I turn south at Riley on Highway 395. The road threads through the creases of the hills and heads south toward flatter land with lonely names....Wagontire and Alkali Lake Station. There are no other cars for miles and miles. The scene rolls out in bland colors of buff and sage, the only relief in the yellow, shot-up road signs. Western shorthand for too much boredom or too much beer. It is 60 plus miles between gas stations and further than that to a real store. No late night milk runs here.
I pass sand dunes partially stabilized by grass, but slithering in snake lines over the highway. The geology is changing, and then near Hogback Summit I am thrust back into the Miocene. The tilted fault block of Abert Rim juts thousands of feet straight up on my left. I imagine volcanoes and earthquakes here instead of those in the news.
The alkali of Lake Abert, lying on a lower fault block, begins as a shallow of water to my right. The shoreline is white and dotted with shorebirds. More skein out in “V’s” overhead. I stop to photograph and hike onto the sulphureous landscape. Bright red lichens crusting the boulders on the high ground change to a white crust over the rocks along the water and leave a fragile shell on the shore itself. It is alien and exciting with the shifting light and bird silhouettes. I step out too eagerly and the crust breaks. Immediately I am ankle deep and sinking in brown sucking mud. I throw my weight backwards and twist. I’ve sunk in similar stuff before and clear up to my armpits. Had to be hauled out with a rope back then, but there is no one with a rope out here now. This is not the same quicksand, but I have to remind myself that I am on my own. I back off from the shore and admire the light slicing through the clouds as I spend 20 minutes cleaning my boots. It is meditative. I do a dirty job with no frustration or sense of time. I realize I have slipped into the unhurried rhythm of “being” on the road.