The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Back From Utah Part 2

Rainbow From Island In The Sky

 Would've written this awhile ago, but I really needed to finish the second section of the new---and final---Zorachus book. After I posted Utah Part One, we went down to Chincoteague, where I had a working vacation writing Z stuff a couple of hours a day, and I was doing Z stuff until about two days ago, when I came to a good stopping point. I think I'll post some excerpts, but you'll have to put up with some Utah travel biz right now. I'd better set it down while it's still fresh in my mind.

If you'll recall, the Rogers clan had just come back from an unexpectedly exciting---in both bad and good ways---four-wheel drive jaunt along the White Rim Road in Canyonlands, Utah. That was the last full day my daughter Soph was going to be spending with us...she had to fly out of Moab's tiny little airport about one o'clock the next afternoon. We decided, that since she still had one more morning with us, that we'd better spend it on cool stuff.

First off, me and Soph and Pat and Jeannie decided we should catch a sunrise at Grandview  Point, which is almost at the tippy-tip of Island in the Sky, and you can look down at the White Rim and Monument Basin, right where we'd been the day before, and a get a great idea of the lay of the land. We even thought we could pick out the White Crack Campground, which will always be one of my favorite places. Anyway, all that is especially good at sunrise, and there's an excellent footpath that goes down from the overlook proper, and along the eastern rim. If you follow it all the way down, you come to the absolute southern end of Island in the Sky, a nifty redrock knob that looks out towards a little butte that got separated from the big mesa. Me and Jeannie and Pat went to the top of the knob, although Soph had worn crappy shoes and didn't want to come up....having found a stupid little hole that nobody would've climbed that knob to take a look at, I told her that I'd  found something sensational, but, quite wisely, knowing me, she didn't fall for this, and we all went back to Dead Horse, Jeannie driving the Yukon too fast around various curves and cackling maniacally.

After breakfast, we hit the Gemini Arches. If you drive past the turnoff for Canyonlands on 191, you see a sign for them...and we thought we'd better go and check them out, especially since my son Pat said they're the kind of things that guys will drive their SUV's out onto, and then fall off the sides.

A Gemini Bridge

Well, there was the front way, which was the one we'd always pass, but we didn't take that, since we were already up at Dead Horse Point, which is a few miles past the back way way out to the Bridges. Almost all the way to the features in question (I'll describe the road beyond them in a bit), the road was pretty nice, no washboarding, not too rough, descending through a lot of  woodland with low roundish evergreens. Off on the right, you could see a gigantic canyon, and out to the left, some fantastic buttes rose up, named after the Monitor and the Merrimac...out in front, the land descended towards the Moab Rift (through which 191 slides into town) with Arches rising beyond that, and the LaSals rising beyond Arches...wonderful view. Finally, the road curved round to the right, towards that canyon, and we parked in a lot and went about three hundred yards towards the bridges. Ground got really stony, a great big bay appeared in the rock, there was a huge dropoff there, and the bridges jumped across it in parallel, separated by about six feet, as I recall, althought it might've been more. Seemed to me like you could've jumped it, but I didn't try, and nobody else  did either, which is probably one reason why we all made it home alive.  I was looking to see if there were any smashed SUV's at the bottom, but didn't pick anything out....sure wasn't any reason why anyone would've driven over the edge, on either bridge, because they were both plenty wide. We all made a point of crossing both spans, and there was a bronze plaque on the far side, saying that one Beau James Daly cashed in his chips hereabouts, doing something he loved, namely driving his 4X4, so I guess it's easier to drive off the bridges than I thought.

Between The Gemini Bridges

Past the bridges, there was a lot of good canyon viewing...never been to Canyon De Chelles, but it looked like pictures I'd seen...we scrambled around and expended a bunch more morning, then returned to our car. Theoretically, the road went to that entrance-exit we always passed on 191, and that proved to be the case, but it was really rough, and that didn't bother me and Pat too much in the front seats, but it was a different story for those in back, who'd gotten a bellyful of four-wheel drive bouncing and jiggling on the White Rim Road.

