Checking the Box(car Cove)

It’s 9:45 a.m. and “home”—my 2004 Honda Element perched on the banks ofLake Mead—is reorganized. I’d packed up as efficiently as a fast departure would allow, but the organizational bins weren’t fully functional for a sleep and store space.

I bought the Element especially for this type of adventure. The back seats are very easily removed from the car, allowing a virtually flat expanse of all plastic floor. Soon I’ll construct a removable platform which will easily store all things beneath a bed surface.

For now, I’ve unrolled a foam pad and smothered it in blankets—two down, three wool and a cotton quilt. On the other side, the camping bins, cooler and clothing. Too much clothing. Something has to go.

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I set up my Coleman tent to function as a storage unit and an indicator that this cove has been claimed. Anything semi-essential stays in the car—the warmest clothing, food and “kitchen” gear. Everything else—the fire wood, excess water and clothing—goes in the tent.

As I prepare a bell pepper and onion breakfast scramble, the blue skies dotted with whipped cream clouds are reflected in the glassy waters, and I am reminded how much I love the combination of canyon orange and sky blue. Some gentle ripples are floating into the cove and I admire the dance for minutes on end as I munch on my morning meal. I can’t believe I was afraid of this place.

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About two hours later, I’m on the backroad out. If there had been any understanding the night before as to why I’d be advised not to take this road with my Element, it is gone. The road is well maintained and rather scenic. In my rearview mirror, I catch a glimpse of the mountainous backdrop behind the lake, and sprinkled along the route are little paint pots of ultra-orange dirt and rock. I increase my speed from 5 to 10 miles per hour and make it to the paved road in no time. I’m off to the Hoover Dam.

The lake in the daytime is gorgeous. Certain viewpoints boast turquoise waters amidst the expanse of desert sand. I spend a lot of time pulling off the road at the vistas to get a look and start to feel sorry for myself that I’m not (yet) a full-time nomad who could take months to explore the place, it’s stories and secrets with so few people around.

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By the time I arrive back to the dirt road from my excursion, it is again after dark and it feels as if I’ve decided to test my confidence. I still take the road in at 5 miles per hour. My adrenaline spikes again, this time realizing I’ll be cooking a meal in the dark and attempting to spend more time enjoying the evening from outside the barriers of my car’s interior.

I grab my headlamp and prep for making dinner and starting a fire. I’m glad to discover that in my hasty departure the fire starter brick made it into the camping bins. The box I’ve brought to use as kindling was quickly dampened in the misty night air. The long barbecue lighter I borrowed from my friend ran out of fuel and I’m using a standard Bic to try to get things going.

Once started, the smoke fills the wet air so that visibility is minimized beyond 2 feet in front of my headlamp. I hear coyotes far off and I smile at their yips and howls. As I balance prepping both the night’s steak and veggie meal and the fire, I reflect on camping trips past and how the tasks are divided.

My mind breaks into a question I’ve heard homemakers have been asked by breadwinners— “what did you do all day?” It’s an exhausting task to make a home, nonetheless out of the wilderness. I take a mental leap from the present to a time when humans had to hunt and forage before we ate, find and build a suitable shelter before we could rest, and had to protect our skins from the elements with natural materials. I can’t decide whether life is truly simpler now.

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I eat my steak and fajita veggies and take frequent glances around just in case someone or something sneaks up on me. I’m just settling into the confidence that I am alone out here and in no danger with clear skies above me. Near the end of my meal, the coyote howls are getting nearer. I’m relaxed and getting sleepy. My fire is dwindling, but I want to enjoy it until it’s gone. I aim to burn the remainder of the large packing box I brought as kindling, but with a quarter of the cardboard left after an hour of hand-ripping the box, my enthusiasm fizzles. It’s bed time.

As I approach my tailgate, I’m greeted by a surprise howl so loud it sounds as if it’s not but 5 feet from me. I’m sure the coyotes are here for a meal: me. I fly into my car, slam, the trunk door closed, lock the doors and honk the horn. The howls stop without a single yip to follow.


fullsizerender-2It is late in the morning and the lighting is gorgeous. I enjoy the way the scenery looks separated in the frames of my car windows for a few minute before I exit the car and stretch. Two large coyotes prance 20 and 100 feet away from me. I hold my breath for a brief moment, and feel my eyes widen. I surprise myself when I click my mouth as if to call a dog over. They don’t listen and I’m a bit disappointed. My how daylight changes things.

By the early afternoon, I’ve cooked breakfast, packed the car and I’m sitting in my camp chair settling into reading my Outside magazine in my last hour at the lake. Something catches my attention out of the corner of my eye. It is one of the large coyotes. He’s approached the cove for a drink of water. I see him, he sees me and neither of us are afraid until I stand to get my camera from the car. He shrinks himself a bit in submission and trots away to another point of water access a little further away.

I watch him scurry and another of his pals join him. It’s about a half an hour before the two hear the barely audible yips from the rest of the pack. They scramble to meet one another and then run off together toward the calling pups, and as if it were a call to my soul, I know I will return here in the future.

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