Triple digits — time to get out of Dodge and beat the heat. The La Sal Mountains (Spanish for ‘salt’) are only 45 min east of Arches, and the highest peaks reach 12,000 feet. There are a couple of National Forest campgrounds nestled in there so Jess (a Wisconsin girl) and I throw our gear into her car and exit Moab. We have both been in the desert for a month now. We are about to find out some interesting things about that.
The La Sals are a type of mountain called laccoliths, which simply means they were formed from igneous goo pushing up from underneath that never cracked the crust. Kind of like a pimple on the earth’s surface. We have three ranges of laccoliths that I can see simulataneously, so there is definitely something about the geology here that is different.
As we head south and east of town, we begin our ascent. These pimples are fairly abrupt at their edges, and the flora becomes noticeably different as we rise. It’s raining up there (makes its own clouds), and the air is cooler. It smells really fresh. We turn off the AC and roll all windows down. Climb, climb. Larger trees! Trees with real leaves! Deciduous trees! Climb, climb. Wildflowers in bloom! Lupines! Indian paintbrush! Higher over the switchbacks, onto a dirt road. Aspens!! Huge aspens!! Oh, my — a robin! Listen!! Northern birdsong!! Wood thrush! Warblers! Tweets and chirps I can recognize!! Conifers, sweet conifers, everywhere!
We looked at each other and simultaneously chimed, “We’re home!” and then laughed out loud. Neither of us had realized how “other” this desert home has been to us, until we found ourselves back on Terra Familiaris.
As we built our supper fire to cook our chicken breasts (which we had to saw up and spear onto sticks, so it looked like calamari), we talked about the missings we had for the north woods. When we put the tent up, we could push the tent stakes right into the earth without pounding with a rock. When we walked around, our feet felt padded by the earth instead of landing on hard stone with each step. A babbling brook coursed down-mountain behind our site — so very north-woods-like.
Anything is better with BBQ sauce on it, so we took our best-we-could-do chicken breasts and slathered them with red stuff and ate them right off the sticks. We felt like cave women.
And then we walked up to Oowah Lake. I stifled a laugh. It wouldn’t even pass for a small pond in MN, but someone got the bright idea to make an earthen dike along the creek, back it up, stock it with small rainbow hatchlings, call it a lake, and charge $5 to camp there. It is, well, nice, unless you’re comparing it with northern MN lakes.
I will now admit to the tiniest twinge of homesickness when I experienced the La Sal Mountain ecosystem. As long as MN was a distant memory, the desert’s mysterious beauty captivated me. When the familiar birdsong and earthy smells struck my ears and nose, however, I realized that there is plenty to miss back home.
Still, my home is here right now, and I am very pleased to be here. I find contentment and joy in each day. The desert is a harsh taskmaster and I am learning tons from dwelling in it. I marvel at the survivalist abilities of local flora and fauna. I marvel that I can go out in the 100-degree day and drink lots and lots of water and walk and work and still survive. Appetites are rather suppressed in the heat, so I drink a lot but don’t eat as much as I do in MN. I am probably losing a few pounds, and my skin is browner than it has been in a while, but this is the Way of the Desert.