Valley of the Gods

After bumping my Toyota Camry, 175,000 miles on the clock, through the dips and rises of the gravel road that runs between U.S. Route 163 and Utah State Route 261, we finally come to a halt at roadside clearing. It’s hot, the full heat of summer afternoon in the Utah desert. My son takes the hand-held Global Positioning device and waits for the satellites to converge. “One third of a mile, it reads”, he tells me, but I know it is wrong. We are where we should be. “This is the spot, I’m sure of it.” I walk across to the edge of the circular turnout and look across the impossibly red and garish buttes rising out of the scrubland and then down past some large boulders into a shallow gorge. “Yes, I’m sure.”

We’d found it — the last of the four sites for the only American location filming for the long-running BBC science-fiction series, “Doctor Who”. The Valley of the Gods had been featured in the episode called “Day Of The Moon”, and here we were, walking the same dry dust that doubtless settled on the cameras, equipment and actors who converged on this spot on November 17, 2010.

A simple quest, perhaps. An involving one, though, and a fine way to bond with my teenage son as well as explore Utah and Arizona. Those landscapes, before only dim impressions gained from black and white showings of Western movies on television, now exploded into color and volume. Dancing before and behind us, chiindii filled the plains. These little whirlwinds, believed to be manifestations of the spirits of dead Navajos, kicked up the sand into red spirals. Two rolled over me — I felt the wind tug at my shirt and a sound like a very quiet freight train, a very gentle tornado. Before we entered the valley, we had motored through Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, up to Montana and back, taking in Idaho on the way. Twice we’d listened to a radio dramatization of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Without anytime approaching the catharsis detailed in that book, our journey nonetheless took on similar elements of a spiritual adventure as the sheer wonder of the land around squeezed in on our simple Doctor Who-fan derived goals. Here, most of all, this seemed apparent. The remoteness and aloneness of this place — not loneliness, though — spoke to my soul. I felt this most of all after the dust devils had rolled over me. Had the spirit of a long-departed dweller in this lands brushed up to mine? Perhaps. Once again, I felt that special wonder that I’ve felt in only a few places on this planet — on the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, on Glastonbury Tor in England, in New Harmony, Indiana, on the high peak of Guadalest, Spain — that somehow transcends natural amazement at a beautiful scene, most satisfying in itself, and pushes your consciousness further. That feeling remains.

We drove out and up the astonishing 1,100 foot gravel hairpins of the Moki Dugway to rejoin properly paved roads again. The journey cost the aged Camry a tie rod and two tires.

A small price for such wonder.

(This was my first story on Cowbird, from August 4, 2012. As such I feel an affection for it.)


Originally published at cowbird.com.