Peter Tillman is a mining geologist
with one previous
fiction sale and many professional and technical
publications. He's lived in Arizona for the past 20
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by Peter D. Tillman
It's been a
hard night at Caesar's. You stumble in at 2 AM, tell Winnie to anchor
out below Canyon Ridge, on the Arizona side.
10 AM. Winnie rocks
in the wake of a passing speedboat. Yawning,
grateful for your
hangover-eating nannies, you ask Winnie for juice and
coffee and wobble
out on deck. It's a brilliantly-clear desert morning.
towers over you in full golden glory. You light a smoke,
your coffee, you watch the ripples slap her hull.
Laura comes out
at 10:30, blinking, sleepy-eyed. Winnie silently pours
sighs, slumps into the chaise.
"How much did we lose last
"Enough ... 'Keep Nevada Green.' "
descending trill of a canyon wren, a few slaps from a wake,
"Up for a dip?" Laura shrugs off her wrap. Her
splendid rose and gold
self arcs into the lake. "Oooh -- cold!" You
cannonball in, she deftly
Breakfast au naturel
- steak and eggs, golden honeydew, more excellent
coffee. Laura daintily
dabs her lips, yawns, stretches out in the sun.
"You know, you
look better now than when we first met."
dimples. "Well, science marches on..."
Laura is 53 by the
calendar, 23 to the eye. Microbe-size nannies circulate
quadrillions within her beautifully-tanned skin, repairing damage,
restoring youth. No one really knows, now, how long they can expect to
live -- the machines get better every year.
Winnie reminds you
you've got an overnite permit for Lava Falls for today.
She stirs and
heads up-lake. You ask her to put up the awning over the
At lunch time, you're gliding through the twisted
narrows of Boulder Canyon.
Guardian Peak and Arch Mountain seem to
overhang the narrow passage.
A breeze has come up, it's almost too cool
in the canyon shadows.
Winnie breaks out into the glorious open
water of Virgin Basin. A little
chop with the freshening breeze. Dead
ahead is the astonishing jumbled
burnt-brown wilderness of Bonelli Peak,
Gold Butte, Jumbo Peak, Temple
Mountain, Hells Kitchen ....
You've dozed off, and Laura has gone below. The Canyon walls are
narrowing again. You wake, a little chilled, in the shadows behind
Mount. The water-track ahead glows green and purple. Virgin
Laura emerges in a light kimono, and hands you your
shorts, shirt, a cup of
hot tea. You pass Spring Canyon to the south.
The bright-white cliffs of
Grapevine Mesa dazzle your shadow-adapted
"Boss? If we keep going like this, it'll be dark before we
get to Lava
"Let's see the map." The sundeck
flatscreen lights, a cursor blinking above
Hualapai Inlet. Laura comes
over to look, puts her warm hand on your cool
neck. "Show me where our
permit's good." A green oblong blinks on
between Whitmore and Tuckup
Canyons. "What d'you think, kid, we
could cut up over the Shivwits, come
back down Toroweap..."
"Could we land on Mt. Trumbull? Remember
that picture in Arizona
Skyways?" Winnie obligingly flashes up a green
piney glen, looking out on
the red-and-gold Tuckup Cliffs glowing in late
"How 'bout it, Winnie?" "Working... Park Control
says OK. Reminding
us to use full NEPAC hush and camo." The National
Act requires RVs to be invisible and inaudible in
most national parks.
Winnie has full hushpacks, standard since the 30's.
Her hull is rigged as a
low-res flatscreen. For camo, onboard cameras
relay the scene from the
You sketch a course on
the map, a bright-yellow line follows your pointing
finger. "How about
this ... lift off over Grapevine, fly up the Cliffs, cut
swing down past Hells Hole and then up Trumble... OK?
Winnie winds up her rotors, rolls up the sundeck windscreen. "500 ft
OK?" The big craft lifts smoothly, trailing sparkling rain onto the
shore. The rotor whine dies as the hushpack cuts in, and the dark
mountains of the Strip rise into view.
"Switching to camo."
A sharply disorienting moment. The deck seems to vanish below your feet.
The illusion is uncanny -- as if you are floating in
free space 500 ft
above the silent desert floor.
Winnie swings north at the Grand
Wash Cliffs, then east again over a pine-
cloaked volcano and out over
the vast rolling grasslands of the Shivwits.
"Take us up to 5,000, Win."
The whole glorious Strip opens out below, all
the way to the great red
mesas south of Zion, 100 miles to the north. Wow.
12,000-odd square miles below, almost no sign of man can be seen.
aircars replaced autos, the roads were abandoned and reseeded. A few
still show as faint green lines. The grass is shaggy green-gold velvet,
recovering from decades of overgrazing. Your shadow spooks a
of antelope. They easily outdistance you, kicking up dust on
When the Preserve was established in 2012, there
were no permanent
inhabitants within its boundaries, and only about 5,000
people in the 4 or 5
little towns nearby. No power, no water, no
railroads, factories, or mines.
A little desultory cattle-grazing.
Nothing but red rocks, yellow grass, blue
skies, green pines, some of the
loneliest, grandest vistas on Earth.
There was quite a rush on
the private land here in the 30's, when self-
contained fly-in houses
caught on, not that there ever was much private
land. The Park Service
successfully lobbied for full camo on all new
structures, and even found
money to retrofit older ones.
Now, even with 10,000+ vacation
homes, the Strip below you remains
visually uninhabited, pristine, empty,
lonely, achingly lovely open desert.
It's almost dusk when you
leave the cool piney crest of Trumbull, and you
decide to camp on the
high rim at Tuckup Point. Winnie fixes supper, you
and Laura carry a
couple of chairs out to the Big Drop. An acrophobe's
nightmare - 2000 ft
straight down to the Esplanade. Another 3000 ft down,
down to the fading
silver thread of the River. You watch the South Rim
cliffs -- Pocket
Point, the Flatiron, Yumtheska Mesa -- shift downscale from
red to mauve
to dusky gray.
It's a warm, cloudless, bugless night. You've
forgotten how many stars
there are in the desert sky. No question where
to sleep tonight. Laura helps
you tow the bed out to the rim, and you
both crawl in.