Van Newsletter #4

National Parks + Forests:

  • Zion National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Pink Coral Sands State Park
  • Boise National Forest
  • Uinta National Forest
  • Coconino National Forest



     On April 6th we left Pismo Beach and started the drive back to AZ so that Ty could be there for his mom’s surgery.


     We stop in Henderson, NV and sleep in a ‘dispersed camp pull off’ on the side of the highway. The gym we go to is in a rich neighborhood and many of the residents curiously talk to us. One lady states that the gym owner is horrible and spends money on stupid things such as the new mini sauna. I sit inside the mini sauna for an entire hour. It is a luxury I have not had in so long. The land surrounding Las Vegas is used as a personal dumping ground for residents, broken bottles, furniture, mattresses and even a car door litter the surrounding land. Our last day in the area we venture into higher elevation to get a glimpse of Mount Charleston. A wild burro wakes us up at 3am by braying 500ft from the van. 

One night in Flagstaff

     “FEED THE DEER Exit 181”. We can’t ignore that billboard. The tiny deer slowly surround us, their faces simple long snouts with black eyes the size of tomatoes. One deer in particular has shoved my entire skirt into its mouth. When it finally spits it out my baby blue skirt is now dark green and covered in holes. That night we are both violently ill. If it was from the elevation gain of 5000 ft or deer cooties, we may never know. At our campsite I build a teepee out of large fallen branches, intricately crossing each at the top, then adding smaller and smaller branches. Ty cuts wood with his ax. We dance around the fire and sit by our new teepee home. 

Fort Collins

     A sweet week with my sweet mama. Handpicked flowers stand arranged in a vase. Full tea cups, full bellies, and a full heart. My flight back to phoenix is only ⅓ full. The flight attendants usher passengers to the back, citing that the weight distribution needs to be equal. I get an entire row to myself and I sit in a window seat. A fellow windows seat enthusiast is in the row before me. His nose pressed to the glass the entire flight, just like mine. 



Hurricane, UT   

       At 6am we begin our ascent. Each hike in Utah starts the same. Drowned in blue shadows from the red sandstone, the valley is cool and quiet. The sun has begun to rise but sits hidden from sight behind the rocks. We are racing to see who rises above the summit first. Oftentimes the golden light wins. It spreads from the tips of the rocks, to the ends of my hair, to the laces on my hiking boots, until it makes its way down to shine on the solar panels on the van at the trailhead. The various shades of red, orange, and tan band around the bizarre rock formations. One trail is marked only with rock cairns and sticks, and we spend more time searching for the path then we do walking it.     

      Back at our campsite I play my ukulele for the cows grazing nearby. There are many calves, one the color of slightly toasted marshmallows, and one completely black except for a bright white splash across its face. They jump and play while the mothers graze and watch to see what tune I am playing out of the corners of their weary eyes.    

       We meet one of Ty’s coworkers from his remote job at a random coffee shop in Virgin, UT. He lives only a few miles from where we are camped on BLM land. A few days later we go to his house and meet his wife. Their house is a gallery filled with years of collected art, from western paintings to latin sculptures to moroccan rugs. It is like a breath of relief, to be welcomed, to feel at home, to feel as if you know someone. So often we are surrounded by complete strangers. It is nice to be around people that make you feel like you belong.

Uinta National Forest

     4am, Grotto trailhead. “Shorty COME”. Ty shouts across the pitch black parking lot at his dog. I am getting ready inside the van, and now I am about ready to shut the door. The urgency in his voice dictates that we are not alone here. The past two mornings when Ty has gone outside to let the dog out he notes that a mysterious light is shining from in the forest down the trail. I have many nightmares about what I deem ‘the light man’, a creature that is going to steal us away into the forest. Finally Shorty finishes peeing and they both jump into the van and lock the door. Multiple pairs of eye shine are blinking outside. We flash the headlights on. Three deer are laying down with their heads propped up. Their big eyes blinking in confusion at this morning's disruption. 

