“Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting go of a little water.” Christopher Morley
After another conversation packed, sleepless night, the perfect stranger and I shared a late breakfast with our Canadian snow geese neighbors. Our breakfast backdrop: a river float plane, only reinforced the inevitable reality of the day. In a few hours, the perfect stranger would be boarding a plane bound for Long Beach, California and I would be returning home to a pending winter in Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona.
On paper, our worlds couldn’t be anymore different. In practice, our hearts were kindred spirits separated by a zip code. I resided in a remote community that had one gas station and a post office. The closest supermarket was two hours away.
The perfect stranger lived in Long Beach. I had forgotten what is was like to have access to the modern conveniences of malls and medical centers.
The perfect stranger’s recreational playground was the Pacific Ocean while I had the Paria and Colorado River at my disposal.
I gave up a career in mental health to pursue a simple life outdoors while the perfect stranger turned her passion into a non-profit foundation.
As we packed up camp, the perfect stranger and I committed ourselves to a round two adventure. We considered our eight day maiden voyage as round one. Where would we spend round two? If I were lucky, I would get the opportunity to show the perfect stranger around my neck of the woods.
Our 60-mile drive to Kingman airport was a mixed bag of emotions and round one reflections. The songs playing on my mp3 player felt more like a love story soundtrack than just an indie music playlist. The genius of song writing is when an artist captures your thoughts and sentiment in a song. Seldom do I hear limbically driven lyrics in mainstream music. Thank god for artists like Garrison Starr, Lovers and Poets, Vicci Martinez, and Jamestown Revival.
As we exited Interstate 40 for Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger called her mother in North Carolina. Surprisingly, the perfect stranger introduced me to her mother via speaker phone. Her mother asked me about our adventure. I mentioned that the perfect stranger and I were finishing our trip with a fever and sore throat. How do you tell a mother you are sending her daughter home sick for the holiday season? You don’t! Instead, you jokingly threaten to kidnap her daughter for the holidays. The perfect stranger’s mother caught me off guard when she invited me to North Carolina for Christmas.
If I didn’t have my dog child Shadow waiting at home for me, I would have booked the first flight out to North Carolina.
Pulling into the Kingman Airport, the perfect stranger seized upon another photo opportunity. Looking more like a country general store, the Kingman terminal possessed real character and charm.
As the perfect stranger approached the check-in counter, she was greeted with a lecture about tardiness. We had arrived at the airport twenty minutes before the flight. This did not make the Great Lakes Airlines staff member very happy.
The perfect stranger did her best to remove the somber look from my face while her ticket was processed. I wondered if it was possible to be happy and feel sad at the same time? My happiness I embraced; however, the complete utter feeling of loss was overwhelming. How could I fall for someone in eight days? I was not looking for romance on this adventure; a new adventure buddy would have been enough.
As her plane landed, the perfect stranger was rushed outside to the TSA security check. There was no time for a long sentimental heartfelt goodbye; instead, it was a rushed embrace. All I wanted was simply to hold her.
I had no words to convey how I felt. Perhaps tears are simply unspoken words that run down your face. I felt exposed and vulnerable. Thankfully, my sunglasses created a safe haven from public view. In my twenty’s and thirty’s I seldom cried in public. I could hold back a tear like a dam sustaining a flooding river. On this day, the dam broke and I would never be the same.
My drive home to Vermilion Cliffs was one of self reflection. Is it really possible to fall for someone in eight days? The answer is, YES!! Was I hopeful that I would see the perfect stranger sooner than later? Most definitely!
I remember when I left southern California and my friends expressed concern about my future love life. How would I ever find Ms. Right living in the middle of nowhere? My answer was very simple. I wasn’t looking for love; however, I was hopeful one day she would find me.
Did you know recorded sand dune sounds fall into the musical range of an E, an F or a G?
Historically speaking, Marco Polo noticed the phenomenon of singing sand dunes in the Gobi Desert. Nomadic travelers heard the haunting and baffling sounds across the Sahara. Charles Darwin had no explanation for the serenading sands in the Chilean desert.
There are only 30 locations around the world where sand dunes perform like musical instruments. One of them is Kelso Dunes, in the Californian desert.
