“Now that you have seen the desert, let’s go camping. You can see so much more if you are there for an entire day, and a night.”
Why not. I loved camping thirty years ago. How much harder could it be now? “Sounds like fun!”
When I was married we did car camping. There was a bathroom around, a table. But we slept in a tent. I could make a mean beef strogonoff with a camp stove. Water? There was a spigot at the camp site. One time I remember carrying two gallon jugs of water back to the site to wash dishes.
The late April evening before our scheduled trip Don gave me a few instructions. “Bring plenty of warm clothing. It gets cold at night. And food. We will have a fire to cook. You got a sleeping bag at Walmart. Bring that. We should have fun!”
I ran around my house assembling the gear I planned to take. Plenty of layers of clothing. I knew about the thirty degree plunge in temperatures. I could be ready for that! Water? I needed mouth-moisturizers. Cotton mouth recently! Only at the last moment did I even grab a water bottle. I realized my current drink of choice, canned unsweetened seltzer was impractical for the trip.
“I have this premonition,” Don commented. “Something might go wrong.”
“I realized what I forgot,” I announced as we pulled onto 89A. “I need a walking stick. I am glad I forgot something so easily replaceable. Once I remember what I forgot I always feel better.”
We stopped at Walmart. I bought a cheap pair of sunglasses. My dry eyes appreciated a bit of shade. I bought strawberries. Another mouth-moisturizer. And some hard caramels.
We drove onto a set of dirt ruts off the dirt road heading to Cherry. “This is my gold mine,” Don announced. “I have so many of my treasures stashed here.” We drove into a circle of dirt tracks with the remnants of several fires. “We’ll camp here!”
We climbed out of the pick-up. Immediately Don pulled out two pistols. I had never seen a gun that close before! Don handed one to me and put on a holster and tucked the other into it. “Let me show you how to shoot this.”
I swallowed and grabbed towards it. Clumsily it turned in his direction as I took it into my palm. “Never point a gun towards a person!” he admonished. I gulped. He demonstrated how to cock the gun. “Once it is cocked do not put your finger onto the trigger until you are ready to shoot.” He smoothly took the pistol, cocked it, moved his finger onto the trigger and pulled it. I was surprised by how silent the shot was. No kick-back.
I took the gun back into my hand. I felt fairly clumsy as I reached for the trigger. I didn’t have to aim. I felt reassured. I cocked the trigger, keeping my finger away, then reached down and pulled it back. “Smooth” was the adjective that came to mind as the first shot crackled.
“Shoot it four more times. If anything happens you will shoot this as a diversion.” I followed his instructions.
Don began to lay out his tools around the campsite. An axe, a hand saw. All of a sudden I realized their defensive capabilities. “Gotta let people know we are well defended,” Don explained.
“OK. Let’s go get you that walking stick.” We descended to the wash. “See the prints of all the animals. This here’s a coyote. And there is a mountain lion.” Don pointed to fuzzy spots in the sand.
“And this here’s Cat Claw, pointing to a spindly bush. See the needles. Look like cat’s claws don’t they. If you get tangled up in this, walk right on through it. Otherwise it can eat you up. See how the claws are slightly curved at the ends. It almost looks like a mesquite, but much more nasty.”
We walked along the wash. “See anything that might make you a walking stick?” I pointed to a pile of sticks under a bush. “No. Look over there. See what looks like a fence in the middle of the wash. Several dozen sturdy sticks stood up from the sand across the wash. “Cattlemen build these to contain the cattle.”
We returned to the campsite. “I remember the second thing I forgot, suntan lotion.” I realized I could not move into the shedding layers I had planned. The sun was too intense to remove my long-sleeved shirt without it.
“That’s not good,” Don remarked. “Remember my premonition?”
We moved back to the area where we would sleep. “I will set up,” Don said. “You explore. Remember I will always be observing you.”
I decided to try out my new walking stick. Balance has always been an issue for me. That’s why I need the stick. Flat land is fine, but with an incline I have trouble. I carefully climbed several hundred yards above the site. I saw a purple thistle in bloom. I ascended in its direction.
I should have brought my camera. The purple is so intense.
I returned to the truck and fished for my purse and phone. I took out my water bottle and took a perfunctory swig of water. I moved back in Don’s direction. “Let me show you how to set up the tent. This time I help. Next time you are on your own.”
We inserted the poles into the sleeves of the tent. It was so much smaller than the tents I had watched my ex-husband set up thirty years ago. There were not the same number of tent pegs to count out and sort.
A swarm of hornets appeared around the tent. One snuck inside. “I could get it now. That might mean being stung, or else having to kill it,” Don commented. I think I will let it wear itself out, then I can simply slip my cap in and it will climb on board, get transported out.”
We walked towards the truck. A mass of moths and more hornets buzzed around a damp towel. “That’s the only water for miles around here,” Don explained. “They are thirsty. Eva’s water bowl will get invaded next. Gonna have to cover it up.”
As we contemplated the utter dryness around us, I began to feel queasy. I edged back to the tailgate of the truck and collapsed onto it. “I do not feel good.” I announced.
“Get water!” Don commanded. “Dehydration.”
I fumbled with the door handle. Before I could grab for the water I vomited. Don grabbed me. He also grabbed a soft quilt. “I will spread this under this shade. You sit here. Drink this water, but not too quickly, and take in this salt. You need it for electrolyte balance.”
Don grabbed a stool and sat beside me. “I will stay here and watch you until you feel. Be careful. You almost had a heat stroke. Keep drinking water, but not too quickly.”
We sat for almost an hour. Eva came up to me and began licking my face. I interpreted this as a sign of affection at first. Then I realized she, too, had instincts I needed. While she and I are good friends, for her, my sweat-stained face was providing her with the salt her body needed. The wooziness I had felt was replaced by fatigue. “Can I go to sleep?”
We talked. Then the silence around us was broken by the flap of dove’s wings. The bird perched in a branch three feet above my head. It cooed. I had heard many doves, but none this close.
“The Indians believe that when doves speak to you, you listen. This one is saying it is time to go home.”
Don carefully explained I had not failed on the trip. He remarked on my careful listening to him, and how I followed all his instructions. “We just need to put you into desert boot camp before we return.”
I realized I had come out for the trip with a cavalier attitude. My respect for the hidden dangers out here are climbing rapidly. The homeless who camp out nightly. The Native Americans who lived in these environs for centuries. I need to learn these lessons. I look forward to further training, and another foray into the dry clime soon.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"