Once Upon a Time Under the Sonoran Stars

A little more than a year ago, I stopped at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on my way across the country. It was a fantastic experience, like living in a southwestern botanical garden. It seemed such a magical spot that I stayed a day longer than I’d planned.

One of the special moments of my stay at the park was hiking with a couple of fellow campers. After we returned to our tents and rested a bit, one of the hikers, a guy who was exploring the south and west on his motorcycle, brought a bottle of Grand Marnier to my campsite. He and I sat under the bright stars with the glow of Mexico to the south and sipped our drinks.

I just got an email from the fellow. Once again he is camping at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, sipping Grand Marnier under the stars, and oh! How I wish I were there. I often think about that monumental park, especially now that I am homebound, and I dream of going back and spending more than just a couple of days.

My fixator will come off in exactly 13 days. (But who’s counting.) Planning new adventures and a replay of previous adventures will give me courage during the arduous months of physical therapy.

And maybe, one day, I will be back in my tent under the sonoran stars.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Magic in the Sonora Desert

I signed up for a hike here in Organ Pipe Cactus National Park. Or rather I should say I signed up for a shuttle ride to the trail head. As I was walking toward the meeting place with a backpack full of emergency supples and a gallon of water (at that time, I was the only one signed up for the shuttle, and I wanted to be prepared for a long solo hike in the heat), a guy on a bicycle stopped and asked if I were going on a hike. I explained about the shuttle, and he asked if there would be room for him. At my assent, he pedaled off, and a few minutes later met up at the rendezvous point. He was a nice fellow, a born again Christian who prayed for me whenever I faltered. The amazing thing to me, though, is that before he knew anything about me, he said it was his mission in life to help the fatherless widows. Well, that’s me, though why fatherless widows are mentioned in the bible as needing help, I haven’t a clue.

At 4.5 miles, we stopped to rest in a small patch of shade at a crossroads so I could catch my breath and change my socks because I felt a blister coming on. A fellow came down the side path and stopped to talk. For some reason the two guys got on the subject of motorcycles, and we all ended up walking back to the campground together. The new fellow, Roger, even volunteered to carry my pack, which he thought was laughably light.

Later that evening, Roger brought a bottle of Grand Marnier to my camp site, and we sat under the stars, talked, and sipped the liqueur. (Is it a liqueur? I’m lamentably ignorant about various spirits because I seldom drink, and I’d never tasted Grand Marnier before.) This morning, he stopped by on his way out of camp to say goodbye and he kindly allowed me to take a photo of him with my VW. After he left, I sat at the picnic table, too tired to break camp, and looked for an excuse to stay another night.

While I was sitting there, a woman stopped by and said she’d heard that a woman in a VW was traveling across the country, and she wanted to meet me.

We chatted about our adventures as women tent campers traveling alone (she’s been doing this for five years), then got down to the basics. “Where are you from?” “Denver.” “Me too! Where did you go to school?” And unbelievably, it turns out we went to the same high school several years apart.

She wanted to get together later to have a beer and visit some moren so I paid to stay another night.

Magic.

And oh. I even got a medal for having hiked at least five miles in the desert.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Okay. Now I am Impressed

Well, so much for my blase attitude about this trip. Oh, my.

After leaving Quartzsite, I took a leisurely trip along busy highways and mostly deserted byways, stopping at such bustling metropolises as Ajo and Why. I stopped at Why, hoping to find the answer to all the whys I have been asking the past few years, but all I found out is that you have to buy special car insurance for a trip to Mexico, but no one could tell me why.

In the middle of a long stretch of empty desert highway (perhaps fifty miles along the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range), I saw a not-young woman walking. She was pushing the sort of cart that people who hike across the country use (because no one can carry all the necessary water for desert stretches) so I pulled off to the side of the road, which spooked her because she stopped and made as if to head away from me. I held up my hands in the surrender position, so she stopped and let me get close enough to ask if she needed water. Poor woman wasn’t wearing a hat and was bright red from the sun. I asked where she was going, and she replied, “Asia.” It took me a minute to realize she meant Ajo. I tried to put myself in her shoes. If I were doing a long highway hike in the desert sun, would I have been wary if someone stopped to see if I needed help? Perhaps. But that doesn’t matter. She so obviously wanted nothing to do with me, so I got in my car and headed down the road to my planned destination for the next couple of days, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

It seemed so very far from anywhere, but once I arrived, I realized it wasn’t far from anywhere. It’s right here.

After I set up my camp (the tent looks different because I am not using the rainfly. It’s not supposed to rain, and it’s not supposed to get cold), I went for a stroll around the park in total awe. I felt as if I were meandering around a desert botanical garden. So many lush cactuses and succulents!

Often during the past few months I felt out of place, as if the people who rented the room to me resented my presence, but this land belongs to me. (Well, you too. I am willing to share.) For the two nights I will be here, I will have the biggest back yard imaginable.

And tomorrow I will go exploring.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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