This a past issue of Weightshifting, a newsletter documenting overland travel and the American West by Naz Hamid and Jen Schuetz.
I notice the tracks as I return from a brief scouting trip. When deciding on a campsite for the night, reconnaissance is necessary: one, to verify personal safety; two, to ensure picturesque views and surroundings, but distance between neighbors (if applicable); and three, to establish an ideal bathroom situation. (Leave no trace, please.)
This particular survey satisfies one and three — I was returning from a number one break after the drive from Alta Lakes and Telluride when something catches my eye.
The “something” in this instance are animal tracks that run parallel to the dirt road we drove in on. I study them. There are multiple. Hooves and paws are apparent. Cattle makes sense. Horses, too. We know from Grant’s place in Sage Canyon that mountain lions have been recorded on their webcams up on the mesa property. And here we are on top of a mesa. A quick Google search suggests the paw prints could belong to mountain lions, and I’m relatively certain they are not bear tracks.
I tuck away this bit of information into the back of my mind as something to be aware of, but I’m not alarmed.
The natural instinct is to be worried, which is valid. However, other creatures occupy these spaces, and in actuality, they have more right to them than we do. Humans are treading on their territory far more than they ours. We have shunned them from our mega cities and towns, shocked when they show up occasionally, scavenging for food and being habituated to our trash. We shouldn’t be surprised. As we impact the world with our exponentially growing needs, the outside is no longer the safe haven it once was as humans and other species clash.
We set up camp, and I pop open the GFC Superlite roof-top tent to dry out the condensation from the night before at 11,000+ feet. The slightly damp blankets and sleeping bags also need attention.
Jen sets up the outdoor living room, aka, camp mat and chairs, as well as Barb’s (our dog) food, water, and pillow. Today is a rest day of sorts. We decide later on to stay another night, which, admittedly, we need to improve on: indulging in an extra day or two in the same setting to truly enjoy our surroundings.
Aside from a side-by-side ATV with a family of four out for an evening jaunt that crawls up the steep and technical dirt climb, the same route we embarked upon to travel up to the mesa, we encounter no one else.
Dinnertime rolls around, and we prepare a simple meal of meat and veg. The sunset follows, and all is quiet for miles around.
In the distance, we identify the narrow backcountry road we pursued to get here. A few miles away before our turnoff, the main trailhead for Canyon of the Ancients allows visitors to park and either hike or mountain bike their way around the national monument. We are on BLM land, accessed by a gate (for cattle safety), and we find the peace we sought out.
No wind or harsh elements makes for a relaxing and restful sleep.
Coffee and tea kickstart the next morning. Because this is home for an additional 24 hours, we relish the fact that we’re not rushing to break down camp nor bracing for more hours of driving. We can fully decompress and just be.
Work for me and fiber arts for Jen pass the time as we chase the shade among the available shrubbery and low-hanging trees. The rig, as tall as it is with the tent popped up, also provides a decent amount of shade.
Late afternoon rolls around, and the dirt road beckons, this time on foot. We lock up the rig and head out for a short hike. The terrain is interesting — grassy, surrounded by mesa, with a few water holes. Surely, the water holes are a destination for wildlife in the area.
My mind is consumed once again with the intrinsic value in feeling exposed and vulnerable. We are on equal footing with our fellow creatures in this landscape. No cars, houses, or strip malls to shelter or numb us from the “outside.” None of the modern trappings holding us captive, forcing us to forget about an entire microcosm beyond our door. We feel and recognize our rank; respect must be acknowledged and paid. We are one with this world. We are caretakers of it. We exist with so many others.
When the sun rises the next morning, I gaze over our environs and bask in gratitude.
Editor’s note (Naz): Happy New Year to all. Jen and I hope you were able to celebrate, rest, spend time with loved ones (if it was possible given these Omicron times), and dive into 2022.
It’s been a while, but we ended this particular trip some time ago, back in October. Work, life, and holiday travel to the Midwest sauntered in and took over.
This is the second-to-last installment from this late fall trip, but we set out on another journey shortly after returning from the holidays. We will share those stories in due time as well.
As always, thanks for reading and following along.