Rocky Roads, Bug Bites, Wildflowers and Birds

LaVonne Douville
Journal Entries May 3-16, 1997


May 3, 1997
7:45 a.m.
Southern Oregon, East of LaPine, BLM Land

This is the first morning after camping with our new gear. Chet is rearranging all of the various boxes, bags, containers, stoves and gear several different ways trying to get the perfect combination. I'm sitting by the campfire, listening to the birds, soaking in the sun and wind. Last night at sunset the coyotes howled and the robins gave us an evening serenade. We saw a herd of deer take off over a hillside. This is our first experience on BLM land and it feels like being a cowgirl setting up camp. This site is great. My body is beginning to show its creakiness. The dust is getting into every pore but I feel super.

May 4
6:35 a.m.
Pioche, Nevada
Hutchings Motel

We left Oregon around 9:30 yesterday and headed out for the straightest highways in the world. You can see the line of the highway for as far as you can see and it still goes. Chet calls this our "shake out" period and spends lots of time making sure everything stays on top of the Jeep and keeps its proper place within.

We stop at Denio Junction--what a pit! And get chased out by cow trucks. We see three new birds--a Western Meadowlark, a Yellow-Headed Blackbird and some kind of wild goose. I may have seen a Turkey Vulture in a field as well. We also saw a badger, deer again, and rabbits running across the road. The sky was filled with fluffy clouds during the day and massive stars at night. Chet drove for hours and hours--I mostly felt I was along to feed him sandwiches and candy bars while I could just enjoy the scenery.

We ended up here in southern Nevada at 1:00 a.m. and stayed in a motel where you put your cash ($30) in a Bible on the dresser. This morning Chet found a tick on his side. Yuck! And I had to use our handy tick picker to remove it. I got the tick and a piece of his flesh! Now we're getting ready for another day after a good night's sleep and a shower.

May 5
7:55 a.m.
Toroweep, AZ

Well, we survived the ticks and went off on a driving adventure through Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. It's beautiful in May with wildflowers blooming and green, green sage. We stopped for breakfast at Woody's in Utah--about the ugliest cafe I've been to, with red-necks talking about killing criminals and stopping folks at the border. But the food was okay and I saw how I wouldn't want to live in a small town. Off we went to Dixie National Forest and saw Snow Canyon--a beautiful white and red rock spot just before St. George.

Then to our real destination, Toroweep, Arizona in the middle of the Grand Canyon. We drove for 90 miles down a dirt road and some rocky spots. Stopped at Mt. Trumbull School out in the middle of nowhere. We drove through a variety of terrain and saw even more wildflowers. At Toroweep we saw some of the most majestic canyon scenes from our own personal life play. Chet worried about my falling off the longest cliff we'd ever seen. We camped in a rocky site overlooking a vast canyon scene. The site was great except for the bugs which were thick as soup. Had to eat dinner walking around--next time we'll eat after the sun goes down when the bugs are gone.

This was a sleepy campsite. Our neighbors yelled at us last night at 9:30 to go to bed!

May 6
8:20 a.m. (PMT)
Zion National Park, Utah

We woke up to another warm day and sleeping campsite neighbors so decided to walk to the edge of the Canyon before breaking camp. Saw jackrabbits, heard lots of birds, and watched the sun rise through clouds over the canyon. Our world is filled with wondrous sights. This morning began with cereal and bananas and Chet was a bit grouchy because our tent poles were causing us trouble and we were both tired of keeping our voices down for our sensitive neighbors.

We drove to Toroweep one last time before taking off on our day's drive. Watching the Swifts soar over the cliffs--it gives me chills just thinking about them. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I think coming back as a Swift would be a lot of fun. Then we took off down the dirt road to Fredonia, saw vast uninhabited country, and gave our Jeep a little exercise to prepare for our Canyonlands adventure. While Chet added air back in the tires, I found lots of quartz rocks along the roadside.

