Well after nightfall on a recent Friday, I steered my sedan through a barren patch of desert in southeastern Utah. Outside the windows, juniper, pinon and sage jerked in the wind. No headlights lit the road except for my tenuous beams, a feeble match for the sea of darkness.
I’d just inched up a mess of nerve-fraying switchbacks on Highway 261, where I’d peered past an unguarded edge into a vertiginous gulf of night below. Now the frozen mud ruts of a county road scraped the bottom of my car, and quite honestly, I didn’t know precisely where I was. At that moment, I questioned the wisdom of my weekend mission: camping and finding ruins on Utah’s Cedar Mesa. It was 11 p.m., about 20 degrees and very windy — hardly ideal weather for camping.