The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Back from Utah Part 1


Went on a Utah vacation with the family, but we're back now. We got rather more adventurous than we usually do on these things, and it was all very exciting and intense and we saw a lot of spectacular stuff, but I for one got worn kinda ragged, as I am no spring chicken. Still, I'd been doing four hours of cardio a day to train for the trip, and that paid off...I managed to get through each and every hike. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

In case you don't know too much about Utah, well, it's got a ton of the best scenery in the USA, or for that matter, the world. Shows up in movies all the time. Certainly Utah has the most colorful stone...the redrock is completely in a class by itself,  brick red, blood red. Some of this stuff is so red it looks like it's just been washed in scarlet tempera, even though it's bone dry....incredible. Spread it out under a hot blue sky, and the effect is simply hallucinatory, and if you want the biggest, most extreme dose, you need to go to Moab and areas adjacent. Right next to each other, you've got two great National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands, as well as Castle Valley (where they've shot a lot of movies, like The Comancheros), and a whole lot of other wonderfulness that nobody even bothered to make into a park, including long stretches of the canyon of the Colorado. Oh, and leaving the redrock aside, the whole place is towered over by thirteen thousand foot tall snowcapped mountains, the's all so close together that you can get a huge amount of it into a single photograph. Delaware it ain't.

Now, this jaunt we just came back from was our third trip to Moab, although it's the first one where we really got to satiate ourselves. The first time, we were just passing through, and the second, we only had five days. This time we had a full week, not counting travel days, and I felt like I got a sufficient dose. Didn't exhaust all the'd need months. But I came away satisfied, as well as black and blue.

We flew out of BWI early on a Saturday morning, me and my wife Kate, my daughter Jeannie, my sons Nick and Pat, and Nick's friend DJ, who's so thin he looks like someone's put the wrong lens into the projector. We were planning to meet my Daughter Soph and her husband Jason at the Dead Horse Point Campground just outside Canyonlands...Soph and Jason were going to drive out from El Segundo in Cali with dinner and breakfast, because we didn't want to hassle with shopping after a long travel day. Theoretically, they were supposed to get to the campground first and register, although there was always the possibility that we'd arrive ahead of them, or at roughly the same time.

Stuffed into a an unusually cramped United coach, my contingent got to Houston and made a connection, then headed onto the Las Vegas Mccarron, where they'd made a lot of changes, including installing some trains between terminals...the airport is much bigger. The rental car place is different now too, all the companies located in one big building that's easy to get in and out of. Picked up a Yukon from Hertz...given what we had in mind, we needed the four-wheel drive. Having seen that the thing accomodated eight people, I assumed it was going to be roomy, seeing as how we only had six at the moment...but there was very little space in the back for luggage, and even though we had a luggage rack on top, we didn't have any straps. Anyway, everyone had to cram in tight with their bags...I was going to find that our ride was kinda unsuitable in other respects as well.

Got onto Fifteen headed for the Beehive State. The desert just outside Vegas isn't very interesting, but it gets steadily nifiter the farther east you go. You start seeing loads of Joshua trees, and canyons and mesas, and pass through Mesquite, which is the last town in Nevada before yout hit the Arizona Strip, and the first place where degenerate gamblers heading west can stop off and lose all their money. Once you cross over into the  Strip, you see some green stuff to the south, and that's the riparian zone alongside the Virgin River; some pretty massive mountains start to creep in beyond that, rearing up above an alluvial slope that extends so far out from the mountains that it's actually a puzzlement to geologists.

The scarp curves over in front of you, in a vast sheer wall, the road heading right towards it, and it looks for all the world like you're going to have to just stop, or crash...but there's actually a gate in there, hundreds of feet tall, although you can't see it until you're extremely close, because of a fold in the cliffs. Once you're inside, you climb steadily with the road slaloming back and forth between enormous walls, ledge after ledge, buttress after buttress, up, up, up. Visual dynamite. Very high quality stuff. But instead of being declared a national treasure, the poor old canyon of the Virgin River was merely relegated to highway duty, providing a ready-made route for the most expensive highway project in US history up till that point. Not that I'm knocking Interstates, mind you...people gotta get from point A to point B. But the more you bop around the American west, the more you're struck by all the first-class landscape that's mere throwaway. It just goes on and on.

