Grande, and hopefully have the opportunity to sleep on the rim, falling asleep to nature' music. I still have several days left to take in this place, to do a few things I have yet to get to. And, now, it's time to head off, to make my way to a new trail.
I have been pondering on dreams lately. We talk a lot about dreams, but what are they, really? We can have bad dreams when we sleep, and, if they are bad enough, we call them nightmares. We refer to waking nightmares as well, and of experiences that are "like a bad dream." In both cases, we are making an analogy between real-life experiences and the sometimes not-so-good dreams that occur when we sleep. But it seems to me that our good sleeping dreams are differentiated from our waking dreams, which are always of a positive nature. They both refer to something that is not real, but rather than one being an analogy of the other, it seems we hold two different meanings for what our waking dreams represent and the good or ordinary dreams we experience when we are asleep.
Are our waking dreams always good things? Do they represent the things that we feel we were born to do, before life got in the way? Are they fantasies designed as a way to escape the stressors of our work-a-day life, in no solid way meant to reflect a life we would rather be living than the one we are currently living? If given the choice, would we choose our dreams, and, if so, what keeps us from choosing them now?
Before Gail and I left on this journey, we both had so many people tell us that we were embarking on their dream life, that, if they could, they would be doing exactly what we were setting off to do. I was completely taken aback by these comments. I had been ignorant to the rising popularity of setting off on a vagabond's journey. It was news to me that this life I currently lead is a life so many are choosing, and a life still so many others would love to live. What is it that is leading to this new trend? I also found out that there are two somewhat separate road life worlds: the RV world and the van world. I had no idea. My idea of living on the road was formed around the desire to go out and explore, and then write and photograph what we observed. The choice to live in an RV had to do more with its effectiveness in accomplishing what we hoped to accomplish, while allowing enough space for two people, who needed their own privacy, and four cats.
I had never been an RV person. I have slept in my parents' and my aunt and uncle's on a handful of occasions, but I'd never dreamed of owning and camping or living in one. I am a tent camper. That is something wholly apart from what I do now. Now, Knight is my home, and it makes all the sense in the world to live this way to me. Not because I live in an RV, but because I live a life in motion. Was this my dream? Not at all. It was a decision born out of an idea that, in and of itself, was not really a dream either. I do feel like now I am living a dream. Mostly a wonderfully intoxicating dream fueled by my surroundings and the freedom in my days. It is still terrifying sometimes. When I think about it a little too much, or in the wee hours of the morning when the ghosts of our fears tend to rise up in the darkness and take hold of our thoughts. This life itself isn't terrifying, but, rather, the idea that it could end because of the realities that come crashing down. No matter what, you cannot avoid the real world, and one has to make a living out here in order to make a life out here. There is no one way to do that, but, for me, there are plenty of ways not to do it. At some point, you have to believe in what you are doing. Believe in the power of your dreams to carry you down the path that is right for you. And then put one foot in front of the other, doing what you love, living your passion.
Before I left Champaign, I happened upon a book. It came at the right time, it was the right story, to read as I was ready to take a leap of faith into a great big unknown, with only the vaguest of notions as to how we would turn this idea into a real way of living. Daphne Kapsali took her own leap of faith when she quit her job to go live in a family home on the Greek island of Sifnos to find out if she really was a writer. In 100 days of solitude, she writes of this journey, of her surprise to discover that her own story inspired so many others, or simply made them believe that sometimes people could chase their dreams into reality. I am now reading it a second time, because Gail and I are making choices out here that are scary, and it helps to know we aren't the only crazy people out here, and that sometimes crazy pays off. I have to believe that, because it is more frightening to believe otherwise.
It is now October. It is past the season of vacationing. Yet, here we sit in an RV park outside of Taos with fellow RVers. Even as the days get cooler (refreshingly so) and the nights get colder, the park swells with newcomers and then drains to nearly empty--except for the long time renters, like us, and more permanent residents who are evidently preparing their RVs for a New Mexico winter—only to swell yet again. I watch these comings and goings, and I wonder how many of these people are living their dreams. There are all kinds of RVs in this park. Big bus-sized ones all the way down to the cutest little trailers. Brand new and flashy or old and worn around the edges. Have some been forced into this life due to circumstances beyond their control? Is their home on wheels not the choice for a dream life, but a necessity for survival? Who are the retirees and who are the work-while-adventuring folks? And who is simply, unglamorously, down on their luck?
