I am going to finish recounting my trip with this post, so it may be a little longer than others.
I was making my way across Colorado for the 2nd time, enjoying it just as much. Mentally cementing that this is an area I would like to reside in for a least a small period of my life sometime down the road. I took a different highway though found the drive not as exciting visually as the interstate. Making it into Denver around 8pm I headed to downtown Denver with my cousin Jason for some Sushi and a stroll around 16th Street Mall. The last time I had visited the mall was during a Best Buy leadership training a couple years ago. I had been instructed in training to “meet at least 3 new people and start a conversation” as a way to practice interactions with strangers. I ended up saying hello to a woman on the 16th st. bus who looked very artsy and unique, my type of people!
Her name was Jazz and she lived nearby in Aurora though grew up in Greece. She wasn’t very interested in talking to a happy go lucky stranger so the conversation waned after that, however it inspired me to write a song that my music buddy Michael Loukes and I will be performing as apart of our set at Art Blitz in Rochester, MN this August 26th!
The drive to through Kansas was…boring. When I entered the destination into my GPS from Denver it said to follow the interstate for 540 miles…so I just turned it off. It really was just a flat highway I drove on for 8 hours. I was able to finish and audio book and began writing a song about my all night experience in the desert. Other than that it was completely uneventful, and half way through it started getting dark.
After the sun set I noticed hundreds of flashing red lights that were not equally spaced and briefly thought I might have been hallucinating again until I realized it was a field of windmills in the dark. I arrived late at my friends Madi and Alva’s apartment in KC but they are night owls so It worked out. I slept on an air mattress that didn’t like to retain air as much as others, and woke up with the air mattress more or less acting as a blanket I could wrap around myself.
This trip did a few great things for me. First, it gave me a renewed perspective on my life as a whole. Nothing I didn’t already know, but simply an awareness of where I tend to put my focuses and efforts and the results. Second, it refreshed my love for people, travel, and nature. It was like seeing the movie for a book I had already read; I was reassured that life is a series of experiences that help us grow and . I felt as though I had lived more in the last month than I had in years in terms of new memories and adventures. I was forced to look for people to meet and things to do instead of relying on my routines. On top of it all I stayed under my $2,000 budget mark ($1400 was on gas), and traveled just over 5300 miles!
This trip did a few great things for me. First, it gave me a renewed perspective on my life as a whole. Nothing I didn’t already know, but simply an awareness of where I tend to put my focuses and efforts and the results. Second, it refreshed my love for people, travel, and nature. It was like seeing the movie for a book I had already read; I was reassured that life is a series of experiences that help us grow and . I felt as though I had lived more in the last month than I had in years in terms of new memories and adventures. I was forced to look for people to meet and things to do instead of relying on my routines.
I plan to continue traveling, pursuing photography, and cataloging my experiences with this blog. Currently I am finishing a trip with my sister to the North West part of our country and will be in Canada next month. I hope to travel to the East side of the country next year and return to places from this trip that I want to explore further (especially Zion and Yosemite).
Thanks for reading, I hope I made it an enjoyable recounting of my adventures while providing vicarious and informative stories =)
Until next we meet again.
- Nathaniel DeBoer
I left Page, UT around 1pm after my quick nap. I made my way down to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Crossing back over the Glen Dam and the Navajo Bridge gave me a strange sense of nostalgia as I reminisced over the last 24 hours. Along the way to the South Rim I stopped at Coal Mine Canyon on a Navajo reservation. I was making my way to the 2nd lookout to obtain the best view, and I began to hear a distant yet distinct buzzing sound. Thinking it was flies I dismissed it.
I got within 50ft of the sign describing the 2nd lookout when some friendly perimeter guard wasps decided to check me out. I don’t like bees. Never have. So I promptly turned around and combination ran/hopped away as I was escorted for a couple hundred feet by the insect security force.
I did decide to climb up near the sign where all the buzzing seemed to have been coming from and peaked my head up. The bees didn’t notice me only 10 ft. away but there was a swarm of at least 100 bees flying around what I’m assuming was a pretty big hive.