Crossed into Utah and went through St. George at the top. Zion beckoned on the right...I think I could see the Altar of Sacrifice... but we weren't going that way this trip.Headed along 15, up out of  the deserty stuff towards the Wasatch range, things getting progressively greener. At Cove Fort, 15 turns into Route's nice enough country, but the mountains, at least along the interstate, don't get high enough to be really cool, at least as far as I'm concerned. There is some interesting volcanic biz, spatter cones and lava floes, long about this town called Richfield, which is this sprawling agricultural community in a big valley....even though the volcanic features have lots of tawny grass growing on them, there's still quite a bit of jagged black stone sticking through. I wonder how long ago those eruptions were, and if there's any hint of seismic activity at the moment. Sure would hamper the farming if anything started up again.

Beyond Richfield, you start seeing some crags sticking out of the mountainsides, and patches of badland, and the valley bottoms are'd probably better stop at a town called Salina for some gas (bangwater as it's known to the locals), because there aren't any services after that till you get to Green River, about a hundred and ten miles away. We suspected that Soph and Jason might be in the general vicinity...Jeannie started texting Soph, and just as we were getting on the onramp from Salina, we saw Jason's Chereokee pull into the truckstop we'd just left.

East of Salina, the slopes get rockier, and there are spectacular formations, particularly in the cuttings...way off on the left, you can see the Book Cliffs, which form the southern border of the Tavaputs Plateau, one of the least-explored regions in the lower forty-eight. Eventually you have to cross the San Rafael Swell, this huge whaleback of very dry rock that extends for scores of miles, cut through with slot canyons and all sorts of  other good stuff...bypassing the spectacular Black Dragon canyon (there's a good viewpoint there), you descend into the real, mean honest-to gosh desert east of Green River, and you really feel glad that you refilled your tank back in Salina. But even though it's a place where you really wouldn't want to get stuck, it's mighty beautiful when everything goes pink and purple and violet after the sun goes down, especially if you've got a fabulous cloudscape rearing above, with the tops of thunderheads still up in the light. Even as everything got darker and darker, and the sunlight faded, those clouds remained pretty luminous, silvery white against a very dark eastern sky.

By the time we passed Green River, which is the biggest town for quite some distance, it was getting on towards ten. We went another twenty or thirty miles or so and took 191 down to Moab. Since we'd been that way a couple of times, I knew we were going through some very choice scenery...191 descends into town through a great big rift walled with melty-looking scarlet Cutler Formation sandstone, but of course, I couldn't see any of that now. In order to get to our campground in Dead Horse Point, we took the Canyonlands exit...DHP is a wonderful State Park right before you get to the National Park. We suspected Sophie and Jason were somewhere nearby, had passed us, maybe...turned out they were waiting for us at the Kayenta campground, which would prove to be a very nice place.Actually, all the Utah state campgrounds we've been to, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Goblin Valley, Escalante, have been choice. Kayenta  didn't have showers, but it did have a clean bathroom and running water, and you could just fill up plastic jugs and douse yourself, and the deserty air would dry you out in pretty short order. Also, all the sites had big raven-proof cupboards, which was a truly great feature.Got the tents set up...As I said, Soph and Jason brought the food, and it was canned stuff, but most welcome...we all crashed pretty hard afterwards.

Woke up with a little bit of a sore throat right about dawn...Pat and Jeannie had gone off somewhere, probably out to the Point. I went to look for them. Hadn't been able to see it in the dark, but there was a huge bay in the cliffs off to the south, and orange sunlight was already clipping the far side. Both Dead Horse point and Canyonlands are located on this thing called Island in the Sky, a big long mesa...thousands of feet below, there's a wide ledge or bench that goes most of the way around, called the White Rim (we were planning to drive that, and had reserved a campground), and way down below the Rim you have the Colorado and Green Rivers, which have their confluence at the mesa's southern point. There are lots of wonderful overlooks in Island in the Sky, but the NPS didn't manage to get its hands on one of the best, which is Dead Horse Point (which is either named after a white rock formation  on the rim below that looks like a horse lying on its side, or a bunch of horses that supposedly died in a snowstorm) ; the overlook is so good, as a matter of fact that moveimakers have used Dead Horse as a standin for the Grand Canyon, which NPS won't let you film movies in---Thelma and Louise drove their car off the Point, for example. Anyway, I spotted Jeannie as I was driving out, and we walked all over the viewpoint and admired the light picking out all sorts of far-off walls and mesas and turrets in the canyons below. Then we went back and made everyone else get up, because we are bastards.