Near the Gemini Bridges---I Don't Even Know What This Canyon Is Called
There couldn't be any grousing about the scenery, however...fantastic Cutler formation stuff on either side, and one really memorable valley with what appeared to be a life-size sandstone Japanese giant monster, or kaiju, standing guard where you got really had to get close to the thing before it stopped looking exactly like a huge guy in a rubber costume, and it was swell to get some idea of what it would be like to be a little tiny Nipponese person looking up at the creature about to stomp you. Practically justified the trip all by itself.

After that, the road rose in a long slope, taller than Murphy's Hogback and about as rough as Hardscrabble Hill, up and up towards what looked like a straight-down dropoff. But even as you reached that, the road took a really hard left turn, and we began a long descent, overlooking 191 and the Rift and Arches, down towards the highway, with the jounces moderating somewhat. We stopped at a gas and jerky and trailbike camp thing northbound on 191, and got bangwater and some food. Then it was time to take Soph to the Airport.

It was about five miles up the road, on the I said, very small, and operated by some folks  called Red Tails Aviation...I bought one of their T-shirts. Tiny planes. Soph asked if she could have either an aisle or a window seat, and the lady at the counter said, "sure." There was only one gate, needless to say, and the waiting room was cozy, with much nicer furniture than you get at big airports;the soda in the machine was real cold, which I appreciated. We gave Soph some hugs and said goodbye, then got back in the Yukon and headed down to Moab to eat at the Macdonalds.

I had a chicken sandwich, which was tasty, but long about the middle of the day in late July, the Moab Macdonald's is really hot, particularly if the only place you can sit is right up by one of the big windows. Not the Mickey D's folks fault...It's Moab's, I suppose, and God's. But we really did get kinda skunked in there...if you want Macdonald's in Moab, go earlier or later in the year...

We'd been considering doing some stuff in the LaSals the next day, since DJ had never been up in any real mountains, and had expressed an interest, so me and Pat went to this Moab Trail Bike store that also duoubled as an information joint, and we asked the guy, who was very nice, about good hikes in the high country. But he informed us, in no uncertain terms, that the roads were blocked off up there, due to construction...bummer. Since we couldn't do any mountaineering the following day, I suggested we should go down to the southern Unit of Canyonlands early...for one reason and another, we decided not to, which occasioned some trouble for us... I'll explain later.

It was back up 191 after the info center. Pat had said we could get to the Klondike Bluffs, which are a little-seen part of Arches, although, oddly, the Bluffs were the original inspiration for the park. They're some ways off to the northwest of the most famous stuff, so we thought we might try getting there from 191, having spotted a sign for a Klondike Bluffs exit. Turned out it was for the Klondike Bluffs Bike Trail, which is, apparently, notable for some dino prints we never got to see...we got in there and didn't know which way to go, so we took the road that looked like it was maybe going to the Bluffs, which we could discern in the distance...well, maybe that road got there eventually, but it was getting nasty, and swinging farther from the Bluffs, and went down into a thing, and I sent Pat out ahead to see if he could get idea of where the thing led to...he came back up without the foggiest, and so we turned around and headed back out to 191, our new plan  being to take the long way round through the park, although it wouldn't have been the long way if we'd started there.

Anyway, we drove back down to the main Arches entrance, and headed on up those switchbacks, which is always wonderful, and went as if we were going to the Devil's Garden, although the turnoff  for Klondike Bluffs was a bit before that, and down we went. Road was washboarded and dusty, but not too bad...we had the western part of the Fiery Furnace and then the Devil's Garden off on our right, good viewing. We went about fifteen twenty miles through a lot of sagebrush, with a big wall rising on our left...some guys came ripping towards in an SUV, raising a whole lot of dust, looking like Robby the Robot on his vehicle at the beginning of Forbidden Planet. I pulled aside to let them pass...they were kicking up such a cloud that I couldn't see the SUV until they were within a hundred yards or so.