I hiked back to my car and continued towards the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, finally arriving around 5pm, I decided I was exhausted and napped for another 45 minutes. After eating a quick instant meal I started exploring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The lookouts were iconic and impressive, the view is incredible in it's sense of scale and grandeur because you’re literally looking across vast distances. What seem like the closest opposing cliff faces are actually 8 miles away!
Since I only had a half a day at the Grand Canyon, I could only experience a tiny fraction of the park and decided I would stay and see how well the night sky appeared after having such a fantastic view the night prior. I visited 5 of the closest lookouts and decided on a spot for taking night photos that required I climb 30ft down to. As the Sun began to lower in the sky, I climbed down, setup my camera gear, and ate a large snack. I could see everyone else gathered up atop the railings of the lookout to watch the sunset all glance at me periodically as I sat perched atop my chosen rock ledge. I realized that everyone was looking at me and I was completely comfortable with it, in fact I enjoyed being the person who took a different path to accomplish their goals enough to attract others attention. In the end it’s doing what you do with conviction and confidence that makes you appear to be either accomplished or possibly crazy.
The sunset and people soon were gone. I continued to take photos however the blue haze (Created by moisture in the air over the vast distance between the canyons) distorted a lot of my photos (I should have brought a polarizer, ended up having to finesse it out in post). Eventually the stars came out, though not nearly as impressive as the night before; only a hint of the milky way could be seen. I was getting a bit chilly since my perch was quite breezy, so I climbed back up to the lookout to continue taking photos around 10pm. As I made my way up I noticed a couple lying on the ground staring at the sky. We greeted each other and I made a couple friends for the night.
They shared some croissants and chatted as night sky darkened until I exhaustion began consuming me.
I got in my car and looked up where to camp for the evening. I figured I could probably just fall asleep in my car, but I had plans to meet up with a good friend early in the afternoon in Durango, CO so I wanted to make some headway. I drove into the night not feeling as tired as I expected…I knew something was off when the white lines in the middle of the road began taking the shape of a deer or rabbit every now and then causing me to slow down until realizing I was seeing things due to exhaustion.
At first I thought it was the dark playing tricks on my eyes as I swore I was coming up on a slow truck trailer's red taillights, only to find it was a bridge with reflective markers. There was mist from time to time made me feel like I was driving through narrow mountain passes only to realize I was on as flat desert terrain. It really dawned on me when I thought giant dark legs were descending from the sky and landing on either side of the road; my eyes were deceiving me. Normally I know I'm getting too tired because I can’t keep my eyes open or I feel my body produce melatonin, oddly neither of that happened so it took me off guard.
As soon as I realized the exhaustion for what it was I found a free campsite down the desert road in the next town I could (it took a bit of focus to maintain reality in the dark). The most notable visions of the night were a green dragon curled up in the middle of the road and a headless backwards-dancing turkey…my brain is quite creative regardless of
The so-called campsite turned out to be a parking lot for a trucking company; it felt sketchy so I kept driving. Within a few minutes I decided it was unsafe to continue in my condition so I parked outside a dental office and passed into the realm of deep sleep around 1:30am.
I awoke around 6:30 feeling much better, but my teeth felt disgusting. I did a quick brush and spit and was on my way to Durango to meet up with my friend Bri who I'd never seen in person before. I met Bri online in high school back when YouTube was a social media platform. We conversed for years over Yahoo and MSN messenger but never had a chance to meet in person because she lives in New Mexico. When I started this trip I sent her a snap and we snapped back and fourth until we realized I would be passing by her neck of the woods later that month. It ended up working out for us to meet up and check out Mesa Verde National Park.
I passed through more beautiful terrain and right by Ship rock (didn’t have time to stop this trip), I met up with Bri and we carpooled to Mesa Verde. It was like seeing an old friend from high school that I used to hang out with even though I had never physically been around her.