The plan was that we should shop for ready-made sandwiches in Moab (there are a couple of good supermarkets) and then spend the rest of the day at Arches...Soph thought Jason really needed to see the best stuff there. It's much more famous than Canyonlands, and most of the visitors, including a lot of foreigners, get bussed in...when you buy T-shirts in Moab, there's lots of  Arches stuff, but no Canyonlands shirts at all, which is a pity. But Arches deserves its rep...whole lot of iconic wierd southwestern rock formations, and tons of arches, of course, all over the place, ranging from tiny to truly stupendous. If you saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it figured prominently...much of that biz with River Phoenix at the beginning was Arches, at places like Park Avenue, and the Double Arch. A bunch of shots from that first Hulk movie were filmed there too.

Arches is right outside of Moab, and the drive up into it is sheer switchback up along a  towering redrock face and curve around past a canyon called Park Avenue. We didn't hit that, because we only had one day, although it's well worth while, an excellent walk between two big sandstone walls with lot of cool formations, including my favorite, right at the beginning on the left, which I've dubbed Nefertiti and Hand Puppet, although I'm sure the official name is different. Anyway, we headed off to the Double Arch, which is located in a huge outcropping that pretty much dominates the whole park landscape, looking like some sort of gigantic Middle Eastern or Indian hilltop citadel, complete with domes and turrets. Stretched out below is this big valley where all this salt was washed out from under, and the landscape just collapsed, leaving the sturdier structures looming above, carved into all sorts of columns and hoodoos. A lot of the columns are pretty phallic looking, and I asked my wife Kate if she thought the park should've been called Obscenity National Park, although she didn't think it should. Many Western landmarks bring untoward thoughts to mind, I'm afraid.

The Double Arch
As for the Double Arch, it appears to be all that's left of a sandstone dome that was eroded out from around the go right up under the arches and can just sit and stare, or climb around on some excellent sliprock under huge overhangs. There are a number of caves and hollows which are probably going to form big arches themselves someday, which is swell, because all the wonderful things you see are in the process of disintegrating, and it's nice to know that new arches will take their place, so that Japanese tourists can gawk at them in cowboy hats two million years from now.

Rock Scrambling Beneath the Double Arch
The Window Arch is in another part of the same big outcropping, and just a shortish hike away, up some stairs from the parking looks east of a lanscape of orangy beehivey features towards Castle Valley and the the very blue snowcapped Lasal Mountains beyond. If you Google Arches images, you'll see a dozens of photographs taken through this actually have to be someting of genius to snap a lousy picture from this lookout.

Window Arch
 Ate lunch in the parking area under a broiling turkey sub tasted a little bit like sunscreen, but it was still pretty good...snarfed some nacho chips (one of the things I like about southwestern trips is that junk food is pretty much de rigeur, seeing as how you need the salt), and gulped down half a bottle of V-8 juice, which I find is better desert hydration than Gatorade. Then we swung on up to the Devil's Garden. It's right near the Fiery Furnace (which is highly recommended, a series of tight deep fissures between high fins that shoot up out of the ground like flames, and we would've done it, except you've got to sign up in advance) and what appears to be a nifty campground. As for the Devil's Garden, it's kind of a hodgepodge, more fins, grotesque formations, and of course, arches, one of which Jason needed to see, namely the Landscape Arch. This didn't actually make an appearance in Last Crusade, although, if you ask me, it seems to have inspired that bit about the bridge that you can only see from the proper angle...the thing is very very large indeed, but it's right next to this wall that it blends right have to be extremely close to pick it out, and when you do, it's have to be nearly underneath before you can see the strip the of blue sky that separates the thing from the cliff behind.

The Landscape Arch
Didn't press too much farther into the Garden after that...we were saving the Delicate Arch for last, and felt we'd really better get to it, as the afternoon was a wastin'. The Delicate Arch, which is way up at the top of this long sloping promontory, and not particularly visible from below, is maybe the most famous piece of Utah scenery there is, and you see pictures of it everywhere in the Beehive State, on coffee cups and T-shits and airport walls. But despite the fact that it's such a big deal, it's not too easy to get to, and I bet most of those folks (if any of them) never get a chance to go up and see it. The hike is fairly strenuous, particularly on an afternoon when the July heat hasn't broken, which was the situation when we went up there this time...I had, however, been up there twice before, so I knew what to expect. You park near an old frontier cabin, and cross a bridge over a stream with a surprisingly number of fishies and froggies in it...that promontory, baking white sandstone, rises up rather intimidatingly  behind some low jagged ridges, and you can see little figures slogging their way up it. By the time they get to what appears to be the top, they are teeny-tiny indeed, and looking shagged as well as small, even a distance, but you know that if they can just stick it out from another twenty minutes or so, they're going to see something truly marvellous.

