In this part of the country, the distance between desert and mountain is a blurry line that winds between sandstone outcrops and wet meadows, between high places and low, between shadows of mountains and wandering rivers. A scientist could draw a line with a rainfall pen that separated true desert from "semi-arid". Could separate montane from alpine with a brush of vegetation.
Trina and I don't draw such fine lines ourselves. In just a few miles and very little difference in elevation, we moved from the "desert" of red canyon walls and towers of our morning ride, to an afternoon on the edge of a "mountain" stream.
We plopped down on the bank overlooking the stream while the dogs bounded through green grass sprinkled with flowers under tall pine trees. Small fish worked the gentle current of a pool. A garter snake swam past. Birds flew past or warbled from hidden hollows in the willows. Fat flies tried to chew on our limbs. Clouds blew past. Squirrels chittered and lured the dogs further into the forest.
We managed to carefully apply ourselves to accomplishing nothing more for the entire afternoon than relaxing, reading, splashing in the creek, calling back the dogs, and watching, smelling and listening to the fascinating and ever-changing "nothing" that was going on around us. Thunder, lightning and rain blew through at dinner time and we cooked under our tarp. But the evening cleared into a colorful sunset over the pools of the stream.
Morning was bright and warmed quickly and our laziness streak broke. We saddled up the bikes and rounded up the dogs and rode a quick loop through a nearby piece of "desert" reminiscent of the previous morning's ride. More pink pinnacles and gravely, steep trails. The highlight, though, may have been botanical, as we were pleased to find sweet little blossoms of the rare dwarf blue columbine along the trail.
After lunch and another splash in the stream, we unwound some of the road miles that had taken us so far from home. Then climbed out of the heat up another of Southern Utah's mountain plateaus. Our tendency to find out-of-the-way places nearly failed us here. A huge lake and the promise of fish was a magnet for clots of giant RVs and vast city-camps filled with dust and ATVs. We found a side road off a side road off a side road and still hadn't escaped them. But once we'd splashed through a long, scary-looking ford, we seemed to have left behind most of what we'd come to get away from.
We made camp on a small bluff overlooking a creek and beaver ponds, where broad meadows mixed with aspen and pine forest, amid a profusion of yellow, purple, blue, violet, white and red wildflowers. Firelight filled our evening and the moon filled the night.
Trina took the dogs and wandered her own way in the morning, hiking up secret side streams to find orchids and flowers and quietude. I rode my bike up broken tracks to higher places where snow hid in shadows and the sky grew close. We both returned to our camp to sit reading amid flowers and to wander the borders of warbler-filled willows together, our senses open to the sights, sounds, and sensations that surrounded us.
Then we packed everything back into the truck and drove. Drove the blurry line that winds between sandstone and meadows, between high places and low, between mountain and desert. The line that circled around our open senses, gathered our memories to us, and led us home.