Mom and I were happy to be back on the back roads in the back country of the back of beyond. That’s a place in Nevada, if you didn’t know. The pitter-patter of a storm sang us to sleep on our nameless fire road in the desert, where we were sure that no one would be bothered by, or even notice us being there. In the morning, The Witch wasn’t talking to us, so Mom drove a few miles down the road to a spot where there was service and then parked in a lay-by waiting for the weather to clear.
A few minutes later, a police car pulled up behind us. Mom rolled up her eyes, rolled down the window, and waved at him. I didn’t know what we’d done wrong, so when he came to the window I barked, “I WAS ON THE LEASH!”
“Is everything okay?” The Law asked.
“Oh, yeah. I’m just waiting for the rain to stop before I go for a hike, and I’m sitting here because there’s cell service. Have I done something wrong?”
“Oh, no. Nothing wrong. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“Yup. Just fine. I’m going to be going to the Cathedral Gorge just as soon as this weather clears up.”
“It’s about 8 miles up the road that way,” The Law waved.
“WE KNOW WHERE IT IS! SHE JUST TOLD YOU WE HAVE CELL SERVICE!” I barked before Mom shushed me.
Once he saw that Mom was listening again, The Law continued, “…and then you’re going to make a left.”
“Great. Thank you. But, I’m okay parked here, right?”
“Yup, I’m just making sure you’re okay.”
“You established that!” I barked, before Mom grabbed my face and shoved me into the back.
“So what’s up with the car?” The Law asked, looking at the funny mirror that the Mailman installed on the back before we bought it. “Are you filming or something?”
“It’s just an old postal service van, it came that way. I got it on Craigslist, and camp in the back.”
“Oh, cool,” he said, still not going away.
“So… if I stay here, is that cool?” Mom asked again.
“Oh yeah, I was just checking to make sure you were okay,” The Law repeated. “Anyway, the ground in the park is clay, so it’s gonna be real slippery…” When he said that, I could smell that The Law had frightened Mom for the first time that morning.
Once he had left, Mom went back to poking at the Witch, but not 5 minutes later another Law-Mobile drove past us, turned around in front of us, and then pulled up behind us again. Mom rolled down her window again and waved. This time 2 Laws came up, one on each side, and I screamed louder, “I was WEARING the LEASH!”
“Hi. I just spoke to your buddy a few minutes ago,” Mom said. “Am I in anybody’s way here?”
“Nope, we just wanted to make sure you weren’t in trouble,” The Other Law said. After we explained all over again about the rain, and the cell service, and where we were going, and why The Covered Wagon looked that way, and they’d left, we decided to wait for the rain to stop from inside the park.
When we arrived at the park, the low clouds crouched over a shallow valley surrounded by melting cliffs that had dripped and sagged like wax from giant vampire-castle candles into spikes like upside-down icicles. Each spike-cicle was a sloppy shape, but together they stood tall in neat lines like a box of used crayons. There were rows of spike-cicles not only on the sides of the cliffs, but also in eery towers that were taller than everything around them, and weren’t near anything that could drip on them.
When we stepped onto the trail to explore, I felt the trail squelched up between my toes. A moment later I felt a yank on the leash. When I turned around, Mom was stuck in a lunge, and there was a long smudge in the mud next to her wayward paw. “Man, that’s slippery!” she said. Then she squatted down to take my first picture and suddenly the ground under her feet slugged away from under her. She almost threw her arms in the air with such force that she almost threw The Witch into the sky as her arms flailed up to catch her balance. That was the first reason we didn’t run much. The other was because we kept stopping to explore.
After taking a few portraits in front of the spike-cicles, Mom walked between two columns and disappeared inside the mountain. I didn’t want to, but I was on leash so I followed her into the earth, until she walked into a crack no wider than an Oscar. I stopped short, which made Mom almost fall over again, and take a huge swipe out of the wall to catch her balance.
“Come on, Oscar. Don’t be such a wuss,” she said in the impatient voice she should have used the third time the copper asked if she was okay. “It’s bad for the conservation effort.”
We walked through the spooky hallway until it ended in a big, round tube that looked like a redwood trunk had been buried in the mud and then suddenly disappeared, leaving a redwood-shaped hole. I didn’t want whatever evil voodoo was haunting this mountain to disappear me too, so I tried to escape. But the slot was too narrow for me to turn around, and so I had to back out, staring at Mom as I went. Rather than being supportive, Mom stuck The Witch in my face and followed me out laughing.
Once we escaped the bowels of the earth, we began to carefully walk-run over the sometimes tacky, sometimes slippery trail. But before we’d gotten into a rhythm, Mom took a turn toward a hill with a little house at the top.There were stairs part way up the hill, but in some spots there was nothing but slippery dirt. Mom stepped up, and her paw slipped right back to the starting place. Then she tried stepping sideways, and almost fell into a split. On her third try, I tried to hop out of the way, but she tripped on the leash, lost her balance and fell in the mud. When she stood back up, there were big blobs of mud on the end of all her fingers, and soon after on her water bottle, and my brunch, and her pants, and the leash, and everything else that was traveling with us. “Okay, this part we’re doing without the leash,” Mom announced, setting me free until she had clawed her way back onto solid ground.
For the rest of the morning we alternately walked and ran through the valley, exploring its strange shapes and getting muddy beyond recognition. Mom is not the kind of person to wash her hands like a Coronavirus epidemic every day, but if there’s one thing she hates it’s having dirty paws. So she was very excited to see that there was a campground with running water a quarter mile from where we’d left The Wagon. Best of all (for her)/Worst of all (for me), it had a shower! Mom hadn’t showered since Oregon, so she quickly gathered our shower stuff and for the second time that day used the leash to drag me somewhere where I didn’t want to go.
“Oh no! It’s one of those ones where you need quarters!” Mom said, with the amount of disappointment in her voice that she would have if somedog buried all of my hats in the back yard (somedog, please do this). We used to keep a lot of coins in The Wagon, but then we put them all in the boot of a fireman who was asking for money to fight wildfires. Now all we had were some small coins and paper money. So Mom washed herself by sticking her head under the cold water in the sink, and I was saved from a bath.
I thought this story couldn’t have a happier ending, but then I got a hotdog.
Oscar the Mudbeast