Saturday, September 10, 2016

Thursday, Into the Desert

Thursday morning shines bright and late-summer cool, and one of us has been looking forward to this adventure for a week.
Into the desert for the day-- for ghost towns, wild horses, and sparkly rocks.
Was decided that we should end the day at Simpson Springs, so aaaaallll the way out we went first--

to Topaz Mountain.
Aaah.  Eric and I were quite mad with our "Found another one!"'s.

Mama's collection of Topaz

Hooray!  Success!!
Topaz?  Check.
Photographs?  Check.


Ah.  The Horses.

My family says it's only been two years, not three or four.... is that possible?  Two years ago when we first found these gorgeous wild things?
Out of the truck we were, Eric, Maddie and me, to make our close-up acquaintance.

After a handfull of shots, my shutter wouldn't click, and wouldn't click....
Ah.  'Nother battery in the car.
Moving on, then.

Next stop, Death Canyon.  For an early-evening visit to a ghost town.
Long, slowish-going desert mountain road....
"If I find a skull in Death Canyon, I'm keeping it!" proclaims Trev.
Almost there....
Full stop.

Of course we have a spare!
It's just that we can't get it out from under the truck, because the tailgate won't open.
"I'll start tidying up the truck, getting things ready for tonight." I said immediately.
Eric works on getting the spare released.
"Trev, will you drag that dead tree up here, so we can have a fire?  We won't be able to search for it after dark.... there are lots of mines around here.  No wandering off the road in the dark," says his mama.
"We're not spending the night," replied Trev.
"Well, we need to be ready, regardless."
"We're not sleeping here."
"We might be, Bud."

Maddie makes a beautiful ring of stones for a fire pit, Eric fights with the truck, trying not to be horrified at our situation and the Grumpiest Gus ever, and I go through the truck, separating wearable jackets and clothes from ones that might be damp or had been in the truck way too long....
This can stay out of the truck for the night....  here, we need a garbage.... Maddie, it's a good idea to put warm clothes on before you get very cold, since it's hard to get warm after you're chilled..... let's see, plenty of jackets, five gallons of water, still.... everyone has socks and sturdy shoes.... enough food for tonight and maybe tomorrow..... it's not unbearably hot.....
"We'll be fine.  We're in good shape."
My first survival adventure!  Cool.
Other than sleeping.
There's a blanket for the babes to lay on in the back (we have an s.u.v), another to cover them with, and a larger one for Eric and I to share in the two front seats......
Seriously?  Sleeping in the driver's seat?  Ugh.  (Hardly seemed fair for Eric to take it, since he's practically a foot taller than me....)
Ain't a whole lotta sleeping going to go on this night.

Spending the night in Death Canyon.  The misfortunate name was not lost on us.... especially Trevelyn, who kept near-hysterically spooking himself and his mother with suggestions of axe murderers and creepy things lurking in the night, just waiting for a juicy family like us to arrive....
"Enough, Son."  You're creeping me out, dude.  I'm not afraid of wild animals, not afraid of the dark, and not afraid of the boogeyman, but that boy was starting to make me wonder why on earth I wasn't.
I did plan to lock the car doors while we slept.  Hmmph.

The wind started up.  Which wasn't too bad, but,
"I think we should put this fire out," from Eric.  "I'm worried about a fire."
"If we start a forest fire (note that the fire was in the middle of the road, surrounded by stones, so we were cautious), then we'll have to not only run from the fire, but away from the truck."
I suddenly had visions (I was already a bit spooked, remember) of running with my children in the night, fleeing a forest fire, our truck, our water, our clothes and food... Jesus."Yes.  Let's put it out."
It wasn't a large fire to begin with, as we aren't careless people, but still, Eric and I worked diligently to smother every last glowing spark of that fire with dirt.  There was no way we were going to use our precious water.
I checked it ten minutes later, when I was ready for bed, to make sure we hadn't missed any embers.
Eric got up somewhere around an hour later, and upon returning to the truck, said that he had checked on the fire.

We aren't skittish city people... we are adventurers and have pretty good survival skills.
But things like having a tire slowly blow out from under you, leaving you stranded has a way of disconcerting you... making you feel quite unsettled.

Twelve miles from the road...
'The road' being the main dirt road... the Pony Express road... the one that like maybe 12 cars pass on a Thursday...
Plus we're another mile up Death Canyon....
Time to attempt sleep.
It's midnight, now.
There are Great Horned Owls hooting.
Time for sleep.

