We were at the Needles District visitor center with not much of a plan and a simple idea of what we wanted the day to look like. The unfortunate part was that because the government was shut down over a border wall dispute, the visitors center was not manned by rangers. We stood in front of the big map board, and Genevieve tapped a point on the map at the end of a road. The group decided to make that the first stop of the day.
I was fully convinced that when I had been Needles before I had taken this trail. Well, maybe a quarter of a mile in I realized that I had, in fact, never been on this road at all. Despite the signs saying “high clearance and 4x4 required” we carried on. I knew Jenny, my trusty-rusty 4Runner, would have no trouble with whatever lay beyond. The trail wound through washes, past small buttes, and deeper into the mystery of the desert.
If you have never been to the desert, it is analogous to the sea. They blanket vast swaths of the earth’s surface in what is largely emptiness. Deprived of any density of life; they nurture hearty types. The kinds of creatures with spines and teeth, thick skins, and isolated existences. They are home to unfriendly conditions. But my goodness. There is no place I would rather be when the sun is rising or falling, or the stars shine through their slumber. They exist, in all of their splendor, whether someone is there to see them or not.
When we came to a spot in the trail that required a climb up a slickrock step that was eight or so feet high, Genevieve gave me the most dejected look. “We are going to drive up that,” she asked. My answer was taking my foot off the brake. I think at that moment she decided I had lost my mind. Realistically, it happened a long time ago. I locked Jenny down into 4-lo and she crawled right up the face without any complaints. While there were obvious signs that people had turned back all along the miles before, this must have been the final straw for most. After that feature, the trail evaporated from being. Genevieve, again, gave me that look people have when they are unsure anyone has gone before them. I thrive in less-trodden places.
Eventually, the chasm created by the mighty Colorado River sat before us. This time of year, it is a trickle of what it is in the spring months. With this little water running through it Jesse and Genevieve incredulously questioned how it carved out this canyon or, for that matter, the Grand. We bopped between boulders, wandering ever-further towards the rift until our toes hung over the edge.
Eventually, the allure of other oddities persuaded us to reverse our course down the trail. All three of us left happy that we had ventured down the road less traveled.