As the valleys widened, giant wheeled irrigation systems replaced trees.
And the sky darkened.
But now, through the small ag towns of central Idaho I perceived a blue tinge, a change in pressure. This was not smoke.
Thunder shook the truck, which, I realized now, was largely metal. Soon I was struggling to find the windshield wipers, wondering if the sheer density of rain would be enough to create a path for the electricity, would allow bypass of the rubber tires that protected me.
I remembered the words on the Uhaul contract: “water resistant but not waterproof.”
Life seemed to be demanding that I pay attention. Should I stop under a tree? Should I NOT stop under a tree? Should I stay in the truck? Should I get out?
I kept driving.
The rain (and smoke) cleared entirely by Arco, just outside Craters of the Moon National Park. I had stopped to watch a herd of antelope leap a barbed wire fence through a hay field here a decade –or two–ago. I looked for the fence and field but couldn’t find the memory.
I pressed on.
I stopped to take a picture of the lava fields with my cell phone, a picture that did not convey the clear air, the sharp wind, the flat sky.
I headed south across the grand Snake River canyon. The sun slipped away. I would not make it to the Ruby Mountains, my favorite pull-over-and-camp spot. I would have to get past Jackpot at least, the casino that marked the border to Nevada.
But dark beat me to it.
South of Twin Falls the two-lane road, loaded heavy with Saturday night traffic, scared me a little. A whistling wind and pushy semi-trucks convinced me to pull over before the sagebrush completely disappeared in darkness. I dreaded parking next to a shoe-box RV so I began to look for an unmarked road, any unmarked road.
My father had led field trips through northern Mexico, geography field trips where students would learn how to farm without machinery, to cook without a stove, to learn without a school. And to camp without a campground.
My iphone showed no road, but it did show a blue splotch marked “Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir.” There had to be a road to that, and it had to descend out of the tumbleweed hurricane through which I had been driving. Sure, there’d be mosquitoes, but getting out of the wind would be worth it.
Sure enough, “Gray’s Landing” on a BLM-brown sign pulled me off the pavement. It was a marked road, but barely.
Driving fast on the washboards of the American West, I have often thought, is what Japanese carmakers do not imagine when designing cars. Someone had told me that if you go fast enough, the shocks can’t recover fast enough and the road will become smooth. This was a rental; if I could just get it to California, I wouldn’t have to repair anything.
So I tested the theory that if you go fast enough, the bumps go away.
I learned that if you go fast enough, you can create the effect of hydroplaning on a dry road.
I scared some cows.
Now completely dark, I slowed as the road became steeper and steeper, rockier and rockier, narrower and narrower, curling down to a shiny sliver of water. When the road softened, I knew I’d hit sand and risked getting stuck, so I stopped, got out, walked toward the water.
I did not notice the bats at first.
But I noticed the headlights of an ATV approaching slowly.
The ATV slipped past me, between me and the Uhaul. I had parked on the trail–Oops. A man was driving, embraced front and back by two children. A woman clung to the rear rail.
They headed up a gulley, without a word, their headlights illuminating a cluster of cars. A campfire’s light was reflected on sagebrush.
I climbed back into the truck, reversed my path and pulled onto a sidetrack, which led to a broad flat circle overlooking the landing, marked by an outhouse. I parked close to the roadcut, out of the wind, out of sight of the neighboring campsite, the back of the truck toward the water. I rolled open the truck door and after a calming can of beer, some homegrown carrots Jen had slipped into the front seat and a half a mushy sandwich, I snuggled into the musty army sleeping bag, reminded how cold the desert can get in summer.
That’s when I noticed the bats.
I had just inadvertently created exactly what bats love most. A north-facing cave on a slope open to the lee of the wind.
In they came.
I remembered the rabies vaccination treatment my teenaged son had to undergo after he had been bitten by a dog in southern Chile, shots in sequence, day after day. I pulled out my phone and asked my Facebook friends what to do. “Turn on a light?” one suggested. There was no way in hell I was going to turn on a light. Papa would have pontificated at this point about the variety of bats and their food preferences, I imagined. “Not many mosquitoes here,” I could hear him comment.
My Uhaul contract did not prohibit housing bats, not specifically.
I slept late and didn’t get any mosquito bites.