Before I left CO, I was directed by a friend to the Valley of the Gods recreation area in Utah. It’s located West of Bluff, UT, a few miles before reaching Mexican Hat, UT. She said it was just like Monument Valley, but without all the crowds and you can camp for free.
Most of the campsites are located right off the main dirt road. Surprisingly, Valley of the Gods was more well known than I was expecting. After half a dozen vehicles passed my campsite before 9AM, I knew I had a lemon.
Later in the day, I explored other campsites on my bicycle, and found one in a gully far from the road. As a storm approached, I high-tailed it back to my campsite, packed up, and returned to the new location. It really was a dream. I could barely hear the crackling crunch of gravel on the tires of vehicles as they passed by. The only way they could see me was by going North on the road, and I was camped off in the distance on a rock out-cropping next to a dried up wash.
After the drizzle passed, I loafed and lounged, feeling pretty tired after my lengthy bike ride. Per custom on this trip, I began to wind down for bed when the sun went down. So far, everything was flowing according to a nice camping plan.
That night, I woke up with a start in the middle of the night. The nearly half-moon hadn’t risen yet, so I guessed it was about 10pm. It took several minutes of sleep fog to wear off before I realized that I was lying in my truck-bed awake. Then the slow thought formed, “Why did I wake up?”. As soon as this idea came into my consciousness, I heard pig-like grunting outside the truck’s campershell. Ho. Lee. Cow.
Fear and panic rolled over me like a wave. What on earth could this creature be? A wild pig? A boar of some kind? With my limited knowledge of desert life, your guess was as good as mine. After these thoughts subsided, another wave of panic set in: What the heck should I _do_?? All these thoughts raced through my mind as I heard the tinkling of rummaging through camping plates and utensils. I swore I would NEVER leave dirty dishes in the evening EVER AGAIN.
I easily found my headlamp resting next to me, and was about to shine it outside. I froze. What if the light disturbed it, and it became more violent? With the headlamp clutched in my hand like some light-bearing woobie, I just laid down, and listened. Suddenly, the heavy snort-breathing came closer. It was just to the right of me, to the right of the truck-bed! It must have been investigating the box of wood under there! I brought food papers, like wrappers from sticks of butter, with me to help light fires. Ohmigosh.
Then, the creepiest part happened. It walked under the truckbed, and I FELT IT! It’s almost impossible to describe what I felt. It was like this creature was a walking magnet, and when it got near to me, all the hairs on my body stood on end. Even though me and the creature were separated by the metal of the truck bed, the plastic truckbed liner, and a worn-out mattress, I was completely paralyzed by fear. I knew then shining a light outside the truck-bed window was just a recipe for disaster.
The only thing I could think of to do was make a noise to scare it away. I began to bang on the tailgate with my fists, and the truck-bed wall closest to the cab with my feet. I kept banging away for what seemed like an eternity, then paused. The only sound was the whispering Southern wind. I banged away again, just for good measure, to ensure the creature didn’t return.
After I was satisfied that the pig critter was gone, I breathed, breathed some more, and with intense gratitude, fell asleep.
A few hours later, I heard rustling and tinkling AGAIN. I woke up immediately with the noises. The moon was just past half-way over the sky, which told me it was about 1:30AM. I knew the pig-snorting critter(s) had returned. The snorting sound was distinct, like no other I’d ever heard. It was as if this creature had a long nose that was stuffed up, and so the breathing was a heavy in-and-out snuffle.
The headlamp was still clutched in my hand from last time. Apparently, I fell asleep with it. Still too chicken to shine a light outside, this time around I just laid there. Somehow the second visit didn’t seem quite so threatening. I didn’t even bother to bang on the truckbed walls. I looked outside the campershell hatch window, but it was too dark to see. I simply rolled over, and vowed to examine the sand thoroughly for tracks when I woke up. At this point, I was too tired to be bothered, even though I was still scared.
Despite the nighttime’s activities, I woke up around 6:30AM, as the sun’s light was brightening the sky, just like almost every morning since I’ve been on my journey. I changed clothes for the day, and prepared my ditty bag for after I returned from the bush toilet. I had more energy than usual that morning, born from eagerness and curiosity about my night-time visitors.
I lowered the tailgate, and slipped my sandals on. Before stepping foot in the sand, I examined the ground. I looked all around the tailgate. I saw lots of tracks alright, size 71/2 Keen sandal tracks. I figured the light wind would cover over some of the animal tracks, but this was beyond the pale. There simply were NONE. Nada. Zip. Zilch. There was not _one_ kind of track in that sand besides my own footprint.
The Twilight Zone
Stunned, I sat on the tailgate for some time, legs dangling over the sides daring not to touch the sand, until the scream of my bladder ran through my eardrums. I simply could not believe that no tracks existed in the sand, and didn’t want to disturb the sandy surface near my truck, in case the critter tracks that simply HAD to be there, magically appeared. They never did.
I slowly walked to the bush toilet, scanning the ground for any sign of any track whatsoever. Still nothing. After lightening my internal load, I walked all around the pickup, and out for a 10 foot radius again and again, with no sign of any animal tracks. It was completely dumbfounding.