Oh, how nice.  There's a coyote calling.
"Did you hear that?" asked one of us. 
"Yes.  A coyote.  Awesome."

After what was probably the most fitful night's sleep of my life (waking up every few minutes from someone else bouncing the truck around, trying to form a plan in my mind, imaging best- and worst-case scenarios, getting re-situated to one of the three sleeping positions possible, fretting, brain-storming, bracing...) I awoke still pretty firmly of the belief that all was well, or if not quite, would be very soon.
"I'm going to go down the canyon (the one mile road) and put up signs that we need help.  Then I'll come back here, and mess with the truck."
"S O S," says me. 
"What does S.O.S mean?" asks Madd.
"Save our ship," replies her mama, "It's a code for 'we need help'."
Which reminded me that in the night, I had the thought that I should know the morse code for HELP, as I could have honked the horn in code.  Or done it with a flashlight.  That made me smile.

So Eric, Maddie and I were up.  We left Trev to sleep in the truck... blanket over the open window to block the sun from his face, Maddie's pillow under his head, windows open for morning air... Maddie had slept pretty well in the night (being the smallest), so hopefully Trev could rest well, now, having the truck to himself...
None of us ate.  Maybe because we had all had a sense that now wasn't the time.
We weren't truly frightened, any of us, I don't believe, but I think we all had a very real feeling that this day was not decided, and we had to be smart and strong.

I still hadn't any sense of doom, so asked Madd if she wanted to walk up the canyon a bit to see the ghost town.
"Sure!" she says.

Off we go on our walk, up, up, up... "How much further are we going to go?"
"Well," I said, "I don't think we should go much further if we don't find it soon, because we may have to walk later.  So let's just go around this corner, and see what we can see."
"Okay, babe.  Let's go back."
A mile up, and a mile back.
Feeling pretty good about the day, still. 

Eric was back when we got there.
"I think we should pry the tailgate open."
Me, "What?  Break it?"
"There's nothing else to do."  Feeling quite grim about the situation that his family is in, that husband of mine.
"No way.  Then we'll have a broken truck.  A flat tire, and a broken tailgate.  We don't even know if it would work!  I think that should be only when we have no other options.  And we still have options."
"Yeah, I've been thinking about it, and I'm not comfortable leaving you guys.  I'll have no way of letting you know what's going on.  You'll be up here for hours, all day, not knowing."  (There's no phone service, of course.  We're a long way away from anywhere.)
"We'll all go," says me..  It was the only comfortable plan.
"It's twelve miles.  There's no way the kids can walk twelve miles."
"Yes they can."
Bit more talking and weighing our options, and "Okay."
It's ten o'clock, now.
A granola bar and a few grapes, pack up--carrying limited supplies for a twelve -no, thirteen- mile walk, and off we went.

Just gettin' it done.

I had my fitbit on my wrist, so passing the time having an idea of how far we'd come was not a bad thing, and pretty animating most of the time.
Eric kept us all encouraged with his newly-found optimism, and bird, insect, and lizard findings.

Stop for a rest and a very small snack...

It wasn't too hot.  There was a nice breeze blowing against us, keeping the bugs away.
Pleasant enough.

"Another mile, yet?"
Up and down, up and down we climbed.
Water refills, from our single gallon jug that we are hiking with.
"Has it been another mile?"
"Yes... three miles, now... ten to go."
"Four miles.... nine to go..."
"Five miles...." 
"Little bit more, and we'll be halfway...."
We've been walking for ages.
It's 2:30.
It's 2:30, we've been walking for four and-a-half hours.  Three miles to go.  With our much-slowed pace, and very short breaks, we'll be there at four.
Four.  That's not a lot of time to resolve this.
Eric kept up a good pace, the children were happy to keep up with him, and I brought up the rear.
I was starting to get tired.  And I was starting to get worried.

My three all had shirts or jackets tied around their waste.  Something.  Good.
It's getting late.  We still have a ways to go.
While truly smiling on the outside, these babes of ours, Maddie fell back to visit with me a few times.  (No real distance, maybe just 40 feet or so.)
"I'm so tired I can't believe I'm still even standing," says she.  Brave girl.  Gettin' it done.  Ten miles in.
"I know, baby.  I'm so tired, too."
Heavy pack.  Up hills.  Mostly it was my heart weighing me down, though, I think.
I wasn't feeling any sense of doom, but I was feeling very stressed with all the unknowns.  Too many unknowns.
I'm tired.
Where were we taking shelter tonight?  There was that one stable thing... we could break into it, couldn't we?  And leave a note, saying that we'd pay for the damage....
I had on a tank top, and no other shirt... could we cover with hay to keep warm?  Was there any in there?  Would we walk to the road, then walk back up here, after dark?  We had brought the two flashlights on our walk....

