North of the Border

I’m standing in the Northernmost stand of Joshua trees, or so the plaque says.

This plaque I discovered while wandering up a deserted wash, just north of some numbered state route just north of the Arizona border.  Arizona’s so close I could almost toss a rock across the invisible line, if I hadn’t driven a few miles up a rough road across some recently flooded washes.  The kind of driving that doesn’t really worry me, unless the rain comes back.

Some poor BLM bloke, he had to have driven as I did across these washes, parked, as I did, at the turnout by the water catchment hole, and then he had to have walked, as I did (though likely with more purpose) up the rocky wash to affix what must have been a pretty heavy plaque.  It’s about two and a half square feet of brass, bolted to the limestone walls of the wash.  Must have been a charm to carry over there.  And what a place to put it.  If I hadn’t been working hard to finish our 3.2 beer before leaving the state, I never would have thought to walk up here.  What with the Mojave rattlesnakes, approaching storm and all.  But I did, and I found this.

Two other men may have seen this strange apparition.  They were hunting for ‘chuckers’ they said, walking past our camp in what felt like the early morning, but turned out to be almost noon.  They’re ground birds they said, like a blue-grey softball.   But they hadn’t seen any, scattered across the desert by the storms of the last few days they thought.

This is the second time that I’ve been up this road this year, the last in the late spring.  When I was last here I thought silently to myself, ‘I’ll likely never return here’.

The desert the connects southern Utah to Arizona and Nevada is the kind of place that’s only beautiful while it’s easy to leave.  It seems to stretch ad infinitum to and beyond the hulking hills that define the horizon in all directions.  It feels endless, and that endlesness frames a space in which light and atmosphere play and intermingle.  It’s the kind of place where God can try out his scenic moves before throwing them before an audience.  It’s safe to assume that there’s practically no one here.

The only company here, besides the tiny rodents and birds that break the spell of lifelessness are the Joshua trees.  Northernmost, the plaque says, and certainly stressed by the fact.  At least a third of them stand dead, blackened.  The dead trees hulk at odd angles like African dancers wearing fronded masks, dancing in the heat of some iboga vision.  The live ones remind me of small palms.  Vegas. Reno. Anywhere, AZ.  Damn the fouling associations.

In the morning, we go climbing, the purpose of our stop here.  The rock’s sharp and oddly fluted limestone, beautiful and energizing to climb.  Booms echo through the desert.  Under a cloudless sky, the resonating thunder is presumably another god, the USAF, trying out scenic moves of its own.  As the heat grows, we leave past others coming to climb in this nowhere.

As much as loneliness in an endless desert is a crushing dream, I still wish they weren’t here.

Category: Adventures, Travel, & Writing


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