We made it to Zion by the afternoon and settled in to our lovely cabin with a view, even out our bathroom window, of the majestic rock cliffs. We went on a hike to the Hidden Canyon for a couple of hours and were treated with a rich display of wildflowers, trees, and red rocks. It was a fun hike with lots of climbing on exposed rock areas. The birds were singing and our bodies were getting in tune. We ate prime rib at the lodge (delicious) and went back to our cabin for a night's rest.

PS We both woke up itching from bites we got at Toroweep!

May 7
10:35 p.m. (PMT)
Hanksville, Utah

Went to breakfast at the lodge in Zion then on a short mile hike to the Emerald Pools. After stopping at the Visitor Center for a wildflower book, we took off for a long drive. The trip here was very scenic--driving though many sections of Dixie National Forest with its red cliffs and meandering streams. Both of us spent a lot of time scratching our bug bites. Chet's bites have swollen up, turned red in big blotches, and ooze amber fluid. My bites are smaller but they sure do itch.

Then on to Capitol Reef where the rock cliffs are beautiful and look like giant sculptures. This is Mormon country where fruit farms and neat communities once prevailed and are still owned by some. I identified my first wildflower with my new book--the Jackass Clover, which grows on the alkaline soil outside Hanksville.

We had a shopping spree at Bryce Canyon "shopping mall"--bought all the rest of the supplies needed for our trip. At Boulder I bought a neat pair of purple and silver earrings made by Santa Domingo pueblo Indians of New Mexico. We rolled into Hanksville and found this motel, ate at Stan's (not too great!), watched a little TV, and now it's time for sleep before taking off to Canyonlands in the morning.

May 8
8:00 a.m.
Maze Overlook, UT

We had breakfast at the Red Rock Restaurant in Hanksville before filling our gas tanks and taking off for our off-road adventure. We turned onto the road to the ranger station at Hans Flat and saw many new species of wildflowers. I discovered that identifying flowers was not going to be as easy as I imagined. There was the most beautiful blue bird I've ever seen and I identified it as a Mountain Bluebird.

We checked in with the ranger who told us about the Flint Trail not being in great shape--which we later found to be an understatement.

The road (if that's what they call it!) was unbelievably rocky and rutty. I wouldn't have believed our Jeep could make it over many spots if I'd seen the road before trying it. I quickly found my biggest fears were well-founded--this is a place where you could ruin a car, if not yourself. The Flint Trail was harrowing but the Maze Overlook Trail was also scary in many parts and we have to return over that "road" tomorrow!

The Maze Overlook campsite is unbelievably beautiful. I have taken many pictures but there is no way to show the intricacies of the rock and the range of colors. It is truly awesome. We saw what I think are Cassin's Finchs and listened to their lovely song. Beautiful sunset and stunning sky again!

May 9
8:00 a.m.
Maze Overlook, Utah

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the massive Maze. I continue to be amazed by the rich color and textures of the rocks. Back to our morning ritual of cereal and bananas and coffee. Then preparation for our planned hike to the Harvest Scene rock art. The hiking book warns there is a spot on the hike where you need a rope to carry packs down and that the hike is moderately strenuous. By now you'd think we'd be skeptical of written guides, but, no, we just fill our water bottles (two each) and pack sun screen and gorp for lunch and head out down the trail.

From the beginning I was a little skeptical about how we were going to get down the side of the canyon and my skepticism was well-founded. Right from the beginning there were rocky crevices requiring a climb down of five to ten feet, but it got worse. I found myself looking down a 500 foot cliff, balancing on a rock at a steep diagonal angle. Chet just said "keep the weight on the front of your feet and you'll be all right." I was petrified but I didn't feel I had much choice but to obey. Then we got to the spot we think the guide was talking about. A 10 foot drop with no footholds. Chet tried a few ways to get down with the 20 foot rope we'd brought along but decided we couldn't do it without his cable ladder which was back at camp. He said "you wait here while I climb back up the mile to our site."

By now the sun was beginning to shine and it was already getting quite warm so I said "no, I'll go up with you and we'll see how we feel when we get back." Three quarters of the way there we were both pretty tired but I thought we might be disappointed if we didn't try to make it back down, so I offered to wait while Chet went up to get the ladder. I sat and lay on a great little rock ledge overlooking a great rock pillar, mountains, and rock cliffs, and white fluffy clouds on the deep blue sky.

