Ponderosa and fir thickets give way to juniper, sagebrush, desert spoons, and mesquite. Hard angular rocks dot the landscape as we transition to desert once more. Darlene’s bare nose points Northward, our radiator-blocking tool box gone thanks to our friend Stu in Show Low. In a few hours we’ll be at the Utah border and Beth will see the majesty of Monument Valley for the first time. It was here three years ago that I stopped while on a solo road trip and decided to turn back East towards Asheville, home.
Our hope to catch the mittens by sundown is thwarted by good times and home-made pancakes at Stu’s house – we have no strict schedule and quality time with friends is far more important than racing across a state; the Earth will outlast any mortal – the monuments will always be here, but those we love will not.
We made as far as Kayenta by the time the sun set in the West
Approaching Monument Valley, the mittens hide within the darkness of the desert; I can feel their presence though, they are close.
The Utah state line prompts a victorious photoshoot: Beth and I jump for joy in front of the large welcome sign depicting delicate arch, illuminated by Darlene’s lights. My notepad and pen launch from my breast pocket the joy in our jump is so great.
The yellow center lines of highway 163 flicker by us in constant rhythm as we ramble North in the darkness. For Beth and I this region symbolizes a pilgrimage into our past, back when we were on separate journeys, searching for intangible things only to find them here in this barren landscape. For both of us Moab was a turning point and we are anxious to arrive, this time together. I glance over at Beth staring out into the night with anticipation to see the mittens for the first time – she did not take this route previously as I had but knows of its significance to me.
The highway turns back and forth like a serpent in the night, until at last it straightens as far as we can see in the highbeams and moonlight. I know we’re here, now.
We pull to the side of the road, throwing up a cloud of desert dust illuminated by starlight. Turning South we let our eyes adjust to the night. It’s just as beautiful as the last time I was here. Maybe even more in this ethereal illumination.
I do not wish to leave: the desert is lovely, dark and deep. But we have promises to keep, and many miles before we sleep.
An hour and a half later, on the verge of exhaustion and only another hour and a half from Moab, Beth turns to me and asks, “Where is my debit card?”
My heart flutters and sinks, my gut twists. I vividly remember Beth handing me her card to fill the truck up with fuel, and afterwards placing it into my breast pocket. The very pocket that my notepad and pen were in when they launched to the sand in front of the Utah-Arizona border, some 100 miles behind us.
I pat my breast pocket. Once. Twice. I reach in and pull the notepad and hand it to Beth. Then a tissue. A wadded receipt. But no debit card.
Shit. Shit. Shit. “I’m so sorry baby, I think it fell out back on the border,” I manage to stammer.
“I knew it did,” she says calmly, “I should have said something or looked for it when that stuff came out of your pocket. I just had a feeling that you had lost something else. What do we do? I need that card – I don’t have any other way to pay for us to get to Minnesota.”
I know the answer before she even asks – I slow the truck and pull a U-turn on the deserted highway.
“At least we get to see the valley again!”
Many miles of deep conversation later and we arrive back at the sign. I hold my breath and cross my fingers as I walk from the truck up to where we jumped, praying to the gods of travel, the desert and debit cards that I will find that which I seek.
Beth’s miniature smiling face looks up at me from the ochre sand – it’s still here.
The next three hours take a lifetime. At the city limits of Moab we find a dusty rutted road and venture down it to seek rest beneath the stars. Glancing at our phones we realize we’ve lost another hour due to the evil that is daylight savings.
Never mind: our top is popped, our minds and bodies tired, and we are here: Moab! Sleep embraces us with little effort. Tomorrow we will play.