About five minutes into dating D, maybe 10, I invited myself along on a 2,500 mile road trip through Utah, Oregon and Idaho so he wouldn’t have to travel alone while checking out graduate programs. (See how considerate I am?) In truth, I wanted to see something new. And he needed a partner to adventure with. We left early Saturday, April 17. D installed a bike rack on the back of my Subaru, I pretended to help, and then we were off. During the first half of our trip to Zion National Park I kept a travel log of my observations from the passenger’s seat. This is it.
A stretch of strawberry vendors and churches and concrete strip malls. All selling something. Oil derricks and wide roads with extra lanes to nowhere in particular constructed with one thought in mind: maybe later. Perhaps one day you will be worth investing in. One day I will finish you. Connect you to something bigger. But for now, you are my one way to out of here. Out of the dry grass a rose bush pops. Deep red. It’s impossible to ever be entirely without pretty. Or hope. Maybe that is the appeal of traveling to the desert for me. Out of nothing a flash of green. A sign of life. Even in the harshest conditions – a way. A means to continue on. To push through rock and dust and wind and announce: I am still here. A chance to feel the sun and not burn. To wait patiently for rain, biding time in the sand in that great expanse of not much else until a crack from above. And then mercy.
These signs appeared along the stretches of the 5 and 58:
without trucks, america stops
the government created the dust bowl
all is not lost
we walk by faith, not by sight
Highway bouquets mark where someone’s journey ended. We roll on.
A one-traffic light town. Where tires seem to give up and plastic bags cling to roadside brush as if saying: please don’t leave me here alone. It is a town we pass through on our way to somewhere else. A town of mobile home parks and mines. Truck rest stops with “showers available” posted in red ink on a water tank out front. Lines of bright laundry hang from buildings in the process of tearing themselves down. Holes in the walls. One can see daylight from the other side. Chain-link fences keep cars in their places saying: you stay here. Graffiti tells houses just who they belong to. Outside, yellow wildflowers, windblown trees, and mountains a few miles in the distance. Maybe it’s better over there? What’s it like living in the middle of point A to point B? You wonder if people are happy here. Then you feel kind of shitty for thinking that.
Every now and then
We pass through other towns on the edge of the Mojave that seem to creep up out of nowhere. Someone had enough. Called it quits. Said, I tried, I will rest my bones here for awhile. And never moved again. Three generations later. Junkyard lawns where the things you banished years ago wind up welcomed. Come. We will take your throwaways. Your I-don’t-need-you-anymores. We will find some use for them. We will not ask questions.
In Calico, CA
The houses can barely find the legs to stand on. In the country you are never far from god. Or reminders of it. You see four of the ten commandments plunged into the soil roadside. You wonder what happened to the rest. Did they blow away? Or are they just not observed? Among those you see: thou shalt not kill. or love too much.
Through Zion along the stretches of highway 89
We run through towns with vacancy posted in their windows. World’s best something painted on homemade signs. Whatever it was isn’t any longer. You take your cues from the dirt on the doors, and broken side windows. Walls sag. A truck looks for work on the lawn.
On the way north
we drive past Big Rock Candy Mountain. It sounds like a place on a children’s board game. But it’s a harder kind of beautiful. It is part of a mountain range that appears to falling apart fast. Rocks litter the landscape. An occasional tree stops the pebbles from tumbling all the way down. Mostly gray. With red. And a pocket of gold. Naked trees seem to reach for something more. Green buds decorate their tips. Maybe you will be warm soon you think.
As a child
you grew up asking: are we there yet? from the backseat. Now you’re the one driving and you find yourself still asking that same question.