Chet came back and we retraced our steps back down to the hard spot, slung the cable over the side, and Chet went down and coached me through the difficult steps to reach the bottom. I hung onto that ladder for dear life. Then the really hard parts came. I had to climb down a 15 foot rock cliff with small hand and foot holds on a totally exposed rock. Chet coached me the whole way but I was petrified. From there we found two more treacherous rock climbs and several difficult passages. Finally, we reached the valley where the hot of day (at least 90 degrees) was in full force. We still had two miles of hiking to reach our destination.

We trudged through a sandy wash which kept our pace quite slow, but we saw fantastic wildflowers and rock cliffs and formations, and always the blue, blue sky. We saw two new birds in one of the few shady sections of the trail. The Pinyon Jay, with its bright blue feathers and Jay-like call, and the Ash-Throated Flycatcher with its impressive crest and dusty colors. Lizards skirt out in front of us at every juncture. Then on to the rock art--well worth the trouble to see such amazing human expression way out in the middle of nowhere. These early people have a lot to say about the human spirit and its relationship to the earth!

We headed back up the three miles to the top--very tired, very hot, but proud of our accomplishment in making it to this place. We found the journey back a little easier except for the exhaustion and the heat. I was proud of my ability to make it back up the various rock climbs and crevices. We met four guys who were coming down as we climbed up--they had already hiked for 14 miles and were close to out of water.

We made it to the top, drank a ton of water and Gatorade, soaked our feet in the dish pan, and made a can of chicken noodle stew for dinner as the sun set, putting a pink tone on everything. Then we watched as the moon came out in a sliver and we saw the comet with its headlight right next to the moon.

What a glorious day!

May 10
7:30 a.m.
Standing Rock, Utah

We got up in the morning to another beautiful sunrise, aching bodies, and lots of itching places from our bug bites. Chet tries to toast bread on our camp stove but it doesn't really work, so we just have a slice of bread with jam and our trusty cereal and bananas. Breaking camp takes a very long time as Chet needs to be sure everything is secure for our next hard day's drive. I'm afraid I'm getting new bites from gnats as I write in my journal, but I'm beginning to feel like there's not much I can do about the bugs except put up with them.

We take off down the same road we came in on and I brace myself for another scary ride. If I'd known just how scary, I might have refused to do this trip before we left. The road around a new section called the Teapot Rock was unimaginably difficult. It's hard to believe our Jeep is capable of going up and down rock ledges which are 2 to 3 feet high--but it really did. I have never been so terrified. I vacillated between being worried about whether our Jeep would be destroyed or we would die. Neither option seemed out of the question.

We watched as a group of men tried to get their vehicles over a particularly difficult series of rock ledges and then Chet just forced the Jeep over the same terrain. The men waved him on as he pushed through the area. I later commented that I became very concerned when I realized that these guys thought Chet was the expert. Not to say I don't think he drives well--I do. But this is really his first trip over such treacherous territory.

While we're still traveling over rocky passages a storm comes over and rain begins to fall. It only scares me more, as I worry that the rain on the rocks will make the Jeep slip. By now I feel like the skid plates on the bottom of the Jeep have gotten a tremendous workout, but Chet keeps checking the bottom to make sure it's still there and it is.

We finally arrive in the Standing Rocks area and I immediately begin to see why we went through the horrendous rock ride here. Our campsite is blessed with a 200-500 foot standing rock that soars to the sky. Our site overlooks the Maze from the other side from the night before and gives another fantastic view from every angle. We had spotted our first Black Throated Sparrow earlier in the day and find our campsite has several of the beautiful little birds to sing to us as we set up camp.

We find our food has been completely soaked with water from ice melting and spend an hour cleaning the cooler and rearranging the food. I decide it's time to celebrate a hard day's adventure with a bottle of Waterbrook Chardonnay, sliced ham, broccoli and carrots as dusk turns to night, the moon sets in the sky, the comet shines again and both of us are pleasantly drunk as the sky fills with stars.