     That night I cut Ty’s hair while he sits in a camp chair next to the van. It is not the ideal place but I remind him there is no time like the present, and if I don’t do it now, it’ll be weeks, and it’s already overdue. It’s the 4th time I’ve cut his hair now, but this is the first with an audience. A father and his son stare peculiarly from the other side of the trail lot. A couple pulls up to go hike and the man gives the haircut a compliment. Perhaps a Steller's Jay will use the hair to line the inside of its nest.     

      This morning I shared my breakfast with a snake. Or perhaps I interrupted his morning slither. I sat upon a rock eating my baby carrots while he laid in the grass with his head poking through the blades staring up at me. And together we listened to the birds chirp, and the stream flow. While the sun continued to rise over the mountains, offering warmth over the cool alpine breeze. We are parked in Grotto Trailhead because the road that continues up the mountain is blocked with a gate and a sign that says something about seasonal closures. The actual trail into the forest looks like it is made for gnomes. Tall green grass and burned trees line the quaint and dirt packed path. Grotto refers to Grotto Falls, a waterfall that we have not yet found. We take the trail left and end up on the road. We take the trail right and end up at a deadend. We take the trail up and end up next to the creek. We take the trail down and end up standing across a group of people from the trail we just tried. A young man jumps across the water and asks where we came from. The creek is flooded, he explains, but Grotto Falls is this way and starts walking down a path. We follow him to a downed tree path across the stream, and he disappears in the other direction. We cross the stream and another couple is there taking pictures next to the stream. They motion for us to walk by them. They point and explain that to see the waterfall we have to scramble up this dirt. So we do. And the hidden waterfall is right in front of our eyes. 


It's windy in Twin Falls Idaho. The wind is fun until you are trying to play frisbee on the beach. The wind is fun until there are no mountains to shield you. The wind is fun until you are spitting hair from your mouth. The wind is fun until you are biking straight into it while going up a mountain. The wind is fun until the van rocks on its shocks each night. The wind is fun until you have not gone outside all day because of the wind.  We are parked on Main Street waiting for an order of vegetable samosas from the only Indian restaurant in town. We are 4 hours into a 5 hour drive to Mountain Home. It reminds me of Greenwich CT almost, but with narrower streets and less people. It is flat and full of farmland.The city design feels intentional, the skyline dotted with short boutique buildings. I am excited to be in Idaho because it is the first state that I know nothing about. After some research we learn that the reason no one knows about Idaho is because for 9 months of the year it is freezing cold, and peak temperatures in December are awful. Feet of snow are dumped yearly. And yet we have arrived at a perfect time. 60s, sunny, and clear skies. 

Mountain Home ID

We pull into a little clearing off the mountain road. There is a soft spotlight on the small dirt patch among the grass. In it lies a tiny fire ring with stacked firewood beside it, yellow and lilac wildflowers, and a crisp smell in the air. It is as if someone knew we were coming. The landscape looks still but all around us there is life happening. Our manicured lawns don't allow us to see the true nature of grass. As the wind sweeps, tall grasses sway. The movement continues over the mountains, just like you’d imagine an arena full of sports fans doing the wave. Or perhaps it moves like a thousand butterflies taking off from a tree, going in every which way, movement everywhere all at the same time. The grass dances and spins and leaps. Like lightning flashes across the blades. The sky sings. The crickets and songbirds whistle alongside each other while I wonder if in 5 years I will think of Idaho when I take a sip of vanilla chamomile tea. 

     “I hate crickets. I hate them so much.” I whisper under my breath as I sprint down the mountain, mormon crickets jumping beneath my feet with each step I take. Red and round and big. I hate them. I step around coyote poop and am careful not to brush my legs against the caterpillar nests in the bushes. I pause abruptly. There is a rustling to my left. I am face to face with a one legged, half human, half coyote creature. It is staring right at me. I am terrified. Wait… One moment. It is a sandhill crane. There are two of them, each massive slender birds. Cranes on a random grassy green mountain in Idaho. Their faces are bright. Perhaps they are eating the crickets. They start to make a noise I can only describe as prehistoric, it echoes through the canyon below us. They fly off as I approach. I continue down the path thinking to myself about how much beauty in life is hidden or misinterpreted due to fear. I tell myself I will be less afraid. I am always trying to be less afraid.