Actually, that long slope is really not as bad as it appears...the ridges in front of it are rather more of a pain, although they don't look like get to the top of one, and then you have to surrender elevation, which I always hate, and then climb another slope. Actually, you go up a whole lot of the way on those things, although it isn't obvious. When you hit that white sliprock, and you realize you're you're a bunch farther along than you thought, it's rather a morale booster, and if you just take things slow and steady from that point, you get to to that false summit before you know it, although I for one needed a bit of rest, and much guzzling of fluids.

From that point on, it rather flattens out, with a little bit of up and down in small gulches with some vegetation...after that, things get steeper again, and you find yourself on the left side of the promontory, going along a ledge at the base of wall, with a steep drop-off to the side, down into a canyon between sandstone domes. Turns out you're following the outer wall of a huge natural amphitheatre...finally you come to a breach  and go into the shell, down a four-four step and over some remarkably benchlike rocks with spaces between them...the amphitheatre is centered on a large sheer-walled oval depression that has a pond in it sometimes and is open at one end. In that Hulk movie, our purple-panted protagonist ran around the rim while being chased by helicopters.

The Delicate Arch

As for the Delicate Arch itself, it's not very huge, but it sure is striking...once again, you can look through it, out towards the Lasals. Originally, cowboys called it the Old Lady's Knickers or the Old Lady's Britches, or something even less mentionable, but you don't have to think about that. The amphitheatre is a wonderful place to laze about after your long hot climb, and suck on hydration, and feel the heat off the rocks...I, for one, would really have liked to spend a couple of hours behaving like a big damn basking lizard up there, but alas, the afternoon was wearing on. A thunderstorm seemed to be we went down, huge shadows were crawling over the landscape off to the east, but we didn't get rained on that day. Headed back through the park, listening to Miklos Rosza film music, which my son Pat had downloaded, tracks from Ben Hur, Ivanhoe, El Cid, Quo Vadis, and Julius Caesar, and they went real fine with the visuals as the sun descended and the lighting just got more and more colorful as it played over the sandstone.

Dead Horse Point Sunset

Back in Moab, we bought stuff for a fajitas cookout, and canned goods to see us through our camping on the White Rim. Caught a sunset at Dead Horse Point, where the main thing isn't look westward, but east, to see the orange light on the features down below and beyond. At the Kayenta campground, dinner was great, and we were all solidly stuffed and burned out, and got a good night's sleep.

Jason had to leave in the morning...originally, the plan was for him to come with us as far as the White Crack Campground, but he had to go early. Maybe just as well...he has a Jeep, and I assumed all Jeeps had four wheel drive, but no...also, even though I'd been told by Park guys, and other sources, that the White Rim road was basically a two-wheel drive road, except for a couple of four wheel drive places, it really ain't so. A whole lot of it is extremely rough, at least, as far as a wimp from Delaware is concerned...maybe folks from Utah just have different standards.

Anyway, Jason booked, Soph stayed with us, and we all wedged outrselves into the Yukon. The entrance to Canyonlands is just up the Road from dead Horse Point, and I went in to do the back-country register thing and talk one last time to a parks guy about road conditions. Once again, I was given a line about things not being too bad...I was warned, kinda vaguely, about problems with blowing sand on the Western side. In actuality, right before the end of the road, there's this nasty wash that's created by runoff from this thing called the Upheaval Dome...but more about that later.

The Schaefer Trail

Headed on over to the head of the Schaefer Trail. If you've ever seen pictures of this stretch of road, chances are they don't do it justice, and the one above is no exception. The trail's way steeper and scarier in person. Descending into a sheer-walled bay in the cliffs, right across from Dead Horse Point, it goes down about 1500 feet, very narrow and quite rough, with a lot of switchbacks with hairpin turns...there's a perpendicular dropoff beside it most of the way. Okay, so there's probably a bit of switchback underneath you at any given time, but if you went over, you'd hit after a long fall and bounce out further, just like a rock striking a ledge. Of course, the farther down you get, the closer you are to the bottom, and things get steadily less hair-raising, but it sure is suspenseful coming down the thing, and getting up it would truly be a test of nerve. Luckily, I wouldn't have to come back that way, and I'd been down the road before, on an earlier Moab trip, with my nutty brother-in-law Charlie giggling maniacally in the back seat. But I didn't remember it being so frightening.
White Rim Viewpoint
 Now, the last time we went down, we hung a left, onto the Potash Road, which takes you through some extremely scenic stuff, back to Moab. But now we hung a right, into terra incognita. As I mentioned before, the White Rim is a ledge partway down from Island In the Sky, white sandstone sandwiched between two different red layers, a big wall of vertically fractured Navajo sandstone on top, and gooey-looking Cutler formation stuff underneath. Towards the edges of the Rim, the rock breaks up, is isolated from the rest of the ledge, and forms caprock on top of increasingly huge hoodoos.

