Sworn to secrecy

I zipped up the sleeping bag and settled onto my back next to my two favorite women. Ursa Major had just risen and the Milky Way was beginning to poke through the inky night, as my wife, daughter and I cozied into our three-person tent. Far off, a few bars of coyote song sounded, and a warm Utah breeze blew the scent of sage and piñon across the sandy plain and into our nylon enclosure. My daughter quickly drifted off to dreamland comfortably back in our “beach house,” a semi-secret campsite shielded by a large red rock escarpment just a few hours from Durango. After taking in a small meteor shower, I started slipping into the dark room myself ... until I heard the footsteps.

The footfalls crackled through the brush, breaking the silence as they closed in on our campsite. At first, I assumed it to be a mule deer working its way through the scrub. But my so-called muley then tripped on a snag, fell into a tangle of prickly pear and revealed its true colors with a shout of “goddammit.” The dude took a few more steps, coughed the words “good enough” and deposited a payload not far from our front door. After a hefty grunt and a pull of a drawstring, the man’s machine fired to life.

My eyes were now wide open, and it was all downhill for Campo Sands from there. The metronome beat of his generator was now ticking off the milliseconds. To add a little effect, a puff of acrid blue smoke belched from the machine, enveloped our tent and poured in through the mesh. The generator then shot out a timely backfire and chased it with another blast of smoke. The veil on our secret spot had been lifted.

“Beach is that way,” my 8-year-old mumbled in a bout of sleep-talking. Though the mini motor tried to wake her, she remained unconscious and added, “Don’t forget the popsicles.”

I don’t want to be the guy who whines about a little power generation. Like many of us know, the familiar whir of the generator is pure Utah, part of the rustic ambiance of many corners of canyon country. But this, this was different. Not only had one of my favorite private corners of the Beehive State gone public, but the first guest was a handy suitcase generator. Plus, our new neighbors had stuffed the contraption very nearly under my front flap.

So, mom and dad left Skyler to her popsicles and jumped to action. First, we approached the small, oily beast and identified that a generator had in fact been conveniently parked about 8 feet from our nylon Taj. Next, we chased dozens of feet of extension cord back to where the orange snake vanished into the hind end of a large Holiday Rambler travel trailer. Inside, the blue light of a television kept the other campers company. Outside, Mr. Generator was putting the finishing touches on his family’s camp, unfurling an uber-awning, rigging up a bug zapper and power-inflating a kiddie pool.

That was when the missus gave me the look known by husbands the world over (Translation: “Aren’t you going to do something?”) When I blathered,

stuttered and stalled, she picked up my masculine slack and approached the perpetrator. “Excuse me,” she said in a commanding voice. “I hate to complain, but you just parked your generator right next to our tent.”

The words caught the dude massively off guard (aka scared the living shite out of him). When he finally found his tongue, he chimed in, “Sorry ... but I ain’t bringing it back down here. Not like we want to hear it run all night.”

What followed was a round of diplomacy that would make Jimmy Carter proud. After some serious wrangling, we persuaded our new friend that he and his family are in fact not the only inhabitants of this fair planet, and he grudgingly agreed to relocate his power station to a more neutral location. In what was either a nod to these “tenters” or bad cinema, the holiday ramblers only watched one movie that night (I believe it was “Rambo IV”) and the quiet of the hills was back after 92 minutes of Stallone’s hurricane visit to the drug-ravaged wilds of Burma.

When mom and dad finally dozed off, we also dreamed of beaches and popsicles. And like most days, we rose at Skyler’s standard wake-up of 6:15 a.m. Since it was a bit brisk and the stink of generator was still souring the air, I did something that I’d never done before or since – I slid the pickup within earshot of the Holiday Rambler, fired up my modest four cylinders and let the rig properly warm up over 15 minutes of idling. The fact that Black Sabbath was on the digital turntable apparently didn’t matter. The Holiday Rambler didn’t so much as peep. I guess some people live for the dull roar of internal combustion.

I then loaded up the campo, scratched that secret spot off the list with a thick black pencil and motored down the road. But before parting, I made a firm pledge to uphold a time-honored code – revealing hidden campsites, special overlooks, lost canyons or secret hot springs is strictly taboo.

Once upon a time, I dismissed the “Law of the Secret Spot” as selfish BS. I’d known too many pristine spots that had been too secret and watched as they went the way of the plow blade, chainsaw and drill rig. Believe it or not, there are bigger monsters lurking out there than the Holiday Rambler.

But my most recent run-in resurrected some old feelings. I also recalled flapping about Campo Sands quite a bit in recent years, thanks of course to the tongue loosening influence of tequila. Maybe some places were never meant for the map, I told myself and piloted the family off to the next secret spot on the tick list. Where the stop was, I’ll never tell. Suffice it to say that even John Rambo will never find its secret location.

– Will Sands



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