Almost another mile.... two and a half to go....
How can this possibly get resolved?  I kept picturing leaving messages on everyone's phone... they'd have no way to know if we were being helped by someone else... no way to call us back....
It's impossible that we walk back to the truck, tonight.  We didn't have it in us.  There was no way.
I'm tired.  So tired.
Past the entrance to the funny little compound.  With it's rundown trailer and abandoned vehicles, post-apocalyptic torn canvas waving off the back of the trailer... the only thing that makes it look inhabited is its erect american flag waving sturdily in the middle of the camp.
"Hello!!!" We call, standing outside the posted gate.  "Hello!  Is anyone here?"
No answer.  Eric didn't expect anyone to be around.  Last night in our spooked moments we had imagined angry, frightening people as the dwellers... I imagined guns and bombs and booby traps, Eric imagined people cooking crystal meth....
"Is anyone home????  Hello!!!!"
Eric walked up the road, closer to 'the compound' as we had deemed it.
Maddie started crying.  Too worried.  Too tired.
"Every time I think he's coming back, he walks up there more!" says she.
I hugged her close.  It's okay, baby.  Daddy's fine.  Everything's alright.  There's no one there.
Eventually Eric came back to the road.
Off again we go.  Our brightest -though dim- hope dashed.  The whole way there, we were anticipating a possible rescue from The Compound.
We really do have to walk the full distance.
So far.  So tired.
We have about 30 ounces of water left, between the four of us.
And now, so worried.

I'm just going to stay back here (still walking), and cry, I thought.  Just cry. I"m alright, but I just need to cry for a few minutes.Keep walking. 
So tired.
What are we going to do?
Keep walking.
So tired.

"Car!"  I shouted.  "A car!!!"
Eric stopped and turned, not believing me.  There had always been only airplanes. "What?"
"There's a car!  It's close!  I hear it!"  It was right on the other side of this hill.  I could hear it.
Just then, there it was.  Coming up the middle of the road, to meet us.

Later, after our initial rescue, I asked Eric what he, Barnie, our savior, had said to him.
"I don't even think he said anything!" he said.  "I think I started talking first!  Telling him he had to help us, and 'family', and 'almost out of water', and 'stuck', and oh my god, I needed help!  I don't even know what I said!"
I think the rest of us probably cried, at that point.  I had wiped my eyes in order to see our rescuer clearly.
"Have your boy move these coolers, and we'll push the seats up... I've got a bad back."
Handle bar mustache, baseball cap, roundish, most lovely old coot I've ever seen.
"Got any service?" asked Barnie.
"No," said Eric, as we were piling into his gorgeous, dirty, littered carriage, "And we're almost out of water."
"I've got cold beer for you!"  Barnie generously offered.  "One for your boy, too!"
"No thank you, I have a headache, and need to keep up on water," said I.
"Got ibuprofen, right here!"
"Oh, thank you so much, I have some.  I'll take it in just a second."
"We're about out of water," mentioned Eric again.
"I'll take you you up on the hill.  Have a spring up there, and I get service there, in the afternoon.  Don't get it in the mornin', but get it in the afternoon.  You can use my phone."

Eric told Julie and I later that his mind hadn't gotten this far, to be handed a phone... hadn't imagined it happening this quickly or quite this way..... didn't even know who to call.
Since Barnie had service up there on that spring-fed hill, I checked my phone to see if I did, and noticed that I still had my mother's old phone number, instead of her new one.  And no service, for me.
We needed a spare tire.
"Call Lee," I said.  Lee and Julie can be counted upon.  Lee has a truck.  We'd call everyone we knew that had a truck, until someone had a tire that we could borrow.
Eric had roughly remembered our tire size, but had forgotten to write it down.
Lee had just such a (remembered) size, and with six bolts.
"Call Julie." said Lee.  He was still a few hours outside of Salt Lake, making his way home after a week of working out of town.
Lee calls Julie, and says "Eric's going to call, won't recognize his number, they need help."

