The skys were clear over the Great Basin, and looking down I could see the yawning pits of the gold mines and the grey mounds of the cyanide leach pits, death in my view, but the gold comes out with cyanide and it makes big bux. Salt Lake City is clean, the mormons you know, and the airport is a model of efficiency.
I find the rental car row, and ask Avis about my 4wd I had ordered, but to meet with a stony rebuttal, "but I reserved this 3 days ago" "There must be some mistake, we haven't had 4wd since april". Hmmmm. I cruise the line and find a red explorer at Dollar, and rent it. Off to the city for essentials: a cooler, propane bomblets, some fast backpacking food and odds and ends that always are needed camping.
Back to the airport, I capture Cathy in the baggage claim and we pay for full insurance on the rental so we can go into 4wd territory with peace of mind. And we are off, over the Wasatch into the hinterlands, stop at Price for groceries, a chair for Cathy, and cds (our rental has a cd player) and off out onto the plateau.
Long beautiful drive along the Book cliffs, vistas of the Henry Mountains laccoliths poking up on the southern horizon., Cathy drives, I doze after a 330 am rising. We follow the maps and C recites the stratigraphy and geologic history of the plateau. She is a sedimentary geologist and has led classes out here many times, but has never had the chance to do the grande tour of rock art, and I am the guide.
We turn off the paved road to the maze and drive forever across the plateau to Horseshoe canyon, amazed at the huge ever changing flower show display. They have had a late spring, the rivers are all at flood, and that is why we are here, and not on the Yampa. There is no one at the trailhead, and we camp at dusk at the rim of the canyon above the Grand Gallery. Fresh tuna steak, veges with an excellent merlot. This looks like it has a good beginning.
Up with the dawn, making strong coffee and serving C coffee in bed at the edge of the canyon. We have a light bkfst, then get our stuff together for the hike, 3 miles into and up the canyon to the grand cathedral of rock art. We get very mellow and head over the edge, down the wide easy path to the canyon bottom. Into the Navajo, the soft rounded white-gray sandstone, and the planar angled cross beds of Jurassic desert dunes. Down to the canyon bottom we stroll along the wide river bed, totally dry, winding through cottonwoods and across green flood plains. The flowers are incredible, daisys, lupine, cactus flowers, blue bells, red trumpets, and the globe flowers of the century plant. The air is cool, and a breeze , it has the makings of a great day.
We are floating, taking in monster sheer sandstone cliffs, with sweeping diagonal streaks of cross beds, and vertical black stripes of the algae covering the walls. I am ecstatic and feeling very good. The air is very cool and a breeze comes up every few minutes and ruffles the cottonwood leaves, and the scenery is spectacular. The walls of the canyon are vertical cliffs, broken by occasional ledges with a wide sandy bottom with terraces the trail leads us across.
We work our way up the canyon one display at a time, spending an hour or so studying the details of each panel. These are pictographs, painted on, with ghostly figures, person-size, and bison, deer etc. These are very old, called the Barrier canyon style, more than 1000 years ago people painted the canyon walls in specific alcoves. A boyscout troop arrives, with the nps guide (sca) and we talk to him, Yenz is his phonetic name.. He is great with the kids and is the authority on the rock art. We have a great time,with him and he is interested in our geology. We reune at the Grand Gallery and have long conversations about the paintings and what they represent.
The Grand Gallery is totally awesome, with a ghost panel, and others spreading 200' along the lower cliff face. We spend a long time there, and at the invitation of our new friend, we sidle along the ledge and get the details, up close and personal. Now getting later, we cruise down to a side canyon we had seen on the way up and take some time to admire the slot and vertical cliffs shooting up 5-700 feet over our heads.
Back to camp, and another meal, a vege combo with bbq chicken slices and a couple of cans of chili. Now the cocktails are gatorade margaritas, followed by the rest of the merlot. Another starry night, with the Milky way screaming across the heavens.
Up early, to c. saying, "Shit, the car locked itself!" argh, I had pressed the lock by mistake last night, and when the door shut, it locked, with the keys inside on the dashboard. Fortunately, c.s arm was thin enuf to get in the back door window left ajar, setting off the alarm and disturbing our 2 neighbors, but c jumps through the car grabs the key and turns on the motor, stopping the cacophony.
. C makes coffee, and serves me in bed at the edge of the canyon. "Oh Hum, another day that does not suck" I enthuse. The air is still cool, and we are looking forward to diving into the canyonlands. We get off fast, and head to the ranger station. Procuring some gas for cs stove and a 25$ permit and a coffee can to shit in. No water at the ranger station "We want everyone to be self-sufficient down there, including water. We have our water trucked in from Moab" the rangerette recites a well used phrase. After filling up on water at French's spring, we are off to the Flint trail, trailing 2 Ford expeditions full of germans, goin slow. We stop and look below at the route we take, down the cliff, across the plateau to the Maze overlook.
