It was a nippy 54 degrees out when I woke up Friday, September 6th.
I had to dig out some long sleeves before I could hit the potties.
It was just before dawn. To the east, the horizon was a band of burnt orange
against a baby-blue sky. To the west, I could hear wild geese, and followed
their calls as they moved north. The lake had ripples from unfelt breeze.
I could hear the sigh of trucks as they passed down Highway 518. I walked
up the little hill and got to the crest right as the Sun poked up over
the edge of the world. On the lake, a flotilla of geese moved out into
the center of the water.
Reality became clearer the closer I got to home, and sank in good that
morning. This was it, my last sunrise on the road… maybe forever. I didn't
know what was ahead for me. There was a chance I’d never make it to Burning
Man again. Dirty, uncomfortable, scary, unique, there was still nothing
like it in the world, and I felt sad at the idea of leaving it behind.
Ahead was the future, and the real world, and the feeling nothing would
be the same again… Except, I still had one more day ahead of me,
one last journey before I hung up my traveling boots.
The smartphone brought news that Frederik Pohl had passed away. Damn.
He was one of the great ones, and a big inspiration to me as a writer.
I threw everything in the back of the van. There was no point in being
neat about it. The rising Sun was very bright as I pulled out of the park.
The streets were quiet driving through Las Vegas. It was almost that time
of the year for school to start up. I got back on the interstate. Broad
prairie surrounded the highway as I headed northeast. Wooded hills rose
to meet me at the Mora County line. Easy, rolling prairie followed. I found
out from a local radio station that Raton rhymes with “phone.”
A line of buttes appeared ahead just as a highway patrol car zoomed past.
Volcanic rocks lined the ridges. There was almost no traffic at all. I
liked how New Mexico painted their bridges turquoise and other happy colors.
In the distance, high ridges loomed from the west all the way around
to the east. Across the Colfax County line, I got off the highway at the
sleepy little town of Springer (“Home of the Red Devils”) and headed east
on Highway 412. I crossed the Cimarron River, and a couple of miles later
crossed the Canadian River. The sky was clear under green hills. Beside
the narrow 2-lane asphalt, a couple on a motorcycle were taking pictures.
There was a low ridge to the north of the road. When I passed it, I
felt like I was back in the Great Plains again. The road went straight
on to the horizon past small farms, abandoned windmills and dry, grassy
ponds. Two large ravens sat on atop a telephone pole. Wildflowers lined
the road. At 8 AM, I passed the turnoff for Point of Rocks. The speed limit
was 50 MPH through Gladstone, where the only business seemed to be the
mercantile. I listened to the “Trinidad classic rock” station until it
faded away. It was a lonely drive. I met no other car on the road for over
It was just before 9 AM (Nevada time) when I got to Clayton, New Mexico.
I stopped to get some pictures of the neat old buildings downtown. It was
a step back in time. The long, deep buildings still had high, tin ceilings.
The lady at the R. W. Isaacs Hardware Co. still did her paperwork from
a wooden, roll-top desk. At the Allsup’s store, I made a pit stop and asked
for directions to the state park. The road goes around a bridge and makes
a sharp turn down a steep valley. It was down that road that Satori clicked
over 298,000 miles. It was a little over 10 miles to the park. I was there
The lake is hidden down among some unexpected gullies. I passed some docks
and a very comfortable-looking campground. The trailhead for the dinosaur
tracks was down a gravel road. I changed into my boots and drank some water
before heading out. The trail is about a half mile long, going across the
top of the dam. At the other side, a pavilion overlooks the dinosaur tracks
that were uncovered when the spillway was being dug.
||A million years ago, that whole area was a beach. At some point, several
different dinosaurs walked through the wet mud of the shoreline. The mud
dried and turned into rock, preserving the footprints. A walkway goes down
from the pavilion and gives visitors a close-up look at the footprints.
Butterflies and dragonflies were in the air. A rabbit scampered across
the prints and under the walkway.
One footprint was as big as a basketball. From another set of prints,
scientists could tell the creature stopped and hesitated before
going on his way. There were even some baby dinosaur tracks.
On the way back, I met an elderly couple, shading themselves with an
umbrella. “You touristing?” the man asked. They were passing through from
North Carolina, and were amazed at the lake. “You don’t expect to see this
much water way out here,” the woman said. They were the only people I saw
the whole time I was in the park.
|I drove back to Clayton. There was a dragon sculpture built into the
former Wild West Trading Post. (Currently for sale.) What a rusty Chinese
dragon had to do with the wild west, I don’t know. I went back to the Allsup’s
store for $20 of gas. I didn’t fill up because I kept thinking I’d find
cheaper gas down the road. While I was sitting in the shade of the pumps,
I returned a call from a prospective employer. They wanted me to come in
for a face-to-face interview! I was so happy, I failed to notice the pickup
behind me waiting to use the pumps. It was just before 11 AM (Nevada time)
when I took Main Street out of town. I took Highway 412 northeastward towards
the Oklahoma line. Boise City was 40 miles away.
