I sat on the curb in the still of the morning, listening to the hum of traffic on the I-15. I glanced at my phone, wondering if my decision to get up so early would end up being as regrettable as it felt at the moment. There was nothing I wanted more than to crawl back into my bed and drift into a deep slumber. I, however, had committed to seeing this day through. I had never been hiking before and today was the day I decided to redress this sad fact. Damn me.
I’ve always been aware that my home town sits surrounded by beautiful hiking trails that would take little effort on my part to experience. And for as much crap as I have gotten from my friends about it, I’ve just been more focused on having foreign adventures. But now that I was back in town, it was time for me to start familiarizing myself with the beauty surrounding Las Vegas.
When fellow writer and friend, Matthew O’Brien, expressed interest in checking out one of the national preserves, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get my hike on. So here I was at the crack of dawn sitting on the curb in front of my house, cursing my enthusiasm.
Matt pulled up in his Kia Sportage bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I hopped in and mumbled some sort of salutation, annoyed by his joyful disposition. He ignored my apparent grouchiness. “So miss Hilary, you ready for this?”
My response was something like, “Mefhavaladfg.” I had previously warned him that I was not a morning person and sometimes incapable of using consonants before noon. Given that I had chosen to go out the night before to celebrate my return to Vegas, it was definitely one of those days. And even though it was my fault for staying out all night, not getting any sleep, and committing to having my first hiking adventure the morning after, I mentally chose to blame him.
It would be a two-hour drive out to the Mojave National Preserve. Gulping down my coffee and watching the passing desert, Matt was on his own to entertain himself. Lucky for me, he found my catatonic state and hiking virginity very amusing.
We rolled up to Teutonia Peak Trail, the first stop of the day. The air was crisper, thinner, and colder than Vegas. I followed Matt to the trail head, as I wasn’t sure what the protocol was. Do you just start walking? Are you supposed to plan a route? Is there some sort of huddle, break, or hiking cheer? Were you supposed to sing a sea shanty or recite a hiking legend? I was convinced there was some tradition I was missing. “What do we do now?”
Matt smirked and pointed to the flier taped over a marker. “Don’t get eaten,” he teased.
“Har dee har,” I retorted, rolling my eyes at him. Matt turned his back to me and strode down the trail. I frantically scanned the horizon for hungry cat eyes. The last thing I wanted to do was end up as the feature story on 1,000 Ways to Die.
I sized up the Joshua trees that flourished along the trail. I had always been unimpressed with the idea of them as our state tree because they reminded me more of wannabe cacti than something to celebrate on Arbor Day. But as we moseyed along I marveled at their rough and intricate beauty.
The quiet was only broken by the sound of our shoes crunching in the gravel. Ravens and hawks circled nearby. Rodents and lizards skittered under the shrubbery, disturbed by our presence. I couldn’t get over how piercing the silence was. Even the winds blew through with a quietude only matched in libraries and funeral homes.
Matt had a considerable lead on me, partly because I continually stopped to take photos and drink in the surroundings (and partly because he was in better shape). All of that time he spent in the tunnels under Vegas gathering stories for one of his books had paid off. I wheezed and panted behind him. I really needed to get out more.
We trekked up Teutonia Peak, the rocky crags on the east side of Cima Dome. The views were unbelievable but the added elevation left the air colder than down below. We took shelter behind one of the rock formations and sprawled out on the granite to warm up. I felt like a very large lizard, hugging the bed rock for warmth.
As I surveyed the horizon, I started to think about the shamans, Indians, and pioneers who had spent time out in this desert. I imagined what their experiences must have been like. I envisioned early settlers slowly moving across the desert with their caravan, mail carriers galloping their ponies along the uneven trails, and mystical men of sage wisdom meditating on the top of the mountains. If only these rocks could talk, I thought.
After awhile Matt stretched and got up. “Well, what do you think? You ready to go check out some of the other trails?” Before I had time to respond he was already nimbly descending the rock bed. Taking in a deep breath, my out-of-shape ass followed. The hike down wouldn’t be nearly as exhausting as the hike up, but I also had a bad track record of falling down stairs. As much as I wanted to enjoy the views on the descent, I focused all of my attention on staying upright… and avoiding mountain lions.
We took the same route back down, checking out the abandoned mines along the way. We passed clusters of friendly hikers who were just beginning their day’s adventure. I tried to remember a time where I’d received so many salutations walking along the Las Vegas Strip. I guess fresh air does do people good.
The wind was picking up and so were my spirits. The curiosity and excitement of what beauty lay ahead at the next trail trumped my exhaustion.
I hopped back into the car and threw on some Beatles tunes. We had a way to go until our next stop but I was awake and ready for anything. A couple of hawks flew over us as we turned out on the main road. And while I realize that their flight path was most likely unintentional, I couldn’t help but feel it was Nature’s way of welcoming me to her playground.
It was going to be a good day. I could feel it.