February 21, 2019
"Instead of insight, maybe all a man gets is strength to wander for a while. Maybe the only gift is a chance to inquire, to know nothing for certain. An inheritance of wonder and nothing more." -William Least Heat-Moon
Here I am. Winter has found me, despite my best efforts to hide. I had been only a half-step ahead for a while, but now there is no hiding. Many people asked if I had my year-long trip all planned out in a day-by-day itinerary. I didn’t. I recognized early in the planning stages that I would have to be very flexible with my trip because of weather, emergencies, or unforeseen events such as a government shutdown. It’s a good thing, too! In the last ten days I have altered my trip to both run away from, and run toward the winter weather. Living the life of contradictions to the fullest.
I was excited for my first visit to Joshua Tree National Park. I booked a campsite for two nights at the enticingly named Jumbo Rocks Campground. Southern California had been unseasonably cold during my time there, and I was prepared for cool weather at Joshua Tree. I arrived to discover I had picked a gorgeous campsite, #119, nestled snugly between towering jumbo rocks. I fancy myself as a kind of campsite connoisseur, and I get a ridiculous thrill out of landing a really good campsite. This was one of those. Good privacy. Roomy, but not too roomy. A flat, level patch of ground for the tent. Close to the restrooms, but not too close. On the exterior of the campground loop – never on the interior. Some shade if it is hot out. And on and on. I set up camp and went out exploring a bit. Almost immediately, the weather shifted to very cold and very windy. The rain started late my first night, pelting the tent into the early morning and never stopped. I tried to make the best of it the next day but gave up as the roads started to flood and the park was enveloped in low clouds and mist – still raining all the while. I wadded up the tent, soaking wet, and threw it in the truck. As I drove out of the park, freezing cold and soaking wet from head to toe, I felt like a quitter – disappointed in myself that I didn’t have the fortitude to tough it out.
A few days later, I was excited to deliberately drive headlong into a fierce winter storm at Grand Canyon National Park. The park website issued alerts warning visitors of rough conditions, and strongly discouraging people from visiting the park during the storm. Not me! I had been wanting to see the Grand Canyon covered in snow for a long time. This was my chance, and I was willing to take it. 20 miles from the canyon, the snow started in earnest. 4x4, fog lamps, wipers, defroster all engaged now. The quarter-sized crack in my windshield that I picked up in South Texas, from a discarded rock launched by a passing dually truck, didn’t take kindly to the sharp temperature differential. A crack started and spread slowly from the center to each side of the windshield. I watched mesmerized as my windshield destroyed itself in slow motion. The snow was piling as I rolled up to El Tovar Hotel, without a reservation. Luck was with me, a room for the night. El Tovar, a familiar place, but filled with unreconciled memories. No time for that now, I’m living in the moment. No insight, only strength enough to wander. Besides, it’s snowing, and the canyon is only a few feet away! Time for a quick Smartwool inventory. How many layers can I actually fit onto my person? Aim high, I thought to myself. Around 10pm, there was a break in the storm – like the eye of a hurricane. The moon came out for a few minutes and illuminated the fresh snow in the canyon. It was breathtaking. It was everything I hoped it would be – a moment of pure beauty and natural grace so striking that all this mere mortal could do is stand in awe.
Parks visited since February 11:
Cabrillo National Monument
Joshua Tree National Park
Mojave National Preserve
Castle Mountains National Monument
Grand Canyon National Park
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Wupatki National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Petrified Forest National Park (closed due to weather)
El Morro National Monument
El Malpais National Monument
Petroglyph National Monument
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site