After a morning in Canyonlands we hit the road and followed the Colorado River until we eventually got to Grand Junction, Colorado. After two days without cell service I was bombarded with text messages about the latest futility of the Browns, and after absorbing this year’s opening season loss I grabbed a shower, washed off a few pounds of desert dust, and then joined Audrey for dinner. After a week of hiking and driving the plan for tomorrow is excessive lounging, and then Tuesday we’ll make the long slog up into Wyoming to visit some friends from last March’s whale trip
I’m currently sitting in my tent under the most amazing night sky I’ve ever seen – with no moon, at least a 6,000 foot elevation, and a location that is the most remote area in the lower-48 states the Milky Way is lighting up the evening and the stars are shining so brightly that it’s possible to differentiate sizes and colors; Audrey even pointed out what we’re guessing is the space station flying overhead. Being the reliable outdoorsman I left the star guide sitting on my bookshelf, so we’ve been forced to come up with our own names (“Blinky” is popular) but it’s no less incredible without knowing exactly what it is we’re seeing.
The route that brought us to this astronomy laboratory started in Bryce Canyon with an early wake-up to see sunrise followed by too many pictures and a visit along the way from a group of pronghorn antelope. This adventure inevitably led to coffee and bacon at the lodge, and then off for more canyon adulation at Bryce Point. After checking out of our hotel the route took us 275 miles across the state and along some absolutely ridiculous roads – apparently the Great Depression led to the ultimate in make-work programs in Utah, and portions of Highway 12 are literally blasted out of solid rock only because someone decided that a good way to create jobs was to build roads through impossible places. In addition to Highway 12, portions of Interstate 70 (“No Service Next 123 Miles”) traverse canyons and cliffs that made it one of the few parts of the interstate highway system to be two lanes up until the mid-eighties when it was finally expanded to match the rest of the system.
The day’s highlights:
- Checked out the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, although since most of the hikes were of the “two thousand feet down, then two thousand back up” variety I opted out of the full canyon experience.
- Overheard at a view point: “And I’m thinkin’, how in the hell did he know I was gonna order chicken? And he jus’ looks at me and says ‘Boy, everyone in this joint knew when you walked in that door that you was orderin’ yo’self some chicken.'”
- Passed a sign along I-70: “No services next 110 miles”. That’s got to be a record for the interstate highway system.
- Drove to the oddly named Capitol Reef National Park, which was created to protect some geologic fault thing that is apparently the rock equivalent of Spanish Fly if you’re into geology. More to my liking were the badlands outside of the park, which look like something that should be seen only in photos of other planets.
Spent the day hiking, getting my butt completely kicked by the terrain in the process. I’d only been planning an eleven mile hike to see Druid Arch, but the landscape was so incredible that the voices in my head convinced me to take the long way back. Everywhere I went was amazing, with rock formations that looked other-worldly and fissures that at times were barely wide enough to fit through (I got stuck once and had to wriggle around to get loose). A trail through one of these fissures went on for nearly a half mile, and for the majority of it the walls were only three feet wide and at least thirty feet high. Why Canyonlands National Park isn’t a more popular place is baffling.
The downside of extending an eleven mile hike into a seventeen mile hike is that I didn’t bring enough water, and during the last four miles the question of whether I was stumbling due to tiredness or if it was a sign that I might pass out soon was of some concern. I made it back to the parking area without incident, so all ended well. Dinner was cold canned soup, something I thought I’d never eat again after the Alaska trip, but I was hungry, and it was damn good.
In fairness to the guy in the Humvee he did decide to continue down the road, although he didn’t make it to the end. For my part, after three miles I parked the car, got out, and joined two other people who were laughing at the “road” ahead. During its final four miles the road traveled up and over rocky outcroppings that I might have hesitated to traverse on a mountain bike; anyone with less than a foot of clearance would not have been able to drive it, and even with a ton of clearance it would still be pretty dicey. I ended up hiking the last four miles, and along the way saw numerous places where the rock was scraped and dented — one can only imagine what the underside of the truck that made each mark looked like.
The hike itself was great as the scenery here is like nowhere else, with huge numbers of rugged canyons and crazy rock formations. The road ended at an overlook that dropped hundreds of feet straight down to the Colorado River, and I had it all to myself. The only downside of the day is that the sun was blazing, and if skin cancer isn’t cured in the next twenty years I’ll probably be in a lot of trouble. I’m going to stick around for at least one more day and plan to do some hiking tomorrow, and also to get a look at what a park brochure describes as “one of the most technical four-wheel drive roads in Utah” (today’s road is described as “moderate”).
In the interest of not boring people to death I normally try to keep the journal entries to a minimum, but since I’m also writing this stuff down for my own benefit I think this one was worth recording. First, it needs to be known that I hate Humvees. In my perfect world I would live in a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright and engineering would follow the mantra that the simplest solution to completely solve the problem is the best. Sadly, in the real world society has been convinced by a bunch of smart advertising execs that a hulking behemoth on wheels is the ultimate status symbol. I admit that they do look cool, but in the same way that a tank looks cool — I don’t particularly want to share the road with either.
What precipitated this posting was a guy in a Humvee on one of the backcountry roads in Canyonlands National Park. I was warned that the Subaru wouldn’t have enough clearance to traverse the road, so of course I ignored that advice and set out. After I pulled over to admire a view, the guy drove up next to me and stopped to chat. During the conversation he made the comment that he was thinking about turning around, heading back to Moab to rent a Jeep, and then returning because (wait for it…) he didn’t want to scratch his paint. The excuse always given for Humvees is that you can take them anywhere; the not-so-manly caveat is apparently that you can take them anywhere unless there is a chance of harming the pretty exterior.