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Desert Pause

2015 April 2
by Rachel Turiel



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Every crevice of the car is packed. The kids are human puzzle pieces wedged between carefully stacked ramparts of coolers, water jugs, sleeping bags. Four handmade bows bisect the vehicle lengthwise (and keep children to their respective sides, lest Dan hollers, Watch the bows!). We’re heading to the canyons of Utah, a seasonal spring migration down from the mountains of Colorado.

We pass dozens of vaguely familiar dirt roads, at which earlier versions of Dan and me parked an ‘86 Honda, and descended into the slickrock, hoping to find water, ancient ruins, unpeopled miles, the meaning of life.

“It’s like old times, but with new people!” Dan says, maneuvering the Subaru through a soaring mesa of pinyon and juniper, through which secret canyons are gashed into solid rock.

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We set up camp. A canyon wren sings the final, descending notes of the day. Rose chops potatoes, Col chops wood. Our tent smells like every camping memory plus pine needles and the merest whiff of mildew, not unpleasant. I have the distinct feeling that I have everything I need (plus two 6-packs gluten free beer and several bars dark chocolate).

From camp chairs, we can see into Colorado and Arizona. Our home mountain range, the La Platas, rise in jagged snowiness. I drink a beer and survey our good fortune.

The next day our friends arrive. Factions coalesce. There are those in the first half of their lives and those, likely, in their second. We grown ups check in and catch up and make plans while the kids get busy with a game in which one person throws pebbles at the others who are lined up firing squad style. It’s Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games in the desert.

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With buddies, kids can hike farther, eat more, stay up later, and recover faster from personal injustices. They become a roving band of grubby life enthusiasts, seeking adventure. We drop over the flat edge of the mesa, down spiraling stone staircases which require all four limbs. A raven disappears into a slickrock nest. The sky beams blue.

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Our obligations and responsibilities shrink down to some basic human code: keep children hydrated and away from cliffs, while the trickier aspirations like, Become Somebody slough off like layers of desert sand.

Even the kids cut through the fluff.

Rose (to Teo, 4 yrs old): do you want to chase me first or eat an apple?

Teo: I will chase you now.”


In the canyon bottom we adults unfurl in the shade, having modern conversations about whether the unadulterated sun is more likely to sponsor vitamin D production or melanoma. Meanwhile, the children sculpt mud pies, like every other child who’s ever lived on this planet.

“At my bakery, you can get anything from wheat to grain-free pies!” Rose announces. (Okay, maybe not quite like every other child).

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Yes, we hiked this “causeway,” looks sketchier than it was. Plus, at the knob, we found this:

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Various permutations of adults meander down canyon while I remain to watch the kids. All their usual lust for the Next Thrilling Thing has evaporated in a poof of sand-smoke: they scurry around seeking the perfect grass seeds to sprinkle on mud pies; they climb boulders and stalk lizards. My nostalgia about the carefree, childless days Dan and I spent in the canyons alone is already passing away. Someday (likely, in about a week), I’ll feel wistful about these moments. About how these slickrock canyons were enough to keep the kids’ imaginations firing, about how we came here and found everything we need.

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Kangaroo rat tracks found in our camp kitchen every morning.

Driving home, it’s like pressing rewind as we backtrack through tiny dusty towns, climb up out of the desert, finish off lukewarm coffee, remember our modern responsibilities. I look around the car for signs that we’ve changed somehow, that we’ve absorbed something essential and immutable from the desert, something to bring back with us to our days of busy routine.

Col tells me, “I wore the same clothes for four days.”

“And that’s a good thing?”

“Less laundry.”



14 Responses leave one →
  1. Becky permalink
    April 2, 2015

    Col has the right attitude! wear your clothes many days and save on laundry. Enjoyed my trip with you and seen through your eyes.

  2. April 2, 2015

    I’ve seen a lot of places, but there are only a few that resonate in my heart, making me feel a part of rather than separate from. Southwest Utah is one of them. One of the few things I truly miss after the move. Some amazing memories from here, including hiking a canyon with a great dane, and then having to physically lift him over the rim to get to the top, because it was just a bit to much for him. Miss you Thorbie.

  3. Baba permalink
    April 2, 2015

    Wow! Beautiful writing, photos and people. Thanks for sharing

  4. Andrea permalink
    April 2, 2015

    Love it and hope to get out that way soon. Where is that causeway? I’ve love to explore it!

  5. April 2, 2015

    That’s a good thing, indeed.

  6. Ed Oak permalink
    April 2, 2015

    Where would SouthEast Utah and Westslope Colorado be without each other?

  7. Drew permalink
    April 2, 2015

    Beautiful. Major wave of nostalgia for the desert, and for simplicity. I’m glad Col is figuring out some good life tactics. As if I was ever concerned.

  8. April 2, 2015


  9. Ellen permalink
    April 2, 2015

    How great to visit beloved old places with wonderful new people!

  10. Andrea permalink
    April 3, 2015

    The blue, the red, I’m loving it all. Feeling the warmth.

    And I am still advocating for the vitamin D. Yes, get out there folks. Get some.

  11. April 7, 2015

    the third canyon picture down looks like a spiral… that is so nifty. i like you guys.

  12. April 7, 2015

    Ohh, I know what you mean… This is why we chose to live on the road in our bus… We are currently exploring the canyons of Southern Utah, one of our favorite place on earth. Our girls live outside in nature all the time. Our life is very slow-paced. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  13. April 9, 2015

    It’s so great to see families out like this together! We have such a hard time making trips with other families. But I’m inspired to try harder this year. And really, I need to go explore some of those canyons. Can we come with you next year? ;)

  14. April 10, 2015

    Utah is a crazy beautiful!

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