Jul 26, 2016
By Josh Cook
A Road Trip through The United States of America
There’s a meditative hum to it, a drawn out Om that stretches down the highway. You forgot how much you loved the sound of tires spinning on pavement.
You’re behind the wheel, headed wherever you want. But there is only one place now. That placed you’ve been longing for. You’re on a road trip again in the American West.
You’ve traveled around the world trying to get away from this country—its hedonism and superficiality, its strip malls and fast-food chains, the resultant loneliness of militant independence. But when you are away you remember that it wasn’t all like that. There were quiet places. There were open lands with impossible vistas, earth colored blood red, big sky, resplendent stars; lands from a time before the country became lost in the gaudy pursuit of dollar bills. It’s a place of good friends, private adventures, meals cooked on an open fire.
And here you are, back in the Utah desert. No more finding hostels and places to eat. No more navigating foreign languages or checking your pockets to make sure your passport is still there. You love being abroad, but damn, there ain’t no freedom quiet like being back in a place you know this well. You’ve been coming here for years.
The hum of the tires changes a few octaves as it carries you off of the 191 and into Indian Creek. There’s a rapid buzz as you fly over a cattle guard. On your left, the erratic sandstone behemoth—the one that looks like a swollen submarine—bulges from the earth and marks your turn into the valley. There are the junipers that dot the highway and the old homestead on the right where cows graze. You saw cowboys galloping by there once and that’s the only time you felt like a tourist here, wanting to take pictures of them as the sun set in the distance.
It’s October and the desert is cool and dry. Its air is clean, highlighted by the smell of sage and the last cactus blossoms of the season. The road descends and begins to wend through the valley. Maroon crags and impossible rock towers arise in the distance. The view still forces you to pull the truck over into a dirt pullout, to open the door, stand amidst the brush with your hands on your hips, and take it all in. You found an oasis on Mars, or maybe you fell into a surrealist painting—sienna the artist’s primary color—or maybe you’re just dreaming in red.
You turn down an old dirt road, one that the rock climbers use to get to the cliffs. You drive until you arrive at a big, empty pullout with a fire ring at the edge and a cottonwood tree that rises out of the brush. You pitch your tent and then sweep out the sand that gathered as you were setting it up. You roll out your sleeping bag, smelling its synthetic perfume.
When the fire is crackling and you have a warm burrito on a plate in your lap and a beer in your hand, you look up and see the Milky Way making its slow dance in the void. Your only responsibilities are to fill your belly and drain your beer. You are lost and hope never to be found. You want to pause that moment in the desert and call life a wrap. But still, you hope for morning just the same, so you can once again see that spectacular sunrise, and fall in love with the Utah desert all over again.
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About the Author
Joshua Cook is a teacher and writer. He is currently living in Bhutan.