Tandem, An American Love Story

Capitol Reef National Park

Fruita, in Capitol Reef National Park, was an early Mormon settlement of fruit and nut orchards in the canyon of the Freemont River. Red cliffs tower, the pears bloom white, marmots and mule deer wander the Park Service maintained orchards. You can pick fruit for your own use during harvest. Some of the early farm equipment and buildings remain.

There was a display of sorghum making equipment. It made me hungry for that Appalachian staple of my childhood. The last I had was in Tennessee.

What a fabulous place to farm and live. I wonder what made them give it up in 1936, to sell out to the Park Service. Probably distance from market and drought, the Great Depression.

Guess who we ran into again in Capitol Reef? Yes. Renee and Elliot showed up at the trailhead of Cohab Canyon at the same time we did. It’s so fun to keep running into them. I still say they’re spying on us for our friends.

The Cohab Canyon trail switchbacks up a steep slope underneath a high vertical cliff and then suddenly disappears into a cleft that opens up into a narrow descending canyon. It drops through fantastic rock formations with tortured junipers and pines, grasping for small bits of pink sand in cracks and the wash bottom. The way the sandstone shears away leaves fanciful depressions — a wood-grain negative egg in coral and buff concentric arcs, obviously fresh, new. Other huge cliff faces are Swiss-cheesed by solution pockets, places where the sandstone’s cement is weakest and erodes first.

Renee and Elliot said good-bye (again), headed for another hike down the canyon. We wondered if we’d see them again.

A Little Something

We hiked for awhile and then scrambled to a high place in the sun to enjoy the solitude, silence, and a wilderness treat for two. “A little something,” according to Claire (and Winnie The Poo). Afterwards, we napped for awhile in the warming sun, hardly noticing the sandpaper rock in our shallow solution pocket bed.

After we awoke, we speculated that an Anasazi couple had once made love in our spot, a thousand years ago.

How different their lives.

And yet, not so different; tender togetherness under sun and sky. Some things are universal; humanity binds us all, across all boundaries, including time.

As we hiked back to our tent, the wind became very hard again, and the temperature began to drop.

During the night we had a light rain, and it was frozen solid on our tent fly in the morning; a thin sheen of ice coated the picnic table, until the sun got above the rim and melted it. We are wearing everything against the cold. I can understand why many early peoples worshipped the sun — nothing brings more peace and joy than a warm sunrise after a long and cold night.

The cottonwoods are leafed out and fluorescing in the sun, dancing on the downstream wind, worshipping the sun. The river, not 15 feet wide, runs quick and full, almost as red as the sandy beach it’s on. River music and pious cottonwoods. I am at the trailhead of a self-guided nature walk that Claire is taking. I just want to sit and listen to the river.

A father shepherds his two adolescent sons between interpretive signs; a good beginning. Warming now, warm in the sun, and I peel a couple of layers. Morning always seems to be clear in the Southwest, a blessing. On this red beach are smooth rounded basalt boulders, dropped in the mountains above by glaciers, then rolled and polished on their journey down the Freemont and scattered over the canyon like huge marbles. Mormon settlers used them to build fences.

Hundreds of tiny bits of elongated gray fluff float before me over the beach and stream, frantic flapping of diaphanous wings. An updraft carries them up the cliff behind me. Swallow food? But I see no swallows. A biologist, or fly fisherman, would know.

Pearlescent light brown cottonwood leaves pile at my feet, last year’s, dead long and yet alive with light. What genetic code formed this intricate pattern and color? What path did it take from the Big Bang, God’s grand idea, and, why did my code take the sentient path?

We have a hard wind down the Freemont river toward Hanksville. At times it screams out of small canyons or around road cuts and slams Zippy over hard against the double yellow line. It is partly tailwind, and my legs hardly work, but my shoulders and hands hurt from the effort of adjusting to the constant gusts. Approaching cars react to our severe counter-lean by getting off on the opposite shoulder. Thank you.

I take a pee-break deep into some eight foot grasses on the banks of the now wider and flatter Freemont. The grasses are dry and the hard wind sets them to clacking all around me, refracting the noonday sun off the river. Dust fills distant fields and softens the copper and green of willows along the river. Dust devils appear and disappear, apparitions against the gray-green and red eroded mounds and cliffs across the river. A strange and beautiful place, like so many we pass through.

By Hanksville, the wind is howling, sandblasting everything with red. We picked up our mail at the post office, and went on to the Whispering Sands Motel (Howling Sands would have been more appropriate) where a repaired Duo was to arrive. He was there! And he worked! Joy is being reunited with a loved one!

Claire went out in the rising dust storm to get groceries, and was dancing a little jig across the parking lot from the sting of sand on her legs, when she saw, guess who? Renee and Elliot Leiter, of course. They didn’t see her though. Will we see them again? Who knows.

We met two guys, Kevin and Bob, bike touring who were driven to the motel by the storm. They meet somewhere every year or so and tour for a couple of weeks together. One of them lives in California and the other Wisconsin. We had fun comparing notes with the first bike-tourists we’d seen in a long time.

The next morning, Kevin and Bob, left a couple of hours before we did and we didn’t expect to see them again. The ride to Hite Marina on Lake Powell, was some of the most spectacular landscape we’ve seen anywhere. After a 15 mile gradual climb, the route went down a red rock canyon of staggering proportions and incredible variety. We found ourselves stopping around every bend, it seemed, to take photographs and gawk.

Later, as we neared Lake Powell, we saw Bob struggling up a hill ahead. He had been having tire problems (thorns) and Kevin had gone on ahead. We went on ahead to tell Kevin that Bob was coming. They are going beyond Lake Powell today, so we will probably not see them again.


Tandem, An American Love Story — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

  2. What a marvelous and beautifully descriptive article about a simply amazing woman – Karen Landis. I’ve had had the serendipitous experience to create and nurture a friendship with Karen after I underwent a hip replacement and three hip fractures and realized I needed to request the local “Meals on Wheels” service. And of course, if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Karen serves the Chino Valley community two days a week by delivering meals to people in my circumstance.
    I loved Karen the first moment I met her. And when we started chatting I knew I had met a soul mate. I’ve been looking all my life for a role model, a hero, an amazing example of humankind. I don’t know if she realizes what an outstanding example she is of a strong, independent, intelligent, talented woman. Sometimes as women, we have a dentency to undervalue ourselves. But Karen, I want you to know you are the real deal. You are just so beautiful in your authenticity. And I a so appreciative of the value you have added to our environment by caring for the land and the animals under your watchful care. Your abilities and strength simply boggle my mind. And thank you for your loving service to me these past four months. You rock girl!

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