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Desert Notes

March 15, 2010

Last week was spring break at Col’s preschool, and a good thing because gosh, those preschoolers have a rough schedule, what with snacktime and recess every two hours. It sounded kind of depressing to stay home and watch snow turn to mud so Dan took off work so we could head west to the Utah desert.

Like everything else we’ve swapped out in parenthood for a different, kid-friendly version, road trips are like a shrunken facsimile of the adventures we once had. Used to be if winter got rough, we’d point the truck southwest towards the Sonoran desert, and unload sleeping bags at the first cluster of waving saguaro cactus. Now our biggest excitement appears to be playing nap-time Russian roulette with the stoplights in highway towns: all green and you pass through while the backseat nappers keep snoozing unawares. One red light and game’s over. (We lost big entering Cortez).

In Utah—clouds hanging suspiciously low—the kids burst into our condo (arranged, gratefully, as a virtually money-free swap for a friend’s Durango vacation rental), galloping their little feet all over the place. They spent the next hour exclaiming over the amenities like little orphans who’d finally found a home. “Chairs! It has chairs!” Col called out to me as I toted in stuff from the car. “And there’s a bed for you and Daddy and ones for us!” He yanked open a kitchen drawer: “And forks! And spoons.”  “Spoonies? I set the table Coley!” shouted Rose.

Despite the uninviting weather and the offspring’s new game of slamming doors and shrieking, Dan and I did get into a state of lounge-hood that you don’t see much at home. It seemed to blossom from having absolutely nothing to pursue. I couldn’t remember why I sometimes felt the need—like an involuntary twitch—to check e-mail every thirty minutes, or to always have that jingle-jangle cell phone at arms reach.

I spent a fair amount of time on the southwesty-upholstered couch catching up on the last gazillion issues of The New Yorker, (with a towel wrapped around my waist due to spilling coffee on my last pair of pants), while Dan caught up on some reading from 2006.

Dan: "Honey, I think I need a $1800 watch."

In the absence of any other little people, the kids rolled around like two tumbleweeds haplessly hooked together. They slept in side-by-side twin beds like an old married couple, and at one point Col materialized in front of my couch-perch with no shirt on. “I’m the mommy and Rosie’s the baby and she was drinking my milk,” Col explained, which was different, especially when demonstrated for us, but seemed a better bet than losing a digit in a fast-thudding door.

Despite the fact that the Utah desert was only a few, negligible degrees warmer than home, we suited up and roamed across the slickrock every day.

Everywhere we went the particular sensory slam of sagebrush, red rocks and sunshine brought back every pre-childbearing memory of camping in the Utah desert. The familiarity was strange, like a word being on the tip of your tongue, or like watching a grainy movie of your own life through the wrong prescription glasses. Was that us, trekking through the desert hoodoos, spires, pinnacles and slot canyons while our minds whirled on their axis? Who are those crazy adventurers rambling up the un-trailed canyon wall, hoping for a passable route? Oh, us! In today’s sequel we’re saddled with snacks, 1/8 mile from our car, and ready to leap at a nanosecond’s notice to rescue a child from the claws of a yucca plant.

We took the kids to Arches National Park, which is amazing—2000 arches in all—but also sort of Ed Abbey Goes to Disneyland, what with everything perfectly mapped out and signs telling you “stop here for amazing view.”

But really, it *was* amazing! Double Arch.

The kids could care less about our snobby ideas about wilderness; they loved climbing around, digging in the sand, watching their footfalls on the grippy sandstone, investigating ground squirrel tracks and ringtail-cat poop and finding rock potholes filled with rainwater.

“That’s a pond Rosie.”

“I know Coley, for a duck. Just one duck.”

If you asked the kids what was their favorite part of the trip, Rosie would inevitably recall the blueberry muffin, the banana bread, or any number of treats she sniffed out from the backseat. For Col it was the heated pursuit of golf balls, which finally took precedence over the grand sights of the desert.

Our condo was adjacent to a golf course and between the greens were swaths of sagebrush, rabbitbrush, prickly pear and other wild, thorny native plants that looked like upended brooms blown open in the wind. These wild plants swallowed over-reaching golf shots and once you started combing through the grizzled foliage, white, yellow and pink (!) balls came leaping out at you.

A hunter nabs his prey

Rose was content to horde just what she could hold in her two small hands, which was—max—two pink “lady flyers” in each. But Col brought one of those scarily large, make-your-kidneys-ache, 64-ounce plastic convenience store mugs out from the condo to fill with golf balls.

It was almost like hiking, if you didn’t mind the hobbling-on-crutches pace, or seeing your own child dive under a bustle of thorns for another ball while his cup was literally spilling over. We had to pull the plug when Col started ambling out on the golf course, ready to snatch up a ball in play, or when it became clear these balls were becoming like currency, or heroin.