I met her family who showed tons of old photos of each other, a couple of which I remember seeing when I was 13. We played some video games, hung out, and watched Odd Thomas (I vaguely remember parts of it from breaks at work and thoroughly enjoyed seeing it in its entirety). Bri made me a hearty and delicious rack of pork ribs. After living off of nuts, meal bars, and instant meals the last few weeks it was a great dietary break. I slept soundly, said goodbye to her and her snake the next morning, and headed back on my way home.
The next morning I began my route to Kansas city which swung me back up through Colorado to spend another night with my cousin Jason. The drive was peaceful, a little rainy, but otherwise fun as it winded around all the mountains.
5/22 - Spending a Night in the Desert with a Stranger for an Impromptu Photo Op While in an Alternative State of Mind.
I left the phoenix area around 11am saying goodbye to Troy, Katrina, Anne, and Mya. I was still a bit drained from the prior day’s jaunt up Echo Canyon in the 100-degree heat, so my goal was to reach the Grand Canyon and take some night photography without too much exertion.
I noticed a few people with some nice 500mm lenses pointed towards part of the cliff face and saw a rare endangered condor nested there. A then saw a fellow solo traveler and photographer also taking in the sights. I was simply looking for hiking and/or photo spot recommendations so I said “Hi.”…and that one friendly outward interaction opened the door to the following 16-hour encounter that felt like another world.
As a preamble, this night was by far the most positive, creatively interesting night that I’ve spent with someone I’ve never met before. I decided to trust them for no other reason than to let life guide the way and maybe glean some food for thought.
The traveler’s name is Talor (Taylor without the "Y"), and she hails from Vermont. A former OCIS officer of the Air force (think NCIS and Law & Order SVU combined), she is now a veteran and a manager of social media influencers. Alongside being a fantastic photographer, Talor is preparing to begin her PHD study of neo-liberal economic trends impacting third world economies (the stuff I dig a lot in economics and business). Atop of all of this, 2 months ago, her husband’s years of infidelities were revealed to her through extortion efforts by one of his multiple lovers. This prompted her to take a spur of the moment 5-month cross-country trek across the United States.
I learned these pieces of her life throughout the remainder of that day and the following morning. And now I will recount the 16-hour encounter that followed this happenstance of adventure.
4:00pm (Hour 1)
6:00pm (Hour 2)
As we headed back to my car parked at the bridge, we discussed more of where we had traveled so far on our journeys. She had been traveling the opposite direction as I had, so she was headed for some of my stops as she continued north towards Canada.
She was lucky enough to witness a blood moon at the White Sands Monument in New Mexico. She passingly mentioned how she really would have liked to trip while the red moon soaked into the glittering sands, but doing so alone in a desert isn’t a smart idea or as fun without someone else. I said that would be a great experience to share with someone. We laughed about at first, then decided that’s what we we’re going to do; Alter our minds in the desert with a stranger while taking photos. We hopped in our cars and headed north as we knew that was where we both were originally headed, we decided we would figure out a plan for that evening along the way.
8:00pm (Hour 4)
10:00pm (Hour 6)
The photographs we took were amazing, especially when our altered states actually made the stars dance and trail visually in the sky and also on our camera screens. We nerded out over passionate technical and academic topics as the night continued (her undergrad was sociology, part of mine in psychology). We grabbed more blankets and relocated my vehicle closer, continuing to share our pasts, as we both are open and talkative people.
12:00am (Hour 8)
She mentioned she only has 6 CDs in her car to listen to on her 5-month journey (as she left without much preparation), and began listing them off. One artists she prefaced as “someone I likely hadn’t heard before”. It was Damian Rice. He’s one of the artists I discovered during a low point in my life and helped me through it. I've been in love with his raw acoustic music and the incredibe power of his emotional voice.
I had to laugh at her mention of him and got up to grab my guitar. I proceeded to play 9 Crimes and Blower’s Daughter on my acoustic guitar. Trying to whisper sing as quietly as possible in order to not disturb the people around us in the near pitch black while in a non-sober state of mind was more difficult than I anticipated, but fun none the less.
