I realize that some may be mystified by not seeing a blog from me in several months. It was a summer of reflection and change interspersed with adventures and exploration of course. Allow me to recap some highlights for you.
I was able to go on another fantastic dinosaur dig. This time I camped out overnight which was a fun experience. This, as well as many of my activities from this summer increased my grit exponentially. I camped in my own little spot in my own little tent and it wasn’t that hard. Camping alone was on my list of things I could do to build my grit and I felt that this was a good relative approximation of hitting that goal. While there were others there, we each found our own campsites to pitch our tents so we were not within eyesight of each other. I surprisingly slept like a baby. One of the men who volunteered with us described doing surgery on his own foot with a screwdriver and alcohol. I don’t feel that I ever need to be that gritty, but he was an interesting person to spend a couple of days with. We worked at the site late into the day and through a thunderstorm. This has been one of those experiences that I will value through life. The fossils found here are over 70 million years old. The planet looked so different then. The days were even a half hour shorter then. It’s hard to fathom touching something that old and imaging the life it once lived. We worked with tiny brushes, dental picks, and scissors to move away the dirt, roots, and mudstone carefully bit by bit to expose pieces of this T-Rex fossil. As we worked, our leader Katja played rock music from a bluetooth speaker she hung from a nearby juniper. We watched the storm clouds and made group decisions about safety and risk while out in the field. I am pictured below with a large fossil piece that we had covered in plaster. We used a rock saw, chisels, and hammers to cut it out of the ground below. Then a very careful and stressful process with crowbars to lift and flip it. We all called out in joy and relief when this task was completed without damage to the delicate bone. We went to work after that brushing out dirt and mudstone until we reached the underside of the bone and then plastered that side as well. I left that night to return home and plans were made to transport this fossil out of the field the following day. I considered staying longer, but had to return for work and really wanted a shower after two days of dirt and sweat.
I also found more superblooms to chase down and frolic through. I was always able to find some ladies interested in joining the hunt and the frolic. These lovely women below were some of my co-workers and friends who were also seasonal workers here.
This year I felt much more comfortable exploring the desert. I drove down all sorts of dirt roads and even some I was completely unfamiliar with. I became a truck driving master. I took friends and co-workers on adventures and Luke and I built a really awesome campfire/music community for the summer. We had lots of fun gatherings around the fire with several wonderful musicians. Sometimes, a person we had never met before would come along with a friend who offered a new song. One time a man with a flute came and played a folk song called “Diggin’ my Potatoes”. It’s a fun little ditty about a man who is cuckold.
A funny thing happened, we began to feel that we were at home here as we built relationships with other seasonal workers as well as locals. We began to think of places we frequented for camping or walking the dogs as “our spots”. We explored more places that did not include marked trails or maps. Luke was invited to join a band that played at the Annual Potato Day festival in town. They were excellent of course. I also continued to attend the writing club that began out here this season. Though I was not writing the blog, I did lots of writing for myself and also wrote some short essays and stories that I shared with writing club members. I enjoyed doing this and was always inspired by the writing of the others in the group. I began to remember a passion I had for writing at different times in my life and am reconnecting with that now.
One of the highlights for me was driving the Cottonwood Canyon Rd and camping out overnight. This adventure was an invitation from a geologist I had met while volunteering with the BLM. We made the drive slowly while she took notes in her journal about features and formations, all the while answering my unending questions or providing information that she found interesting. Cottonwood Canyon Rd is a marvelous drive following the Cockscomb named for the ridges from the uplift that resemble a comb on a rooster’s head. One section of the cockscomb is known as Candyland due to the colorful striping on the rocks. We also watched the sunset over a superbloom of yellow flowers. As my fellow traveler Rihannon explained how these magnificent geological features formed, I imagined watching a sped of version of the earth before me changing over many thousands of years. I spotted a Bighorn sheep up on a cliff and an Eastern Collared lizard on this trip. We hiked to the Wahwheap hoodoos which is an amazing otherwordly place and took a spin by the Paria Townsite to admire the rainbow chinle formation there. This was probably the most photogenic adventure I have taken recently.
As the excitement of Spring and good weather died down, Luke and I went through a period of re-examining values and priorities. We also re-examined finances (as all good adventurers must sometimes do) and decided that we should look for more lucrative work for a period of time. Luke began his quest for a new job. I decided to part ways with Yonder, but since we weren’t itching to leave our beautiful little community here yet, we moved to an RV park about a half mile down the road. It’s a smaller operation with less staff so I had to work more, but I also felt like more of an integral part of the team and it absolutely didn’t suck. We also have a large site with a beautiful view and plenty of space from neighboring sites. This is my plug for Escalante Cabins & RV Park. Beautiful park, reasonable rates, large sites, and they treat us very well. Here we still are as the park is open year round and we are still on the hunt for our next respective jobs. I’m doing some media work for them and helping out with other stuff from time to time to keep my site free. It’s not much work as it’s slow so that has freed me up to decide to renew the blog. The slowness of winter life is nice here. There’s more time for reflection which we have been into lately. It’s not that difficult to be content when you can free up your mind from the clutter of negative thoughts and worrying about what you or others “should” be doing. Freeing the mind can be difficult though, especially in what feels like a rapidly declining society. I keep finding examples of people that are living life in some type of unconventional way and are happy doing so. These people are inspirational…wait…I am one of these people. If you are looking for a workcamper opportunity here, I am sure they will be looking for help in the Spring.