PS We laughed a lot thinking about our wild day's ride.

May 11
7:00 a.m.
Standing Rock, Utah

The sun is shining again this morning and I can tell it's going to be hot today. We've declared this a day of rest after the last three adventurous days. Our campsite couldn't be more beautiful. The panoramic view, the wildflowers, the singing birds, the big rock, and the red dirt all give the eyes marvels to see.

Chet spends a lot of time making our campsite very special. He puts the big canopy up and has to attach ropes to several places to assure it's secure. As the sun continues to rise and the day gets hotter this canopy shade is a real godsend. We sit under the shade of the canopy for hours and I begin a long process of cutting vegetables for the chili I'll make later. We both take scads of pictures and discover many sights. Our stove acts up and Chet takes it apart--not an easy task--and finally gets it going again. I'm relieved because we need the heat to cook the chili. Chet discovers that we lost a mud flap off of one side of the Jeep, which is not surprising given the road we traveled the day before. Later he has to jack the car to take the other mud flap off. He's rigged a system of keeping the Jeep covered with a tarp to keep the inside cool.

We basically space out all day and I watch the sky change from cloudless, to stormy, to cloudy, to a rich glow. The bug bites itch like crazy and we go to bed.

PS The chili was super!
PPS Saw a brownish-black pair of birds--not sure what they are.

May 12
7:52 a.m.
Standing Rock, Utah

It's hard to believe we can start another day with the sunrise and birds chirping. The Black Throated Sparrow sings very early in the morning. Both of us complain of not getting a fantastic night of sleep. Chet was cold and I found the ground made my hips ache.

We start with our morning rituals, then set off for a hike down the side of the canyon. It's a glorious morning and we see more birds. We're pretty sure we saw a Canyon Wren making a lovely song. The birds here fill our otherwise quiet existence with interesting chirps, trills, and caws. We find views from every point of our journey as we scramble over rocks.

The sun begins to shine hot on our bodies. We both notice how rough we feel and how disgustingly dirty we've become. This trip has included some of the most beautiful, majestic, and unusual sites, but it has also become filled with what I call our trials. Each day we discover new bug bites and at least one additional difficulty to contend with. Chet mentions that we could end our trip in Canyonlands here at Standing Rock. We'll see how we feel tomorrow.

Chet and I smell the sweetest, freshest odor and look for the plant which causes it. It's a yellow-flowered bush and he carries a twig of it back to the campsite--sniffing periodically to fill his head with sweet thoughts. I continue to be amazed by the wide variety of wildflowers and my inability to identify them. We do better with the birds.

I take lots of pictures again of the rocks and the sky and of us. We come back to camp and Chet sets up the other cot. Both of us rest for awhile as a continuous breeze keeps the bugs away. Our campsite is about as comfortable as can be.

Before we left on our walk, Chet had filled our sun showers with water so after our lunch and our naps we each were able to take a shower in front of God and everybody (mainly birds and trees and bugs). I have never enjoyed a shower as much. It was like being reborn! It's amazing how small things like showers make such joy. Here I feel like I'm learning again about the power of the earth and the challenge of living in a harsh environment--no running water, no modern technological conveniences, no bed in a nice warm house, and no easy-to-use toilet and shower. Of course, there's also no 8 to 6 job, e-mail, pollution and people to contend with--maybe it's just that the challenges are different.

We watch the sun set and leave a glorious golden orange glow as the moon rises--it's over a quarter big now. We decide to sleep outside on our cots and watch the stars as we fall to sleep.

PS The bugs come out in force after the wind dies down. Yuck!

May 13
Doll House, Utah
7:10 a.m.

Last night we slept on cots under the canopy, hoping to stay cool and to get a good view of the stars and moon. It didn't work as well as we planned because the wind blew hard all night and we were too cold. There's no easy way to get comfortable at night but the quiet and the beauty compensate for the discomfort. Our ice ran out yesterday so I had to mix powdered milk for my coffee and our cereal--it doesn't taste too bad in cereal. This is our last morning at Standing Rock--it's been harsh but awe-inspiring at the same time.

