We followed the curving road out, in hopes of setting camp with plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely afternoon. The road had become more congested, littered with families in rented RVs and little experience handling them. We hoped they were at least earning the gratitude of their loved ones, so their terrible driving would be to some end. Suddenly, we heard a thwack on the front of the car, amid a flurry of fleeing birds. We sat silently, for what seemed like a long time. Finally I spoke, "I killed a bird in the Grand Canyon."
We fashioned a simple meal of sandwiches and whiskey, adding another layer to our ensembles to keep out the cold. Bryce Canyon National Park is a leader in dark sky protection, and on clear nights up to 10,000 stars can be seen from as far as the Andromeda Galaxy. We surveyed the Milky Way, stretched out over the horizon, our view unimpeded by our campfire. The campsites that had earlier felt so close, now barely visible, their fires, satellites, piercing the darkness.
The rocks of the cliff side whistled and jeered, both mocking and celebrating our presence. The towering spires, remnants of ancient red sand dunes, looked as if an alien forest had left its eulogy in the land itself. The crushing scope was like nothing I'd ever seen; the red spikes climbing up from the valley floor towards us, the vicious gash carved by the Colorado River, the stretch of scrubby grasses and shrubs flowing out past the Six Shooter Mesa in the distance, the slow roll of the sparse clouds on an azure backdrop, all of it incredible.
If the utility of a road is compromised due to the whims of bovine, it should not, in fairness, be called a highway. Consider this my formal complaint with the state of New Mexico. The cow strutting out of the darkness before us was such an absurdity we erupted into astonished laughter. Then there was more movement. A group of shadows fell into focus. The laughing stopped.
As we bombed down the highway towards White Sands, we could eventually see a thick, white ribbon slicing across the ruddy leather-colored floor of the valley that opened up before us. The mountains at the far end were so far away they sat on a flat plane, a deep blue silhouette. The scenery was stark and stirring. With everything so visible for miles all around, your eyes tend to play tricks, and with the speed limit so high, the distances seem to melt like candy in the sun. We stopped in Alamogordo for some sandwiches, then headed off past the airbase and the missile testing range before finally arriving at White Sands.
While there were no death-blows exchanged, the learning curve for both of us is a little complicated. The early camping trip had been planned as a sort of dry run for a later leg of the trip, and I know we're both grateful for the practice, as it gave us the opportunity to work some of the kinks out. It also gave us the opportunity to examine the fact that both of us are composed of a great deal of interwoven kinks, many of which are stubborn and quite comfortable where they are. The official camping leg of the journey will not be the easiest part, but we're both certainly more prepared now. As with any trial or tribulation, strength comes from passing through adversity. Like apologizing for being a dick, which feels adverse as hell.
After lunch, we drove down the mountain into downtown to see the guided tour at the Fordyce Bathhouse, the National Park's headquarters. The tour, as with all our experiences with the National Park System, was humorous, illuminating and entertaining as hell. The history at play vis-a-vis the bathhouses and the foundation of Hot Springs itself dovetailed beautifully into the knowledge bombs from the day before at the Gangster Museum.