The other day, a very large RV moved in across from us. This one is rougher around the edges, and everywhere in between. Duct tape has been put to good and plentiful use in ways that I cannot even fathom to what purpose it is intended. Inside resides an apparent couple and two large dogs. The license plate tells me they are from Colorado. I wonder what their story is. I get the feeling it is not necessarily a happy one. I send out good vibes hoping that, if this is the case, their luck turns on the power that hard times can sometimes hold, when we have no other choice than to rediscover who we are and what we really need to survive and what is truly important to us. Sometimes, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain in finding what really makes you tick.
As I said in the beginning, living in an RV was not my dream. So what was? I've had a lot of dreams in my life, and most of them have centered on the freedom to travel and explore. If I was born to anything, it was that. In this way, living in an RV is allowing me to fulfill a dream. But, out here, I find my dream is shifting into a new shape. It is stretching in different directions and filling in with color. It is still evolving, and I find that I don't yet have the words to name it, but I know it has to do with exactly what I am doing right now. It has to do with nature, with creativity, with the people I meet along the way, and those I simply observe. It has to do with quiet and turning inwards. It has to do with the stories of others and of the places I visit, as well as my own. I can't name it just yet, but I will enjoy the journey of discovery. In spite of the scary bits.
What are your dreams, and what do they mean to you? If you had the choice to do anything or live any way you want, what would you do? How would you live? Please, feel free to respond in the comment section. These questions are part rhetorical and part tossed out there in the hopes that some of you will answer, because I really want to know.
Autumn officially arrived on September 23rd, but, for me, the month of October has always signified the heart of fall. It is my favorite month. I know it is a time of ending. Leaves fall, animals migrate, hibernate, or enter a phase of topor. Grasses dry up and flowers die off. The days get shorter and the temperatures begin to drop. The world slows down. It is my favorite time of year. It is one where I, conversely, become more invigorated, more energetic. It is when fresh ideas take root. It is when I most get the desire to lace up my hiking boots or put on my traveling shoes. It might seem that we took to the road at the end of the season when most people travel, but, for me, it was the right time to get started. The beginning of the journey was, as you who have followed this blog so far know, a challenge. Many of those initial challenges have passed. The day-to-day life in an RV is second nature now. It is comfortable. Knight is home. All of this comes to pass as a new season takes hold.
As the days have, slowly, become cooler and as we pass through places where the Aspen leaves are changing to yellows and oranges before drifting to the forest floor, I am realizing that this life suits me. My urges to hear boots crunching on forest floor or rocky cliff and my desires to see life in new places are fulfilled as a part of my living. And in this way, I am fulfilled. I am more open now, not just to new experiences and new places. That has always been me. Just, more open to who I am and what I want to do out here. Many of you think that quitting our jobs to live in an RV is a huge risk, and one that might be difficult to fathom taking for some. For me, this part of it wasn't the risk. While this specific choice of living in an RV is not something I've done before, I have taken similar risks throughout my adult life. What is riskier for me is writing in a venue where others will see it. Writing in a way that is non-academic, on the one hand, and also, on the other, not writing in a journal for my eyes only.
But write I will. I have always enjoyed writing when no one is looking. Now, in this space, I am learning to be okay with writing where others might read what I have to say. This blog will now solely be my baby; its contents my words and thoughts and images. I will still write on the journey of shiftingspace, with a hodgepodge of events and doings and random thinkings. Gail will be working on her own project. Additionally, we are diversifying shiftingspace and, to that end, we will both also be working on those new shiftingspace projects as well. You will hear more about what this new, additional direction is in the not-too-distant future.
October is a time of change. It is a time when we dive headlong into a new and beautiful season. I hope you will all continue to follow this journey as the shiftingspace blog begins its new season as well.