I stopped the Chevrolet Tahoe and looked through the windshield.
“Those are some gnarly rocks, Grandpa,” 13-year-old Gage said.
“I don’t know if we can get over those,” said 11-year-old Easton.
“Maybe we should turn around.” This from six-year-old Ryder.
I sat there quietly, contemplating the road before me. Gnarly didn’t begin to describe the fang-like boulders slashing outwards from the earth. It reminded me of the tank traps I’d seen in photographs from the Second World War, and yet — I thought I could see a way forward.
I stepped out of the vehicle to reconnoiter more closely. The boys came, too.
If I maneuvered my front tires onto two of the largest rocks, I could proceed slowly without impaling my oil pan on the only slightly smaller gashers that littered the ground between them. I could see evidence that others had tried it unsuccessfully. Those center rocks were painted with silver-colored metal, evidence of a scraping oil pan or, if they were lucky, the residue of a protective plate.
I looked back down the road from which we’d come. Rocks, sagebrush and juniper trees lined the sides. No way to turn around. No way to back down. I was well and truly committed.
The phrase I’ve uttered hundreds of times over the years in similar situations didn’t sound quite so cavalier now. “What’s the worst that can happen?” was a little out of place here a dozen miles from the nearest habitation with three youngsters counting on me to keep them safe.
On the positive side, we were in no real danger. We had plenty of gas, water and food.
On the negative side, we also had Gage, who is a little more quick-witted, not to mention quick-tongued, for my own good.
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“Well, I guess you should have listened to me earlier,” he said with a grin. I really hate it when he’s right.
Earlier that morning, as we’d prepared to depart from Glass Butte to Christmas Valley, he recommended a different route from the one I ultimately selected.
“Maybe we should just go back up to the highway and take the Millican Road down to Christmas Valley, Grandpa.”
“Well, that would be boring,” I told him. “We’re out here to have adventures. Let’s take the short cut straight across the desert.”
I traced the route across our map and gave it to him to monitor in his role as navigator. “See, we’ll follow this trail and this one and then take off on Emigrant Road toward the Lava Beds.”
Author’s note: Emigrant Road is a perfectly fine backcountry trail, until it’s not, which is whenever it crosses one of the many small hills between Glass Butte and Christmas Valley. Erosion near the tops of the hills has allowed the emergence of those vicious-looking rocks that were staring me down right now. There are many options to choose from on your way to Christmas Valley. Take one of the others.
So there I was, in a very inhospitable situation, accompanied by three young grandsons who have yet to learn the need for quiet and decorum in cases like this.
“Maybe we should just call for help and pitch our tent here,” offered Easton.
“I’m hungry,” said Ryder.
“We could have been there an hour ago if you’d listened to me,” Gage chimed in.
“OK,” I said, suddenly resolute. “Time to try it. Oh, no. Not you guys. We need to reduce our weight and raise our centerline up above the rocks. You guys walk. And Gage, you probably should carry the water cans.”