Now I understand why you wouldn’t like white dirt if you’re the Weather Jinx. When Mom and I left the Valley (not) of Fire, The Covered Wagon still had a long run to get to Utah for Christmas. We were still driving when it got dark, and that’s when the white dirt started to fall from the sky like snow. Santa may like that sort of thing, but it stresses Mom the duck out. For hours, she scrunched up against the driving wheel, blocking her ears with her shoulders in order to see better. The flakes lit up in the Wagon’s spotlights, and trying to see the road through them was like watching an antique TV before they invented channels. For awhile, the black and yellow road stood out behind the flakes, but soon the road put on a kind of white skin, and Mom had to perch higher and shoulder-block her ears harder to make her eyes look even closer. I tried to snuggle her to remind her to calm down, but being the Weather Jinx makes you grinchy, and she send me to the back of the Wagon.
Finally, after sleigh riding close to 100 miles looking for a stopping spot not covered in sock-high snow, we reached a town. It was hard to decide where to stop, but then the Covered Wagon recognized a home from its time as a mail man van, and we decided to spend Christmas night in the car kennel at the mail man station until the morning. Santa knows the mail man from Amazon Prime, so at least it would be easy for him to find us.
When we got up in the morning, Mom unwrapped all the treats I’d been smelling and not touching. Then, while I munched on dried cod skins, she had a long and boring conversation with The Witch. She told her, “Well, we’re in Escalante, but I don’t know if we’re going to make it. I’m not about to drive up some sketchy road and get stuck somewhere without cell service on Christmas day.”
“But, Mom! The next 3 hikes are supposed to be the best of the trip, and two of them are near here!” I said when she’d finished making excuses to The Witch.
“Remember how we tried to park in the snow last night and almost couldn’t get the Wagon back on the road?” Mom said.
“The Wagon was just dancing a little bit. It’s okay, everyone gets excited on Christmas.”
“If that could happen on a paved street in town, imagine what could happen on one of those dirt mountain roads with all the cliffs and everything,” Mom said. Imagining that was unpleasant, so instead I kept talking.
“But what about your driving motto, ‘With that Drive 3 you can get up anything!’?”
“This isn’t a packed dirt road with some rocks, Oscar. People need special tires and four wheel drive to drive on in snow like that. And they still get stuck sometimes.”
“But not adventurers like us!”
“Right, because we’re not dumb enough to try to drive in 4″ of snow without snow tires.”
Before we went to see what getting stuck would be like, Mom stopped at the gas station and left me to supervise the Wagon while she went inside. I only had to guard the Wagon from one man, but he looked Scroogey. When Mom came out she looked annoyed. “You see that guy in his big truck?” she said, pointing to the other car juicebox where the Ebenezer Scrooge was filling up extra pitchers of car juice. “The lady inside said that he got caught on the road our trail is on last night. In a truck. I’m sorry, but we’re just not going to make it. We need to look for a different trail along the main road.”
So we abandoned the idea of seeing the exciting candy-cane-striped slot canyons, and found a trail with a car kennel next to the road. Luckily the white dirt wasn’t too deep, and we could even follow the shadow of the trail underneath. Just because we could see it didn’t always mean the path was easy to follow, though. In lots of places the bushes had fainted under the weight of the white dirt and ice, and their branches sagged across the trail. The only way forward was to push through the branches like abominable snowmen. I let Mom go first because when she crashes through the brush, she knocks all the white dirt off the branches and carries it away in her collar, waistband and inside the packpack. Once she’d knocked loose and carried away all the white dirt, it wasn’t as cold and wet for the handsome dogs following behind her.
I was having a fun time sprinting through the white dirt and jumping on the swooshy rocks, but after less than a mile, the trail dove into a river. Mom checked the mapp, and the mapp confirmed that the trail swam through the water and started on the other side. The river wasn’t moving fast like a mountain river, but it was wide as a country road and the water was up to at least my chest. I’m a runner, not a duathlon dog. “I’m not going in there,” I said.
“Me neither,” Mom said. “I guess that’s it. Let’s go.”
