I’ve had two adventures in the Arizona desert, one with my brother when we were younger, more foolish and fear free, and the other when I was 32-years old and working for Atlantis Aerospace, teaching training courses to mechanics and pilots of the then new F-117 Stealth Fighter jet. The first adventure was by far the best as far as having fun and “letting our hair down”, as we camped in the Arizona desert (wherever our little pocket rocket motorcycles would take us, which was pretty much anywhere the soil was hard). We also camped out in the Grand Canyon, on the basin’s floor, and without a license or permission.
Okay, I never said I was a golden boy as far as sticking to the rules is concerned, but we managed to camp in a maze of rock formations for over 2 weeks before the State Troopers and Park Rangers came along to tell us how much trouble we were in (we were on the road again the very next day). Funny thing is we did not get fined, nor did we have to pay the Park fees for the two weeks we were camping down there. We had good water filtration kits, on top of my father’s Canadian Air Force desert camping gear kit, which all fit into a small duffle bag.
The Grand Canyon, in the summer months, can get down right nasty with the sweltering heat, and the proximity of water to swim in probably allowed us to stay as long as we did. However, that boiling heat was nothing compared to our camping in Death Valley (yes, we got the T-shirts!). We were young, early twenties, and the Indians took to us like long lost friends, even showing us where to pick mescaline-rich peyote. We may have thought we were Jim Morrison there for a while!
As a technical writer, I was given the task of installing and then teaching courses on flight and heads-up display simulators. The people who I was working with had become friends with me while they were in Brampton, Ontario, finalizing the deal for the trainers. I took them out a few nights, and showed them the parts of Toronto and the Honey Harbor area that they would never have otherwise seen. As a re-gift, I was offered one of the pilots’ cottages near Lake Havasu, and the use of his fishing boat.
There is a major difference between camping in the Arizona desert than camping in a fully-equipped cottage, and nine of the top ten differences have to do with handling the heat. The tenth one was I did not have to replace the spark plugs every couple of days on our bikes, nor strip them down to the bearings to fix those two-stroke engines (1977 Yamaha RD 400s). The desert heat, and the swirling sand do not mix well with two-stroke engines.
While working at Luke Air Force Base just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, I often found myself with four to six-day breaks, while the people I was teaching had to scramble (this was the first Gulf war, fighting the Iraqis out of Kuwait in what was to become known as the Persian Gulf War. I really didn’t mind, and I loved the parades that happened every time a squadron returned home. And, in the middle of all this, the people I was training or working with went way out of their ways to treat me like a friend or family member. I will never forget their friendships.