Nonfiction by Marylynne Diggs
“I call shotgun!” Valerie shouts as she races to the passenger side. I shut the tailgate, climb in and turn the ignition while Valerie grins and carefully positions Barbie on the dash. We love taking Barbie on road trips in our bad-ass, quad cab, diesel Silverado. We call her Winona – the truck, not Barbie. Winona is Valerie’s Big-Barbie Dream Diesel.
Barbie is barefoot, sporting purple capris and a pink top with sparkly neckline and matching scrunchie. Completing her ensemble is an assault rifle she steadies across her thighs. The rifle came with G.I. Joe, but Barbie, being part of a “Two Pack Barbie Action Figure Set Capable of 100 Positions,” needs something to do with her hands on the eight-hour drive to Lake Owyhee.
Barbie has been part of our road-trip routine for several years, ever since Valerie bought the two pack set at Target and hatched the idea of an NC-17 Barbie calendar project. It doesn’t matter where we are going – Crater Lake, the coast – Valerie positions the girls, and I take the pictures. Few things make Valerie happier than being on the road in that rig planning a Barbie Dream Diorama. Few things make me happier than going somewhere new, ready for scenery, Barbie Dream Camera in hand.
For over a decade, Leslie Gulch and Owyhee Canyonlands have been on our short list, but getting there requires serious planning unless you’re coming from Nevada or Idaho. We never come from Nevada or Idaho. Storms are common in the Owyhee, and the dirt roads turn to quicksand in a shower of any duration. This is the problem: You have to plan to get there, but you can’t plan too far in advance or the weather will leave you stranded.
A week ago, the forecast for Leslie Gulch was perfect: 80 degree highs, 50 degree lows, partly cloudy. Barbie Dream Weather. I had visions of the Milky Way reflected in the red rock-fringed waters of Lake Owyhee. Valerie couldn’t wait to launch the inflatable row boat and look down through her reflection into clear waters teeming with fish. But this morning the forecast had changed: 95 degree highs, thunderstorms and a flash flood watch for extreme terrain. Leslie Gulch is the epitome of extreme terrain – Oregon’s Barbie Dream Canyon.
But Valerie had taken vacation time, and Barbie was overdue for a road trip, so we loaded Winona, gave Barbie her seat on the dash, tucked her two pack pal Marisa into a tote with the beer and chips and headed east.
It’s hot. It’s raining. Black flies are everywhere. The lake is nearly empty. I lower my expectations for landscape photography. Walking 100 feet past a No Wake Zone sign toward the water, I startle a rattlesnake. I’ve never seen a rattlesnake in a No Wake Zone. When I go back to the campsite, Valerie is drinking whiskey, swishing flies and sweating. The whiskey helps, but only a little. At dark, we head for the tent. It’s hot in the tent. Whoever said camping is romantic never had hot flashes in a tent with a rainfly. The photo shoot for our NC-17 Nature Barbie Dream Calendar will have to wait for better conditions.
It’s raining harder. It’s hotter. It’s Monday, Labor Day, and the campground is almost empty. The flies have fewer hosts. They choose us. Valerie grabs Barbie off the dash and I rummage through the beer and chips for Marisa. Somehow she has fallen to the bottom of the tote. We position Barbie and Marisa in front of the Coleman stove, and I shoot with a wide-angle lens to make them bigger and the stove smaller. Barbie and Marisa camping. Barbie and Marisa embracing. Barbie covered with flies. Barbie and Marisa get wet – and not in a good way.
It’s cooler in the tent. The rain helped. Only one other group shares the campground. They arrived at 7:00 tonight in a truck with a fifth-wheel camper pulling a ski-boat – a crazy triple-train affair. That can’t be legal – maybe in Nevada or Idaho. Our neighbors’ first order of business was turning on their air-conditioner; their second was turning on a spotlight. It points directly at our tent. We sleep a little, but I wake around midnight to the familiar sound of clomping ungulate hooves and teeth tearing grass from its roots. It’s hot again. No breeze. A big shadow spreads near the corner of one tent wall. It looks like a wild boar or hyena – thick body, twitchy little tail, snout to the ground. It immediately moves to the other side of the tent, and then the other, apparently tracing the perimeter just inches away. I wake up Valerie.
“Is that a coyote?”
Then we realize it’s an illusion. The damn spotlight. It’s a deer, shadow distorted, walking diagonally past the tent. The spotlight projects the shadow on each tent wall as it passes fifteen feet away.
Barbie is sick of this. It’s still hot. The flies are worse, but the rain is letting up. Our vacation has sucked, and it’s time to move on. We stuff and scrunch and pack and load. Winona is ready to roll. Barbie drives through Leslie Gulch between towers of orange rock. Marisa takes pictures. We make it back to pavement before it rains again, head West, then North. We stop to watch a storm wash over the Sheepshead Mountains. Hear thunder rumble. Valerie smiles, double rainbows all around.
Barbie and Marisa splash into downtown Burns and check into a hotel. Valerie gets fried chicken from the diner, brings it back to the room. Barbie and Marisa watch cable. Goodnight, Barbie. Goodnight, Marisa. Blackout curtains close. Nothing to see. King bed, clean sheets. Silence. Dream sleep.