1:00am (Hour 9)
We continued to exchange stories. I learned about her article 15 administrative reprimand in the air force (Preventing her from ever receiving another promotion). Because she come forward with a group of women about being assaulted by a male officer and he denied it, her military career had ended. Sadly he didn’t stop those actions towards women and was shot and killed while assaulting another woman years later in self-defense…a sort of satisfying vindication for Talor after being denied justice so harshly.
We discovered that both of us experience Synthesesia; a condition where sound triggers additional senses, in our case it takes the form of light across our visual field. That was the first time encountering someone else with this condition. Her Synthesesia manifests as angular and sharp images in relation to any jolting or continuous sound (like a water drip or a door being slammed) making it hard to ignore, whereas mine are fuzzy like visual static and I can usually ignore it.
2:00am (Hour 10)
Our conversations continued, and around 2am, bright headlights swept across the lakeside and blinded our eyes. A couple pick-up trucks were off-roading up the side of the canyon about a ½ mile from the campsite. At first we were confused and couldn’t believe people were being so rude as their high beams and engine revving were very prominent in the otherwise quiet night scene. They did this on and off, cresting the canyon ridge for over an hour, it got really annoying.
3:00am (Hour 11)
4:00am (Hour 12)
We continued to chat and laughed at the whole situation of spending an evening with a complete stranger in the desert and the trust we put into life to guide the way (I’m sure she could have kicked my ass with her military background). The happenstance of seeing someone on a bridge, choosing to say hello, and the metamorphosis into a night of enjoying each other’s company and nature was so coincidental it seemed ironic.
She used the word serendipitous when describing the whole situation, as her grandpa Pat Patterson had a sailboat by that same name. Serendipity is one of my favorite words along with “sonder”. I hadn’t heard another person use that word in conversation before and I have been keeping that word in my head for writing a song someday…It may be a sign that Its ready to be used...
One of the last notable conversations we had involved laughing over how I would try to describe this night to anyone else. Being a romantic at heart, “of course I would find a chick who I didn’t sleep with but still managed to spend a night in the desert with under the milky way taking photos, nerding out, and cuddling on a blow up mattress in the back of a hatchback.” Our mind altering had peaked around midnight so we were descending the stairs of overstimulation. Our conversation waned and we peacefully passed out around 4:30am for maybe 30 minutes of sleep.
5:00am (Hour 13)
We realized our bodies were in serious need of sustenance and that we should probably take a photo of the sunrise (hanging out with a fellow photographer is dangerous for slacking off in these parts of the country). So we got ready to face the chilly desert morning, packed up our cars, and headed for the entrance to grab a few photos on our way out.
6:00am (Hour 14)
8:00am (Hour 16 - The Final Hour)
Shortly after 8am our journey concluded. Talor had to find a way to sleep enough to go on her all day hike to Rainbow Arch and I needed to get the Grand Canyon portion of my trip underway. We exchanged multiple forms of contact info and both left knowing we would remain a special type of acquaintance in each other’s memories. That serendipitous encounter added to a small chapter to my journey and I’m happy that it all happened the way it did.
After we said our goodbyes, I returned to Denny’s for another few hours as my body, soul, and mental capacity replenished thanks to the free coffee refills (I was able to show my receipt and continue to receive refills from my earlier breakfast, I gave the first server and then the 2nd who replaced her a nice tip for my being there). I probably consumed 2 pots of coffee.
While in Denny's I wrote down most of the outline for this blog post, finished my post about Zion, and edited a bunch of photos. All the while I considered the encounter of coincidences I had just undertaken and recognized that it was a highlight for my trip in the sense of living life in a new way. It was simply and wonderfully platonic. Taylor and I coming together as travelers sharing our stories and exchanging life in a way I’ve never experienced before with a stranger. By the end I sensed an almost familial bond similar to what I share with my sister and close friends in life. This incredibly refreshing moment is one of the many staples repairing my faith in humanity.
