Camping in the desert

Technorati Tags: camping,desert,travelogue

Not too long ago I made a hunting trip to the desert again. I also wanted to do a little camping in the back of my pickup. The following is some of that trip.

The first night was a bit of a disappointment, mainly because I had forgotten to pack my propane cook stove in my haste to get going. I had big plans for a well planned dinner. Instead I sat under the camper shell as rain pelted my surroundings, and ate unheated, leftover steak from the previous night at home and a dry, plain bagel, all washed down with grape juice.

The next evening, after a long day’s hunt, I wearily backed the pickup down into a fairly deep, sandy, dry wash where the strong wind was not quite so bad. The wind was cold, blowing from the northwest, so I sought out a windbreak in the form of a big chaparral bush and backed the truck as close as possible to it. This particular draw was filled with chaparral, yucca, and prickly pear, and it took some doing to gather firewood to cook over.

I set my fire ring downwind from the large bush; it was made from a tire rim from a mobile home and not all that big in diameter. But it would do as long as I cut the fuel wood to lengths of eight inches or less. I managed to do so with my trusty bow saw, making sure I did not cut anything larger in diameter than three inches.

After piling the rim full of hard, dry chaparral, I fetched up the Coleman fuel and dumped a cup on. A stick match thrown on the mixture produced instant fire. Sitting back in a dilapidated lawn chair, I waited for the wood to “coal up” while I also started to cut up some fillets (produced from a wild sheep that I had taken in Texas.) I lay the meat in a teflon-coated frying pan and proceeded to open a can of sauerkraut. One thing about cooking vittles on the open fire, you develop patience and a good appetite.

So in the meantime I also filled my blue, porcelain coffee pot with water and brought it to a boil, then made a steaming cup of french vanilla-flavored coffee. A metal cup held the brew, and it helped to warm my wind blown, chilled hands while the beverage also warmed my insides.

It took about 30 minutes for the wood to become just the right coals for broiling steak then another 45 minutes to slow cook the meat and the sauerkraut.

The food was worth the wait and I savored each bite, chewing it to the fullest, washing it all down with a glass of ice cold milk.

Green olives stuffed with pimentos were my side dish. They are something I dearly cherish but seldom get. (My wife says they’re not on my diet.) But out here, who cares! Dessert consists of two fudge-covered granola bars and a coconut candy bar (if you’re going to break a diet, why not do it right!)

Afterwards I sat back and relaxed under a full moon and gazed toward the town of Columbus, about 20 miles away. As the town’s lights twinkle in the dark, I’m intrigued by the fact that Columbus appears to be a vast city under the stars instead of the tiny, border town hamlet it really is.

A falling star adds to the scene as I realize the wind has turned from a steady torrent into sporadic, strong gusts.

It just doesn’t get better than this, I say to no one but the bushes, but I wish my wife Jeri could be here to share this moment with me. But she, for the most part, is a motel and restaurant person so I can only sigh and miss her at this pristine time in the night.

I wash the dishes in steaming water from the coffeepot relishing the warmth on my still cold hands, then throw the paper plates in the fire. I then set all the dish cloths on the branches of the bush so they can air-dry overnight.

A solitary plane flies over, its engines the only noise to break the reverie except the occasional pop and crackle of the dying embers of my fire. I do not freshen the blaze, preferring instead to let it die out so I can turn in early. I stare at the coals for a long time, lost in forgotten thoughts. I wonder to myself why when there is a campfire, a person has to stare into it, mesmerized by its glow.

Off in the distance I spot the Tres Hermanes mountains, lit up by the now high moon. They seem to appear three-dimensional under the clear light and much closer than they really are. I gaze about me; there doesn’t seem to be cloud anywhere, which is a comforting thought.

Contentment and a full belly bring on an onslaught of fatigue and the attendant desire for sleep. It’s been a long day. The fire has ebbed away almost to nonexistence so I throw dirt on it using the empty sauerkraut can as my shovel.

I peer upward one last time; it is a full, clear, starry sky, a far cry from last night when the clouds rushed by, low and leaden, full of rain. Tonight the humidity is gone and I can safely sleep in this sandy draw without fear of a flash flood sweeping me away into oblivion.

Tomorrow’s dawn is a full nine hours away, just enough time for a good night’s sleep under layers and layers of old down comforters.

All of a sudden it’s midnight. It seems as if I’ve only been asleep minutes instead of three hours.

Large, loud raindrops are furiously pelting the metal roof. I gaze furtively out the window; all I see are low, dark clouds pouring forth their water in sheets.

Dagnabbit! Quickly I pull on a jacket and boots. No time for jeans. Who knows how long it’s been raining a mile or two away up in the mountains at the head of this draw. Experience has taught me that in the desert it can be clear overhead then become a raging river at the same time because of severe rain miles up canyon. I think of the party in Utah just months ago who found out this fact the hard way. Some of them never made it out.

Reluctant to crawl from my cocoon, I give a sigh and push open the door and clamor out into the rain. Lowering the tailgate, I start throwing in coolers and dry firewood from under my truck. They all land on my bed.

Quickly I gather the towels from the chaparral and the dirt where they have fallen, then throw in the now cold fire ring.

The draw is still dry except for the falling rain. I fumble for my keys with cold hands and fire up the engine, cussing the desert and its unpredictability.

Gunning the engine, I drive a quarter mile to a flat between “my” draw and another; it’s not protected here, but it’s much safer and easier on the nerves. The wind is blowing once again strong, cold and steady. Miserable now, my sleep disrupted, I unload all the gear and stow it under the truck, getting more wet in the process.

Now dirt is all over my bedding but I don’t care as I undress and crawl under the mound after again lighting my propane, one-burner heater. In seconds I’m fast asleep.

The next morning the sun is shining brightly although the mountains to the north are shrouded in thick, gray clouds. What a little breeze there is, even slightly warm and somewhat soothing. It’s gonna be a good day in the desert.