“Hey look,” Mom said, as she gazed deep into The Witch’s screen. “St. George is only an hour or two beyond Las Vegas. Why don’t we blow through Las Vegas this Christmas and start our trip in St. George?”
“Who’s Sane George?” I asked. “Is that like the twin of the crazy King George from Hamilton?”
“It’s a city in Utah. We’ve never stopped there because we always use Las Vegas as the gateway in and out of the desert. St. George is famous for… well I don’t think it’s famous at all, but there are interstates that go through it, so we can get there quickly before we branch out onto the back roads.”
So we skipped the candy cane mountains of Red Rocks, and watched from the freeway as the Christmas Eve sunrise twinkled in windows of the Las Vegas Strip as we blew through on our way to Utah. I felt just like Santa, who visits the whole world in one magical night.
“Okay, you guys. This trail is actually kinda closed, but I’m going to lead you there anyway and let you figure it out for yourself,” The Witch announced as we pulled off the freeway into a neighborhood of warehouses and truck kennels.
“What does that mean; ‘kinda closed’?” I asked.
“How long is the road that’s closed?” Mom asked.
“That’s all I’m going to tell you. I don’t want to ruin the surprise,” The Witch said. “Continue on this road for 1.5 miles.”
“What? But the trail is less than 2 miles away,” Mom said, in the voice of someone who speaks fluent Math.
“Okay, turn here,” The Witch ordered.
“What? Into this warehouse parking lot?” Mom said.
“Okay, now go through that sketchy tunnel with the fence in front of it. Over there. The fence with the pice of paper taped on it. See it?” Mom’s eyes were bouncing from The Witch to the road, trying to follow all the instructions so The Witch wouldn’t pull a nasty trick on us. “…In a quarter of a mile you’ll arrive at your destination. Wait! What are you doing?! You’re messing everything up!”
Mom parked in the tire tracks of all the other wagons that had parked here before us and got out to investigate.
“Wait… This is the road closure that that guy on the internet has been posting updates about for the past six months?” Mom said. “It’s just a flimsy metal rod and some chicken wire…”
“What does the sign say?” I asked.
“The sign says that any agency that prints their signs on a piece of 8.5×11 paper and tapes it to a fence that is exposed to the elements is either too lazy or too underfunded to be guarding this place on Christmas Eve, and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.” With that, Mom climbed over the fence and I followed through an Oscar-sized gap at the bottom.
“You have arrived,” announced The Witch.
Maybe we hadn’t found the best that Sane George had to offer, or maybe there’s a reason why stinky people with sunburns and dirty hair don’t talk about Sane George like they talk about Moab, Kanab, Escalante. We walked over empty land that was covered in black stones that looked like someone had forgotten them in the toaster the day that the Earth was made, and then thrown them out into the yard . Then we walked past some black trees with shadows of black dirt underneath them where they had burned more recently than the day that Earth came out of the oven. Then we walked for miles down a sandy wash as the sandstone grew around us in stacks like a fortune of pennies.
“Oh Mom! Isn’t it wonderful!” I danced as Mom stomped through the sand and staggered over the loaf-shaped river rocks behind me. “There are rocks, and scratchy bushes, and sand… and more rocks! Look! Is that a … no wait, it’s a rock!”
I spun through the wash like a top, crashing toward Mom when she asked to take a picture of me in my pompom scarf that my grandlady had made me, and then whirling away when she told me I was “all done!” Eventually Mom announced it was time to turn around, and we continued our yoyo game back the way we’d come until we were slinking through the sketchy sketchy tunnel.
Just as we were about to reach the fence, a car drove up next to The Wagon. We could see the people inside peering at us.
“Oh no! We’ll be caught red pawed!” I said. “Run for your life!”
“Nah,” Mom said. “They’re just trying to figure out what ‘kinda closed’ means and how hard it is to climb this fence.” She raised her hand to wave at the people, and then started climbing the fence as they looked on.
I left Mom behind and crashed through the fence so that I would be the first one to give them tips on fence climbing.
“Oscar, come back here!” Mom yelled from the fence. She was hanging with only her toes on the ground and her brand new Ross Dress for Less jacket caught on the fence post, pinning her in flagrante delicto (which is what it’s called when your sweatshirt gets stuck while you’re committing a tort).
I looked at her dangling feet and her swimming arms, and then I ignored her. “I’m not with her,” I said. “We just happened to get to the fence at the same time. Hi, I’m Oscar. What are your names?” I leaned my butt on one Friend for a hug and then used her as a launchpad to bounce off the other. By the time Mom caught up with us I had a new Friend patting me on each end, and I was smiling at one and wagging at the other.
“Sorry about my really friendly dog,” Mom said, rearranging her Ross Dress for Less jacket back to the way it was supposed to be.
“Is it a nice trail?” one of my new Best Friends asked.
This was a trap. The only time you’re ever allowed to say that a trail isn’t nice is when there are too many people, too many picnic tables or too much trash.
“Errrr… It’s not… the best… rock formations you can find around here…” Mom said, pausing cautiously after each word to make sure that the ladies weren’t getting aggressively judgy.
“We’re not from around here,” the other new Best Friend said, waving her arm at their wagon.
“Hi, I’m from Massachusetts,” said the wagon.
“Yeah, I’m not really from around here either,” Mom said, looking at The Covered Wagon’s nametag with California written on it. Then she continued in an authoritative voice: “I think the highest density and diversity of must-see stuff around here is over in Escalante. There’s this road that goes out of town that should still be passible if they haven’t had much snow yet this season…”
“Isn’t that like 2 hours away?” said the less smily of the New Best Friends, who I had adopted as my new Mom by sitting on her foot.
“You came all the way from Massachusetts…” Mom said, kind of like an apology for saying something stupid, and kind of like she was pointing out something stupid the other lady had said.
“Mom’s from Massachusetts” I barked, but Mom didn’t bother to translate because she doesn’t like to relate to strangers.
“Well I think we’re going to go try another trail nearby…” said the New Best Friend who was hiding a smile behind her mask.
“I think that’s the right call,” Mom admitted. “C’mere Oscar.” But I had been stricken deaf. “Oscar, come on. They’ve got to go…” Mom said.
“We can’t go anywhere, he’s sitting on my foot.”
“Welp, I guess you have a dog now,” Mom shrugged, turning back to The Wagon and getting out the supplies to make more poop juice.
“Great! Where are we going?” I asked my new family. But they didn’t move. Finally, Mom stopped laughing and her voice lost its Christmas spirit, so I sadly got up and moped back into The Wagon where I buried my grief in a cheese stick.
Oscar the Pooch