Around 12:30pm I exited Denny’s and proceeded to take a 30-minute nap in my car in the hot desert sun. I couldn’t manage to sleep anymore due to the heat but I felt fairly alert considering the lack of sleep so I headed towards the Grand Canyon. Though now I would only get to spend ½ a day seeing the South Rim instead of the 2 full days I had originally allocated, I felt like the trade-off had been more than worth it. =)
I will leave you with the words of a song that touched my soul as soon as I heard it. I have found it to be more and more true as life passes by:
"Its not a matter of time, its not a matter of timing." ~ Motion City Soundtrack: Timelines
After my stop at Salton City, I begrudgingly had to continue on to make it to Phoenix by any decent time. As soon as I left Salton sea, my radio starting humming as the RPM's of my car inceased (indicating a bad ground or loose cabling). It got sooooo annoying, soon my audiobook was almost impossible to listen too, so I tried my best to mess with my 4-channel Alpine amp's wiring while remaining on the road. The issue came and went and eventually I just accepted it and switched to music.
A few miles went by, then the damn humming started again! I began hitting my dash this time, desperately trying to get rid of the sound that was beginning to aggravate me and spoil my mood (along with being behind schedule and now hoping to be in Phoenix by 1am. I forgot to consider the timezone shift). It was then I noticed I was passing an exit and subsequently a gas station right off the highway. As the gas station shrank in my rearview mirror, my low fuel light came on, so I had maybe 60 miles before I ran out. I quickly pulled up my GasBuddy app to check if there was another gas station ahead or if I should try and turn around. According the app there was one 15 miles up the road though not as close to the highway. I decided I would aim for that station.
I pulled off at that next exit and headed towards the GPS coordinates another 7 miles down a quickly darkening road. I thought about why It would be so far from the highway and looked again at the name...it said "Kennedy Raceway"...wait is this place actually a gas station??? The answer came when I called the number (at 11pm) and they answered! I was heading to a racetrack, and technically yes they have fuel, its just race car fuel, and its $6 a gallon for the cheapest stuff. At this point I didn't have a choice, I went down the long road leading to the gate, signed the waiver, drove out to the track, and cringed as I carefully only pumped enough fuel to get to the place that sold fuel for non-race cars. Lesson learned, pay attention to the fuel gauge!
Troy had picked a few hikes in the area to choose from. After discussing it, Myself, Troy, and his wife Katrina all headed out to Echo Canyon to do a simple 1.2 mile trek up the canyon and then back down. Easy right? If you said yes than you have thighs of steel and a impressive heat tolerance. For our little group the answer was HELL NO! But it was fun.
The hike was intense. Though I had been resting (relatively speaking) the last few days, compared to my time in national parks a week prior, that hike was incredibly draining. I can now say that my last few experiences in dry desert climates have led me to the conclusion that my sinuses may not be able to handle the desert for extended periods of time. It's a bummer, since I love the southwest, the terrain, and the dry heart (compared to muggy Minnesota) but my sinuses were in revolt. Bleeding, scabbing, itching, and I think I may have gotten a little sick due to the dryness.
Also, Phoenix drivers suck. I spent less than 48 hours in the area and had 90% of the bad driver experiences of this trip. Every time I looked to see who was driving in such a manner it would be a senior. I think more later in life driver testing may be needed, because there were a few close calls that could have been really bad if I wasn't driving defensively!
I feel like the universe has been laying a path in front of me this whole trip. The synchronicity of the whole situation is almost too coincidental, yet its continued happening when I let go of trying to control my experience and instead enjoy the moments and let them happen. My visit to Phoenix along with other parts of this trip I've shared have all shared a theme...adventures happen everywhere and in every moment. You only have to be able to notice them. And when life holds the reigns, its amazing how things can line up just right to make some wonderful memories and experiences.
I don't typically discuss my faith, but these experiences have really shown me that the universe guides us when we don't fight it. I see the universe, nature, and God as being synchronized. When we surrender our worrying to faith, I think it acts as a much better guide. We can only plan for our future, not "control" it. I've almost felt the sensation of being "watched over" as I've traveled all these miles so far. As I continue to venture out on my own, I haven't felt alone for one moment...Lead with love, and life will take you where you need to go...
...speaking of which, next up is probably one of the most impacting and interesting parts of my journey. Keep an eye out for it ;)