White Rim Hoodoos

At intervals, huge bays and gulfs have been chewed back through the White Rim, and you have to swing round them to the west....invariably, the trail gets a whole lot rougher as you skirt these elbows. I was driving, and my son Pat was sitting shotgun...we were kinda having fun with all the bumps, but everybody in back sure wasn't. Moreover, the Yukon wasn't ideal for this duty, even though the Parks guys said it would be okay...its clearance really wasn't high enough, the wheelbase was too wide, and the gigunda front end cut off a great of my vision. Anything ten feet out or less was screened right off, and about a third or a half of my view to the right was blocked. Pat had to tell me what was what over there, and sometimes, as we were about to crest a hill, he'd have to get out of the car and direct me. Even so, there were a lot of dips and bumps were didn't catch, and I dinged the right running-board (which is just made of plastic) and bent the left side of the front end piece that wraps around the grille...that piece was just plasticky stuff too,  and a bump straight down on a rock caused it to buckle and pull free of the rubber flashing on the wheelwell.

Needless to say, we couldn't go too fast...I bet, at best, we made ten miles an hour. There were some stretches where we were going through sand and sagebrush, and that was the easiest ground to cover...but always the road would take us back towards one of those bays and some more rough stuff. The bays were getting steadily more spectacular, however...about thirty miles out, I guess, we bumped to the end of Monument Basin, which is simply mind-blowing, and stopped the Yukon and all piled out. As I said, those Cutler hoodoos with the white caprock got steadily taller...well, at Monument Basin, I'd say they were
about seven hundred feet high, and there were loads and loads of  them, quite isolated from the cliffs...the ones farther out in the basin were smaller, because they'd lost their caps and were more susceptible to erosion. From the rim it was quite a drop, and there were many good rocks on the edge to urge over the side to toss over the side...falling from that height, they'd hit the bottom and turn completely into powder. Nick and DJ had a great deal of fun on the trip tossing rocks, although I don't know what the Park Service's attitude is towards such shenanigans.
Monument Basin

Finally we came to the turnoff for the White Crack Campground. The road out there was one of the rougher stretches on the trip, but the campground itself was worth all the trouble we'd been put to. Basically, it was just about at the southernmost point of the White Rim, where the road curves round Island In the Sky and heads back north below the western wall, with the Green River on the left. The campground is right at the landward terminus of a big promontory with Monument Basin on the left, and a vast swathe of the southern unit of Canyonlands directly in front, and on the can't see the Colorado from the tip of the headland, but you can see across it, into the Maze, incredibly complicated and inaccesible country, and above that, the Needles, which as the name suggests, are big pointy things. To the right, there's another headland pointing at a different angle, and beyond that, the Southern Unit stuff spreads away as far as you can see.  Out at the tip of the White Crack headland (there's a big recent fissure in it, hence the name), you have this amazing panorama which registers as three-sixty, except, of course, for whatever's directly behind your head.
White Crack Promontory

We got set up, then did some hiking. DJ and Nick and Jeannie headed off towards Monument Basin along the Rim. The boys apparently did some choice'd hear the rocks popping occasionally from quite a way off. Me and Kate and Soph and Pat went out on the White Crack headland, appreciated the view from the end...then Soph , who was out in front on the way back, announced that she'd seen the "greatest thing ever." Somehow we'd overlooked some potholes, filled with rainwater, on the way out, and they were full of extremely prehistoric-looking Tadpole Shrimp, multi-legged crustaceans that look kinda like horseshoe crabs, but have life-cycles like brine shrimp. They hatch out during the rainy season, come to maturity real quick, mate, lay eggs, and die...swimming all around, they give you an impression of incredible business. There were big ones, which I bet were the females, constantly tangling up with ones half their size, which I guess were the males. There were also little black tadpoles, and a slew of snails.

Tadpole Shrimp

We ate dinner out of cans, then went out to the end of the promontory and watched the sunset. The sky had clouded up somewhat, but the sun broke finally through and flooded the Maze and the Needless with wonderful rich color. Sensational. Just about everywhere you looked, there was something to astound the eye...I don't think I'd ever seen such a vast-looking sky, and wierdly-shaped thunderheads of tremendous height filled it up nicely.

