September 30, 2017.
We slept soundly through the night, but when I woke up in the morning, I was immediately out of bed to take advantage of what I knew would be some very cool light before the sun got too high in the sky.
As it turned out, I'd be extra glad to have gotten up, because the early morning light was soon going to be a torrential lightning storm.
But, for now, it was purples. And oranges. I don't know what we did to deserve this, but whatever it was, I'm sure we'd all sign up again.
And then, as the sun crested the horizon, I felt like I wanted to be in a dozen places at the same time to get all the different angles. I probably should have woken up the rest of the crew, now that I think about it, but I guess I didn't know how fleeting the moment would be.
As I and the sun climbed higher, more sun spilled into the valley. The rest of the world was waking up - witnessed by the contrails above us, and the noises rising from the valley below.
Between pictures, I had a great time throwing a few rocks off the cliff. A 7-8 second flight time meant (I think) that we were about a thousand feet up - at least, as far out/away from the cliff as I could throw a rock!
Warmed by the sun, I could see storm clouds to the distant west. And unfortunately, they were getting closer as the rest of the gang climbed down their ladders to greet the day. Still, Monte and Mike both had their cameras out, capturing what they could while the getting was good!
As I headed back down to camp, I couldn't help but take some of the same photos I'd taken on the way up. "The light is different." I told myself.
Whether it was or wasn't, it didn't matter, and you shouldn't care either. Because this place was amazing - worth looking at over and over.
Knowing that it was our last real morning in camp, Monte and Devin volunteered to make everyone breakfast - all the bacon, eggs, and potatoes we could find in our fridges. Not needing to be asked twice, Mike and I both brought over all our supplies, along with truckloads of thanks.
Devin cut potatoes. Monte cooked (the first time I'd seen it the entire trip!) and not too long after, we were all enjoying our last camp breakfast in one of the most beautiful places we could imagine.
We finished quickly though, because those storm clouds were getting closer, and we could see that they were full of lightning. As adventurers, we thought that was pretty cool. As humans, we wondered, "Is the top of a plateau a good place to be in a lightning storm?"
It wouldn't be the last time we had that thought today. And it's not often you can say that twice in a day. In two different states.
As the rain started falling (hard), we hopped in our trucks and pulled out. It was torrential, immediately turning the roads to mud, and collecting in the washes.
By now we were used to mud, so we pushed through it, and to our next destination - the La Boca arch. Created over the years mostly by wind, we were able to climb up and around the arch to get all sorts of angles.
The sun was shining again (over us), but the storm was far from over, as it passed to our east, the direction we were headed.
The trail out of La Boca arches presented another of the obstacles that - before this trip - I'd have considered a turn-around point. "Glad I'm with you guys," I said. "It's nice to learn what these trucks can do."
We climbed right up. Well, I think there was a point where I stalled once, but then it was all good!
As we started to make our way back out to Dewey bridge, we drove back into the path of the storm which made things a bit wetter, but no less fun. Some caves and old mining cabins made out of railroad ties were required stops.
Then we found ourselves crisscrossing a wash that would have been dry the previous day. We knew that because we eventually got ahead of the water, and got to hang out further down the wash until it caught up with us!
These are the things of flash floods.
And then, shortly, we found ourselves in the final run to Dewey Bridge, albeit through a bit of multi-colored mud.
Done with Dome Plateau, it was time for our last trail - Dolores Triangle. This road is only passable in late summer and fall due to the Dolores River crossing, and even we were a bit uncertain as we rounded the corner.
Lucky for us, Monte decided to go for it - "what's the worst that could happen?" - and made his way across.
I followed, a little lower. And by a little, when I got to the other side, Monte said, "Wow, I guess it is a bit deep for a stock height Tacoma." Thanks Monte!
It was no problem for the Red Head.
An hour later, we pulled over on a spur road and headed up an overlook for our final lunch of the trip. The view was great as usual; as we ate our sandwiches and chips, we took in the convergence of the Dolores and Colorado rivers, and Mike pointed out Top of the World, which we could see in the distance.
The rest of the Dolores Triangle trail was essentially a well-maintained-but-muddy-as-hell road, and we made good time, enjoying the slippery-ness of the mud, drifting our Tacoma's around the corners.
And then, we reached pavement, 30 miles before we expected to hit pavement. All a bit dejected, we had to admit that we were coming to the end of this epic two-week adventure. Monte came over the CB and said, "Guess we might as well air up."
We looked quite the crew as we pulled over covered in mud. Our own little antenna farm.
Eventually, we'd find ourselves making our way towards Grand Junction by way of Colorado National Monument. As we drove through on Rimrock Drive, the views of the canyon reminded us of our adventures over the last several days. "This is how everyone else experiences what we've been driving through for days." I said over the CB.
"Too bad for them, I wouldn't trade." Was Mike's reply. And there was agreement all around.
It was early evening, and time to find a camp site. Ultimately, we headed up into the mountains and found a large site on a ridge east of the canyon. It wasn't the prettiest site, but there was some amazing light shining through a storm miles away, and we were close enough to Grand Junction that we didn't really have a choice - so we called it home for the evening.
But we didn't unpack our tents. Rain looked imminent, and we hoped it would pass before we opened them up, since we'd put them away wet enough times in the last two weeks!
Of course, we did start a fire and enjoyed the fire in the sky. As it got closer, we realized that it wasn't just a rainstorm; once again, there was thunder and lightning, and we were pretty exposed on the top of the ridge.
In the end though, while we did get some rain, it wasn't enough to send us packing or even put out the fire on this last evening. And, the thunder and lightning passed north and south of us - a little nerve racking, but also fun to watch (and feel)!
Dinner was our last hurrah, and it was a group effort. Pooling resources, we had beef and cheese quesadillas with guacamole made using Mike's salsa. And of course, cookies for dessert.
Dinner done, and the worst of the rain past us, we setup our tents (in the dark) one last time, and then gathered around the fire until we ran out of firewood. Conversation this night was mostly about our plan for tomorrow - we all had a long drive in front of us that was top of mind.
Eventually, we headed to bed - with one final word of assurance from Monte - "Don't worry guys, if there's more lightning, our tents are basically faraday cages!"