Friday, November 9, 2007

Return From the Desert

My friend and I are back in the cold concrete fog of San Francisco from our made-up-as-we-went National Parks tour of the Southwest. He is out visiting people and running errands now on his last full day here before his return home to Antwerp. I am at my apartment, spending the day resting and washing our clothes, and awaiting the return of my cat from her care-giver in Santa Rosa.

Our trip was fast-paced and beautiful, romantic and challenging, and healing and redirecting. I will list the places we went--which all would be impossibly too much to describe. People who have already been to those places will know.... And I hope
people who haven't been to them will someday get to go. This trip was a highlight of my life.

We started our improvisational pilgrimage driving east from San Francisco through Yosemite National Park, via the Tioga Pass to Mono Lake where we got a small cheerful room in an inn with a cafe and pumpkin-lined front porch. (The next morning the same pumpkins lining the porch had been carved into wild happy faces by kids from a nearby school the evening before.)

We cut across and up north to the "Loneliest highway in America" and then east through the desert expanse of Nevada to Great Basin National Park, where we toured Lehman Caves. There is a stalactite in that cave--(it is actually one cave despite its name)--which meets a stalagmite by a single not-yet-calcified continuous drop of water.

We continued driving east the next day. --"We" meaning "he." (I was hoping to help out more with the driving on this trip since I can't help out more with the expenses, but he either really likes driving or doesn't trust me to since my license was reauthorized after a medical suspension for an unexplained gran mal seizure as a pedestrian on a sidewalk in Chinatown several years ago. It just seemed to me now though, that there wasn't much for me to run into on the least-traversed, biggest desert in the United States).

"We" were driven across Utah to Mohab where we spent two nights, hiking one day just north at Arches National Park to Delicate Arch (the state symbol of Utah) and Landscape Arch at The Devil's Garden (My friend said, "If this is the devil's garden, what would God's garden look like?"); hiking the next day just south at Canyonlands National Park, which we seemed to have all to ourselves, unlike Arches.

After a short detour up to a hazy, breathtaking view (Island in the Sky) of the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers below, we drove south to Mexican Hat near Four Corners. (--Hazy because the smoke from the Southern California fires extended all the way to Colorado.)

The sky cleared as we crossed the Arizona border to the south, hiked--tromped the Wildcat Trail in Monument Valley and then drove all around and through it on bad roads. (Monument Valley, by the way, is not one of the national parks. It is a Navajo Nation tribal park.)

We then headed north west up into Utah again, over The Rainbow Bridge where the Colorado River flows through Glenn Canyon Recreational Area upstream of Lake Powell, and up around into Goblin State Park to climb the hoodoos. (It was like being small inside the kind of sandcastles you make by dripping wet sand off your thumb into little towers).

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On Halloween I had a medical crisis requiring antibiotics, (which would not have become a crisis if I had been willing to deal with it when I first knew it was a problem several days before, but I wanted the trip to be perfect.) We were at the visitor center at Capitol Reef National Park (in Utah again, still) when I suddenly blurted out to my traveling companion/driver, "I seriously need to go to a medical clinic now." An attentive park service person overheard me and gave him map and directions to a clinic in a very small Mormon-ish town nearby before he could ask any questions. I told him what was going on sheepishly in the car on the way there.

On the waiting room wall of the clinic there was a bulletin board of prevention information, including West Nile Virus prevention--but no hint of HIV anywhere. There was no HIV or AIDS even listed on the intake form of medical conditions to check off. I wrote down "suppressed immunity from HIV" anyway at the end of the description of my problem, along with listing a select few of the many medications I take in the small blank allotted for that purpose. My hand was shaking, and I could hardly fill out the form.

On the wall of the examination room there was an abstinence poster. --It did not say "abstinence," exactly. It was actually a well-designed poster targeting youth about establishing personal boundary decisions and making game plans ahead of time for dealing with peer pressure and possibly tempting situations. --But even being forty-one years old and having dealt responsibly with being HIV-positive for twenty-one years, I still felt, looking at that poster, like I was the bad kid who'd failed. The poster wasn't like the comfortably matter-of-fact San Francisco HIV prevention posters I'm used to.

The doctor was calming, but she asked me if I lived there, and I had written my address on the intake form--so I don't know if she had read that I had written there also that I was HIV-positive or not. Maybe she was just been trying to make light conversation. But I wasn't going to clarify anything out loud. It's hard enough to say "San Francisco" some places, much less "HIV-positive," regardless of the fact that San Francisco is in my life because of HIV--not the other way around. All medical personnel are supposed to use universal precautions with every patient all the time, so I don't know if it was wrong of me or not to not say it. Maybe she did know and wasn't saying it because I was making her nervous, too.

She prescribed the medicine I already knew I needed and got it for me, thankfully, before the adjacent pharmacy closed. She was as nice as she could be, and asked as I was leaving what route we were taking and told me it was a good thing we stopped where we did medical care-wise, and that the next two days would be the most beautiful landscape we would see. (It is true that it turned out to be probably the most beautiful road I have traveled.) And my companion was as supportive as he could be about the whole health problem thing too. And I was better in a couple of days, but I still feel bad about it. There are plenty of other health problems that easily could have gone wrong on the trip that didn't, though, I guess.

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Our doctor-recommended road went vertically west to the much cooler timberline of Dixie National Forest and then down along The Devil's Backbone into Zion National Park where we splurged on a comfortable room and good dinner at the park lodge. I bought dinner.
In the morning we walked the Zion River Walk and tried to hike up to The Narrows of its canyon, but the river was swollen up over the trails to the canyon walls on both sides. So we, being how we are, took off our shoes without hesitation, rolled up our pants legs and tried to balance our way upstream through the icy current on slippery mossy rocks. We were thoroughly invigorated by the experience, and didn't fall, but didn't make it very far. On our way carefully back downstream, we were called "courageous" and "stout" by passersby who were decked out with waterproof layers and rented waiters and hiking sticks.

The next day we drove to nearby, indescribable Bryce Canyon and hiked around the Amphitheater and walked back part of the Rim Trail.

We went south and west to Saint George, Nevada where we hiked a Wallmart in search of a cheap tent, sleeping bags and flashlight for camping three days at Death Valley, (mid-California) where I spent a full day stretched out in the sun, working on my school and financial aid applications, and worrying. (We drove there through Las Vegas which I could find nothing good to say about except for the warm dry weather. - I'd been there long ago, but not in daylight.)

We then headed back...Mono Lake again...north way around above Yosemite...down through Angel City...across the San Raphael bridge to a hot roasted pepper and corn chowder supper with wine at The Depot in Mill Valley...then, San Francisco.

I can't say that I'm glad to be back. Or glad at all that my friend is leaving tomorrow.

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