White Crack Sunset

I was hoping the sky would clear up totally, so we could watch the such luck. I still decided to press my luck, and sleep outside on the rocks. That worked okay for a while, but it started to rain, and then I compounded the wetness by knocking over my waterbottle upslope from me, and it drenched about half my sleeping-bag...took me a while to wake up fully and realize what was going on, but when I did...yuccch. Decided to try and go to sleep in the Yukon, but that was not to comfortable enough in the reclining front seat, but then I began to hear something scrabbling around in back. It sounded like some sort of animal had gotten into the car and was trying to claw its way out. Using a flashlight, I went back and concluded that wasn't the case, but I kept hearing the noise...evidently the whatever-it-was was inside the wall of the car, rear wheelwell maybe. I went back up front and opened the door, whereupon I tripped all the alarms...the designers of the Yukon, in their infinite paternalistic wisdom, had put in a feature that wouldn't let  you get out of your own damn car. Finally I managed to shut the thing up, and went back to the wheelwell. Sure enough, there was something in there...put my ear against the side of the car...I could hear it. I'd awakened my son pat with all this tomfoolery, and he heard the critter too...since there wasn't a chance in hell that I was going to get back to sleep with mousey having conniptions in the wheelwell, I just decided to stay up and watch the sunrise, and sheepdog everybody else into getting an early start.

Eventually the rodent or whatever it was either died or escaped, the little shit.

As day broke, everybody else began to stir...more breakfast out of cans, although I don't really care. I'm perfectly happy eating cheap crappy stuff, although everybody else prefers my wife's approach, which is to make a big cookout production out of dinner, including salads and vegetable courses along with the viands. However, when you don't have a firepit or grille, as in the White Crack campground, everybody acknowledges that you have to make do, and we're all troopers, good travellers. That includes DJ.

White Rim, West Side

Struck the tents and squoze ourselves back into the Yukon. Once again, Pat was riding shotgun. We rounded the point of Island in the Sky, or rather, the broken-off bit of mesa that's south of the point. It was very different on the Western side...if anything, I preferred it. Those chewed-out bays in the White Rim were a whole lot larger, and the Rim itself was much thicker....the hoodoos, such as the stupendous Turk's Turban (I thought it looked more like a Turk's Vanilla Ice Cream Cone) were less frequent but even huger than the ones on the eastern side. There was a great deal of white sand with hummocks sticing out of general, the road seemed rather less rough. But I knew there were a couple of really steep four-wheel drive stretches ahead, and about midway through the morning, we approached the first of those, Murphy's Hogback.

Murphy's Hogback

A couple of bikers in full plastic armor came up behind us, the first people we'd seen since we passed a couple of touring cars not too far from the Schaefer Trail...I pulled aside and waved the bikers on ahead, and parked to watch them go up. I'd say it was a mere four hundred feet high, but it sure was steep...helluva grade. Not certain how good the road was going to be, and queasy about everybody going over the edge if I screwed up, I told the others to get out and go up on foot after I made my run. They stayed at the bottom, and afterwards, Kate informed me it was mighty exciting watching me. On a Yukon, there's a little handy dial that switches you over to 4X4, and I twirled that, then crawled to the foot of the hill then hit the gas. The incline was mucho intimidating...I couldn't quite believe the way the Yukon clawed right on up. Very different from driving my Dodge Minivan, let me tell you...whatever bitching I've done about various features on the Yukon, the powertrain worked just dandy. Just about when I began to decide that i was really jazzed by the experience, I was at the top. The Bikers were still up there.

View From Murphy's Hogback
"Murphy;'s Hogback, I take it?" I asked, and one of them gave me a thumb's up. A bit of discussion followed...they'd come down the Shaefer Trail just that morning...the one guy had done the Rim several times before. He seemed to think I was sorta funny, and was startled that I'd brought a renter out there. I replied that I'd gotten the insurance, and that I'd been misinformed about how rough the road was...he said I'd probably do okay at the next four wheel drive section, Hardscrabble Hill, but that I'd better watch out at Mineral Bottom. The Parks guys really hadn't warned me about that...but the biker dude didn't really explain, and since  I had no idea what we were going to confront, I wasn't too apprehensive.