Packing the Jeep is a major task--especially for Chet who has to lug our portable toilet and gas tanks up onto the roof-rack. The "potty" has worked well but it's pretty disgusting at the same time. The first day the pull that releases the valve to open up the tank broke and Chet made a new rope pull using his Hedden Knot. I mended my pants and earring case yesterday as well (my pants had torn on the trip to the Harvest Scene). It's fun to do little domestic tasks that make our life a little better.

After about two hours the Jeep is packed and we leave Standing Rock for the Doll House five miles away. I had hoped the road would be better than the one around Teapot. It is, but not as good as I had hoped. There are several very rocky places and lots of deep sand. We see a new bird but can't see it well enough to identify and I find a beautiful blue wildflower to try to identify.

We make it to the camping area only to find another difficult rock challenge to drive over to get to our site. The campsite has no shade and we wonder how we'll be able to set up camp. We decide to check out the other sites which have more shade and nice rock sculptures that look like giant Kachina dolls. From a rock overhang we can see the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.

Back at our campsite we set our chairs in the only shady spot and begin to set up camp in slow motion. We put things out one at a time and take shade rests in between. Somehow getting our camp set up makes it much more inviting and we notice what a spectacular 360 degree view we have of the area. Our site looks straight over to the Doll House and we can see the Needles and Cataract Canyon.

We take a late afternoon hike to avoid the bugs we anticipate will be here soon. We start down the side of a rock and get lost in a wash trying to find the trail. We notice many animal prints and realize that this is quite a different environment from where we've been--much more wildlife and different varieties. We decide to head for higher ground hoping to locate the trail from above. We finally spot it and scramble back down to get ourselves on the trail. We hike for a while on what we believe to be the trail to Ernie's Country and see new varieties of wildflowers and hear new bird calls. It's very hot but it feels good to be hiking again. We return to camp and find the end of the trail is right at our campsite!

We slowly set our tent up and begin preparations for the evening meal. I improvise using Swiss cheese for butter and making more powdered milk for our noodle dish. We have corn and beans and cranberry sauce with our noodles and feel quite satisfied. The sun begins to set and gives a pink glow to our campsite. There are not as many gnats, but lots of flies, bees, and moths. Chet discovers a big red ant hill and watches the ants come out as night begins to settle in. The moon is getting close to half full and it fills the sky with light enough to see by. This is the clearest night we've had on the trip but we're too tired to wait for the moon to set to see the stars in full force.

PS I have weird dreams again tonight.

7:30 a.m.
May 14

We slept in the tent again last night, after our not-so-successful sleep on cots the night before. As we were dozing off, I heard the faint hoot, hoot, hoot of an owl. I woke Chet for him to listen as well. The hoots became louder and more distinct--what a haunting sound. Now I understand why owls are symbols at Halloween. Chet begins to "hoot" himself, hoping to draw the owl closer, but the owl never makes another sound. We sleep well and wake to a new bird sound we don't recognize. This bird clearly marks the dawn of a new day throughout the territory--flying from one area to another and calling again.

We decided last night to leave today. The bugs finally made our stay too difficult. The task of getting the camp stuff back in the Jeep seems particularly difficult for Chet. He has hurt his thumb and is a little cross. I lose my patience as well and we yell at each other--but soon kiss and realize we are fortunate to be in such an enchanted place. We have mixed emotions about leaving. While the trip has had some major difficulties, it has been filled with beauty, fun, and adventure. I listen to the birds and try to identify new ones as Chet puts the Jeep together. He mentions that next time we'll just come to this area for three days and really explore the wildlife. I think we might want to stay a little longer, given the challenges in getting in and out of here.

We take off with trepidation about the road ahead. But I immediately realize that Chet has gotten better at avoiding disaster and the ruts seem less jarring and the rock climbs seem a little easier. But there are many places I still can't believe the Jeep can go over. In places it is sitting at a 45 degree angle on rock cliffs, only to have to crawl over several 2 to 3 foot rocks and dips. I worry most now about scraping the back, front, or sides of the Jeep. Chet grunts and groans but also seems to be enjoying this trip. I am much more relaxed then on the way in and even get out to take pictures of the Jeep.

