By Kate Prengaman
September: Notes from my nights camping near the Fountain of Youth Spring in Cottonwood Canyon, Clover Mountain Wilderness, Lincoln County, Nevada
The best part of life in the desert is the evenings. No one will disagree with this. In the setting sun, the canyons glow, the harsh heat fades, the cylidropuntia's spines shine and sparkle, and the growing shadows give everything an air of mystery.
You put your pack down. You take your boots off. Rinse your face and hands. Cook some dinner. Eat and chat with your companions. The best of life's simple pleasures. Easier to appreciate in a place where simple is all you've got.
The stars and the bats come out one by one, slowly at first, but increasing along a seemingly exponential curve so that soon, you have no chance of keeping count. There's no light pollution here to dim their shine. Grasshoppers, cicadas, screech owls, and coyotes all contribute to the night's songs. On this lucky evening, we've chosen to make our camp by a small stream, so we are treated to the rare burbling of a little brook. In total, it is a rhythm you almost feel more than you hear, lulling you toward well-earned sleep.
Some people put up tents. I prefer to sleep out, watch the stars until my determined brain finally gives up. I sleep well out here, a cool, clean night breeze over a tired body, my soul distracted by world class star gazing. I haven't yet woken up with a tarantula on my face or a scorpion in my hair, although I've heard plenty of such stories, so I guess I'll keep sleeping out until I do.
As much as I love these nights, just perfectly cold to curl up in my bag but not yet enough to wake up and find myself frosted over, I can never enjoy them for long. After a twelve hour day climbing over rock scree and under scorched junipers, I hardly make it past 8:30. Maybe because I am exhausted, maybe because I am at peace in this wilderness, I sleep more soundly in my bag here on the canyon floor than in many urban beds. The tired body and the mental calm go hand in hand for me, that is why I'm hiking up this canyon ... into these steep and scrambling mountains (Well that, and the Clover Mountains have some pretty cool endemic plants).
Tomorrow, we'll keep exploring — up the ridgelines to admire the view, to the east there are rows and rows of mountain ranges, the west, you can see Rainbow Canyon where the trains run and we left our truck. It's nice to know how far you've come. And how far you could go. But that's tomorrow’s adventure. Too many lonely moths flock toward my headlamp, for their sake, and mine, I always give up on my book quickly.
Or this essay.
Goodnight. The next mountains can wait until first light.
Kate Prengaman is a Field Botanist with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who also writes and volunteers for Friends of Nevada Wilderness.