The Green River
 There was another nifty campground there...the road descended after that. We sojourned for a bit in a shortish side canyon that went down into one of those bays. Things were getting sandier...we sighted the Green River, and the road took us down towards it. It's green and muddy, but farther out, it turns deep blue reflecting the sun....there are dense belts of tamarisks on either side of it, some burned black (under what circumstances I don't know), and some brilliant green. On the far side they're bordered by red bluffs, and far beyond those, you see a line of magnificent cliffs, pretty much the same sediments you've been encountering all along, but much taller, and with an additional layer of Zion-type white sandstone at the top. For my money, the view is more colorful and awesome than any single wall in either Zion, or Yosemite or the Grand Canyon...although out there, it was just another throwaway, a nameless stretch of the northern part of the Lake Powell Recreation Area. Man, in Utah, the  sensory overload gets piled on sensory overload until it just tips over and forms a new pile.

We got right down beside the river after a while, but we.couldn't see it for all the tamarisks. We came up at a campground called Potato Bottom; don't know why it's called that. It was quite wierd...a parking lot, a bathroom, bare redrock on one side, and dead tamarisks on the other. There was a little dry dead bat on the floor in the bathroom, and ants were eating it. A path through the trees led off towards the river...very scary trees, not much of a path...the tamarisks were all black and dead (I think), and very tangled. The words Tulgey Wood came to mind. It was all very convoluted and complicated in there, with lots of branches encroaching on the path...I was real glad I had my sunglasses on, because otherwise I would've been poked in the eye by blackened twigs twice...blundered into one of them so hard it knocked by head back. I never got near the river, never ever saw it through all the tangled stuff. The kids had gone on ahead, and they reported that you couldn't get down to the water at all. So we headed on back. But that horrible riparian zone was without a doubt the creepiest bunch of woodland I'd ever been in...if you photographed it at the right time of day, and put in some fog, it would've beaten those evil woods in Snow White and the Huntsman all hollow, and those were damn fine creepy woods.

Got back in the car. Coasted through more deep white sand, whereupon the road entered some outcrops of the sandstone layer beneath the Cutler's red too, but very different. Sticks up all over produces these towers that look like hex-or-sextagonal blockhouses, made up of stack of very thin sediments, and it's extremely crumbly. The road began to climb...nearly missed a key turnoff because I thought the actual route was blocked by a horsegate, but I was mistaken, and the gate was actually open...drove into a dead end, turned around, climbed some more. Since we'd passed Potato Bottom, and I'd heard Hardscrabble Hill was just past that, I assumed we were on that next four wheel drive stretch, or just about. The road grew extremely steep and narrow, and there were a number of hairpins, with the wall on the right and the rim on the left both pretty rotten. Couldn't see past some of the turns, didn't know what to expect, and dropped everyone but Pat off...thought he'd better spot for me. Turned on the four wheel drive again, and hardscrabbled on up. It struck me as much nastier than Murphy's Hogback, which was basically a long straight pull, albeit extremely steep...wanted to go faster because of the incline, but didn't dare to, since my forward view was so limited. Was much more frightening than fun, and I was glad to get to the top.

View From Hardscrabble Hill
Pat and I got out...I told him to to go on ahead, past a bend, and do some recce, while I walked down to meet everyone toiling on up.I think they were about halfway along when I came round a curve, and I went back up with Kate. I called Pat back...he'd found some petrified wood. We stood around for a while, looked south along the river...excellent, excellent view. Then we got into the Yukon once more for what I guessed would be the final stretch.

I'd  actually gone to bed thinking that the second day was going to be a seventy-mile trip, but I'd made a mistake when I was looking at the map at the entrance station...turned out it was only about as long as the first day's trip, and we figured that out, and everybody was real pleased to know that we only had about ten miles to go rather than forty. But we were still on Hardscrabble Hill, and still had a bunch of scrabbling to do. The road got even narrower, and there was a lot of up and down, and the left shoulder was distressingly gouged with little gullies. Moreover, the popped-out flashing on the wheelwell got more deformed with all the bumping, and it was scraping the tire, making a real obnoxious noise, and I had to stop and get out and screw around with it to keep it from doing that.