We laugh as we approach a difficult passage and notice that someone has placed our mud flap on a rock so we could see it as we drive out. Many people on bikes began to come past on the road. Chet finds them irritating and wishes they would stay out of his way. I'm surprised that the bikers would find this road much fun--besides how can they enjoy the scenery and the birds when they're working so hard to get their bikes through the sand and rocks. We stop along the way for me to check the wildflowers as we finally make it through the Teapot section. The Jeep is virtually unscathed.

We take the Hite Road, which is truly scenic, and I find many more species of wildflowers and I'm even able to identify a few. We decide to bag camping tonight and go to Hite Crossing to dump the potty, get drinks and ice cream, and drive on to Hanksville.

May 15
5:50 a.m.
Ogden, Utah

We had breakfast one last time at the Red Rock Restaurant to fortify ourselves for our day's journey. The scenery around Hanksville is stark but pretty as we roll on to our next destination. Thousands of wildflowers border the highway and Chet humors me by stopping every now and then so I can pick one to try to identify it. I find some that I can, and that makes me happy. The flowers seem to come in waves--first white, then orange, then yellow fields that go for long stretches.

After passing through areas where the earth was uplifted and forms sharp curved edges of earth and rocks for miles, we climb up over mountain passes. On one of the mountain passes Chet gets tired and we stop for a rest and I notice there are many birds. I watch hundreds of Pine Siskins (little birds with yellow on their wings and streaks of black on their backs), Brown Headed Cow Birds with their hooded brown heads, and a stunning yellow American Goldfinch. We end up stopping next in Price, Utah, which remind me of our stay at Standing Rock where we saw someone's brand and "1934 Price Utah" carved into the rock.

Price is a cowboy town with lots of houses with funky little objects like swans and flamingos and pinwheels in the yards. I notice the Prehistoric Museum and suggest we stop and explore the museum before heading out to Ogden. The museum is a find! It is filled with Indian artifacts from the Fremont and Anazazi period as well as the more recent Ute, Navajo, and Pueblo tribes, in a couple of rooms. In another section they had huge dinosaur skeletons on display, with much information about dinosaurs excavated from this area. I wish I could bring Jimmy here to see the dinosaurs. I buy another wildflower book and a cookbook and Chet gets a map of the area. We have lunch at a local car hop and go on to Ogden.

May 16
7:10 a.m. (PST)
Seattle, WA

The beginning of this day starts early. We woke at 5:00 a.m. knowing there is a long day ahead for driving home. I take my last "road" shower in the motel's enclosed, molded shower stall. Our bug bites are slowly beginning to fade and the rash caused by sunscreen is a little better. I think our fatigue reaches into every part of our bodies. I'm ready to go home and clean up. We both wonder if our house is still in one piece.

As we drive over our final mountain passes in Washington, I'm struck by the dramatic difference in terrain. The greens are so dark and dense. No spaces between trees and shrubs and the earth takes on a heavier feel overall. The only wildflowers I see now are hundreds of bushes of Scotch Broom, but the sun is setting over the mountains and I realize this area is also very beautiful. I'm wondering what it will be like to go home and to go back to work. It seems like we've been gone for months, not just a couple of weeks. I really can't remember much about what I do for a living, but I know it will come back all too soon.

We drive over Snoqualmie Pass into the racing frenzy of city life. The cars jet past us going 75 to 80 miles an hour. We realize that the city is a truly dangerous place and our rock cliff experiences in the wild are tame in comparison to the daily risks we take living in a busy city. At about 9:30 we roll into our driveway at home. I notice that several Iris plants have sprung up in my garden, but the grass is a foot deep and the weeds are invading my flowers. The weather must have been warm while we were gone. This has been a wonderful trip--one that we'll both remember for years to come. Our Jeep and all our stuff is covered with red dirt from our trip and I expect we'll spend the next three days cleaning out our gear and settling back into our routines. I already miss the quiet and wind in my hair.

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