Coyote Springs or Bust
Sunday, August 8, 1993
Julia had Air Force Reserve training (she taught aircraft battle damage repair) over the weekend so we didn't get on the road until about 6:00 p.m. Sunday night. We drove south, and foolishly got off the freeway at Little Sahara Sand Dunes (it was a short-cut), turning west there. We ran out of paved highway after another five miles.
After dark we started having to avoid kamikaze kangaroo rats, suicidal jackrabbits, and pronghorn antelope. I used to wonder how people end up running into deer and such. Now I know. All of the above critters (and, I assume, most others -- except for armadillos which I've heard tend to roll up into a ball -- poor protection against an eighteen-wheeler) behaved in similar fashion: freeze as soon as the headlights appear, wait tensely until the vehicle is almost there, and then bolt across in front of the vehicle.
This is bad enough when you'd really rather not run over the cute little 'roo rats and bunnies. And some of them dart back and forth in front of you several times. (No, I did not jerk the van around trying to miss them -- mostly I just slowed down a little and hoped.) Pronghorns now. . .do you know what's between a large ungulate and your knees in a 20-year-old VW van? A thin bit of sheet metal. We managed to miss the two antelopes -- but one was literally by inches. That sure got our adrenaline going!
And the fastest rabbit I've ever seen ran back and forth in front of us four times. The last time, I lost sight of him at the bottom left corner of the windshield. Geez, the idiot finally got out of the way, right? Nooooo! I glanced back down a moment later and this stupid animal is running all out, straight ahead, in front of us, directly in the path of our left front wheel. I slowed down and he finally ran off into the brush. Now we know where the term "dumb bunny" comes from.
Around eleven p.m. I pulled over for a pit stop. I got out and was stunned by the brilliance of the night sky. After standing there with my mouth open for a couple of minutes, I finally pulled myself together enough to call Julia out of the van.
It was quite literally breathtaking. The moon wasn't up yet, we were several tens of miles from anywhere, and it was truly black...except for the stars and the Milky Way, that is. On the other hand, the starglow was bright enough to see by. No stumbling around in the dark out here. You'd have to have a good overcast for that.
Back in Salt Lake, the night sky is actually pretty dim -- you can see the brighter stars, but all the fine detail is missing. There's a background skyglow that masks everything else, but your eyes interpret that as "black," making it even harder to pick out the dimmer stars. And the Milky Way doesn't even seem to exist. Out there the Milky Way was like a broad river of starglow spanning the sky. I've been out camping before, and seen pieces of such a sky, but it's always been in more forested terrain. Somehow, the effect is blunted. Out there, from horizon to horizon that vast expanse is visible and it all seems to strike you at once.
I spent a lot of time stargazing out there.
We kept careful track of mileage and plotted our course on the topo map, checking off each side road that we passed. Every now and then we'd find one that wasn't on the map--like the paved road that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. . . Paved road? We pulled over and tried to figure out where the heck we really were. According to the USGS topo map, there shouldn't have been a paved road within fifty miles or more of where we thought we were. At last I took a look at the service-station road map of Utah and noticed a paved road cutting across in about the right place. It was at this point that we checked the survey date on our Brand New, Official, Bought at the USGS Office the Day Before, Topographic Map: 1972.
Oops. I don't suppose the topography has changed too much in the last twenty years -- but trails and roads sure have. Turns out that the paved road was the one we should have taken--just a few miles further south. Would have saved us a lot of time, gas, and wear and tear on the van--lots of nasty ruts and bumps in those jeep trails.
Eventually we found our way into camp at about 3:00 a.m., popped the small tent out, and put the sleeping bag on the ground inside for padding. I went off to the portapotty the BLM had trucked in (bless them!) and got waylaid by the cook to relight the propane refrigerator that had gone out. He couldn't figure it out -- an ill omen. That task completed, we (Julia and I--not the cook) rolled up in a blanket and slept. 6:00 a.m. came all too soon.
|Intro||Setting the scene||The crew||Surveying the site||tent city||The dig|