Leaving my trail angel family, (the Ramos’s) I found myself reaching for my mp3 player. For me, it seems for every situation in life there is a song that has been written that captures someone’s feeling or thoughts that can only be translated through music. For some, a song might actually bring words to a feeling we are incapable of articulating, while for others the lyrical content seems like a personal narrative written by a stranger.
On this leg of my road trip I found myself listening to Vicci Martinez’s “Enjoy The Ride”. I was fortunate to meet Vicci and have her on my radio show back in 2011.
At the time, the lyrics to the song spoke to me; yet, I felt I could only LIVE the message in theory. I think the concept of ‘in theory’ for many people is like advice without an action plan. We have read the books, we have the knowledge; yet, somehow we fail to apply it in daily practices of living.
Three years later, I feel like I am living more in the now, and no longer worry about tomorrow. Three years ago my tomorrow looked nothing like my present day.
As we headed east on the I-40 towards Kelbaker road, I realized this would be my 5th visit to Kelso Dunes since moving to California in 1997. Mother Nature’s sandbox has offered me unlimited photography opportunities, hiking joy, free camping, and one amazing boogie boarding weekend over the years.
This visit though was inspired by SHADOW. Shadow loves playing in the sand. I wanted to show him Mother Nature’s ultimate sandbox, in addition to sharing our first cowboy camping experience together.
Located in the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve, Kelso Dunes spans 45 square miles and is 650 feet above the desert floor. Kelso Dunes were created over the course of 25,000 years by winds carrying sand grains from the dried Soda Lake and the Mojave River Sink.
Pulling into Kelso Dunes parking lot, I made a mental note of items to be packed for our overnight cowboy camp. It was rather simple, winter sleeping bags, jacket, beanie hat, water, dog food, and several Cliff Bars. My goal was to be on the dunes summit by sunset.
What I had not accounted for was a very friendly and attractive Park Ranger stopping by to say ‘Hi’ to Shadow. It seems dogs are social icebreakers! What started as a ‘your dog is beautiful’ comment ended in a 20-minute conversation about backpacking, B.L.M. land, and her winter spent as a ranger in YellowStone National Park.
I would be a liar if I didn’t admit to spending my entire hike wondering if Ranger Mitchell was single. Little did I know Min also thought the Ranger was rather special. Ranger Mitchell continued to be the topic of our conversation for the entire dunes hike. Yes, she made an impression on both of us!
As we headed out on the sand, I wondered what Shadow was thinking about his new environment.Shadow only sand experience was the dry canal beds of Fresno.
Little did Shadow know his new home in Marble Canyon would be canyons and a sandy gravel wash. Sandpapered paws would become the norm and the familiarity of a public park would be no longer.
Almost halfway up the sand dunes and I realized how dogs cover triple the distance their owners do. Shadow runs ahead, sprints back to check in, then barrels up another sand dune. I think Shadow underestimated how long the hike would be, pacing himself is an option he has yet to discover. In reality, how could he slow down, all his senses were being stimulated.
Note – have you ever seen a dog get the sillies on sand dunes?
After ten minutes of running each other ragged, this was the end result!
After my brief talk with Shadow, we marched straight up the right flank of the spine. It became very difficult to maintain our momentum, as the picture opportunities were endless. If it wasn’t Shadow digging his way to China, it was me enjoying Mother Nature’s light show.
As we followed the sand spine to the summit the sun was starting to set. Imagine having 45 square miles of sand dunes all to yourself?
Front row seats to a sand dune sunset, and all that is missing is nothing.
When was the last time you heard Mother Nature’s orchestra sing on the sand dunes?
Have you ever felt Mother Nature flirting with your camera while encouraging you to be still?
Do you capture or inhale the moment?
Is it possible to do both without feeling distracted?
Shadow decided for us, we sat silently and inhaled.
After setting up camp, I managed to sneak in a few more pictures of the remaining light show. Shadow stood guard. I am not sure if he was protecting me or his view of his new-found territory, the Mojave Sand Pit.
As darkness fell we slid into our sleeping bags.
It almost seems criminal to be cowboy camping on a clear night with a skyline riddled with stars.
Does it really get any better than this? I don’t think so! Connecting with the Mother Nature seems to help me re-connect with myself, or maybe she speaks a language I understand. A language of limbic simplicity.