Found the parking-lot. There was no one else there. Trailhead was right off is typical of a lot of good hikes, the toughest stuff was at the beginning, in this case a scramble up some boulders and ledges, actually fairly vertical. Got easier at the top...came out on the rim of a huge downtilted amphitheatre surrounded by giant red needles and columns. We swung down into it along the southern wall...on the right, along the northern section of the rim, was a pretty amazing succession of pillars, dubbed The Marching Men, which they sure looked a hell of a lot like.

The Marching Men, Klondike Bluffs
Still slanting  down along the southern wall, we reached the bottom of the basin, then started up sandy incline that was the second nastiest thing after that initial climb. It was well worth the effort though...pure gold at the top, big fairly scalable parallel blades rather like the stuff in the Devil's Garden. Our immediate goal was the The Tower runs alongside a huge wall, and has a great hoodoo looming up from behind it.

Tower Arch
 We decided to halt there and hang out...everybody but Kate climbed up a tremendous fin, and got a fabulous view of a lot of other fins and more neat stuff.

Up On Top, Tower Arch
 And back down at the bottom, DJ, who'd seen 127 Hours and wanted to goof about in slot canyon, was able to insinuate himself into something similar, a long creepy fissure, the sort of thing that would eventually erode into a much wider gap between fins.

DJ In a Fissure
We all hydrated a lot and had fun in the shadows as those lengthened and got darker as the day cooled off. Then we started back, around to the basin, and up the sloping floor to the top. I'd been rather dreading the climb back, but it wasn't too hard...needless to say, the kiddies got out well in advance of me and the wife, but I found I was beginning to catch up with them before we reached the parking the end of the trip, I was pretty much keeping pace with them, particularly towards the end of each hike. Conditioning, of course...I wish I could spend a whole month doing this stuff.

View Through Tower Arch
Drove back through Arches in the sunset again, listening to more Miklos Rosza. Did some shopping in Moab and returned to the campground. Forgot what we had for dinner, but I bet it was good, since all of our cookouts were. Kate and Jeannie do a really fine job on this. After dinner, half the crew was pretty well fagged, but me and Kate and Pat decided to go up to the Dead Horse overlook because the moonlight was so bright. Could see well out over the Whie Rim and the Potash Road area, and there were these miles-long moon-shadows being cast by Island In the Sky and other mesas and buttes....I'd never seen anything remotely like it, except for, maybe, on our last Cali trip, the knifelike shadows of the Sierras, raking out across the Owens Valley at sunset. These weren't as big, but they were from old Silenus, and that rendered it triply special. Utterly, utterly wow-inducing.

Since we couldn’t get into the LaSals the next day, we had to go elsewhere, and the subject of the Corona Arch came up....turned out we could get there by driving up the Potash Road. The PR is a very handy highway which can take you to the White Rim and a bunch of great Canyonlands’s nicely paved along its lower stretch, where it goes along beside the Colorado. If you’re coming down from Dead Horse, it’s a left turn off 191, and it climbs for a while, so you can get a very clear view—on your left---of what the river does when it crosses the Moab Rift. The Rift really widens out, and there’s a huge riparian zone, quite swampy, with lots of tamarisks fringing the river on both sides. Presently though, the river slides into the western wall through a huge gate, and the Potash road goes in with it, the gap between the road and the river narrowing, the road slanting downwards, hugging the righthand wall of the canyon. Once again, this is all mere Bureau of Land Management stuff, not even in a National Park, although it’s extremely grand, and would be a good cinematic stand-in for the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where you can’t see a lot of the higher walls because of the ledges. On the Potash Road, there are a number of pull-offs where you can camp, and there's a huge campground with a large pavilion and firepits in one spot. Having passed the trailhead for the Poison Spider Trail (it made my heart ache not to be able to stop for that), we went on up to the lot for the Corona Arch.

