Closing Time / by Brian Beck

My alarm went off at a quarter after seven and I unzipped the flap on our tent to survey the scene.  Judging from the blue Solo cup I had left on the picnic table and accounting for the undrunk scotch, the tempest from the night before had delivered about an inch of rain in fifteen minutes, give or take.  The water still stood in pools around the campfire and the mud was thick and red, the color of Belgian cocoa.

I got to work disassembling the tent, wiping off the water, sand and mud with a towel I had been using to dry the Pontiac.  I tasked Samantha to walk up to the store to buy milk and insisted over her protests that, yes, she had to take her brother.  They returned a few minutes later with a 1/2 pint of milk.  I pointed out that this was just enough for her and her brother.  "Did you forget about old Dad?" I asked with a wink.  She looked at me blankly, and then shrugged.  "I didn't think you'd want breakfast."

She wasn't totally wrong, but I sent her back for another carton of milk and contemplated my options.  The only cereal left of the disgusting, sugar-laden multipack was Trix and Corn Pops.   When she returned the second time, I flung the tent over a nearby tree to dry and resigned myself to a bowl of multicolored sugar pellets.  All I needed for a complete breakfast was a mug of maple syrup and a bar of Hershey's special dark.  We had both, but I couldn't afford the time out for a diabetic coma.

When the tent was dry, we folded it up, packed the last of our belongings and headed down the mountain.  The clouds had burned off to reveal a gorgeous, fresh, desert morning.  The early part of the drive took us past countless rust-colored buttes, the Four Corners monument and into the Navajo reservation.  I stopped for fuel in a little Navajo town and it took me 20 minutes to escape the stream of wizened old men with yellow teeth admiring my wheeled artifact of an America long past.   Old Indians, it seemed, had a genuine fondness for old Indians.

The day grew long and the sun swept around until it was directly in front of us.  We spent the entire day on what seemed like endless two lane roads through Indian country, to Glen Canyon, across the Colorado River and into the south end of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a beautiful stretch of highway where the mesas protrude into the desert like red art-deco locomotives parked cheek-to-jowl far into the distance.  Escalante stretches from the northern Arizona border all the way to central Utah, three thousand square miles, with only a handful of passable roads.  It looked exactly like the cartoons of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner and I couldn't help but add it to my mental bucket list, along with Zion and Antelope Canyon.  The kids fell asleep after dark and I pulled over on a lonely turnout east of St. George, UT to admire the sky once more.  It was closing time, and I didn't want it to end.  If the kids didn't need to start school in a few days maybe we would turn north again and head for Idaho.  The aspens would be turning gold by now... I looked up and felt the keys in my pocket.  I ran my hand along the lines of the fender, feeling the paint glide under my fingertips.  In the distance, a tractor trailer was engine braking on the interstate.  Come on buddy, last call.  What's it gonna be?  

I turned the question over for a few seconds and then looked at the road.  A car was coming.  "It's time to go home," I said out loud as I swung the door open.  I cranked the old V-8 over and pulled out onto the dark road, waiting just a few extra seconds to pull the switch on the headlights.   In another hundred and fifty miles, the brilliant lights of Vegas would be more than enough. 

The sky stretches out over endless desert in the Four Corners region.  Nikon D800, 24-120mm lens @ 44mm, iso 100, f6.3, 1/800 sec.

Heading into the sun, the clouds create a mirror image on the hood. Nikon D800, 24-120mm lens @ 30mm, iso 200, f11, 1/800 sec.

Watching the color fade from the sky in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.  Nikon D800, 24-120mm lens @ 120mm, iso 500, f5.6, 1/500 sec.

Self portrait east of St. George.  I found it hard to leave.  Nikon D800, 17-35mm lens @ 20mm, iso 1600, f2.8, 25 sec.