As luck would have it, the germans are stopped at the overlook, and we zoom past and down the steep switchbacks of the Flint trail. It is a little tight on the corners, but c does a great job manhandling the explorer down to the flats and out to the Golden stairs trailhead. We hike along the bare slickrock rim, looking over Ernies country and the Land of standing rocks where I hiked in 1981, the january trip with john blair and peter. Back for some lunch, salmon, cheeze and triscuits, more long conversations, then I drive over the brink of hell down the steepest rockiest trail on the Shinarump conglomerate I've ever taken a vehicle. We check out the steps where we have to do rock-climbing with the car, do fine, only a few bumps and scrapes.
After a stop at the Elaterite basin gas station to top off (2 guys in a Cherokee who had gas to spare), across the plateau, around the ridge to the most amazing viewscape in the world, the Maze overlook. The world of canyons is at our feet, intricate carvings, steeples and monuments of stone as far as the eye can see. We set up camp, and have a grand evening watching the light change on the plateaus and marveling at the spectacular vista before us.
Up with the dawn, light bkfst before descending into the labyrinth below. I am somewhat apprehensive, remembering some major exposed rock climbing on this route in 1981. We circumnavigate the nuts and bolts- pinnicles with big square tops- then cruise along horizontal bedding in shales and silts, then plunge through an opening that leads down over ledges with 100' of exposure, then horizontally along a narrow ledge, then a 20' drop rock- climbing down to a broad platform. Next we sqeeze down an open crack, traverse along another slickrock ledge and then descend over rounded steeply sloping to vertical slickrock with footholds gouged out. A few more ledges and we are down in the Maze of canyons, finding water in the creekbed and getting very mellow.
We find quickly that the deer flys are out and swarming, and I have to move fast to keep them away from my legs. C puts her long pants on, and we hike through a multilayered red and white striped cliff world, up to the Harvest Scene. It comes suddenly as we round a corner with a row 150' long of painted figures on the cliff. I spot my favorite, a man with hand with tree sprouting from the finger and flying bighorns and other game. It is getting hot so we crawl under a ledge and lie in the shade for a while, drinking water eating clif bars and snacks. We finally venture out and the sun is on the panel, which washes out the colors, I take pix of the part that is still in the shade, and we balance along the ledge and get right up close to the cliff, trying not to breathe on the rock paintings.
I am ready after our sandwiches of tuna salad, yum, to try to find my camp in 1981. We stroll up a side canyon and find the spot in a grand alcove, with a box canyon with rounded ledges up the far side. We return and pack up for the trip home, cruising the stream bed, swatting the flys. We check out a side canyon with views of the chochlate drops and find a shady alcove, with a huge ledge roof and vine-trees growing out of the fractures.
Now time to attack the trail home, we manage well, with roping the packs up the worst part, and c having to drag me bodily out of a slot. We repair to camp, passing the germans with a nod-we were hoping for wine and ice- and returning to camp, for martinis with the last of the ice, a great merlot, yummy stew and fantastic view and bed on the rim
We rise early, and the temp is rising as soon as the sun hits the plateau. The flies start biting really early, c is covered with red welts they must think she's sweet. Pack up and off in the red Explorer, c does a great job rockclimbing with the car, except where she dumped us into a ditch when we discovered another unconformity. I take over for the Flint trail, then on to Hans flat, talking to 3 Brits with horses riding from Mexico to Canada through here. The woman is an aristocrat, with a long leather skirt, and frilly blouse, a turquoise heishi choker and a broad hat. We check out and head north to Green river on the unpaved road, seeing 2 vehicles coming into the maze and no vehicles past the Horseshoe canyon turnoff. We dip into the San Rafael River, which is in flood, and arrive in Green River to the realization we can't get the vehicle out of 4wd. After a quick visit to a gas station, we learned we have to put it in neutral to get out of 4wd. On to a store, but I can't find my wallet with the only cash. We tear the car apart, and realize it isn't there. We scrape together enough money to buy ice cream and some water, and head for the John Wesley Powell River Museum, with great displays of old boats which ran the river and a slide show of a modern river trip narrated with Powell's writings.