Corona Arch
Once again, it was one of those hikes where the very toughest stuff was right at the beginning...maybe it's just that you’ve always just gotten out of the car, and you have to start climb some swrtchbacks right off... whatever. We zigzagged on up, turned a corner to the right and headed along a rocky valley with high orange-sandstones the end of that, we came to the side of a canyon through which a rail-line passed...maybe the railroad is what made the powers that be decide that Corona wasn’t National Monument material. Anyway, we turned a corner to the left, and this gigantic bay opened out, and there, over on the other side, springing straight out from the back wall, was the arch, big enough for small planes to fly under...comfortably. They had pictures of guys doing this back at the airport. It was a bit of a climb to get closer to it....there was a ledge some way up, about halfway down the side of the bay, and reaching it involved at least one metal ladder which was bolted to the rock....the old legs got a bit rubbery. But going right underneath the arch was sure worth it. For one thing, there was a lot of  red light blasting up off the sandstone below, painting the underside of the span...for another, there was a guy preparing to rappel down from the top. Going to far side to get a better view of his descent, I slipped on some sand. You’d be surprised at how slippery sand can be. Both my feet went right out from under, and I fell straight sideways...would’ve landed on the side of my ribcage and really hurt myself, I think, if I hadn’t been carrying my great big waterbottle. Half the water got smashed out, blowing off the lid....all that orange stone went a much deeper reddish color....there were some people sitting under a ledge who saw the whole thing, and I bet they were pretty startled. Having provided them with some spectacle, I got up feeling like an idiot, and settled down to watch the guy lower himself. It looked like quite a rush.

Corona Arch From The Other Side
Afterwards, he came up to me and Kate and Pat and asked if Pat would take him a picture and email it to him in Germany. Pat agreed, and the Teuton went right back up, appearing atop the arch in a remarkably short time...he must really be in shape. Down he came again, and Pat snapped some snaps...the guy told us that that he would’ve had his girlfriend do it, except she was sitting back at the parking-lot because she didn’t want to watch him risk his life.

As for DJ, Nick, and Jeannie, they’d started up the route that the German followed to the top of the arch, and I couldn’t see where they'd, and they couldn’t hear me anymore...I went around the corner and bellowed for them to come back down, principally because I didn’t want to tell DJ’s parents if anything happened to him. They heard me that time, and started down, although DJ started to get creative, and took an iffier route than the way they’d come, and slipped eight or nine feet. I didn’t see this, but I heard the hubbub, and got pretty frightened for a bit. But it turned out that he was bruised but okay.

Headed back to the parking lot...the German had beaten us to it...his girlfriend was still in the car. I wondered if they'd had a fight, or if she was just sick of the West, or what. Anyway, I got to talking with him...he was a golf-course designer. I didn't say what I thought of golf, but it turned out we had a lot of common interests viz  the American West. He'd already seen quite a bit of it on this trip, and we compared notes...I told him some good places to hit.

We drove back to Moab, got some sandwiches at the supermarket...from this point the plan was to eat them on the way out to the Fisher Towers. Heading north out of town, there's a road called 128, that goes left along the southern bank of the Colorado, towards a thing called Castle Valley, which I already mentioned, briefly, in the first installment. For a short while on I28, you're in a mere municipal park that's another one of those jaw-dropping throwaways, more Grand Canyonish stuff.. We didn't stop at Negro Bill, which is a great side-canyon, but we'd been there before, and I recommend it highly. Has a nifty natural arch at the end. Wasn't called Negro Bill was named after a black cowboy named Nigger Bill Granstaff, who used to distill swill up there along with his amis Frenchy until the local Mormons ran them out. I don't think the name should've been an old Western moniker for a black moonshiner with a partner named Frenchy, it's just better. On the other hand, I guess it was pretty embarrassing for poor Moabites who don't want to be thought of as backward....I don't hold it against them.