My mother and her boyfriend Marsh came out here for a visit. We spent some time locally exploring Bryce Canyon and the section of the Grand Staircase here in Escalante and then the three of us set off on a road trip to visit Cayonlands and Arches National Parks. I taught my traveling companions the road trip style to getting the most out of a visit to the southwest. We traversed the Burr Trail Switchbacks and Notom road to Capitol Reef and marveled at the colorful landscape along the waterpocket fold. We also made some fun spontaneous detours along the way to see unplanned sights. Some of these spontaneous stops were my favorite. It’s like those choose your own adventure books I loved as a child. You don’t know what you’re going to see ahead of time so you’re delighted by whatever you find. The parks were beautiful and we learned interesting things when we visited them of course, but have you ever wandered around the Monster Mountain Museum in Hanksville, UT? What a gem.
We had a lovely day at arches and happened to see rangers fighting a fire there.
After Arches and Canyonlands we headed down to Monticello where we also made a detour to see Newspaper Rock. This may be the most petroglyphs I have seen in one spot out here. I think all of the drives out here seem to be designated scenic highways. We listened to tunes, talked about our life philosophies, and looked out our windows in silent awe as we appreciated the landscape around us and the occasional sighting of wild horses and other animals when on the less traveled roads. We stayed in cheap, but clean motels for the first couple of nights and ate dinner at interesting places like an old grain silo that had been converted into a tavern.
We spent a night in Bluff, UT and stopped into the Bluff Fort Historic Site. This site and town had particular significance for me now that I’m a quasi-Escalante resident. The group of pioneers who ventured out on Hole in the Rock Road traveled to Bluff to settle a new mormon community there where they would be free from persecution. The historic site has several cabins and community buildings you can wander into preserved with period furnishing and an accompanying story about the family who lived there. The docent I spoke to told me an incredible story of his great grandmother who was on that expedition of early pioneers. She gave birth to his great grandmother on the bench of her carriage and the horses never stopped or slowed while this happened. So much grit these people had! I bought one of their T-shirts depicting the phrase, I can do Hard Things. The docent gave me a polished tigers eye stone to take along my journey.
We journeyed next to the Hovenweep National Monument, six villages that housed over 2,500 people and was built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. None of us had ever seen so many structures in one place before and in such good condition. We had also not seen structures this tall thus far. Some were multi story towers. We looked for information and found many speculations of what these towers were used for, but no one really knows for sure.
As we made our loop we also visited Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, and Lake Powell. It was lots of fun being a tourist again. Road trips are never boring.
Luke and I spent time with the Milky Way over the summer as well and camped out on the Cathedral Valley road by Capitol Reef. I had been wanting to see the Bentonite Hills after seeing some incredible photos of them online. The summer also offered hard times for us as we navigated through loss and unexpected changes. These challenges also lead to personal growth though so we focused on that because we too can do hard things.
In October we experienced a full solar eclipse here which was a cool thing to witness. We got us some snazy filters so we could capture it without the risk of frying our sensors.
We also bought ourselves a chunk of land in northern AZ. We don’t know what we may do with it one day, but it sure is pretty.
There have been many other great hikes and adventures along the way of course and there will continue to be. We don’t know yet what our next destination will be or for how long we will be there, but we know that the future holds many options for us and whatever we find is likely to be great.
To be perfectly honest, we don’t have our future mapped out and often wonder about what we want to do and what are the best choices for us. This has been difficult at times, but that’s life. We do feel like the roadmap to a happy life that was handed down to us by our families and American culture may be flawed and deserves to be questioned. Medicare may not exist by the time we reach the age to benefit from it. Stock markets and inflation have felt out of control at times. Many large companies seem to see all employees as expendable. There is little reason to trust most people we see as being “in charge”. When there’s no clear correct path, all we can do is to do what’s best for us and to be our best selves to others. I encourage everyone to listen to your intuition, pay attention to nudges you may receive when you’re looking for an answer or guidance, and to not always follow traditional wisdom about how to lead your life. The periods of uncertainty can be tough, but will also pass if you continue to work on yourself and look for opportunities in everything. People in town always ask us if we are living here now. I simply say, for now we are and we are happy to be welcomed here. What is a home anyhow other than a place you stay and find a community to belong to.
Jennifer MacNeil is currently traveling the US with her husband and two dogs. She loves to have adventures, explore, meet fascinating people, and see amazing places. She strives to learn every day and spread kindness to others. She documents her journey through her photography and blog to share with others.