The American Southwest has always been a playground for rock climbers. I spent much of the 1990s tramping around the deserts of southern California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and even spent two seasons climbing outside of El Paso. The allure of desert climbing isn't just in the many types of stone, nor is it entirely explained by the fantastic formations to be found there. I think it's about space, mystery, and the absence of distraction. Those elements were the real reasons I, and people like me, went to the deserts to climb instead of somewhere else.
The desert uncomplicates a complicated existence. The clear skies with miles of unobstructed views, the inky-black night skies, the silence of morning, the capricious winds scouring jagged sandstone monoliths in an ageless desert force one to contemplate something bigger than themselves. I treasure those times. They got me through the turmoil of my twenties and clarified my priorities.
Most of those adventures I shared with a true friend-for-life, Robert Hamilton. I should also mention his dog, Buddy, who I hold in higher regard than many of the people I know. Now, I could launch into some hilarious and alarming stories about guns, strippers and alcohol-feuled misogeny but I don't think either of our wives would appreciate that. Suffice it to say that we didn't just climb. But mostly that's all we did.
We had numerous adventures in so many places, but one location stands out. Hueco Tanks in the great nation of Texas. 1997 was the last year that Hueco Pete still personally ran his shabby store. It was the year that the Texas Parks law-enforcement started to drop the nightstick on climbers, and the showers in the park failed. I recall being irritated because for several days I could barely climb the silly boulder problems I attempted, being so unfamiliar with the gymnastic style of bouldering required for even modest success at Hueco. But I learned.
Before a couple of weeks had passed, we were climbing stuff that neither of us had considered to be in our range. Hell, we got ambitious! We could scarcely abide the boredom of rest days, but they were a neccessary evil to prevent injury. I got my first tattoo at a shop outside the army base on one such day. I look back on that season with absolutely first-rate fondness. Rob, Buddy, and I made a hell of a team.
Rob, if you think I should write about the drive-in theater, or the Las Vegas incident, or the Kingman detour or other acts of mischief let me know.
The above Hueco Tanks photos in order:
Robert on "Creamy"
Dave on "Hobbit in a Blender"
Robert exiting "Beer, Pizza,..."
Dave on "Starpower"
Dave on "The Norwegian Wall"