The kids spent the rest of the trip trading, fighting over, sorting and washing their balls, which inspired lewd jokes from the “grown ups.” It didn’t help when Rose sat down to breakfast and announced cheerily “I have butt balls.” And then, “ouch!” as balls rolled out of her pants.

Now home, the 20-plus golf balls Col guarded and cuddled during the drive back have skittered under the couch, virtually forgotten. I hope however, that the coyote howls we heard our first night still reside somewhere inside those children’s wild minds.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. susan permalink
    March 15, 2010 9:51 am

    deeeelicious!! bravo for escaping to the kid-friendly wilds – thanks for sharing this breath of fresh air and desert glory

  2. March 15, 2010 10:07 am

    Oh what a cool way to spend spring break (and butt balls??? love it).

  3. Stacey permalink
    March 15, 2010 10:19 am

    Moab is always a nice little break, even if it isn’t the deepest wilds. Have you read The Geography of Childhood? There is a great essay in there about taking children out into the wilderness and what they really end up gravitating towards.

  4. Barb permalink
    March 15, 2010 10:34 am

    Good one Rachel, haven’t laughed this hard in quite a while (they’re all good of course). It is ALL about amenities. Laura still tells the story of her sister (then 13) as we arrived late at night to our hotel in Panama, opening the closet door in the bedroom and announcing with great fanfare “I found the microwave!” (it was the safe….) . The golf balls oughta be worth something… next yard sale?

  5. March 15, 2010 10:54 am

    Did you ever imagine pre-parenthood that you would have such interesting subjects to write about right in front of your nose all the time? Before children, we go out in search of fun – post children, the fun is provided wherever you go. Love the stories, especially the transgender breastfeeding! LOL! Their ever-growing minds are so delicious to observe.

  6. woowoomama permalink
    March 15, 2010 12:42 pm

    ok, i just HAD to comment on this one because about two evenings ago the bean told me, “mama, i gave the pea her milkies?” and i said, “what?” and so he said, “like this!” and they demonstrated…


    i am a total freak – i thought it was pretty sweet.

  7. March 15, 2010 2:47 pm

    Sounds like a great time. I’m still laughing about the balls. ;)

  8. Ami permalink
    March 15, 2010 3:13 pm

    Thank you! As usual, your sweet family is such an inspiration! You really have a way of capturing essential moments, then weaving them into a pathway that leads me right to the heart of the matter! And, so much of what you write reminds me of my own life, and most importantly, the moments I’ve passed over or taken for granted! Thanks!

  9. Amanda permalink
    March 15, 2010 3:37 pm

    Very inspiring! We’re hope to start taking road trips again, soon. But–like yours–will be a more scaled down version than pre-kids.

  10. March 15, 2010 3:48 pm

    loving those gorgeous red rocks….. and the butt balls….. your kids are certainly funny ones :)

  11. March 15, 2010 8:10 pm

    you’re a great writer. i love that you came to utah for a break, while we utahns headed to cali. ;-D have you ever been to goblin valley? it’s a little further south, a little warmer, and even better for the kids.

  12. March 15, 2010 9:29 pm

    My favorite is the one-duck pond. And the spoons! Both my kiddos would have commented on those magic tools from the gods. =>

  13. Steph permalink
    March 15, 2010 9:49 pm

    The comment under the photo of Dan is hilarious, and “butt balls” had me laughing out loud!!!! And, the pond for “just one duck” is so adorable.

  14. Steph permalink
    March 15, 2010 10:28 pm

    Oops! I meant to say, that the words just *before* the photo of Dan I found quite amusing (the part about catching up on some reading from 2006). The caption was cute too, however! Very funny post!

  15. Daryl permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:27 am

    I laughed so hard! Loved every word!!!

  16. March 16, 2010 1:54 pm

    I love the ed abbey goes to disney comment. Too funny. I road tripped there TEN years ago with a friend. Can’t believe it’s been that long. Great trip!

  17. March 16, 2010 2:51 pm

    “just one duck.” that was a genuine laugh out loud.

    I just love this landscape!!! If we could just remove all of the people there (except us), it would be perfect. We spent some time there, and in your neck of the woods this past summer. I am going to do my absolute best to refrain from posting a link to my facebook album from that road trip.



    re . . . frain . . . ing

  18. March 16, 2010 3:45 pm

    What a fun time! Good God, those kids are hilarious and observant and silly and full of awe.

  19. March 16, 2010 5:17 pm

    It sounds like a nice vacation! Hanging out in the desert, collecting golf balls! I can’t get any better than that!

  20. March 17, 2010 9:22 am

    What a blast. Cory and I were just talking about how we want to get there. Those arches are amazing, fun to see your photos. Thanks for sharing them.
    You crack me up with your ball jokes.. I would have been right there with you.. adding more and taking it waay too far.

  21. March 30, 2010 4:33 pm

    The Butt Balls made me snort. That looks like a perfect vacation. Especially since there were chairs and spoons. Can’t ask for much more than that…


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