Later, after we filled every water bottle and jug we had with us, and after our beloved Barnie and Eric had a few beers on this dusty dirt road (five miles! we still had five miles, to Simpson Springs, not two!  We had three more miles, after we got to the Pony Express road! Never would have made it sixteen miles while running out of water.... so tired...), and after assuring Barnie that I didn't need a snootful of the whiskey that was perched merrily on the console between him and Eric, I gave Barnie a few dollars (I didn't have much), and told him that we came up here a few times a year in the fall, and that next time we were up here, we'd bring him a boxful of sunshine and put it on his porch.
Remember the compound?  That was Barney's place.
We were able to settle into peace, under that gorgeous tree at Simpson Springs campground.
Trev, Maddie, and Eric melted under the cottonwood, with the pointy stones, ants, and pokey, dry grass.

I wasn't up for it quite yet -there would be plenty of time for that- and was admiring the horses off at the watering hole, a ways out there.
"I'm going to go shoot the horses," I told them, dropping my bag in the dust, and grabbing my camera and my filled water bottle.
"I can't believe you're going to walk out there!" said Eric in disbelief.
"Well, I'm probably not going to walk very fast!" I grinned at him.
 And I didn't.  Nice and easy, that walk was.

I got back to the tree a bit hot and tired, and remembered that I hadn't taken any headache stuff yet, so sat down on a reusable grocery bag (we had kept the 'cold' food in it with ice, in a backpack--no need to worry about that, any longer!) and reached for the bag that I had carried up and down the desert hills.
"Yes!!!  The hammock!" Strung it up, and kicked off my shoes.
Oh, God.  "I'm not moving from this spot until Julie gets here," I warned.
Maddie was contentedly sitting in the tree, and Eric was still in Protective mode, so he wasn't about to fight me for it, and Trev had headed to the Pony Express station, and was exhaustedly lying face-down in the dirt, Eric had informed me.

No hurry, now.
No worry.
Our friend was coming to our rescue--she could be relied upon, and we didn't give a fig how long it took her to get to us.

We were saved.

Edited, to add:  It may seem that I am rather casual about the end of the story.  Never think so.  We have such a keen gratitude for Barnie, Julie, and Lee.
Lee had called Julie to ensure that she'd answer the call from Barnie's phone... and he talked her through getting his spare from under his truck.  I hadn't given proper instructions to Julie, but rather had said "tell her to put Simpson Springs in her phone", which wasn't a complete direction, and she had to turn around at one point, and get onto a proper road, because she had remembered that Eric had said "Pony Express Trail".... she drove out on iffy tires, a good 87 miles away from home....
Never, never think that we took this rescue lightly.
We are ever grateful for the thorough help that our friends provided.  Much love to them.
And I am
so thankful (for her sake) that Julie didn't get a flat.  God.


  1. OMG, what a frightening experience! I'm impressed with how prepared you were, considering it was supposed to just be a day trip. I like to be overly prepared when we go on adventures (even very little "adventures") because you never know what might happen. My husband makes fun of me sometimes, but this story reminds me why I do that! So glad you were rescued in time and now you have a great family story to tell!

    1. That makes me happy that you're overly prepared, TandyCat. :)
      Eric talks to the children a lot about Survival Skills. "You don't put your boots in the stream in winter on purpose, Son. Survival skills." "Don't pour out your water because it's warm, Son. Survival Skills." :) I think they'll take it a bit more seriously, now! :)
      We weren't at all afraid of a tire blowout--we have good all-terrain tires that are less than two years old! But we do have the sense to head into the desert with way more water than we'll need. Goodness. lol.

  2. That was an amazing story told well!

  3. Thanks, Phyllis. :)
    I told Eric last night, after he read it, "I don't know why I was so tired. We've walked more than that, lots of times!"
    "Yeah, but we were very stressed."
    "Yes. I meant it when I said my heart was heavy."
    Hadn't eaten anything but crumbs (wasn't hungry), very little sleep, heavy pack, very stressed about all the uncertainties... not a light thirteen miles. :)

  4. Good Job!..way to properly prep and way to handle yourselves properly oncein a situation!...Cheers!....

  5. Wowza. What an exciting/scary adventure/rescue story, Stephanie! I'm so very very glad you all were prepared, ready to face the day, and able to get ahold of your friends! Also, as usual, the pics are gorgeous. <3 sending love

  6. Now that is an adventure that will always be remembered!

  7. Holey moley! I haven't visited your sparkly spot in awhile and what a story to walk into! So glad you are all strong and clever and okay. :)


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!