Castle Valley
Stopped at a campsite halfway along 128 and ate our lunch...I had a big turkey sandwich and some chips. Pushed on, finally reaching Castle Valley. If you want to go up into the LaSals and loop back on down to Moab, you can start there, and we'd done that before...the valley itself is an astonishing amalgam of just about every sort of Western scenery you can imagine, all in a relatively small area. First off, you've got the canyon of the Colorado. It opens out into a bunch of sagebrush prairie with giant redrock bluffs looming above it. Rearing up out of the prairie are buttes and towers which could be right out of Monument Valley....there's also a whole lot of red badland. The snow-capped thirteen-thousand foot LaSals rise up in the distance, and much of this could be photographed in one, count it one, panoramic shot. Then there's stuff that's down out of sight, in an area called Onion Creek, which some people would swear is the best five mile drive in the whole country, a redrock phantasmagoria that's like something from some demented Disney cartoon set in the southwest, only wilder. Actually, they shot some of  the beginning of John Carter In Onion Creek, and up above too, when he's being chased by the Apaches. They also used some shots of the Fisher Towers, where we were going next.

Fisher Towers
These features show up in movies and TV shows all the time.. The titular bad guys in The Comancheros had their stronghold just below them, Richard Boone's cabin was right at their feet in Rio Conchos, and other sequences in that flick were shot in the general vicinity. The Towers were even used as a standin for Titan in some Science Channel thing, and even though they're not very much like that particular moon, they do look damn otherworldly. The biggest one is called the Titan, too.

The Titan
The Towers are more BLM property, overlooking Onion Creek. It's a bit of a drive out from 128 to the parking-lot, and you really don't get any idea of the size of the things from the road. The Titan is about a thousand feet tall, and it's strange looking even for a piece of western scenery, rather flat and bladelike, as are all the subsidiary towers...they're more Cutler formation redrock, and once again, look oddly manmade,as though somebody had made skyscrapers out of scarlet ice cream, and they were beginning to melt. Most wierd. The very top of the second tallest one is a bizarre tapering teetery-looking fantasy that seems almost Dr. might've seen a commercial with a female rockclimber getting to the top of it and looking out over a wonderful vista....well, that's a Fisher Tower, and that's Castle Valley below.

Oddly Manmade-Looking, Yes?
 Anyway, we piled out of the Yukon and headed on up. I'd taken that hike before, and I remembered it being rather more strenuous...I think I'm in better shape now. There were a number of people coming down, they'd been up as far as you could go, and one was a big guy carrying a chunky baby in a back pack. I wonder what that kid thought. There was a good deal of up and down, although soon we hit some switchbacks and it was all upslope through the blobby redrock.

Cutler Formation Wierdness
 Finally we arrived at a giant inlet that had that second-tallest tower on our side of it, and the Titan on the other. Kate decided to sit down and veg out and hydrate while the kiddies went up to the bend, where Pat climbed up about sixty or seventy feet in this scary-looking crevice. Once he came back down, we returned to the lot, thinking we'd really like a swim.

View Down That Crevice Pat Climbed
Now, even though the Colorado was close by, and you could get down to it, you really don't want to jump in. But it turns out there is good place in Moab....we'd gotten a map the day before, and finding the swimming hole wasn't too hard...the town's mostly a grid, and if you go east until the grid pretty much stops, and turn south, you come to something called Power Station Road, which is a dirt track that takes you out to this creek. There is an actual swimming hole, but it was pretty crowded, so we decided to head upstream along  a little trail, and finally found a nice spot, overarched by trees on both sides. The water wasn't too cold, but was still most refreshing, and we found a crawdaddy that amused us no end until we let it go.

Crawdaddy Waves Hello
However, we got some unsettling news as we started back for Dead Horse...Jeannie got a text from Sophie in Cali, who informed us that the Dead Horse Parks folks had called and informed her that our reservation was up, and that they were worried, because we hadn't vacated, that something had happened to us. Rushed right back there, needless to say. Everything turned out okay...we'd reserved two sites, and the Park folks had moved all our stuff onto one of them...the people coming in had only reserved one site, and as it turned out, there was still a site unreserved, and they chalked that one up to us for the night. Turned out our reservations were the one piece of paperwork we didn't have....I made the reservations, and maybe it was one of these things where I made a mistake on the number of nights I'd reserved, rather than days...on the other hand, the Parks guys had a reservation in the name of Mark Strong, who I am not. They also said that Reserve America, which handles their reservations, is always screwing up, and they were very gracious, and didn't treat me like an moron, although they sure could've. The people who we'd inconvenienced were very gracious too. The subject of Mark Strong came up, and I recommended John Carter.