Nevertheless, after a lot of anxiety, we started to descend steadily, and came down next to the river once again, in a stretch with live oaks rising up out of some tall weeds, particularly on our left. On the right, looming about the weeds, there were some redrock cliffs, but they were receding eastward...Pat informed me that we were nearing the riverbed where stuff vented from the Upheaval Dome during storms. For those of you unfamiliar with Canyonlands, the Dome is a gigantic feature that no one can quite account for...folks have their theories, but who knows. Some hold that it's a collapsed Salt Dome...others that it's and ancient meteor crater, where an visitor from space crashed into Island in the Sky, tens of millions of years ago, before it was a mesa. We didn't hit the Dome this trip, though we'd taken a look at it before. It gives you a very disconcerting vibe, a profound impression that something of unimaginable violence happened there. It's much wider and deeper than the Meteor Crater in Arizona, and it's actually got a collection of jagged spires rising up out of the center of it, rather the way craters on the moon do...the rim was lifted up with such force that a huge circular crack opened all along the base of it, and when you go down inside that crack, on the Syncline Trail (whatever happened, it seemed to have casued a gigantic syncline, tilting the whole landscape westward, down towards the river) you can see that all the surrounding rock is shot through with cracks that break it into triangles. We never got as far as we would've liked into the Syncline Trail, but if we'd gone all the way to the west, a huge gap opens up in the wall of the mesa, and the crater drains out through that.

Now, that drainage, as it turns out, is a major hassle for the Park people...the White Rim Road crosses it, and people are always getting stuck in there. The area's called Mineral Bottom, and it's what those bikers had warned me about...I guess that's also what that Park guy meant when he mentioned drifting sand. But I had no idea at all about the real situation, namely...that after we passed the trailhead to the Upheaval Dome Gap, going along fat dumb and happy, we were about to come upon, quite without warning, because of all the weeds and the twisty-turny road, what appeared to be a dry riverbed full of sand. The sand looked pretty deep, but I'd seen worse, or so I'd thought. I had to turn to the right, couldn't see where I was going, but didn't know there was a problem...I got right out into the wash before I realized I couldn't see the entrance to the road on the other side. Worse yet, that sand was just a coating, about six inches deep, I guess...underneath, there was a whole lot of real wet mud., and we started to fishtail and lose traction. Knowing that we'd get stuck if I stopped, I hit the gas before spotting the road. There were a few seconds there where all I could see was an unbroken bank full of weeds. As it turned out, the gate was well over on the right, and it just seemed to open up before me...I just barely managed to swing on the back, the kids all thought it was pretty funny, and I did find it kinda thrilling, and I was proud of myself yet again. But if I'd known there was anything like that on the trail, I wouldn't have gone. I bet that wash is nowhere near so bad at other times of the year, but it's a mess in the rainy season, and the parks guys should go out of their way to make it clear that there's a problem.

Went along through some more weeds after that...the road firmed up, and the redrock closed in again to starboard. Under an overhang, we caught a glimpse of an old horse-corral, then shot on by. We went faster and faster, up to about forty miles an hour, I guess...there was no more real excitement after the wash. We passed the gate for Island in the Sky and were back on BLM land. Finally came to a boat ramp on the left, and broke out our lunch  next to the river. We could get down to it on the ramp, but even though I'd nurtured some hopes of jumping in, I didn't like the look of that water close was all green and opaque, and was clearly deep and sliding along at a pretty stiff clip, with lots of little eddies, even though it had appeared quite placid from a distance.

Lunch concluded, we went up the side of the mesa on the Horse Thief Road, which was unpaved and steep, but nicely hardpacked. As we were climbing some switchbacks, we saw, across from us, on a nearly-vertical talus slope, a severely mangled blue car about a third of the way down, partially buried...I can't imagine anyone survived. Very chilling...there were some other wrecks, looking older, poking out of the rubble elsewhere on the incline.

Got over the lip of the mesa, into the sagebrush up there. Since we hadn't had any recourse to running water for a bit, we ran back to our campground at Dead Horse Point, and got as clean as you can get by  filling gallon-jugs and tossing it over your head...actually, there are drains in the floor in the restrooms, and you can even soap yourself up in one of the stalls if you've a mind to. But I don't think you're supposed to do that.

Hung around the camp for a bit, ate some more, then drove down to Moab to do some shopping and get some pizza. Bought the pizza at the place we'd bought pizza from the last time. Even though I'm a Jersey Shore boy with definite ideas about pizza, and we were in the middle of isolated and Mormonland pies were really quite passable....we had some bag-lettuce salad to go along with them, and it was most agreeable. Extremely glad that we weren't in the car any longer, we did some sky-watching and faded out. Once again, I slept out in my sleeping-bag, and this time there were no overtipped waterbottles or trapped infuriating scrambling whatsits...

I'll relate the rest of our adventures shortly, although I've got to go and do some writing on the final Zorachus book, which I'm about 120 pages into.

By the way, Pat took the photos you've seen here...he's posted even more on his blog, Even Fewer Goats, which is also on Blogspot, and you should go over there and taker a gander.

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