High places terrify me. Having an overly active imagination I envisioned myself plummeting down a cliff face in an out of control car countless numbers of times. I’m not sure this is normal. Probably isn’t.
As a child we often took the mountain pass from our side of the valley over the mountains to camp, canoe, fish, ride motorbikes and go sledding. Every trip up from our side of the mountain we had to take the lane on the outside edge of the mountain. I swear I held my breath for the entire ride up and all the way down until there were scrub oak thick enough to catch our car should it suddenly veer to the right off the side of the mountain.
The ride back home wasn’t as breathless since we were on the inside lane hugging the mountain. It felt safer, although still plenty scary.
The other option to get to the fun side of the mountain was a narrow winding river road with both sides of the canyon closing in on top of us and cars racing toward us as if in a time trial. After surviving that gauntlet we’d then have to drive along the tiny razor edge of the dam and the winding roads along side the reservoir.
Either road left me exhausted before we ever got to the “having fun” part of the day.
In my teenage years we went as a family to visit the Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands. You’d think the Grand Canyon with its precipitous drop-offs would have given me palpitations. The truth is I was so captivated with the beauty and magnificence of the place I forgot my fears, for the most part.
Fear came later. Total, paralyzing, utter terror.
We took a shortcut off one dirt road to another dirt road while towing the camping trailer in Canyonlands.
Can I just warn you now, in case you ever think you’re smarter than a map, that there is NO SUCH THING AS A SHORTCUT in Southern Utah or Northern Arizona. What looks like a little quarter-mile jog off the side of the road is, in actuality, a cliff face, or an impassable road, or a road cut into the side of a mountain shored up by a few railroad ties.
Which is what we found ourselves on.
By time we realized there was no pass that cut through the mountain, but instead only switchbacks up the side of the cliff for an eternity, it was impossible to turn around, especially with a trailer in tow. Our only option was forward, or rather, upward.
Each hairpin turn required a two steps forward, one step back movement, repeated endlessly. Dad would ease the truck and trailer through the hairpin as far as he could go, then back up while cranking the steering wheel, then forward a few inches, then back up a bit, then forward a few inches, until he negotiated the turn. Fifty yards of straight dirt road or so later, he would repeat the process.
A couple of times Mom had to get out and direct Dad, letting him know how close the trailer wheels were to the edge. Meanwhile, us kids were in the back of the pickup under a camper shell, huddled in blankets, chewing our nails, trying not to watch and praying our little hearts out.
I was sure we were all going to die out there in the middle of nowhere. I had already replayed the scene in my mind countless times before we were even halfway up the cliff. If and when park rangers ever found us, we’d be an unrecognizable heap of burnt metal and glass and broken bodies flung all over the red sandstone cliff. There wouldn’t even be a funeral.
After two eternities and a stint in Hades, we reached the blessedly flat top of the cliff. If Dad would have let me, I’d have gotten out and kissed the ground.
Our destination was Dead Horse Point, which is itself a dizzying narrow-necked mesa. After what we’d been through to get there, it was easy to gaze out over the edge of nothing to the tiny river below.
I can look back now and say, “What an adventure!” I’m glad I lived to tell the tale. But, no thank you to any more high rise exploits in my future.