Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We rockhounds

The same day that Amy and Bella were dining with and watching royalty, Jarom and I were braving the west Utah desert. To camp under the stars and explore the Dugway Geode Beds.

We left Friday night, drove to a couple of Home Depots to finish getting all the tools we needed (Jarom now knows Home Depot very well). Then we hit the road out west past Lehi, going through some rapidly growing towns I've heard of but never visited (like Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain), until we hit the old Pony Express trail. It was after 9:00, the skies were black, the washboard road ahead of us only lit by our meager headlights. We made up ghost stories while we drove. Occasionally a car would pass us, maybe two the whole drive. It took us an hour and a half to reach Simpson Springs. It's one of the old stations of the Pony Express, where a single person used to camp out with supplies and water, so that each rider could rest and refuel while another rider took his place as soon as he arrived.

starting out

We drove as far up the mountain as we could in the little 14-site BLM campground. We laid out a small blanket under a juniper, put our sleeping bags on top of it. I read Jarom some ghost stories and we both fell asleep under the nearly-full moon to the sound of crickets. The night was not too cold. It was beautiful sleeping right there, listening to only insects, smelling only juniper and pine, seeing only the stars and the moon, and just barely the lights of the military town Dugway off in the distance. At 5:45 I woke up and stayed up. The moon had set. The crickets were silent. The two other groups in the campsite were still. I couldn't hear a single sound. My ears buzzed with emptiness--it was very literally the sound of silence, the most deafening quiet I will ever experience. The sky was as beautiful as I've seen it; Orion had just risen in the east, the Milky Way was huge and white overhead, the Andromeda galaxy blurry and mysterious. It awed me. I felt such a wonderful connection with the earth and life and the desert just then. It truly was spiritual. I attempted a couple pictures of the sky, wrote in my journal while the sun slowly lit the brown world, and Jarom woke up after 7:00. We packed up, explored the old Simpson Springs shack, and hit the trail again.

A photo of Orion (60-second exposure so the stars are streaking across the sky). You can easily see the Orion nebula below his belt, the color of the red giant Betelgeuse, and the brightest star in the sky, Sirius (lower left-center).

here's our view when we woke up, as the sun poured out on the hills

us two

where we slept

Jarom and Simpson Springs

the stretching old Pony Express trail

It took another hour to reach the geode beds. We stopped at an old well where Jarom and I found some bones. He convinced me to excavate a bone that was completely buried. Jarom said, "It's a jaw." I don't know how he knew, but he was right. It was a skull buried upsidedown in the earth. We didn't keep it. Then up and over Dugway Pass, a little brown sign, and we four-wheeled around in my amazing Civic, over sand and brush, searching for the best place to dig. This was new to both of us. We looped around and finally settled on a tiny hill where a couple large holes had previously been dug. We stayed there two hours, digging with a crowbar and shovels, cracking rocks left and right. Turns out we made a good choice. We found some beautiful rocks and geodes. It was a thrill, digging and searching there in our tiny remote corner. At one point a tiny minivan passed on the road below. And we felt a huge explosion from the proving grounds that shook the air and our bodies. Aside from that, utterly alone. Only later did we realize that we missed the excavated area where a backhoe tears up the ground and upturned geodes are much easier to find. We're proud of our hand-dug rocks. We made our own hole.

the skull that we dug out of the ground (the wood and metal belong to the well where we stopped)

looking back on top of Dugway Pass

we made it!

digging away (that was the last time we saw that orange shovel)

me and my trusty old crowbar (Jarom takes a mean picture)

holding some of our discoveries

we dug into the face of the hill in about the left-middle

thumbs up and licorice, job well done

Next we hoped to hit Topaz Mountain. I wanted to drive all the way out to Fish Springs, but we didn't have time because we had to meet Amy and the other kids later that evening for India Fest. So we took a southern four-wheel drive road to the west of the Thomas Range. I was prepared, had topo maps (quadrangles) and directions. But this road was unexpected. It was a real four-wheel drive road. It was ten miles long and quite beautiful. Two-foot tall anthills broke apart under our car. Brush accumulated and turned to charcoal under the hood. It was rough--we tore over over huge rocks and could hear them scraping and churning under the chassis. A huge ampitheatre and numerous side trails and roads spun off toward the mountains. Jarom napped. An hour later we came out on a better road, which took us southeast toward Topaz and past many mines. Jarom loved pointing out all the little mining operations, and asked each of their names. Because our four-wheeling took so long, we didn't have time for Topaz. Instead we pulled off and collected apache tears (little river-worn pieces of obsidian) at one site and found another hill full of jasper pebbles. We then headed east again, towards Delta, and home again.

This is the four-wheel drive road I'm talking about. It doesn't show it at its worst, because I didn't stop the car when it was at its worst.

Jarom was napping . . .

Jarom pointed out this school bus *way* up at the top of a mountain, near a mine. I zoomed in as far as I could to get this. How'd it end up there?

collecting apache tears

This is one of the beehive-shaped Morrison charcoal ovens on UT-132, past the town of Leamington. Interesting stuff we found on our way home.

This trip was amazing. I recommend the geode beds to anyone. The west Utah desert is empty and gorgeous. We plan to go again, for a longer period of time, quite soon.

The inside of one of our geodes. Not as hollow as many others, but the crystals and other crystalline structures are beautiful!


heather said...

i love the picture of jarom collecting apache tears, his serious little face. you guys are a good team. the description you give of arriving there and then driving on the bumpty dirt roads reminds me of desert solitaire. i love the way you describe the silent night and the photo of the stars, i can just imagine being there. it is so beautiful in a stark strange way. how did you learn about this place and what exactly are geodes?

Life on Pelican Street said...

What an amazing and memorable trip!


Amy Beatty said...

You two are the perfect buddy's and rockhounders! You will have to take us girls sometime. Love you honey xo

Glory Watts said...

When I was little I always wanted to go and find myself a geode, I was always so jealous of the kids that had one (I was a bit of a rock collector). Jarom is so lucky to have a Dad that takes him on such priceless adventures. I'm sure he will always treasure the memories of this trip, sounds like you will too.

Being out in the middle of a beautiful desert, under a clear stary sky with the sound of silence and the smells of juniper all while lying next to your little boy sounds like pure bliss. Those are the things that create true happiness.