I had the pleasure to drive again this year through Nevada and Utah to Durango, Colorado to attend the Good Medicine Confluence. The herbal conference ran by Plant Healer Magazine was a month earlier this year, which proved beneficial for a lone traveler in the desert. The weather was perfect, it even included a few rainstorms during the journey. If you read my post last year from the same trek, you'll see that I traveled through a heat wave and even got a flat tire out in Canyonlands. During this event I was aided by an elderly experienced boon-docking nudist couple (they weren't nude when they helped me, but they run a nudist campground in Arizona).
It was nice to have my old friend Amy of Scavenge Magic (a natural dyes clothing collective) join me at the conference after visiting her family in Denver and share my camper's cooking setup with me. I don't have guests for a week at a time too often, and it was nice.
After leaving the conference, I headed back towards Moab, now a semi-familiar place given that I spent over a week there last year camping ,exploring, hiking and hanging out with Emily Stock of Sundial Medicinals. And again, it was a pleasant temperature out, even with some semi-cloudy days. I explored Canyonlands more, a perfect time since the plants were in full flower and the risk of exposure greatly lessened.
If you're not familiar with the area, its a pretty big off road biking and climbing destination. There's lots of backcountry to hike, explore, camp and raft through. It's not uncommon to see folks living out of their vans or campers within an hour or so of this region which included Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, a ton of National Monuments and BLM land. The National Monuments include the currently controversial Bear's Ear's Monument that Obama designated at the request of local native tribes who have been working to protect their sacred sites for a long time. Trump just 'undid' this designation shortly after coming into office, at least on paper, with the collaboration of Utah's state government. The verdict of the whole thing is still years in motion, and it is uncertain what the outcome will be.
One of the biggest things I notice about this landscape is the colors. The shades of orange, red and brown are rich and vast. Green plants contrast this big orange earth in some places, especially by the rivers as you can see in these photographs. Also, what is 'up' and 'down' here is confusing. I'm from a place that's basically flat and forested with an occasional tobacco field for view. But, there's no sudden drop off or step up of earth. As you can see in these photos, what's up and down, above and below is totally turned. When you move through these kinds of landscapes, you can see time literally through space. The time it took for these canyons and hollowed areas to form is beyond my comprehension. The extreme alkalinity is so different from the rich soiled Appalachia and Piedmont of my homeplace in the south-eastern part of the United States. I love the reminder of how small I am, and also how I am a universe too in the vast constellations that make up this earth.
I noticed that the Pinon Pine here was the two-needled variety, versus the single-needled one that I observed in Nevada. The single-needled variety is also the one I have harvested Pine nuts from for a few years now. After learning about why the single-needled variety formed from the two-needled variety, it was neat to see the shift in real time. Real time being I suppose, driving one day through one species, and the next day through another. And even this past winter, I camped in the Single-Needled Pinon groves in the Santa Rosa Mountains of southern California which are extremely close to the ocean, not a usual preference for Pinons.
I stopped and stayed with Emily again for a night and revisited her amazing apothecary that inspired me just a year ago. It reminded me yet again, what you can do when you ground out, decide to stay put and dedicate yourself to a small regional community. Emily's space and incredible organization immediately invokes a sense of calm when you walk in the doors. She even grows a bunch of herbs she uses for medicine making in the backyard of her Moab home, probably just a mile away. Last year I was surprised to see so many plants I didn't think would grow in the desert.
Because of the good weather, we were able to do a nice hike in some canyons just down the road from downtown Moab. You wouldn't think it was so close to town when you're deep in there. We got to look at a bunch of awesome plants especially riparian ones that like to stick close to the cool waters. I was sneezing a lot, of which I blamed wrongly on the Cottonwood's seed puffs intially, which don't contain pollen. It was likely the Pinon Pine pollen wafting through the air.
Take a look through our photo log for glimpses from this year's visit, including my camping in Canyonlands, our hike and my apothecary visit with Emily. You can find photos of Emily's gardens from last year here.
A year ago I had the idea (or reminder of an idea I've had for awhile) to start an audio project interviewing people that I meet like Emily. It's taken me a year to bring it to fruition. I interviewed Emily in her shop one day during her open apothecary hours. In our interview we talk about what it is like for Emily to run a big herbal apothecary in her home town, what influenced her to do it, how she makes her medicine, and the regional Bear's Ears National Monument issues. Look out for the podcast episode sometime in early August. If you want to support the audio project and get extras including educational material, bonus audio and be eligible for giveaways, support Ground Shots on Patreon here. We'll be updating our rewards to weave in the audio project early July.
I've also decided to be purposefully vague about the exact locations of our hikes and camping. After talking to Emily, who is local to Moab, Utah about how much social media has affected her community and other popular 'instagram-worthy' locations like Joshua Tree where I visited this past winter, I've decided to stop tagging or noting exact locations for the most part in my internet presence. It's best to find a local person and ask them where the 'local's spot' is because if it ends up all over the internet, then it really isn't special anymore. There's also a charm to asking people where the best hike, swimming hole, or free camping is, or to stumble onto it yourself organically. With that said, occasionally, I might suggest a spot I want to share, or a hike I think people should do, or a town I think folks should visit.
Scroll through the photo diary below for scenes from Utah and Emily's apothecary, Sundial medicinals:
The apothecary: Sundial Medicinals in Moab, Utah
Stay tuned for my interview with Emily through the Ground Shots Podcast, coming in August.