Tomorrow’s trail, which was supposed to be the longest and most adventurous of the trip, was up the same road that Ebenezer Scrooge had been stuck on, so Mom said we should at least check it out before we gave up. When we got there, there was white dirt on the road alright, but there were also a few car tracks. “Let’s at least pull over onto it and decide where we’re going next,” Mom said. So she slowly pulled onto the Stuck Road just far enough that she would be out of the way of other cars on their way to certain doom. Then she consulted The Witch for awhile. When Mom knew where we were going, she pointed The Wagon’s nose toward the other side of the road and turned around. The road wasn’t wide enough to turn around in a big circle, but that’s no big deal because Mom likes to earn points by decorating her turns with extra spikes. She backed up a little ways to execute a turn that would earn her 3 points, but when Mom tried to make the Wagon walk forward again, the Wagon just made a noise and stayed where it was. Since we couldn’t go forward, Mom tried to go backward even more to make a new line in the white dirt, even though it meant driving off where the road ended. Missing the road is a good way to lose all your driving points, but these were desperate times. The Wagon slipped down a little slope at the edge of where the road ended, and then it came to rest and wouldn’t go backward anymore. Now the Wagon wouldn’t go forward, and it wouldn’t go backward. Wagons don’t go sideways, so we were stuck.
“Well dog doo,” Mom said, and opened the door to check out the situation. Then she got back in and turned the driving wheel back and forth a few times, like how people drive in old movies. Still The Wagon just whined and wouldn’t move. Mom got out again and went to where a bit of mud showed under the white dirt. She grabbed a handful of mud and made a snowball out of mud.
“What are you doing?” I barked through the window.
“I’m going to stick it under the tires so that they have something gritty to grab onto,” Mom said, like that made any sense at all. Then she crouched down under the Wagon where I couldn’t see her anymore. When she popped up, the mudball was gone and she went back and made ball after ball of the red-grey glop. When she was satisfied that she had sculpted the perfect escape, she searched in the Wagon for something to wipe her paws on. She was wiping her hands confidently on a paper towel like the movie mechanics do to show that they know what they’re doing, when another car pulled up.
“Haaaaallllp! We’re stuck and relying on mud balls for survival!” I barked.
“Do you need ‘elp?” the other driver asked out his window.
“Welp… I’m pretty stuck,” Mom said with a sigh, in that tone of voice that confident mechanics who know what they’re doing use in movies. “Do you know how to get a car out of the snow?” I KNEW the mud balls weren’t a real thing!
“We can give you a poosh,” the driver said. Then he and his friend got out of the car. They were very French. I could tell because French people go hiking dressed looking like a page from GQ, not Outside Magazine. Luckily they weren’t so French that they would leave us stranded on Christmas Day, so they took off their fancy leather gloves and helped push The Covered Wagon back onto the road. I always knew that French manliness was magical, but I was still surprised when they came out from behind the Covered Wagon without a spot of mud on their fancy clothes. French dogs must never need to take baths.
“I sink zat we will turn around, too,” the driver said. “We do not have zee right tires.” I thought Mom had made up that bit about the tires because she was scared! Maybe the mud balls were a real thing too, and she had just gotten it wrong and made a mess because she wasn’t French.
“Because if zee road does zis,” the passenger said, waving his hand like a dolphin, “Zen we will be stuck too!”
If these guys had driven all the way from France and decided to turn back, then I guessed it was okay for us to turn around too. Mom thanked them for their help and wished them a Merry Christmas. Then we waved at them as we pointed the Covered Wagon toward a hike at a lower elevation that we hadn’t expected to see for days.
Because we were skipping stops, we had to drive a long way to our next stop in a park near the Arizona border. I wish that I could have captured everything that we saw on that drive so that I could share it with you guys, but in the desert, the only way to understand the land is to travel through it. The desert does the most imaginative things with its land, and you can see things there that you will never see anywhere else in the world. We saw enormous rocks and cliffs that looked like castles and cathedrals. We saw towers of rock, and horns of rock, and nubbins of rock, and rocks that looked like mashed potatoes that someone had just stirred in a big swirl. We saw so many canyons and valleys that I started to understand the difference between the two. We saw long roads with nothing to the horizon but rolling white dirt to each side, and far in the distance, pointy mountains stuck out of the clouds. We saw moo-cows in the fields, and moo-cows in the road, and moo-cow-poo in the road too. We drove down a cliff on a dirt road that wasn’t that scary because we had to drive so slow. And when we got to the canyon we’d been aiming for, The Weather Jinx had brought the rain and clouds with us so that we could hardly see anything at all.
We took some cliff pictures, and then Mom looked at the weather report and realized that it was going to snow again overnight. “Dog doo! We’d better park by the trailhead for tomorrow before the snow gets even deeper!” she said.
“But there’s no white dirt here. The ground is clear.”
“Yeah, but where we’re going tomorrow is 2000 feet up on the mesa. What’s rain down here is going to be snow up there.”
So for the second night in a row, we drove through the static on a dark and winding mountain road as it grew a skin of white dirt. But at least this time we made it to the trailhead. Tomorrow would be a success!
Oscar the Yeti