In the mornings, my sister and I would wake up when the fierce January sun would finally make the tent into such a sauna we were roasting in our squishy sleeping bags. We'd crawl bleary-eyed out of the tent, to find my mom and dad perched in Red Lodge chairs, sipping coffee from beat-up plastic NOLS mugs, reading whatever boring crap it is grownups read. The sun would be hanging in the cloudless cerulean sky, its morning rays carving fascinating shadows and shapes into the alien-like landscape of the red rock surrounding us.
My dad would usually make breakfast, and it was usually some kind of leftover from last night's dinner combined with some oh-so-delicious dehydrated hashbrowns or refried beans. And cheese. And death sauce.
|pictured: death sauce. no, I have no idea why we call it that, we just always have.|
As these delicious yet mysterious combinations sizzled over our little propane stove, my sister and I would shove our sleeping bags up by our pillows at the top of the tent, my mom's camping version of "making our beds". Yeah. Still doesn't make sense, Mom.
After breakfast came slickrock school.
Despite the aforementioned sun, Utah in January can still be chilly. So with the winter chill still gathered in shadowy rock pockets and threatening to numb toes and nip at ears, we'd find a particularly sun-warmed spot, and spread out picnic blankets or flattened Red Lodge chairs, and it'd be time for schoolwork. My sister and I would get out our workbooks for math, or science, or English, and peck away as the sun climbed higher into the sky. My mom was always available if you had a math question, and chances were she'd get way too excited about it. She was a math major in college, and still gets nerdily excited about things like finding x.
|honestly Mom, I would have been content with this. sorry.|
Then after that, my dad would usually have some sort of natural history lesson for us. He'd teach us how to extract pine nuts from a pinecone, or how to identify different types of evergreen trees by their needles, or how to predict the weather from the kinds of clouds in the sky.
|it's actually much trickier than you'd think|
Some days if we'd make a trip into a nearby town, we'd raid the local thrift store in search of nice sturdy toy cars to send hurtling down the steepest slickrock faces at breakneck paces, to crash-land in a poof of sand and sometimes a crunch of plastic parts.
|kinda like this, but with lizards.|
We would chase after and capture little lizards, then plant the terrified reptiles in the cars, the lizards our unwilling kamikaze captains. (Don't worry, the lizards usually survived.) One of the reasons I have such an overactive imagination today is because I spent so much of my childhood in a place that looks like a cross between Mars and Crazypersonland. And I wouldn't have it any other way.