“I’m going to be lost and homeless,” were my thoughts. I had made the day long drive from the San Juan mountains across Colorado to the middle of Utah to Yuba Lake State Park. On my trip I had pulled over a few times to take pictures, sat in road construction where I did some reading, and stopped to eat. Now here at Yuba Lake, I knew the campground gates closed at a certain hour and I felt that I had just made it in time, but the number on my reservation didn’t match any in the campground. I was running out of time. The sun was setting. The day was over. If I couldn’t find my site before dark and the gates closed, what could I do?
I looped around a second and third time on the smooth black asphalt of the developed campground. A group of children, out playing with a ball, started to give me questioning looks. I had concluded there must be another campground in the park. I stopped by a bulletin board. It had a map, although poorly labeled and hard to read. It looked like there was perhaps a campground on the side of the lake and the drive did not look short. Forget my reservation, I thought. By the time I’d get there the gate would be locked. I’ll just stay here, but I soon realized I couldn’t. Another drive around revealed to me that the campground was full.
I felt I only had one option, to journey across to the other side of the park. I’d have to set aside my concern that the gate would be locked and work a little more diligently to find my site in the darkness of the remote Utah night, but I could do that. There was the possibility that I could end up with no place to stay, but I remembered the pictures of the campsite. It looked so beautiful. It could be a let down if I couldn’t find it.
So, my journey took me on a rough dusty unpaved road in the dark remote desert over to the other side of the lake. It took me about an hour, as I drove slowly to keep my car from falling to pieces. My cars headlights were the only light I had in the darkness of night, and I was waiting for some sort of creature to scurry in from the desert brush, into the road, in the line of visibility, but it never happened.
When I arrived there was no gate, but a grouping of three or four campsites, very remote and largely underdeveloped. It was evident why a gate was not needed. No one comes out this way. I was alone, an hour’s drive from the next human, in the dark, somewhere in remote Utah, next to Yuba Lake. Okay. I dig this. This is kind of cool, I thought. I was relieved that I found a place I could call home for the night.
I gave a sigh of relief. Then I opened my car door and was assaulted. Bugs poured in the car, flew up my nostrils, buzzed in my ear, and darted at my eyes. They were annoying little gnats and miniscule moth type creatures. I quickly closed the door and turned my air conditioning on high to blow the insects to the back of the car. These insects were fierce. I didn’t notice any of them biting, so that was good, but they were overwhelmingly invasive and annoying. I guess since Yuba Lake is the only body of water for hundreds of miles out here in the desert, all the insects congregate here and have wild Vegas style parties.
I needed a clear strategy for this. I needed to minimize the number of times I’d open the car door, and I needed to set up and get in my tent the quickest way possible. I popped the trunk and swiftly went out to grab my tent and the bag with my toothbrush. I implemented my in car toothbrushing method, which I invented in the Rocky Mountains, and then put on my head lamp. The insects immediately swarmed around the light all over my face when I opened the car door, but I figured out that they weren’t drawn to the head lamp if I set it to the red light setting.
So with the red glow of my headlamp, I managed to set up my tent with such hurry that you’d think my life depended on it. I threw in a pillow and a sleeping bag, and jumped in, zipping the tent closed as fast as I could. Fortunately very few insects snuck in with me, and the ones who did were quickly annihilated. I layed down and laughed. What a crazy experience. I laughed in response the craziness of the whole situation, driving miles and miles into nowhere and getting ready for bed and setting up camp in a wild fury, but I also laughed with a giddy notion of relief. I was finally in for the night, and I was safe.
I pulled out my book on the West and red another chapter. Reading puts me at ease and keeps me company when I find myself completely alone in remote and unknown places. I discovered this when I was alone up in the remote reaches of Manti Lasal.
That night I slept very well. I made up for the lost sleep the night before in the freezing San Juan Mountains. I was able to stay asleep well into the sun rising. It’s radiance warmed my whole tent, embracing me in comfort. I eventually sat up, and looked out my tent window to the beautiful Yuba Lake. The sandiness of the desert hills met the pale blue of the lake, reflecting the clear sky. The insects were gone, the air was clear, and a refreshed spirit of adventure was painted in the morning sky.
I put on a pair of well worn and ripped jeans that I rolled up to the knees and I put on my Rocky Mountain cap. I walked around the edge of the water, right next to my campsite. Small waves lapped on the sandy shore, while the warm sun welcomed me and introduced me to the new day.
Read the next entry “Reflections on the People of Rural Nevada,” here:
previous entry “A Night in the Ice Lake Basin,” here: