An unnaturally early winter drove us from our mountain sanctuary. Earlier this year, we’d sought refuge in the jeweled peaks of Montana. With parks and RV sites being forced to close down, we wanted a remote location to ride out the worst of the pandemic.
It worked. Until the surge started all over again. Our drive south gave plenty of indications as to why.
I’d volunteered at a campground and during the season saw plenty of tourists come and go from all over the country. Most followed the rules. They kept their distance. Wore masks. My interactions included full mask and gloves.
The precautions might not have been enough.
When we left Flathead County, COVID cases were on the rise. Last winter had protected the remote, snow-bound population from the initial outbreak. A brief summer tourist season invited in the virus from nearby Washington, Oregon, California, and beyond. Now, they’ll be huddled in close quarters against the chill with the disease.
As we headed south to warmer weather, the virus remained on my mind. I’d routed us around hotspots, both literal and figurative. Our original plan had us crossing Wyoming and the east side of the Rockies through Colorado.
A sudden cold snap along with hundreds of thousands of acres of wildfires prompting evacuations and closing interstates forced a new plan. Instead, we drove south through the rolling foothills of Idaho toward Utah. On reaching Salt Lake City, I started to see troubling signs.
For five months, I’d been about as remote as one can get in the lower 48 and still claim to be civilization adjacent. My work required little direct interaction with people and focused more on maintenance of the campground facilities. I spent my time off roaming the backcountry, as far from the more tourist-friendly trails as possible. So when we drove past a large amusement park outside Ogden, Utah, the many roller coasters packed, acres of parking overflowing, I felt unnerved. Continuing south, we left the interstate for a two-lane highway cutting through high desert canyons and beautiful valleys gilded with fall colors.
We weren’t alone.
We’d chosen Moab as our destination. Warm, remote, plenty of boondocking opportunities — free public land where we…