I have always found it fascinating that we permit and accept Mother Nature’s self-expression of rain, tornadoes, tsunamis, monsoons, earthquakes, avalanches, floods, hurricanes, burning heat, bone-chilling cold, and nasty snow storms. If Mother Nature were human she would be considered super sensitive, moody, unforgiving, reactive and at times impulsive and unpredictable. Perhaps global warming would be perceived as a woman with resentments seeking retribution for the damage caused by her abusers.
Min and Shads slept through the desert night, while I woke a few times wondering what life would be like if it was just this simple.
How did life become a full-time job for so many of us? At what point do we give up on living in exchange for a false sense of security?
It seems over the past few years the term “bucket list” has become a part of pop culture. Everyone seems to have one, a list of things to do before we die. What if we redefined the term to a list of things to accomplish while we are still living? At times it seems a bucket list is more of an idea or distraction from our reality. Is it considered disobedient to make a career out of your bucket list? And if so, why a bucket? What if one bucket isn’t big enough to store your list? Do you shorten the list, or consider two buckets? These are some of the questions that fill my head in the wee hours.
Have you ever woken up on a 700ft sand dune and tip toed across the cold sand in your socks looking for a place to pee?
Have you ever felt like Mother Nature has become your personal compass?
It seemed like the Arizona state flag rays were revealing themselves in my California desert sunrise.
How did Mother Nature know I was Arizona-bound?
It was somewhat comforting having Mother Nature project my destiny in the wee hours of the morning. The sun rays felt more like a stamp of approval than a light show. Ironic, I seldom seek advice from humans, yet I will listen when the planet speaks to me.
Shadow and I played on the sand dunes for another hour before returning to camp. Shadow seemed hyper-vigilant about keeping sand out of his paws and was paying close attention to the wind blowing sand across the dune scape.
Back at camp, we all ate breakfast before Shads and I decided to return to bed while Min was filming. The winds started to pick up, and I felt blessed to be camped in the sand bowl, right below a sand wave.
By 930am, the desert sun was starting to heat up the sand. Shadow was content sunbathing and snoozing, while I was starting to think about lunch. I was craving “real food”. Today we were headed to Lake Mead, our second last stop before Vermilion Cliffs. With a 3 hour drive ahead of us, we packed up our cowboy camp and prepared for our sand dune descent.
My final destination was becoming more and more of a reality. I started to wonder what my new life would be like. Would I like the work atmosphere? Would Shadow be able to adapt to desert living and perhaps even have canine friends? Would my sexual orientation be problematic in a state that can legally discriminate against me? Would my dating world be scaled down to zero in a town of a few hundred? Would there be any other lesbians in the area? How difficult would it be to eat fresh? Would I be able to construct a makeshift gym to get back into training?
In the past, these questions would have stemmed from fear. These days my questioning is rooted in deep curiosity and wonder. Remember the old saying, curiosity killed the cat? I feel the cat lived a full life. At least the cat did not die of wonder.
After making the pilgrimage along the spine, Shads and I took the time to sit before making our final descent down the dunes. Like two strangers that joined forces during the trip of a lifetime, we found ourselves staring out over the Mojave National Preserve.
Have you ever caught yourself in the moment when you realize you won’t be returning to a place, town or state for a long period of time? It was here, on the dune edge that I recognized the permanency of my decision to move and live differently. I had lived in southern California for 17 years, it has been home, yet I still feel like there is so much more to discover in this beautiful state. I have made a promise to myself and Shads that we will return to hike the Lost Coast trail. Shads has yet to experience the ocean, and I think this hike would be the ultimate ocean experience for him.
With the sand as a reminder that life is not written in stone, we headed straight down the dunes. The 70-degree vertical descent created sand avalanches that trigger the booming dunes orchestra. To experience booming dunes, and to feel the vibrations throughout your body is undoubtedly one of the most unique gifts mother nature has to offer. It makes any fun park appear lame.
Halfway down Shadow was getting visibly irritated by the sand between his paws. It seemed every few minutes he needed to stop for a paw pedicure. I reminded him of our next destination, the waters of Lake Mead. It didn’t seem to help him any!
Within half an hour we made it back to the car. Shadow was very happy to be off the sand and snoozing on the backseat. As we drove away Vicci Martinez’s song, “Enjoy The Ride” started playing. Her lyrics, as fitting as ever, rang true to me.
Come on take it slow, and always enjoy the ride. Cause what will be, will be, you cannot hide. And free yourself from fear that lives inside. And only then the truth you seek, you will finally find.
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