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The sun rises early and hot, and so do we. We peruse the free breakfast, and then head into the desert. Our destination tonight is a Best Western motel in Bloomfield, New Mexico. When we compared our travel dates to the celestial calendar, we realized that we would land in the crowded Chaco Canyon campground within a day of the summer solstice. A call to the ranger confirmed this – they assured us that by the 23rd the campground would have emptied out.
The desert is hot, even for June, and we quickly retreat behind closed windows and air conditioning. Despite the heat, we can see a surprising amount of green still evident in the surrounding vegetation. On through Barstow, and finally a fuel stop in Needles. Steve checks his phone: he’s still working – generally a taboo activity once we leave our home driveway. At the Desert Oasis gas station, complete with palm trees, he returns a reporter’s call. I have left all of my electronic devices on the shelf on Berta Ridge – I feel virtuous that I have not broken our “on vacation” pact.
We have a few errands to run before we get to the river part of our trip. This is another thing we try to avoid. On our first river trip together, we needed a new blue plastic tarp. (Blue tarps are handy for covering gear, and for building free-form rain/sun shelter.) We waited until Flagstaff on that trip – there should be plenty of places to find a blue tarp. Ha! We made four stops at places like hardware stores and feed stores before we found one. Blue tarps must not be in the same demand they are in California, for no one had a healthy stock.
This trip, we need an all-in-one tool (think Leatherman), and a deck of cards and a travel cribbage board. Steve forgot the cards and cribbage board, and his Leatherman has been missing in action since we got back from Zambia. (We’re pretty sure it made it back, he just doesn’t know where it is.)
We blew through Flagstaff, thinking that we could find everything we need in Shiprock or Farmington. We also were getting hungry. I suggested that we stop for Navajo tacos in Tuba City, but nothing was immediately obvious, so we just kept on going. We finally stopped in Kayenta, famished. We got okay Navajo tacos – they were enormous, and we both ate more than we should.
We arrived in Farmington about 8:30 p.m., and we stopped at the still open Auto Zone to find an all-in-one tool. They had what we needed – score! However, by the time we got done, the dollar store next door was closing. We’ll try again in the morning before we head to Chaco. We landed in the Best Western, checked in, and crashed, although Steve was still poking at his iPhone as I drifted off. Boy, is it hot here.
“If we don’t get out of here by 7:30, we’re not leaving at all tonight.”
It’s that witching hour – one hour before we actually lock the front door and drive away. Steve tends to bark and growl in that last hour – somehow, I guess he thinks this is a useful attitude for starting a trip. It’s not.
He got home early from work, so the back of the truck is already loaded with gear. I only hope that he remembered to make the kitchen box accessible for the camping nights in Chaco. I load up my share: road food, road/camping cooler and my bags in the extra cab of the pick-up. Ammo boxes loaded, cats patted and we are on our way.
Ammo boxes? Yes, many things that the Army issues in war-time serves quite well for peacetime civilian activities, like rafting vacations. The standard issue 50 cal. ammunition boxes are just the perfect substitute for a day pack on a river. They are rigid metal, and well sealed against any moisture and dust. That means nothing in there gets crushed, wet and/or muddy on the raft, as long as it is closed. It’s a perfect size for field guides, paperback books, and smaller cameras. It’s also a good place to stash a headlamp, pen, and a bit of duct tape – all that can suddenly become necessities. We have two more ammo boxes for critical gear: the first aid kit and the raft repair kit. On larger trips, larger ammo boxes serve as food and gear storage, or as the loo.
So we are off. We’ve got one iPhone in tow with us, so I use the map app to see what route is suggested. I have the good old AAA paper version, and I don’t agree with the electronic directions. We are headed for Bakersfield, or beyond if we can stay awake. But after three hours, we are toast and we pull into a Fairfield Inn on the far east side of Bakersfield. We are poised to jump into the Mojave Desert first thing tomorrow morning.
We note the passing of the solstice with relief, happy that we are not in Chaco Canyon already.