But there was more annoying stuff the next day. We pulled up stakes for the Southern Unit of Canyonlands...decided to try the luggage rack up top to see if we couldn't get a bit more room inside. Now...even though I'd used ratchet straps before, on kayaks where we ran the straps through the insides of the car, I'd never done the rack thing with them, and I thought you hooked the hooks to those railings along the sides, instead of the holes in those whatsits that slide along the rails. Anyway, we put a bunch of bags up there, and it was a disaster waiting to happen, although once we got going, I halted several times to check on them, and we managed to get down to Moab and out the other side okay, a distance of about thirty miles or so. Then we were stopped by a Utah Highway patrolman on 191...there was some construction, and a watertruck was creeping along ahead of me, in a no-passing zone...I wasn't particularly in a rush, and I wasn't following him too close, but he pulled about halfway over, as though he wanted to let me by...there wasn't enough room for me to get round him without crossing the unbroken line, and the cop was lying in wait like a trapdoor spider.. I offered my excuse, however, and unlike a trapdoor spider, he let me go. Still, a bad omen...I wonder if he looked at my luggage-rack arrangements...if so, I wish he'd said something.

We continued southwards. We'd been hearing noises from the luggage off and on...suddenly, right before the road descended into a biggish canyon, Nick noticed that a bag was hanging over the side of the car. We got out, and I discovered those hole sin the sliding things, and realized immediately that that was where the hooks should've gone...also, that a proper arrangement meant a lot less luggage on the roof. We did what was needful, and drove off thinking everything was okay, none of us realizing that one of the bags was missing.

The rest of the ride was wonderful.The scenery between that canyon and the turnoff for the southern Unit is very nice, with buttes rather like the Monitor and Merrimac studding the landscape at intervals, and once we  started westward, everything got progressively more dramatic. With the Abaho Mountains on out left, we headed down a considerable distance, finally getting into a canyon formed by a smallish tributary of the Colorado that nonetheless had carved out quite a gorge. The walls was obscured by trees at first, but eventually the riparian zone gave way to a much wider valley with a ranch on one side and a lake on the other, all overlooked by tremendous Castle-Valley type west were a couple of matching volcanic-chimney buttes called the Six-Shooters, because they really look like pistols sticking straight up skywards out of talus mounds.

A Six Shooter
Long about here, I really got an intense feeling that we were way out in the middle of nowhere; Canyonlands'  Southern Unit is one of the loneliest and least-explored national parks in the lower forty-eight. It's also most unlike the Northern Unit, comprised as that is of Island in the Sky and the White Rim...everything in the Southern Unit is on a much smaller scale, although it sure has its own charms. It's also an extremely complicated area, something which had been very clear from the White Crack campground, which looks out towards it over the Colorado gorge. Whereas in the Northern Unit, you get these monumental geological structures, towers eight hundred feet high, and mesas that look like Atlantean Ruins, the features down south, such as the Needles, get about a third as tall, at most. The colors don't seem as intense, either...everything is paler, more pastel. But there are canyons upon canyons upon canyons, and most of the unit is extremely trackless. There's a big section called the Maze, and it's not called that for nothing.

Northern Unit, Looking Back Towards Island In The Sky

Well, when we reached the entrance station, nobody was manning it (I guess because the unit isn't well attended), and we cruised on over to the very elegant visitor's center, which is designed to blend in neatly with the surrounding landscape. There were some parks ladies in there, and I talked to them about the campground situation...we wanted to stay at Squaw Flats, and it's strictly first-come first serve, so they said we should get on over there right away, as there was half as much space as usual, because of construction.. Even though the park doesn't see too much traffic, the campground is pretty popular, and it's easy to see why...the sites are among the nicest I've ever seen, nestled under wonderful white-sandstone overhangs, with ledges you can climb and sleep on. Plenty of space, good firepits...there were only a couple of spots left when arrived, but we got ours and I began to relax.

