Guest writer Tasja Dubenko takes us on a modern-day treasure hunt into the forbidden desert….
A year ago, my friend Crysti succumbed to a new-found obsession called geocaching. To many it’s known as the world’s largest scavenger hunt. A few months ago she turned me on to the idea of trying her new addiction. At first I was apprehensive of such a “frivolous hobby”, but with the right company it could be an enjoyable past-time.
For those who aren’t familiar with geocaching, it’s basically treasure hunting for adults. You follow the coordinates on your smartphone’s geocaching app and look for hidden containers. Those vessels can hold anything from undesirable trinkets to something worthwhile…or even “trackables”.
Trackables are objects or coins with a code on them. The code can tell you (through the app) where they have been previously placed by other geocachers. Sometimes you will find trackables that have traveled all over the world.
My first find was a swift but exhilarating experience. Crysti found hers instantly but I took a good ten minutes or so of searching. When I found it, placed in a birdhouse behind some trees, there an instant reward. I popped the bottom loose and watched a scroll of paper with some miscellaneous items fall out.
After about a month of accompanying Crysti on her adventures, she turned to me and said, “What would you think about flying down to Las Vegas, renting a car and driving the Extraterrestrial Highway to the Alien Head to geocache?”
Photo by geocacher JBase…
There are 2,000 geocaches along the E.T. Highway and fifty-one are in the shape of an alien head in the middle of the desert. At first when she asked I thought to myself how crazy that sounded. I was convinced as a novice that there was no way I could accomplish such a task.
However, the impulsive and adventurous side of me whispered the words, “Let’s do it!”. Within the very next moment we had already booked our flight and hotel and had reserved a car. Fast forward a couple months later, we had only two hours of sleep each night for three out of our six-day Vegas trip.
When the big day arrived, we woke up at 2 am and grabbed our backpack (that had been packed the night before) and drove our car two and a half hours into the desert. We had wanted to watch the sun rise over the mountains and grab a few caches in the dark before reaching the Alien Head.
The plan was to complete the three-four hour hike before 10 am…when the heat would reach an unbearable temperature. Crysti is worry-free and a thorough planner whereas I prepare for obstacles, potential dangers and am a more “go with the flow” type of person. Despite these differences, we make an excellent team leaving no potential situations unconsidered.
I’d had my reservations about the trip but what happened next I couldn’t prepare for. By the time we had driven an hour and a half into the desert, we were far from the nearest gas station or town. The view was absolutely incredible. We had just enough light from the moon to see the outline of the mountains and grab a few quick caches under its brilliance.
Our first geocache of the trip on the E.T. highway…
After ten or so caches, we could stand on one side of the mountain range to watch the moon slowly begin to peak behind the mountain top while turning 180 degrees towards another mountain range and watch the sun begin to rise. At that moment I looked at my friend in awe and said, “You can’t buy experiences like this. You have to go live it.”
The moon slowing beginning to hide behind the mountains…
It was truly remarkable to witness the ending of night and beginning of day simultaneously in the heart of nature. Another hour or so later, we finally reached our destination at the Alien Head in the most desolate area I had ever dreamed of experiencing.
We got to watch the sun rise in the desert. What an experience…
There was nothing but the land and the highway we drove on, which stretched miles far away from our hiking spot. Our pictures did us a disservice attempting to capture the raw beauty of nature at its finest. With that being said, it was an experience not for the novice hiker or geocacher.
The hike took us roughly three hours (which is above average) in 112-degree weather. We came fully prepared with our fifty-pound backpack stocked with water, sunblock and some rocks with alien heads we had painted onto them to place at a few of the cache spots.
The desert was mysteriously quiet. Aside from the sound of your own footsteps or a lizard running across your path, the only sound you could hear was your own blood pumping and circulating throughout your body. It was a place where I had pushed my physical and mental limits while obtaining clarity I had never previously experienced.
However, there was something else about this barren area that seemed to hold a silent secret or contain an eerie vibe about it. I had heard before that this particular area has a reputation for multiple UFO sightings and having unusual events occur. During the first thirty minutes or so of our hike, it had been complete silence between us as we were fixated on our goal.
Suddenly, I stopped walking and turned to her and asked, “Do you hear that?”. She stopped to listen. “I don’t hear anything,” she replied. “I swear I heard a man yelling at us,” I stated.
I turned 360 degrees, taking in everything around me. “Obviously there is no one here,” I concluded. I had sworn I heard distinctive but inaudible yelling, yet nothing was within miles of us as far as the eye could see.
We pressed on for another forty-five minutes and I forgot about the event until Crysti abruptly stopped. “Do you hear that?” she asked. I closely listened and heard nothing. “No, I don’t hear anything.” “That’s so weird, because I swear I heard someone yelling at us now too,” she remarked.
This unusual event had struck an unsettling feeling for both of us for many reasons. Clearly, we were the only ones out there. Not another soul was around for miles and if there was, we would have noticed long before they would’ve been able to approach us. At first I had thought maybe we were experiencing some sort of “delusion” from being out in the desert.
However, the other thing that struck me as odd was that we previously drank plenty of water before our hike as well as during. So dehydration wasn’t a concern, nor was the duration since we hadn’t been out there long before it happened the first time.
We did not have any more experiences like that, but I couldn’t help but feel like there was something beyond my comprehension lurking in the back of my mind. The longer we hiked, the more thankful I became that Crysti had downloaded a map on her phone to use offline since we anticipated losing service. Everything began to look the same the longer we pressed on.
A little unsettling to find in the middle of the desert…
I couldn’t help but wonder if some unimaginable or sci-fi things actually took place around this area. Just as the thought crossed my mind, something caught my eye. It was some sort of skeleton. I have been a vet technician for seven years and it didn’t resemble any dog or cat skeleton. It quite possibly could have belonged to a deer, but there was something peculiar about it. There was only half of the pelvis and seven vertebrae attached.
The things you find in the desert…
The rest of the skeleton was nowhere to be found. Furthermore, we hadn’t seen anything living except the lizards. But earlier in the day while driving I had seen two separate cows along the highway. Both were deceased with a perfect split down their sagittal planes.
The cows were perfectly hollow with no bodily organs or parts. It was simply the skeleton and skin. The fur had been sliced open with such precision that I couldn’t help wondering what had caused their deaths. As I gazed at the skeleton in front of me now, I wondered the same.
At the end of our journey we met our goal of all fifty-one geocaches. And we’d accomplished it while walking ten miles under a blazing sun in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. It was unlike any experience I had ever had.
As we left in our car it was all I could do to look in the rear view mirror for a last glance at the untamed ground we had just covered.
I turned to my dear friend as a smile crept upon my face and exclaimed breathlessly, “I can’t believe we just did that”.
Photos: Tasja Dubenko except where otherwise indicated