This past week has been a true test of my strength, spirit, smarts and sense of humor. I think I've failed as an intelligent tourist but excelled at keeping my wits about me.
While still in Utah, Okie and I went for a walk behind the land we were camped out on. About 30 minutes back on the trail I stopped once again to give us both water. It was a hot, sunny desert day. I'm very diligent about checking for creepy-crawlies before I put down my pack or let Okie stand still for any length of time. This time I failed to see the red ant hill beside me. I was getting our water out when I saw Okie trying to shake an ant off her paw. I immediately swatted it off. She wouldn't put her paw down and when I got her to walk she limped. The first thing that rushed to my mind was fire ants, poisonous fire ants! I scooped Okie up and started jogging back to the van. I'll admit I panicked. I kept repeating out loud, 'this is all my fault, please don't die on me'. She became limp and her eyes were closing but I wasn't letting her go to sleep. At this point I'm holding back the tears. I'm hot, thirsty and fear dehydrating but I'm moving as fast as I can. Back at the van I put her down and she slumps onto her side. I then run to the camping spot next to mine, huffing and puffing, to see if they know where a vet is when out of nowhere Okie is standing next to me, tail wagging. I don't know if she was just tired and wanted me to carry her but I finally allowed myself to cry. I was so happy to see her ok it didn't matter why she was so unresponsive before. Now I know she's learned to jump out of the van.
Two days later, now just outside of Death Valley, it's getting dark so I pull over into what looks like a gravel alcove. I figured I would be off the road enough to go fairly undetected for the night. As soon as I drove 10 feet in I could tell the gravel wasn't as hard-packed as it appeared to be. I was stuck. There was no going forward or backwards. My tires sank deeper and deeper into the ground. The road, as desolate as it was, had a fair amount of traffic so I decided to give up for the night and hopefully flag someone down in the morning who could pull me out. It struck me as funny, the idea I was in the situation so many people warned me about. I was in the middle of the desert, van stuck in the ground and my cell phone had no reception. I made a peanut butter sandwich and went to bed. In the morning I made coffee and prepared myself for the possibility I would have to dig myself out. Thank goodness for friends who think of things I don't. I was given a bag of survival stuff by a good friend and in it was a shovel. I could have kissed him if he was there...and not married. I didn't need it though, this time. The first vehicle I flagged down happened to be a highway patrol truck and he had me out of there in 10 minutes. What a feeling it was to be back on the road.
I had wanted to go back into Death Valley that morning to go hiking but my mind was on the 'check engine' light that was now on. Before getting stuck however, I had spent the day in Death Valley and let me tell you it's quite the place. I've never seen such a vast expanse of nothing and felt so destitute, even though there were sporadic cars carrying other tourists. Okie and I did go for a short hike to a location I believe was used in one of the Star Wars movies. Okie is quite the adventure dog. She is often ahead of me, scaling rocks and then looking at me as if to say, 'are you coming or what?' She's the one who gets me exploring when I'd usually still be thinking about whether I want to go in, up or under there. Who says little dogs aren't good for hiking?!
|The hills looked like they were oozing towards the road.|
|The badlands where I wanted to hike.|
|Our hike to the natural bridge.|
|Okie climbing a dry waterfall.|
|Not snow. It's salt forming on the dry lake bed.|
|262 feet below sea level.|
Freed from the gravel, we were cruising along towards the San Bernardino National Forest. I had been driving through so much desert I wanted to balance it with a hike through some trees. On the way I stumble upon an abandoned water park. In the desert. I can't imagine why this place went under. (insert sarcastic tone). But, lucky for me it did and it made for a fun little excursion for the two of us. It was surprisingly clean and free of glass so I felt perfectly at ease letting Okie explore, as she likes to do. She's a wonderful companion and loves to wander and check things out but always has her eye on me, following wherever I go. We had the place to ourselves and spent a good amount of time walking and taking photos.
After spending the night 7000 feet up in the National Forest I cut through San Bernardino and headed for a drive on a secondary highway towards Quartzsite, AZ, where I hear there is more BLM land to camp on for free. On the way I drove by the Imperial Sand Dunes recreational area where people drive like crazy over the dunes. I have never seen or been out on real desert sand dunes and could hardly contain my child-like excitement about running around on them. I parked and the two of us went tearing around like crazies. It's like a giant sandbox for the little one and she was having a blast right along with me.
|Okie and my footprints|
Just down the road I saw a bunch of trailers and RVs parked and since it was getting late I chose to stay there for the night instead of trying to make it to Quartzsite in the dark. After all, this spot was free camping too. Then, I become the uneducated tourist again and decide to pull over in an area which is far away from everyone else. Turns out there is a good reason why no one else had decided to set up there. Yup, you guessed it. Stuck again. This time in very soft sand and I knew it was happening but I reacted too late. What else does someone like me do in this situation? Make another PB sandwich and take long exposures of the van stuck in the desert.
I woke really early in the morning knowing the sun would get hotter as the day went on and I imagined I would have a long morning of digging ahead of me. The digging wouldn't start until after I made the morning pot of coffee though. This is when the shovel was a much appreciated gift. After letting a lot of the air out of my tires to give them more surface to grip I dug out the wheels and made a path under the van. This would get me about 15 feet before my back wheels would spin and get buried again. Coffee break, then repeat the digging and moving 10 feet. I kept thinking of all the ways this could be worse and it kept my mood up. It could have been mud I was stuck in. It could have been raining or I could have stopped in quicksand. I knew I would get out eventually. It took me a good two hours to make it to hard land and what excitement when I reached it. We danced and jumped around in the sand, clapping and cheering, even though Okie had no idea what was so exciting. She had spent the last two hours chasing the sand I was throwing and digging holes net to me to bury sticks I had dug up. At one point she had me laughing my head off as she barked and chased a tumbling plastic bag across the dunes. Having her around really does help make light of things. Oh, to be a dog.
The sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally got the van out was pretty awesome. There's nothing quite like feeling you can do things on your own, especially when it involves vehicles. Once on solid ground I had to put air back in the tires and this time a friends thoughtful trade at my last yard sale saved my butt. He had traded me a tire pump that plugs into the lighter of the van. Still drinking coffee, I hooked it up tire by tire and re-inflated them. Again, how awesome I felt to not have to ask for help. I am safe and have learned much, all while keeping a strong head and I will never pull off the road without checking things out again. Time to be a smart tourist.