Trying to shake off the rising heebie-jeebies in my spine, I decided to walk up to the crest of the rise to the West, for a nice morning yoga & meditation practice. The view Westward overlooked the distant Monument Valley. My campsite was surrounded on both sides by glorious rock formation towers, one skinny with balancing rocks, the other a megalith, the size of the Titanic or maybe even bigger. My stoney companions would encourage a deep practice.
While walking up to the rise, I paid special attention to where I was stepping. I was still unable to accept the potential mind-trick from the previous night. There were footprints from other campers around, which I had already seen. I took a more direct route to the crest of the rise, creating my own unique path.
At the rise, I saw some flat-ish stones down the other side, near the wash, the same wash I was camping on, where it took a bend to the North. It seemed like a better area to do yoga, where I might be able to practice right on the stone, a lovely tactile treat.
Still gazing attentively at the sand, I walked on. I came across a set of tracks that at first I paid no attention to. A few steps beyond them, I paused, and turned around. My jaw fell agape. The shoe prints looked fairly new, as if they were made that morning. But, what really caught my eye, was a circular type of marking, made next to the right footprint. The stride was narrow, the person took small steps. The circular imprint must have been a cane or walking stick. It lead me to believe the person was older, or elderly. The shoe-size and shape seemed like a man’s. The tracks seemed to originate nowhere, walking from North to South, in the direction of the wash.
After thoroughly examining these tracks, I kept walking towards the flat stones. About 15 feet later, I came across animal tracks. Finally! But, these tracks didn’t match the snorting-pig creature, who was small enough to walk underneath the truck-bed. These tracks were of a large, hoofed animal, either a horse or a cow. The stride seemed too short to be a horse, yet not deep enough to be a heavy cow. It could have been an adolescent cow, or a smaller horse. I’ve heard horses on the Native reservations are often smaller, as they have more wild mustang DNA.
These tracks seemed a day or two old, but not by much. It was difficult to tell whether they were walking out of the wash, or walking in. Either way, they almost _completely_ paralleled the human-with-walking-stick tracks.
The entire tracks affair simply blew my mind. There was a little *poof* of sanity, in the form of a grey-ish mist, that simply released itself from the top of my head, like a cranio-volcano. I didn’t know what to make of any of it. Instead, I decided to press on to my yoga practice, and hope the breathing, movement, and meditation would clear my head, allowing some answers to come.
After an absolutely glorious practice on a large flat boulder overlooking the Utah desert, I made my way back to camp. There were no big revelations during practice, but a quite profound and deep stillness during meditation. I decided to follow the human-and-walking-stick tracks, and walked alongside them ensuring they were not disturbed. The tracks came to a junction, where there were several other tracks crossing them in a “T” formation. The tracks disappeared at the “T”. Eerie.
The junction of tracks was on a sandy rise that sloped down into the wash. I saw in the distance the animal tracks going into the bushes on the sandbar. I figured they were cow tracks. Even so, the human and cow tracks simply didn’t make sense. They seemed to come from nowhere, and go to nowhere within the wash. I followed the “T” set of tracks back to my camp, but the tracks with a walking stick were never seen again amongst all the new ones.
I’ve traveled alone, camped alone, both in urban and rural areas, many, many times. NEVER in all my days have I experienced audio-hallucinations like the ones I had in Valley of the Gods.
When I was younger and into a lot of “partying”, shall we say, I had an experience in college where I took a full moon hike by myself in a forest, but on a well-known path. The entire time, I felt like I was being watched, and had the willies up and down my spine.
Over the years, these kinds of creepy, spooky feelings dissipated. The more I grew on my spiritual path, the more these incidents didn’t happen. I guess you could say, I felt like I was “over it”, over this kind of mind-trickery.
Additionally, before I left on this journey, I had learned some techniques on how to overcome fear, from Julia Marie Gillet, my cranio-sacral therapist. Mainly, it was to feel the fear all in my body, allowing myself to shake and shiver. As described earlier, fear enters and exits the body in waves. So, Julia helped me with a technique to allow that fear wave to just come and go. It has been incredibly liberating.
Throughout my time camping that first week, many fearful moments occurred. Using Julia’s technique, I was able to allow the fear to pass, and move forward with more confidence and lightness.
But, this– this was something altogether different.
Since that time, I don’t have any big fears around this experience. Although I didn’t stay a second night in that campground, it was more because I had to get on to Phoenix to meet a friend by a certain day. When I told my friend this story later on in our camping trip, no fear rose up in the re-telling. His theory was that the creature was a javelina. I’m not so sure.
I just don’t know what to make of this experience. I’m dumbstruck. What I heard, and the sensations of fear and panic in those moments, were entirely real to me. I can’t explain the lack of tracks in the sand. I can’t explain anything about the whole situation.
Fear is a powerful force. Since this incident, my good friend and I have parted ways once again. He returned to work, I returned to my solo sabbatical. He told me how he had never camped alone because the mind can play tricks on you. It’s my second night out, and I’m a little nervous. But, last night was fine, and so far I have yet to see any large animals in this particular forest.
My dishes are washed! I’ll put them away after finishing this blog. All will be well, it will be fine. If I am afraid, I can allow the fear to shake, rattle, and roll right through me, and be done with it. My headlamps all have batteries and are working.
Maybe my halluci-hearing was simply a chance to discharge some deeply rooted fear. I don’t know. But, if you are ever camping in Utah, please let me know if you hear some creatures with pig-like breathing that seem not to walk on the ground.