Tandem, An American Love Story

Natural Bridges National Monument

The next day, April 20, was a hard one, through more beautiful country, more remote even than yesterday, to Natural Bridges National Monument.

We were invited to dinner by Kevin and Gretchen, car camping neighbors in the campground, from Durango, Colorado. Kevin bike-toured from Key West, Florida to Seattle a year ago, working at various jobs along the way to raise money for the next leg of his trip.

Kevin and Gretchen made us ostrich meat jambalaya while Buster, their yearling Dalmatian, kept us entertained and gave Claire her domestic animal fix.

Kevin is trying to interest Gretchen in a tandem, but she’s a little skeptical. I think he needs to scale back his proposition of a long South American trip. She needs to start with something more familiar.

The monument uses an acre of solar cells to provide the electricity for the monument’s buildings and housing for the rangers and their families. The system has been in use since 1980, proof that solar is not the hippie pie-in-the-sky thing it is so often made out to be. It works here and could work anywhere. The cells in use here are very old technology, and more recent designs are much more efficient and cost effective.

A short 40 miles to Blanding the next day, but lots of up and down with some brutal grades again. These Utah hills just keep coming at you.

Along the way we were stopped by a couple in a fifth-wheel pickup with Washington plates. Gene and Phyllis Shaughnessy, had seen us over the past several days. Phyllis took note of Claire’s stick figure drawing of Zippy beside our Sequim address where she signed in at Natural Bridges.

Gene graduated from Sequim High School and Phyllis grew up in Port Angeles. When they saw us again they stopped and waved us over to talk. They are almost full-time RVers who live Copalis Beach, Washington for the summer months. They promise to get in touch when they visit relatives in Sequim and Port Angeles this summer.

We keep getting these reminders of home. It’s nice in a way, but it takes me away from living in the moment, something I have come to see as one of the greatest benefits of our way of traveling.

Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

April 24, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park Snapshots on the road beside Indian Creek, past Lavender and Cottonwood canyons:

*Close beside the road, a large red bull, in a large red rock and pale sage landscape, is nervous as we near him. He dances with his front feet and bobs his head. He sniffs the air, flares his nostrils. I steer for the centerline. Claire reaches for the pepper spray. He stands his ground, but lets us pass. Beautiful animal. The apparition we presented will enliven his cud-chewing time for days to come.

*An old windmill clunks and squeaks in an easy wind, beside a deep-cut wash and rusty stock tank. The sky is blue. I hear a meadowlark.

*Cliffs of sepia, stained in dark desert varnish remind Claire of old photographs of fading family, forgotten ones.

*A strong scent of cloying wax comes to us across the brush on warming air currents. No bloom is evident.

*Burgundy cliffs of a thousand feet or more. Blue-green sage and bright yellow-green cottonwoods in the washes.

*A golden eagle abandons his kill, flying away at sage top level. A raven rushes in.

*The karook, karook, karook of burnished ravens sliding across the magenta slickrock of an abyss. Black forms frozen, curve of wing set, rocks stream past, sucked into a black hole of seamless, boundless time.

*Throw rugs of lavender-blooming locoweed tossed about on pink sand.

*A tumbleweed skitters across slickrock, catches in a fence.

*A ranch in Indian Creek canyon; cattle graze knee deep in irrigation green alfalfa between magenta cliffs that stretch unbroken up Cottonwood Canyon to blue sky and scattered cumulus.

We camped one night just outside the park at Needles Outpost, overlooking the needles catching a setting sun. The next morning we tried their breakfast tortillas. Wonderful. The woman who made them for us had once wanted to walk across America, but had abandoned after a few weeks. She seemed wistful, but also happy and honored to be living in such a place.

At the park visitor center, we saw Renee’ and Elliot Leiter again! Sixth time I believe. This time they are heading south and we will surely not see them until Sequim. Then again…

Claire also met Karen Schlom, a surprise also, now district naturalist here. Karen worked with Claire in Olympic several years ago. She is a confirmed desert rat now. They had a great time catching up on park stuff and park people.

We went for a short interpretive hike through areas used by the Anasazi and cowboys. There were pictographs from the Anasazi, tin cans and bedsprings from the cowboys.

The four-winged saltbush was a staple in the Anasazi diet. I chewed some seeds and found them very much like wheat berries, and quite good. We found a rock hollowed out as a pestle for grinding the seeds. I can imagine good bread from them.

Ten-foot tall and strongly aromatic, the sage here has a presence not found elsewhere, like the ponderosas a few thousand feet higher, they dominate and define. This is another of those places we could spend weeks, or months; listening, smelling, imagining.


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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.