Summer Wrap-Up: Fall is a Four Letter Word to a Desert Rat

22 September 2008

Today is 22 September, the first full day of fall.  This is not something I really like to acknowledge, especially to myself, considering I prefer the temperature to hover somewhere around 90 degrees.  But I knew it would happen- sooner or later it always does.  This is the time when I begin my reflections on the summer now past, on my recent experiences and begin planning, at least in my head, the summer to come. It helps me get through the winter.

It was a great summer, a summer full of travel and adventure: there was the Dirty Devil River float, road trip to Nevada, San Juan River float, White Rim Trail ride, Escalante backpacking, a few races well-run, and plenty of hiking and camping in between.  There were slot canyons, rock art, caves, ruins, seemingly endless dirt roads across the vast desert, and miles and miles of beautiful southern Utah seen.  I spent a good two months with the stars overhead at night.  I was witness to meteor showers and full moons.  I lay on the ground under the darkest night skies full of constellations, while gleaming satellites drew perfect lines across the sky above me.

Never-ending desert road, western Utah, near the Nevada border.

Never-ending desert road, western Utah, near the Nevada border.

There were a few Midget Faded rattlesnakes along the way, as there always are.  There were numerous garter snakes and one Utah blackheaded snake, the first I remember seeing.  I found more toads this year than in years past as well, both Woodhouse’s and Red-spotted.  I paid attention to the lizards this summer, more than just stopping to watch them, and began to make more “scientific” observations.  I will be documenting  the lizards of Canyon Country under the Wildlife link on the Desert Explorer website. I noted the tamarisk leaf beetles this year, how far up and down the Colorado and Green Rivers they had made it.  I collected information on them and have begun compiling a web page about the beetles and their role in restoring western rivers to their natural state.

I met many fellow desert travelers this summer, both in person and online.  Thanks again to everyone who offered their experience and took interest in my travels.  I was able to share a common moment with a number of people in the desert including Christine and Aldo from Italy.  They were on year five of a five year journey around the world in their FJ74 Landcruiser.  Their website has extensive photos and video from their journey.  They shared an incredible DVD with me from their travels in North Africa.

Christine and Aldo next to their FJ74 at Lake Powell

Christine and Aldo next to their FJ74 at Lake Powell

I slept in my tent more than usual, due to both rain, or threat of rain, and mosquitoes.  The bugs made a strong showing this year, more so than in the last few years.  We fought them on the San Juan, especially my son Nicolai, mostly at the Sand Island put in.  We fought them in the Escalante, especially Robert- I had brought along my 4 ounce home-made bug net. But in both cases as we moved along they seemed to stay behind, leaving us to sleep in peace on the sand or slickrock.

The weather felt different this summer.  As a whole it seemed rather moist and cool to me.  I began my summer in early May on the Dirty Devil wearing every piece of clothing I brought along for my two weeks alone there.  But by the end I was sunburned and in shorts.  There were some tremendous storms all across southern Utah, one hundred-year type storms that washed out roads and bridges and will be remembered for years, generations to come.  We were hit by one of these storms our fist night on the San Juan.  It more than doubled the flow to about 3000 CFS, so in the end we welcomed it.  The only time I really encountered the heat I would normally expect was in August on the White Rim, and then there were just a few days that reached into the high 90’s.  I do not mind the heat at all; I rather enjoy it.  On the White Rim the heat helped me to rise early, finish early, and spend afternoons sitting still, contemplating everything and nothing, as Balzac put it.  That is my purpose for traveling to the region: I retire to the desert to meditate in peace.

For more on my experiences in the Southwest desert, trip guides, and desert hiking tips visit the Desert Explorer website.