One spring, I could feel the hot weather coming, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little stressed by the on-coming heat. The months of triple digit days, and the lack of access to any sort of pool or river had lodged themselves in my dreams. It was the perfect kind of psychological warfare. I was worried about the summer even when it wasn't summer.
In addition to feeling the incoming heat in my bones, it was my husband's birthday. Then I realized if we drove just a quick two hours, we could be at a state park along a river. We could go paddle boarding! We could have a picnic on actual grass! Why hadn't I ever thought of this before?
So come his birthday, we loaded up our paddle boards and our camp grill. We bought stakes and some fruit and cheese. Then we set off into the heart of the desert, an area so blasted and desolate, that for a hour and a half of the two hour drive, we didn't see a single building.
And then we made it to the state park. A postage stamp of land, a verdant mass of trees and grass, clearly cultivated to be so. We turned off the highway and stopped at the little entrance booth.
A woman who could have been thirty-five, or she could have been sixty-eight, slid open the window. She had stringy blond hair, skin so weather beaten it looked like an old cowboy boot, and a stooped posture that suggested she'd lived a life dealing with the full brunt of other's bad decisions.
"Ten dollars," she said, clearly unimpressed by the lack of a boat attached to my car.
I paid her and asked, "Do you have any PFD regulations here?"
She'd been trying to close the window, but she hesitated.
"Do we need to wear life jackets while on our paddle boards?"
This seemed to stop her.
"Paddle boarding? You want to paddle board here?"
She took a new interest in me. And clearly because she thought I was an idiot.
"The cops here don't care what you are doing on a paddle board. You see the kinds of people we get here? Like you rise to the top of the list. I wouldn't paddle board though."
Then she gave me a stare that suggested I was a true moron and shut the window.
We continued on. The park was mostly a campground with some grassy areas for picnicking along the river's edge and a boat ramp. We parked, and I went into the bathroom to change. A family had run a series of extension cords from the outlets in the bathroom, through several puddles of water, to a portable speaker which blared music. I stepped over the extension cords and standing water, changed and made it back to the car.
My husband was there, staring at the river. It was nearing midday at this point, and the narrow channel was filled with powerboats doing stupid things. There was a tennis ball yellow boat that blew by so fast I couldn't count the number of people on board. I watched two little girls on paddle boards, across the river in an area marked off with buoys for swimming, splash each other with their paddles. The beach next to the girls was filled with single wides, clearly some form of cost efficient spring break lodging. A German Shepard ran up and down the beach in front of the trailers, barking at the water, its owner not in sight.
"Well," my husband said. "We might get killed, but I think we should try it."
I watched two speedboats whiz toward each other, only to jerk out of the way at the last moment. The river wasn't wide; there wasn't a lot of space to play chicken.
But we'd driven all the way there, so we inflated the paddle boards, walked through the ant filled grass, and launched.
The river corridor was cool. Palm trees, green grasses, blooming desert willows lined the shores. Birds flitted from the water into the green. The water was a brilliant blue. I could, for a second at a time, pretend I had found some desert oasis, then a powerboat would buzz me, and I'd hug the shore even closer.
Only once prior to this trip had I ever fallen off of my paddle board. I'd thought I had enough clearance to make it over a submerged tree in a high alpine lake. Turned out I didn't, and the board's fins got stuck and I kept going, launching off off of the front of the paddle board like I was running on air.
And then this day, my husband's birthday, became the second day I was knocked off of my board. I was minding my own buisness, navigating around some submerged middle aged women in leopard print swim suits drinking from cans of hard lemonade, when a power boat rocketed past me, its wake knocking me sideways off my board.
I recovered, didn't loose my sunglasses, and my husband and I paddled to a little inlet where the boats couldn't reach. Of course, it was covered in trash, beer cans, plastic, and balloons, the true enemy of the desert, and while we sat there for a while, it wasn't that peaceful. The curve of the mud walls behind us just made an echo chamber for the noise from the boat engines. We eventually made it back to the state park.
We decided to eat lunch. We carried our grill and cooler to the grass, navigating around hole covered in cones and metal signs. We found a picnic table and set up, looking across the beautiful, but not peaceful, river.
We ate. The family who had run cords to their speakers blared music and screamed at eat other. We watched the two girls who had previously been splashing each other from their paddle boards get into a fist fight. One of the girls got the other one by the hair, and the elementary aged child ripped her foe from her feet by her tresses and threw her in the water. This was a war not a battle though, and the girl clawed her way back onto her board and began with new vigor to attack the previous round's victor. She threw a punch that caused the girl to stumble backwards, a move that would have capsized an adult, but since this was a fight of nine-year-olds, the board didn't tip.
The German Shepard, who had been sprinting up and down the bank hours previous, continued to run, seemingly sped up, sprinting and barking, and occasionally snapping up water. The dog looked like some sort of frenzied TikTok video--forward then back, forward then back.
A man on a jet ski slid off sideways as he attempted to turn. The toneless way in which he sloughed from the machine implied a massive amount of alcohol in his system, and the ski's leash, which hadn't been attached, didn't kill the machine. Instead, the jet ski turned in tight circles, the handles canted to the left. The man bobbed in the water, his arms slapping at the ski's wake while it buzzed around him. Finally, he caught hold of the machine and his weight slowed it long enough for him to drag himself aboard.
The tennis ball yellow boat flew by, and then every few minutes it would race back the other way, other boats veering from its path. A party barge of co-eds scraped ashore at the state park. Alcohol induced screams vaulted through their blaring music warring with the music from the family by the bathroom. A man wearing JNCO jeans and a wife beater got off of the barge with a metal detector. He waded a few feet from the boat, his shrieking companions uncaring of his exit, and lit a cigarette. He smoked and ran the metal detector through the shallows.
The tennis ball yellow boat whizzed by again. Other powerboats nearly collided. The nine-year-olds were both soaking wet now, and their arms flailed wildly. The dog continued its manic sprint. A family in side-by-sides, brand new, each machine flying a crisp American flag, screamed through the state park entrance station, made a roaring lap through the paved areas of the park, and then accelerated back to the main road, their precious off-road tires leaving streaks on the cracked pavement. I made the mistake of walking on the grass without sandals and a hoard red ants swarmed me.
Finally, our food consumed, the chaos only ramping up as the afternoon slid toward evening, my husband and I decided we'd enjoyed our day, but we were too sober to stay longer. We drove out of the state park, and the lady with a face like a weathered boot didn't turn to watch us leave. Turns out it wasn't that the cops didn't care about what just we did on that river. They didn't care what anyone did on that river. And maybe, that was why everyone was there.