Forced Perspective

Scale is as elusive sometimes as color. Your brain thinks it has it dialed in and the light changes or another contrast or scope obliterates your original references and you’re left to sort it all out again. I wish I could just let it be. Some of us humans are embedded with a primordial drive that tries to makes sense of things including our relationship with the environment and when that relationship is diminished on the human side, far be it for us to admit our own insignificance. I believe that’s the key to peace. I’m puny and I’m fine with that.

Try to fit scale to something as transparent as the wind and admitting defeat is more difficult, at least for me, and such was the demise of our first big outing in this Montero.

I had already logged ten thousand miles on this ’98 Montero in the last four months and had a reasonable amount of trust in its mechanical integrity. Purchased with 121k miles, I did all the maintenance necessary to baseline its systems, rebuilt the front end, modified the interior with a sleeping platform and storage drawers and added overlanding gear to complete the package allowing us to camp anywhere self-contained.

The plan for this trip was to head to St. George (we now live in North Salt Lake) for my daughter’s high school graduation, take a trail or two with my son along with his recently acquired third generation Montero, then head to Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods and Canyonlands for the following five days. We left on Tuesday morning, May 23rd and stopped near Cove Fort for an off-road lunch.

The platform insert makes for a great food prep spot.

 We arrived in time for pizza with the graduate and her brother and then for pomp and circumstance.

No father could be prouder than me. And talk about scale; life events like this come along leaving us to think where the time has gone. I know where it’s gone with her, you can see it in her presence. Where it’s going is what gives me shivers sometimes as she prepares for a career in military intelligence.

No less strange for me was staying at my son’s home with his remarkable new wife. It wasn’t too long ago he was walking through the PV – but it was, long enough for him to graduate college, law enforcement academy and get his rookie year behind him as a deputy sheriff.

Wednesday morning we followed him on a trail to the Cedar Pocket Overlook in the Virgin River Gorge, the Monty’s first long off-road jaunt.

We had a great time off-roading with Chris. This area is part of his jurisdiction and he’s been out exploring finding great trails and questionable antics.

He’s come to appreciate the abilities of the Montero platform, making him the second generation of third generation Montero owners, though our Montero is a two point five generation. It’s a Montero thing.

Fully loaded with gear and water, the 500 pounds took its toll on the Monty on the more severe climbs, overheating the transmission according to its warning light. It cooled off quickly at idle, but after the fourth time of overheating we decided to turn back down the mountain. We stopped in town to check it out and found the fluid in good shape with no indications of overheating. Time for a transmission cooler upgrade.

Chris treated us to crepes afterward in St. George.

We looked at maps and decided we’d press on to Monument Valley despite the Montero’s mysterious overheating (which didn’t happen for the rest of the trip), and decided to drive past Kanab on 89 to Kitchen Corral Point where there’s dispersed camping.

We tried out our newest kit, an ARB 2000 awning with a tent room. With the interior of the Monty converted to a sleeping surface and the rear drawer system providing a food prep and kitchen with a stove and sink, the tent addition rounded out our needs for a place to relax, change and eat and for the dogs to sleep. It was perfect.

The ground there is bedrock, preventing most of the stakes from taking hold around the tent, though I was able to get guy lines secured. The wind was a constant 20 knots so I thought better than deploying the rear awning. I’m glad I didn’t.

We grilled some steaks and enjoyed dinner in the tent. The wind picked up as we retired and peaked about an hour later and died out for the rest of the night. The awning and tent held up well despite its poor anchoring to the ground.

The sleeping platform worked great with our ExPed Synmat pads and Teton Comfort Lite pillows and it was nice to wake up to the view.

Scrambled eggs and turkey bacon on pitas make for a good walking breakfast thanks to Mindy. We struck camp as the wind picked up and made our way on to Monument Valley.

There it is. I’m probably going to get into trouble for saying this and with all due respect to the Navajo Nation, this place is by definition a tourist trap. The price of admission, $20, is certainly worth the two-hour drive, but then $42 more for an RV slot that, again, was impossible to penetrate with ARB’s tent pegs. Tourists in RVs are willing to pay even without any hook-ups, but for us it would prove to be uncampable. I made that word up. We can do that now in America.

We took the rocky off-road two-hour drive passable only by high clearance four-wheel drive trucks and rental cars, getting the most out of our entrance fee.

We did this route a fews years ago two-up on Mindy’s Harley Sportster since my Blackbird didn’t have the clearance. It’s much better in the Montero, though we were less awed by the scenery at least until we arrived at Artist’s Point. Maryann finally passed out for a few moments. For a dog who naps all day long, she can’t sleep in a moving vehicle.

I released the shutter a few times.

Puny human. This made me look forward to The Valley of the Gods for a number of reasons, not the least of which would be less people, less vehicles. Yes, that’s entitled, but I didn’t build this overland vehicle to be surrounded by purple and green Jucy minivans, rental cars and tour busses.

My telephoto lens does more than magnify. It projects me out there.

Back at our RV pad we attempted to deploy the awning and tent, but the winds were picking up fiercely and looking southwest over the valley we could see a dust storm making its way toward us, so we stowed everything back and waited in the shelter of the truck to see if the National Weather Service was right to cancel their high wind warning at 9:00p, but that was too long for us to wait.

I checked online to see what dispersed camping option might exist further up 163. Mexican Hat showed some promise on BLM land so we decided to check it out, leaving behind warm showers and plumbed toilets, the only benefits of the Monument Vally campground, views notwithstanding.

Mexican Hat was perfect, little breeze, stunning golden hour light and a spot right below the rock. I thought to set up camp there since according to a website an area that overlooks that rock is set aside for dispersed camping. The only trouble was there was no indication what was BLM land and what was Tribal. Our spot was perfect; tent pegs pounded into terra firma to the hilt, secure and solid, but I thought twice about it not wanting to trespass, so we moved on to Valley of the Gods.

Darkness was falling by the time we mounted the Valley of the Gods Road. We drove through a number of areas, stopping and trying to drive a tent stake into the ground to no avail. We finally spotted an area down by a riverbed – certainly there’s much easier earth to penetrate there – and ambled down a steep embankment to get to it.

And I was wrong. Puny human. Not a single stake would drive in securely. But the night was calm and beautiful and I was spent with frustration and not much sleep and rolled the dice to make that spot our boondock for the night. We retired after a Mountain House dinner around ten. The dogs settled in the tent, exhausted from not napping all day, and fell fast asleep. And so did Mindy and I in our comfortable, portable digs, sun roof open to enjoy the evening’s fresh air and starry night.

An hour later we were rousted out by what sounded like a jumbo jet, sand streaming into the interior of the Montero and the tent and awning blowing like a windsock with two dogs inside. We both bailed out the truck into the tent to help hold it in place but a gust hit us hard sending us off our feet, the tent and awning collapsing down around us. Sand in our eyes and down our throats we got the dogs inside the Montero and then systematically emptied what was left of the tent of our gear into the back of the truck and took down the tent and disconnected the remains of the awning from the truck’s rack.

The wind died down as we got out of our sleeping clothes and dressed outside the truck. There’s something about standing naked on a moonless night in the destroyed camp of the Valley of the Gods that in which we slumbered only moments before. Puny human; a forced perspective. We stowed our clothes bag inside what little room was left on the sleeping platform now packed in haste.

Now incapacitated to camp, rendering us uncampable, we decided to make the midnight drive through the night back to our place in North Salt Lake and survey the damage over the weekend.

We should have stayed at Mexican Hat.

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