All my muscles were relaxed. We had just spent the night at Monument Valley’s View Hotel, a last-minute get after pulling into the hotel’s adjacent campsite and discovering that they only offered dry camping, which is another way of saying there were no hookups. Was this a miscommunication by the proprietors or yet another travel planning mistake by yours truly? Perhaps we should just say no one’s to blame and leave it at that.
A naturally early riser (or a freakishly early riser, depending on your perspective), I’d watched the sun come up over pinkish-red buttes and mesas rising majestically from the desert floor. Many other hotel guests had roused themselves in the predawn for that very same reason, though not the husband. For him, sleeping in is where it’s at. Later though, energized by all that sleep, the husband prodded me into accompanying him on a trail run amongst the craggy sandstone monoliths. Though running is not my favorite activity, especially in the heat, I acceded and was treated to up-close-and-personal views of the desert scenery. It was a magical place.
I was filled with contentment at seeing Monument Valley again after two decades and pleased to have finally experienced it with the husband. Feeling satisfied and serene, we packed up and began to make our way through the setting of a thousand westerns toward the town of Torrey, Utah, 200 miles away.
But my head must have been in the clouds still, because I failed navigation duty that day. First, I missed our turn-off, necessitating a
three-point 38-point turn. I’ll admit, trying to execute a U-turn on a narrow highway with minimal shoulders and not insubstantial ditches—even on a deserted road—is no small task when you are towing a travel trailer, but I didn’t expect to be treated to a barrage of expletives and a repeated refrain of “You have ONE. JOB!” as the husband struggled with the maneuver. Eventually he succeeded, but the marital dustup that occurred in the wake of my innocent navigation error left an icy chill in the car despite the desert heat. We made our way back to the T-junction and made the turn. After a few moments the husband asked in a clipped voice if I’d seen the sign we’d just passed. With an equally venomous tone I replied that I hadn’t, so he enlightened me: “It said ‘No towing vehicles.'”
I had picked this particular route because my map app told me it was the fastest and most direct. That was yet another mistake, because what I hadn’t realized was that the road contained a scenic but problematic obstacle known as Cedar Mesa, and the only way to get to the top of said mesa and be on your merry way is to climb the Moki Dugway, a narrow, snaking sand and gravel road rife with hairpin bends and steep drop-offs.
Nervous about what lay ahead, I suggested a reroute. What’s an extra 90 minutes in the car, after all, in the name of safety? The husband, always up for an adventure but also intent on getting revenge for the earlier U-turn incident, refused. He may even have trotted out the worn epithet he saves for just this type of occasion: Head Safety. Before long, a vast rock wall appeared on the horizon. The closer we got to it, the more my muscles tensed up.
Finally, the husband’s vengeful stubbornness left us with only one option: start climbing. It was here that the butt clenching began in earnest.
Adding to the challenge was the road’s lack of girth; it’s barely wide enough for vehicles going in opposite directions to pass each other. If you come across a car (or God forbid, a truck pulling a verboten travel trailer—ahem) going in the opposite direction, one of you needs to do the chivalrous thing and come to a stop as close to the side as possible without either scraping petroglyphs into your car’s paint job or toppling over the edge. We got lucky—we only encountered one vehicle that I can remember, and it happened at a bend, where there was a cactus spine’s width of extra room. Following the “give way to tonnage” maxim, the driver wisely pulled over and let our rule-flouting mini-parade inch by, but not before I lost three pounds of body weight in fear-induced sweat. The husband insists we allowed a truck to pass us on one of the straightaways; if so, it must have been traumatic for me, because I have blocked it from memory. Following the 5 mph speed limit, we crept slowly up the face of the chiseled-out mesa, my anxiety ebbing and flowing depending on which direction my passenger-side window faced: see the steep drop, now see the rock wall, now see the steep drop . . .
As we neared the summit, my brain told my butt muscles that the slow-motion rollercoaster ride was nearly finished and it was safe to begin unclenching. Then, as we rounded our last bend and emerged onto the top of the mesa, we saw the unthinkable: a 50-foot motor home (driven by a little old white-haired man, as many of them are . . . just sayin’) barreling toward us and toward the top of the Moki. This part of Utah is truly the middle of nowhere and at this point, we had nothing ahead of us but a single barren road for miles on end. Coming from the nearest town or campground, the motorhome folks had probably been on the road for an hour at the very least. Now they were faced with two bad choices: go back (though signs warned “no turnarounds”) or brave the Moki, which was foolish for us and our little 12-foot Bobbie, but would have been suicide for that hulking home on wheels.
Somewhere along the ascent, the ice between the husband and me had begun to thaw and, watching the motorhome get smaller in our car mirrors, we laughingly imagined “Lois” shrilly scolding “Hank” about his route choice. “I told you we shouldn’t have come this way, Hank!” Hank, of course, being a stubborn little old white-haired man, would have replied, “Dammit Lois. I’m not turning back now! It’s fine! We’ll be fine!” before beginning the perilous descent that would leave the ass of their motor home hanging over the cliff, not unlike the bus in the final scene of that 1969 classic, The Italian Job, a pickle that would surely leave Hank’s and Lois’ butts in a state of petrified clenching I could only imagine.
We spent much of the rest of the drive to Torrey simultaneously chuckling about and worrying about Hank and Lois, and for the next several days we watched the news whenever we could, always on the lookout for a report about an elderly couple and their obscenely large motorhome teetering over the edge of the Moki Dugway.
We never did hear anything, but we think of them still to this day . . .