As Nyma and I were gearing up for a slow jaunt down to Phoenix, AZ to arrive at Grandma’s place in time to meet my sister Sarah for the weekend, I received a call with bad news from Grandma. A slight accident had broken her ankle, leaving her more or less immobile. Being the kind, caring, selfless grandson I am, I abandoned my plans to explore Joshua Tree and raced there instead.
It was hard saying my goodbyes in Bishop, but let’s be real – does any amount of time in Bishop ever feel like enough? After a full morning of work and one last rock climbing sesh, Nyma and I hit the road for a long, cold brew-fueled drive into the night.
Welcome to the Desert
Our route took us past a most delicious taco stand, the alien landscape of Alabama Hills where we had camped a few nights before, and into the dark maws of Death Valley. Driving through Death Valley at night I’m sure doesn’t compare to the daytime, though I was glad to be avoiding the heat. I did, however, look up to admire the stars when we found an inconspicuous spot to sleep somewhere directly outside the park. Starry desert skies do not disappoint!
In the morning, we made our way to Red Rocks outside of Vegas for a little hike. We arrived around 8 or 9, but the heat came on quick. By the time we reached the gully two miles in, I was sweating and ready for a siesta in the shade. Nyma wanted to keep going, but when she saw me recline on a rock in the shade she was content to explore nearby.
On the way back to the van, I was surprised to see people on their way out despite the sweltering heat. Little did I know, that was the first hint of the heat I was to endure the coming three weeks.
Nyma, meanwhile, was getting confident with the whole desert thing and began wandering off the trail. She had her first encounter with cactus (specifically, jumping cholla). At first, I let her try to figure it out for herself, but she gave up after a few minutes and resolved to just limp the whole way back.
Ouch, do those fuckers hurt! I got pricked five times just trying to get the thing off her paw. It drew blood. Then she went and did it again! Needless to say, she lost her off-leash privileges until she could prove she’d learned her lesson.
What’s a Dog to Do?
Heading through Vegas, we stopped to top up on inspiration of the “Blue Dream” variety and contribute some tax dollars to the local school systems 🙂 Then we had another long day on the road. I made some good progress on my “American Gods” audiobook by Neil Gaiman, and some music besides. I distinctly remember rocking Outkast pretty hard on this leg of the drive.
What does Nyma do while we drive? Her favorite thing to do is stand on the seat and watch the scenery roll by with a big grin on her face, sniffing all the good scents out the window from time to time. When she wants to switch up her stance, she’ll stand backward with her lower feet on the ground and turn her head awkwardly to look forward. When she sees a big truck coming, it’s hit the deck to hide from the monster.
The rest of the time, she curls up on her bed and sleeps. She’s really great about that, actually. But since she’s a border collie, I’m careful to not to drive too long without running her – otherwise, her battery just keeps charging. It helps give me a mental break and keeps me disciplined to my own running regimen, though. No complaints there!
When we arrived at Grandma’s around 9 that night, we were two tired puppies. It had been an exhausting few days of driving. After scarfing down a plate of leftover food Grandma’s friends had made her, I settled down for a night of very peaceful sleep under the roof a house for the first time in weeks.
Discovering the Superstitions
My playground during the few weeks I was taking care of Grandma was the Superstition Mountains, just thirty minutes east of Mesa. This incredible land feature is unique and inspiring, looming as it does above the horizon.
Unsurprisingly, it is a key feature in dozens of native myths. More than one myth tells of an impressive flood that forced the people to the summit. There, they were turned to stone by the gods. Sound similar to another story you know? Now, I don’t take the mysticism literally, but those mountains sure looked ethereal with a swirling backdrop of pink, purple, and orange around sunset.
I learned rather quickly if you hoped to do anything outside in the desert, you had to beat the sun. Being the night owl that I am, I was forced to wait until dusk to run. Nyma and I enjoyed some awesome runs through landscapes of saguaros, jackrabbits, river washes, and enchanting desert sunsets!
Running at dusk, we saw the occasional coyote, too. With their brown fur and lean build, they bear an uncanny resemblance to Nyma. Small coyotes are cute; big ones raise the hair on my neck. They always remained well enough hidden that Nyma never saw them. I often wondered how she would react, though I wasn’t curious enough to test it.
Between the Superstitions and Usury Mountain Regional Park, we were very happy with the selection of running trails. I just wish the weather was cooler so we could have enjoyed them longer!
Counting My Blessings
Though I was glad to be able to lend a hand to Grandma, I found it extremely difficult to be stuck in one spot for three weeks when all I wanted to do was roam. If you’ve ever been forced into circumstances against your wishes, I’m sure you can sympathize; the turmoil is real. Instead of dwelling on my inability to wander, I made a daily effort to count my blessings.
Without a doubt, the greatest blessing was being visited by not just one, not two, but three family members from back home in Oregon! First, Sarah came down for a weekend. We went to the Superstition Mountain Museum, went jetskiing on a lake (a nice surprise, considering we didn’t even know Arizona had lakes!), hiked at South Mountain, and found delicious food in downtown Phoenix. Of course, long games of Rummy with Grandma were mixed in for good measure.
My sis’s boyfriend, RJ, came with his brother the following weekend. I went with those guys back to the museum, then we grabbed burgers and went to the theater to see the new Blade Runner movie. We were all in the coma burgers and milkshakes tend to induce, but the film was definitely worth the second viewing. The big surprise of his visit though: asking our permission to propose to Sarah. Unexpected, but very exciting news! Of course, we said yes.
Finally, the last person to visit was my dear mother. Her arrival was like that of an angel lifting a burden off my shoulders. I was happy to show her all the places I’d discovered in my time there, while also gaining some free time as she took over some of my responsibilities. We all enjoyed that long weekend immensely. Though, as always, it had to come to an end.
By then, Grandma had healed enough to get a stiff cast put on and she set me free. It had been a nice stint, filled with family time, improvement, and routine (for better or worse). That said, Nyma and I were very anxious to get back on the road. Some of the most-awaited sights of our journey lay ahead of us, and time was running out!
After a quick coolant flush and securing the broken tailpipe in place with a piece of wire, we headed north to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and beyond…
If you are just tuning in, catch up on our journey from the start!
Side note: I slacked on taking photos on this part of the trip, so had to borrow some. I promise to have more originals in the next post!
Photo Credit: CEBImagery via Flickr