Drive on to Moab, and up the river to Castle valley, and drive up to the foot of the LaSal mountains, turn in at a major dead cottonwood and there is Richard, and his great house. He is another river friend from way back, who has moved here from the Santa Cruz mountains to telecommute to his consulting job. He has scored a great place, pine tree beams in the ceiling, slab floor, and a pond fed by his own spring. We mellow out, tell our stories and venture out into the wilds. We drive to Moab over the Lasal loop road and then to Sand Flat 4wd road through slickrock meadows and a deep canyon with 50 foot high dune cross beds, past the campers and mt bikers on the Slickrock trail. Moab is bustling with crowds flocking to the attractions in the canyons. We plung into the fray at Eddie Mcstiffs for a great dinner, a great party, meal and then long drive home and sleep in a king-size waterbed.
Richard works all morning, and we putter, driving up into the Lasals and hiking a trail to the northern rim of the high plateau. C. wants to run, so she takes off down the trail, then down the road where I catch up with her hitchhiking thumb.
Off finally to town and after a long shopping spree, we head up to Mill creek, meeting one of Richards local friends, Robert at his trailer, then off up the canyon. Soaring walls with verticle cliffs of Navajo Sandstone all around with running water this time. Great petroglyphs at the confluence, then up to a panel, and an alcove I didn't climb because of slippery sandals on the slick rock. Many great swimming holes, comparable to the n. fork of the Tuolumne. We return late, with a great dinner of fresh vegetables cooked cooperative style.
On another day that does not suck we are off early to town to checkout the murals of pictographs along the Colorado river west of town. We find them above the road, and study and converse with a rock art Guide the meaning of the art. Off up the road to more art, a double ended deer and an allosaurus foot print, one going one way, the other the opposite. Back to town to shop, chicken for burrito dinner, and then meet Richard at the road into Castle valley. We head out for the hike to Fisher towers and are not dissapointed. Hoodoos and verticle cliffs, some with climbing ropes hanging from them, soar overhead. We cross several major side canyons, one with a ladder bridging a drop. We progress along an open ridge out to the overlook with grand vistas, 10s of miles in all directions. We study maps, mellow out and have a sublime time, watching the canyonlands change with light and cloud.
Now back to Richards, for a great meal and early bed, getting ready to go down the river tomorrow. We are up early, getting lunch, beer into the cooler and water jugs ready to be filled at matrimony spring. Off to the Western River company office, to procure an oar rig achilles 14' and ride up on the bus. I watch with pleasure as our fully rigged boat comes off of the trailer and is ready for our trip. We are off in an instant, beating the others onto the flood. Drifting through the valley, Fisher towers in the distance, and on into the Canyon. We snack on burritos, beer and get mellow, cruisin the canyon, just like the Grand, but this is for a day. After a swim in moderatly cold water, we drift down to Salt Wash and paddle up the creek, and hike from there up the canyon. I find a great swimming hole, then c goes off to find conglomerates with pebbles from the ancestral rockies, gneiss, schist and granite, embedded in the sandstone from ancient rivers. I go further up and find some beautifully sculptured sandstones with holes dotting the surface.
Back to town c goes shopping, she has promised ceramic indian dolls to her 3 kids. We go through a windy thundertorm, with yellow blossoms blown into snowdrifts along the sidewalks. We shop, I finally contact my old friend Bego, and he is very busy, and can't get together, and we head off up the canyon, into the valley and back to Richard's castle. We chow down on pasta, veges, salmon and more chard, and get ready to come home tomorrow.
It rains off and on all night, and we are up early, packing for the flight home from Salt Lake. Fond farewells with Richard, pictures of us all there with Castle Rock spires in the background. We cruise back down the Colorado river canyon, our commute route to Moab, full of memories of a great river trip yesterday. We have one last panel, however, and ascend the ledges at Courthouse wash to see some formerly great art, vandalized and all faded now, a shadow of its former greatness. Big circles of white, ghostly figures abound, and petroglyphs chipped in the rock at the base. Very impressive place, but time to gas up and hit the road.
We pull into a gas station, fill with gas, and are ready to return to civilization, such as it is. I search for the keys, and they are gone! I just had them, but don't remember where they went. Now frantic, we tear the car apart looking. C thinks she sees them in an opening in the console, and I stick my fingers in and hear a clink as whatever falls down into the hollow plastic inaccessible interior. After exhausting all other possibilities, I grasp the plastic cover and it comes off easily, revealing the key snuggled down in a crevice.
Now breathing easier, we have an uneventful drive to Salt lake, pay for an extra day on the car because we are late. We tally up expenses for the trip, about $200/day, but most to the rental 4wd, without which we couldn't have done it. After a short flight to San Francisco, I catch the bus and soon am back at home, ready for the next adventure.
TW 6/26/99 copyright, Terry Wright 1999
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