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Friday, June 7, 2013

Going GPS-less In Swallow-You-Up Country

There she goes again, Itsy Bitsy Bobbie, insatiably curious, scrambling through bloody, clenched Jaws of Backcountry Utah, swimming sand-canyon gullets like an out of school minnow, making her way through maze after maze after maze, in search of unrelenting wonders that await around the next corner. Some never outgrow their childhood curiosity to explore, and aren't we the lucky ones.

Our geographical "luck" is by design. I suppose it was a restless spirit that prompted Bobbie to flee ole Virginie. She headed west in a ragtop Willys Jeep, a college graduation present from her dad (you want a what?), packing high hopes, a few bucks, and a tent. Meanwhile, I was packing everything I owned into the back of a '66 GMC pickup and a twenty two foot travel trailer, getting ready to put Muggy Missouri in the rearview mirror for good. 

It's ironic-to-the-point-of-freaky how many wrong turns it took for our paths to cross, how what seemed at the time to be a series of bad mistakes ended up being the improbable good fortune that intersected separate journeys into one. "History" is a little like spaghetti sauce; sometimes it needs to simmer a while before being served. When History gets written down too quickly, new information will surely send the author back to the revisionist desk for a rewrite in light of "recent developments." Fresh, controversial  events are like arguments in that they are fraught with misunderstandings. Miss Sara N. Dippity says everything happens for a reason, the good and the bad. We must be patient, keep plodding, and then sit back and watch History revise itself...how once thought awful "mistakes" turn into much needed "experiences" that, in hindsight, helped get us to places we didn't even know we needed to be.  


Speaking of "mistakes," well over a decade has elapsed since our ultimate "Not lost, just temporarily misplaced" adventure. It unfolded origami-like, among Joshua Tree National Park's towering granite wafers and orbs. I'm talking a vast and surreal playground with humongous boulders right out of Flintstone's Bedrock, and frightful, gangly-limbed Joshua trees, armed with spiky weapons and resembling aliens from outer space. 

We stumbled upon a section of Joshua's Park that was like the ultimate endless maze, a place where "dumb mice" go to die. Always on the cheap, Bobbie and I had yet to buy into the relatively inexpensive (compared to the cost of two funerals) GPS technology. Thus, we had no breadcrumb machine to guide us back to our truck from the inner sanctum of a cellular-less Hell. I would even go so far as to say that it was the uselessness of our cell phone that prevented us from jumping onto the GPS bandwagon (lets wait till they work out the bugs so it works, and the price comes down).

As an aside, here's an explicit, but honest question for you. WTF good is a cell phone that works only when people you don't want to talk to call and get through? They ring you up clear as a bell...virtually anywhere, anytime...whether in the bowels of Carlsbad Caverns, or a wilderness boondock in Dead Zone, Arid-zona. But come a real emergency, one where you are lost/desperate/dying and in need of a rescue from the good folks at 911, your impotent bars can't hold a connection erection. Way back at the turn of the century, cell phone use outside Sub-urbanville sucked, and in Joshua National Park you were on your own.      

Honoring our new mantra for the new century, "Go Farther," Bobbie and I shimmied Joshua's maze on hands and knees, through gaps so narrow as to chafe my once manly shoulders. We strode roller coaster swells of granite, clamoring up and down with magnetic traction on rough, edgy surfaces. Like kids, we dropped from ledges of no return into the soft embrace of glittering white sand, doubled back around dead ends, used logs as ladders, all without a clue as to how indistinguishable orbs and wafers become when shadows grow long and dusk covers the playground under a veil of darkness. The hunters of unspoiled nooks and crannies suddenly became the hunted; mountain lion tracks went from,"Oh cool!" to "Oh shit!" And since we rarely limit our options with a "plan," holding in reserve the right to change minds and directions on whims born on winds of remorse, we didn't bother to tell Mr Ranger where we were headed. 

You know that little voice in your head, the one that gets louder and louder as you fumble with the panic button? Well, he was starting to get on my nerves. Boulders with distinguishing and identifiable features at high noon, all looked the same caped in long shadows. We tried backtracking, only to lose footprints in soft sand or hard granite. We wandered for an hour in twilight, thinking we were making progress, but keeping an eye out for anyone who might have a clue as to how to get out of the maze. Unfortunately, we ended up right back where we started, lost. Just like buffoons in movies, we had made a big circle.

Of course you know how this ends since I'm here to tell the story. Eventually, just as it was getting too dark to see, we heard voices...some rock climbers heading out after a long day in the maze. We didn't tell them we were lost, just tagged along behind...a couple of lost puppies acting like we knew what we were doing. "Lost? Us? Hell no!" Thankfully, our guides led us out of the wilderness and to the parking lot...where signs warned of venturing too far and the dangers of getting lost, blah, blah, blah. 
We still don't own a GPS. I think prices might still be dropping. 


  1. Wow! Delicate Arch with only a few people. Now that would be a sight to see. Last month there were over 100 people on the trail. Maybe 200. Moab is definitely on the list of shoulder-seasom only. Still is gorgeous though. -Susan W.

  2. Like you, I have taken trails with no maps or gps to help guide me. I figure I'm heading out one way then just turn around and remember the way back. The trail branches to left and right, I usually go right. Then the trail branches right and left again, I'll go left. I get distracted and take a side trail to a lake, then head back to the main trail that branches again. Now, I turn around for the hike back. Was that right or left at the first branch? It looks so different. I start searching for my out bound shoe tracks,
    I promise myself to take a trail map next time. Great photos. Thanks for sharing.
    John Q

  3. I was feeling your concern as I read. Very scary!! We don't have a GPS either. We keeping thinking we should but...too expensive.

  4. Reading this makes my throat tighten.

    Another good tip is to stop often and turn around to look behind. I learned this in cave diving. Even confined spaces can look VERY different when turning around to exit.

    The other valuable lesson I learned the hard way..."Don't lead others into uncertainty"...Which is why I don't like to lead, because I am usually uncertain. ;-)

  5. I literally laughed out loud at "connection erection." Another great post! Much love!

  6. Great story. We always seem to get lost when we're just going for an unplanned short hike, have no water, snacks, or flashlight. Can cause a bit of panic to set in!
    We are making good use of the GPS/trail map phone app. Has saved us a couple times so far. But then you like to live on the edge:)


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