By Steven Law
Lake Powell Chronicle
As soon as we leave the pavement and turn onto the sandy, backcountry roads, we lock in the four wheel drive and roll down the windows to let the warm spring air blow through the Jeep. Dana sighs contentedly as the warm desert air blows over her, and our dog Belle, who is sitting in the backseat, hangs her head out the window and sniffs at the mineral smell of Jeep-churned sand and the nectary smell of the globemallows that started blooming this week.
It’s only 33 miles from our house in Page to the Paria Overlook — tonight’s camping destination — but it will take us two hours to reach it, as we slowly creep and crawl over the desert’s jagged rocks and axel-breaking gullies and through its deep drifts of sand. But, traveling slowly through this spring desert is a good thing, because the country we traverse is stunningly beautiful.
I drive the Jeep over yet another steeply-pitched rock outcropping, dragging our chassis across an edge of Jurassic rock like a boot scraping mud from its sole, and then we pitch down the other side, steep as a black-diamond ski run. Belle pulls her head in the from the window and sits back in her seat to better brace against this reversal of gravity, but as soon as we’ve leveled out again she sticks her head out the window to once again see, and sniff, what’s going by and coming next. Man, I love that dog!
Belle came into my life when I married Dana five months prior to this trip. The Jeep is also Dana’s. Talk about hitting the jackpot!
It’s been decades since I had a dog in my life, and I had forgotten just how wonderful it is to have a dog in my life. As every dog owner knows, life is better when you have a dog by your side. Walks are brisker. Sunshine is shinier. Campfires are brighter. Naps are dreamier. Tents are more content. Hearths are warmer. Homes are cozier.
Belle and I have a lot in common. Neither one of us trusts strangers. We both like to mark our turf. We both love snooping around outdoors. We both love playing in puddles. We both leave stains on the carpet. We both have dirty collars. We’re both barely housebroken. We have both been known to howl at the moon. We both love being scratched. Belle prefers the belly; I prefer the back. We’ve both spent some time in the doghouse. Belle doesn’t fetch. Neither do I.
Belle was found abandoned in a tool shed, shaking with cold and fear (they figure she was about 6 months old). Dana brought her home and fed her and loved her. Dana found me on a river, took me in, fed me and loved me. Belle and I both love taking long walks, followed by long naps. We both love Dana unconditionally. And we will both perform tricks for bacon.
If you’ve been cold, you will better appreciate the warmth. If you’ve been hungry, you will better appreciate a hot meal. If you’ve been wandering the world alone, you will better appreciate a dog. A dog is companionship. A dog is unconditional love. And there is nothing better than that.
When I was a young man, a train came to town and it took those who boarded it to great and important and successful places. But I didn’t get on it. I was out exploring the desert the day that train came to town. That train came again a few years later, and again it took those who boarded it to great, important and successful places. And I missed it again. I was floating down a river that time.
Some people see the gaping voids in my life — from repeatedly missing that train — and hold it against me. I mean my resume has more white space than a map of 17th Century America. But not Belle. Belle doesn’t care about that nonsense, because no one’s got your back like a dog’s got your back.
After two hours of crawling slowly through the sand and over-around-between the rock outcroppings and junipers, we arrive at our camp, the stunningly beautiful Paria Overlook. In the back seat, Belle stamps her impatient, beautiful feet, waiting for us slow humans to open her door and let her out to explore this new, enthralling place, and when we finally do open the door she explodes from the Jeep, like champagne from an agitated bottle, and she runs and snoops like a preposition with its tail on fire. Around the Jeep, between the trees, along the edge of the overlook, under the old wooden fence, after the rabbit. She sniffs at cowpies and fence posts and pees on nearly every bush.
Dana and I laugh with joy — and appreciation — at her exuberance. “Let’s go take in the view before we set up camp,” I suggest.
We walk to the overlook, only 40 feet away from where we’ll pitch our tent. Dana and I have been to this overlook before but its beauty — even though we’re expecting it — is still breathtaking.
From the cliff edge where we stand we look down on Paria Canyon, the floor of which lies several hundred feet below us. From here we can look down the length of Paria Canyon’s last five miles before it merges with the Colorado River at Lees Ferry. It’s a vivid, stunning view.
Paria Canyon’s left wall — comprised of iron oxide-rich sand — was built to capture the soft, red-orange glow of the evening sun. Its right wall, hidden in shadow, is pink, with purplish-blue shadows. The canyon floor is wide and golden in the day’s last light.
At our 11 o’clock, far in the distance, we can see our town of Page, and at our 10 o’clock we see Lake Powell’s Wahweap Bay, Lone Rock and Tower Butte.
Dana and I hold hands and gaze into the void while Belle runs, sniffs and snoops, hover-buzzing in our general vicinity like an electron around a nucleus. We can feel the Paria Overlook’s awe and reverence emanating into us like heat from a wood stove.
As we gaze into the beautiful void, I remember that old Nietzsche quote: “ . . . and when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” And I can feel that void, looking into my own voids.
But staring into the void is no problem at all with a brave, loyal dog — and wife — by your side.
If there is an opposite of looking into the void it is looking into the caring eyes of a wife who loves you and believes in you. I am a very lucky man.
After perhaps 10 minutes of reverentially gazing off the edge of the overlook Dana suggests that we return to camp, unload the Jeep and set up camp. “I’ll make the burgers if you set up the tent,” Dana said. But I was still gazing off the overlook, still lost in my own little awe-infused world. But Dana knows how to get my attention: “I’ll make some bacon too.”
I had that tent up in three minutes.