I got to thinking about never going to Burning Man again; would that
be so bad? Maybe it was one of those “one door closes, another one opens”
kind of things. Even if I got a job, maybe I could save up my vacation
time to make at least a limited visit in 2014. Scaling back my Ranger shifts
meant I might not qualify for a staff ticket again, but that wouldn’t be
so bad. A THUNK got my attention. It was a green grasshopper, as big as
my finger, sitting on my messenger bag in the passenger seat. He’d come
in through the open window. When I tried to shoo him back out the window,
the contents of the messenger bag went flying all over—including my wallet.
I stopped to make sure I still had my wallet, but the grasshopper disappeared.
It was a clear, sunny day. I passed miles of cornfields coming into Oklahoma.
About 40 minutes after leaving Clayton, I made it to Boise City. I circled
the familiar courthouse square and turned east. It was 56 miles to Guymon.
I’d been down that almost perfectly straight road before. The van rocked
from fierce crosswinds. I didn’t see any water in the Beaver River when
I crossed over it. It was 12:39 when I got to Guymon, “An All-American
City.” I was making good time and still had cash left, so I treated myself
to a cheeseburger at Sonic. Signs posted over the street advertised the
Farmer’s Market and the upcoming Oktoberfest.
In Hardesty, I made a pit stop. A t-shirted guy ahead of me at the store
said, “Hot today, ain’t it?” It was hot, and very windy. Down the road,
a 30-foot-wide dust devil crossed the road, and I drove right through it.
The No Man’s Land sign near Slapout (population 8) was finally fixed. Everything
looked closed at Log Cabin Corner, and the gas station in May, Oklahoma
did not look open. It had turned into a long, hot day. At Woodward, I found
a reasonably-priced gas station and got $30 worth of gas. I also got a
Dr. Pepper and called home; I would not be home in time for supper. It
was 85 miles to Enid. Oklahoma red dirt was everywhere alongside the highway.
A guy on a motorcycle zoomed past me at high speed. A mile down the road,
I passed him stopped on the shoulder, talking on his cellphone. A couple
of minutes later, he zoomed past me again, his shirt tail flapping behind
him. The Sun was getting low in the sky. I crossed the Cimarron River again
at Cleo Springs. It was straight up 5 PM (7 PM Oklahoma time) when I passed
the Plainview winery in Lahoma. It was 127 miles to Tulsa. Going through
Enid, I kept finding Christian stations on the radio. I was two hours from
home. East of Enid, 412 becomes a comfortable 4-lane highway.
I caught glimpses of a pretty sunset behind me. Darkness fell. I got on
the Cimarron Turnpike and paid the toll twice on the way home. The skyline
of Tulsa was a welcome sight. I took I-244 across town to the Mingo Valley
Expressway, and then worked my way back home. It was just before 10 PM
Oklahoma time when I pulled into the driveway. I had driven 3,901 miles
in 17 days. It felt good to be back home.
|Police lights flashed up ahead. As I got closer, I saw a police car
and another vehicle were next to the wide median. I thought he’d pulled
someone over, but as I approached I saw tire marks and big scratches in
the highway. In the median was a houseboat, hanging half off its
trailer. An RV was parked off the road up ahead. It looked like the houseboat
trailer had come unhitched from the RV and swerved around the road
before crashing in the median. It didn’t look like anybody was hurt.
A family sat on what was left of the trailer, which may or may not have
been serviceable anymore. I thought, Somebody’s weekend just took a
Last updated: September, 2013
A couple of weeks after returning from Burning Man, I went with some
friends on an expedition to the Great Salt Plains of Oklahoma. It's a state
park that has a salt "playa" created from the remnants of a great sea that
covered Oklahoma millions of years ago. People come from all over to dig
for hourglass selenite salt crystals, which grow there with a pattern
not found anywhere else on Earth. It was fun. I found a bunch of beautiful
crystals. It was nice to know that I still had some adventure in me, the
desire to go new places, the itch to explore. I'd much rather go looking
for adventure than to wait for it to come to me.
The heart of the "cargo cult" theme at Burning Man was the belief in
some higher power or intelligence coming into our world and making
our dreams come true. The truth is, the power to make our dreams come true
has been here all along. We often plod through our mundane lives, hammered
with problems and stresses, desperately trying to keep up, and it can all
be overwhelming. Goals look pointless, and dreams look impossible... But
people need dreams, so much so that they come to us
whether we want them or not.
||When a path seems impossible to travel, it's natural for people to
not even try. They forget it, and content themselves with the rut
they're already in. They give up before they start.
-- However, when you decide something is possible, your mind
starts to work things out, examine possibilities, and explore options.
Maybe there's a lot of work involved. Maybe there are sacrifices to be
made. Maybe it won't turn out exactly the way you wanted... but the first
step is always to decide for yourself that it is possible. The key
to happiness lies within us all.