When we woke up the next morning, the wind was still blasting us with 50 MPH gusts. Our good spirits had finally been beaten down. I had never felt such relentless wind for such a prolonged period of time. Skip did his best to ease our pain by whipping up a great breakfast of sausage, egg and veggie burritos. Getting some food in my belly made a huge difference. We were expecting more troops to arrive later in the day, and we needed to make a run into the small town of Torrey for bags of ice before they arrived. Luckily, a few hours later, the entire trip took on a very different feeling.
Jackie stayed behind and slept off her hangover in the camper while Skip, Jeff and I made our way towards Torrey. In addition to the wind the sky was now showing signs of impending rain. Awesome. We drove through the immense walls and scenery of the park; it was only 11am but there were plenty of visitors in the parking areas, more than yesterday for sure. Just outside of town we picked up the needed supplies and headed right back down the same road towards camp. Just past the visitor center a driver coming the opposite direction flashed his lights at us; around the next curve we discovered what his signal meant. A giant cottonwood tree had split and fallen directly over the road! We were the fist car in what soon became a long line. A park ranger pulled up right behind us and told us that it would be about three hours before the tree would be cleared. We decided to see some sights to kill the time.
First stop: the visitor center. We checked out the excellent 3D map (props to the park service on these models/maps, they are truly outstanding!) and browsed some of the books and other trinkets for sale. Only a half hour down. No bother, we headed out on the road again and stopped at a few of the scenic overlooks along the main drag. At one point we hiked up to the Goosenecks Overlooked and peered 800 feet down to Sulphur Creek. We could see some hikers huddling under a tree as a light rain fell from above. We had planned to hike Sulphur at some point during the weekend, and seeing it from the view point only stoked us up more to make sure we did it. We took our time, snapping pictures and enjoying the sites. It had only been about 2 hours since the tree fell, but we decided to try our luck. Sure enough, the only sign of the cottonwood road block was a small pile of sawdust in the road. After making the turn onto Notom-Bullfrog road back towards camp, we had our first bit of good fortune.
A roadside campsite we had spotted the day before was now vacant. Normally our group would never make camp so close to the road (that’s for tourists to do), but this site was an exception: the area sat low compared to the surrounding hills meaning less wind, there was a huge mass of trees/bushes that would block the road from site and provide more wind shelter, and the kicker was that the site sat on a sandy area right next to Pleasant Creek. Skip pulled the Jeep into the site and dropped me off to guard it from would-be invaders. I walked around and checked out the area; I was confident we had made the right choice. My confirmation came in the form of sunlight. Within minutes the clouds had broken up, the skies were blue and the sun was shining; the temperature warmed up 10 degrees and I was wearing a big smile on my face when the others pulled up with our entire camp in tow some 30 minutes later. We happily re-set the camper; Jeff and Jackie pitched their near the “beach,” and before I knew it I had a cold beer in my hand. Things were looking up. The wind had died down considerably, and we all felt a hell of a lot better than we had that morning.
Jeff and Jackie made a run to the bathrooms (pit toilets in a parking area some 2 miles away, but much better than going in the bushes!) and as they returned, our group expanded. Unbeknownst to Jeff, our friends Randy and Amy had spotted his truck and followed him right to our camp. Good thing because we realized we had left them directions to our old campsite. At this point everyone was feeling great and the bourbon was flowing freely. This was exactly what I had hoped for: good friends, a gorgeous setting and all the whiskey I could drink…what man could ask for more? We were blasting music and cracking jokes; before long we had all put on our water shoes and packs and set off for a beer-soaked hike of Pleasant Creek. The tiny stream was warm and provided just the sort of lazy hike we all wanted. It’s always amazing to me how such a small water source can provide so much life to the barren desert. Huge trees, healthy shrubs and vibrant flowers lined Pleasant Creek the entire way. We stopped to play in quicksand, climbed mini rock formations and even found an old cowboy lean-to in the middle of nowhere. When we reached the park boundary fence we turned around and headed back to camp. It was the perfect way to kill a couple of hours on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon.
The good times carried on well into the night. Jackie treated everyone to one of the best meals I’ve ever had while camping- a huge Dutch Oven pot of chicken enchiladas and pineapple upside-down cake for desert. I must have polished off three full plates before I had to waive the white flag. Very impressive. I downed quite a few beers and most of my bourbon, smoked way too many cigarettes and had one hell of a good time. I remember the night ending when I found myself alone by the campfire, head tilted up to take in a spectacular Utah starscape. I crawled into bed and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I felt a bit rough the next morning, but hey, that’s the price you pay, right? Another round of breakfast burritos brought me back to life. On this, our final day in the park, we went on an amazing hike through Sulphur Creek (read the trip report at Utahoutside.com). The sights in the creek were even better from the bottom! The sunny weather held up the entire time, and by Sunday the wind was a distant memory. I’m getting to the age where doubt is creeping into my mind…how many more of these group outings will I get to take part in? Will people keep coming or will the desire to be close to the others we love stop us from breaking off for a few days and getting dirty in a beautiful locale? I pushed those thoughts out of my head; those were worries for another day. As we sat in a local burger joint filling our bellies, the only thoughts I wanted to keep were those of another fantastic weekend in the books. I’m not sure how many I’ve had the privilege of taking part in, but it doesn’t matter. Those moments are the ones I live for, the things that keep me going when the day to day grind of life becomes utterly monotonous. I’ll keep seeking them until the day I die, and I hope the great people that have been with me so far will do the same.