Saturday, October 16, 2010

Salt and Sand

The adventure this week was a camping trip to the west desert of Utah, on the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats. I don't often head west on I-80, and every time I drive through those salt flats, I am fascinated. It's such a stark, inhospitable place, and yet there's a certain kind of grim majesty about it that makes it so intriguing as well. It's a very unusual kind of desert.

The trip was planned by Trevor, and the idea was to leave Friday night, camp out, and in the morning, go hiking in old mineshafts and caves. I drove out with Sarah and Brian. It was definitely dark by the time we arrived, and the half-moon cast brilliant light over the whole eerie landscape. Wendover was just a few miles away, but the mountains blocked out any light pollution, and we were very isolated from humanity. The outline of the mountains was even more stark by moonlight. The Silver Island Mountains are volcanic mountains, giving them a very twisted and strange outline in a lot of places. It was really rather captivating to look at.

Trevor's idea of a good campout is one that involves lots of scary stories. This is one thing that Trevor and I disagree on significantly. I don't do scary. I don't get the appeal of intentionally giving myself dark, frightened feelings, and I have an imagination that likes to play things up significantly in my mind. So fortunately, Trevor kept things on a moderately un-scary level, since both Sarah and I let it be known that we weren't fans of getting way creeped out.

The night was chilly, but not nearly as frigid as I had been anticipating. However, I was still grateful for the two blankets in my sleeping bag. After snuggling in deep and listening to Trevor and his friend Dave try to take good pictures of the moon without a tripod for the camera, I once again partook in the glories of the night sky, crammed deep with stars. It bothers me that I live in a world where people gear themselves to be so busy that we don't drink in the amazingness that is everywhere. Like in the sky every night. We counted half a dozen shooting stars in fifteen minutes, and then the next thing I knew, I was waking myself up about half an hour later because I wanted to see the sky.

The next morning, with the stars invisible due to that closest star, the sun, the focus shifted to the amazingness of things much closer at hand. Sarah teaches middle school science, and we had a few discussions about geology because of all the amazing rock formations and types. There were beautiful sparkly rocks and solemn creamy rocks and beautifully striated rocks with alternating orange and black stripes, and zebra rocks with wonderful black and white patterns and I actually picked some up and brought them home, which I haven't done in years.

There were also a few species of very hardy plants that grew bravely in the incredibly harsh environment of the west desert. There is no sagebrush on the salt flats. Sagebrush isn't designed to handle the excessive levels of salt in the soil. We saw a few chenopods, some creosote bushes, a few hardy kinds of grass, Ephedra, and an amazing plant that looked like some strange mega-moss growing down the barren sides of the cliffs until I investigated closer and realized that it was definitely not moss, due to its root system. Amazing. The sheer tenacity and willpower of these organisms to survive by sending their roots down into the solid rock with excruciating slowness is remarkable.

AS you may recall, the main object of the day was to go mining and caving. We did our best, and Trevor recruited his GPS, but we weren't overly successful. We found one mine shaft very easily that only went back about 40 feet. We searched for another and found a dead-end alcove. Then, because Trevor and Dave operate this way, we were scrambling up huge piles of loose alluvium in search of more caves. This is when I got up close and personal with the rocks, as there were places that I did resort to crawling on all fours- not just using my hands for support, mind you- to get up the loose stone. We found another shaft with neat turnoffs that also didn't go very far, and we ate our lunch way up on the mountain and looked out over the salt flats. We looked at the ancient water line indicating where Lake Bonneville used to shore, and thought how strange it was that this place used to be a fertile lakebed.

Another week, another adventure. So much to do and see and ponder.

3 comments:

Ross & Amanda Goodman- but mostly Amanda :) said...

This was so beautifully told. I love reading about your adventures, but I love even more to hear your perspective on things. You are an incredible woman.

Kangus Says: said...

I loved this entry. It's so you.

Danielle said...

I love reading about your adventures too. You always choose such interesting and unique things to do. (I agree with you about the dark, frightened feelings and my imagination going wild and freaking me out.)