However, the shit was just beginning to hit the fan.

As we unpacked, we realized we'd lost one of our big bags, and it contained the new tent that Kate and I had been using,'s kind of amazing that no one noticed when we rearranged the luggage. Well, even though all that was bad enough, I got into my bag and found out that my meds were missing, and I sure didn't want to take a rough ten-hour hike---like the one we had planned for the next day---without my pills. Last time I remembered seeing the kitchen-bag with the meds was back at breakfast, on the table...evidently I hadn't packed them, maybe because somebody had thrown them away. Really don't know what happened. But just on the off chance that the pills might've wound up in the Dead Horse Point dumpster, I thought I'd better run back up there and check.

Jeannie decided to come with me...given that the basic situation was so irritating, the ride back was surprisingly entertaining. As already noted, the scenery just outside the park was sensational, we were seeing it under different lighting conditions (big thunderstorms were rolling in), and I was pretty sure I wouldn't get busted for speeding since we were so far from 191...the road wasn't too twisty and turny, and so I felt pretty confident about letting the Yukon's big old eight-cylinder engine really rip. In addition to the extra velocity, we had some excellent musical selections, namely a Bollywood music compilation that Pat had assembled for the trip...he'd magic-markered Hindi Hell on the disc. Every cut on it was choice, songs from Aaja Nachle. Chalo Dili, Agneepath (an excellent score), Tanu Weds Manu, and a couple of golden oldies from Anjaam, the whole collection very up tempo, just the thing for cranking up real loud when you're bombing through the desert in a mastodonic SUV. I really really love Chikni Chameli from Agneepath, by the way. It's used in an amazingly hot Katrina Kaif item number.

Thanks to the music (not to mention the speed) it felt like we got back 191 rather too quickly. We slowed down after that, because I thought we might encounter some cops, but would've had to in any case, as a monstrous t-storm was plowing towards us off the LaSals, draping an extremely dark curtain of rain over the ground below it. When the lightning snaked down blue-white, it was real vivid against those shadows.

We kept an eye out for that lost bag, of course, but didn't spot had our address on it, and if anyone picked it up, they didn't send it to us, shame on them. Not that I ever expected to get it back. As for my meds, we were setting up a plan B in case the dumpsters disappointed us...Jeannie managed to get hold of my doctor back in Delaware on her cell-phone, and we made arrangement to have my prescriptions sent to the supermarket in Moab. As we approached the aforesaid extreme-sports Mecca, I noted that the same cop was hanging out at precisely the same spot where the water-trucks were going back and forth.

We blew through town and up to the turnoff for Dead Horse. Once again guessing thast there wouldn't be any cops on the way up, I floored the pedal whenever conditions back to the campground about 2 in the afternoon, I think. Our site had been cleaned out...the garbage was gone. I went to the visitor's center to ask if anyone had found a bag full of one had.  To my very great embarrassment, the ranger behind the counter was the same guy I'd spoken to about our reservations the night before. But he said they only emptied the dumpsters once a week, which was a relief.

We drove to the receptacles. Right in the first one, at the top, Jeannie found Jason and Sophie's garbage...we could tell it was theirs because it was all full of Diet Cherry-Coke Zero, which is what Jason drinks, and what Sophie drinks now too. Anyway, two dumpsters later, about halfway down in some fairly repugnant crap, I found the bag, and we took it to the camp bathroom and washed it off with handsoap in the basin outside. Then we went back to the visitor's center and told everyone that I'd found my pills. Don't know if they cared too much, but I bought one of their t-shirts, a very handsome tan one with a gnarly tree on it. Jeannie called my doctor back in Delaware and told him not to bother with those prescriptions.

She was largely conked out for the trip back, which I took rather easier. When we returned to the camp, everybody else had gone for a hike somewhere back behind the rocks...don't remember the name of the trail, but as I recall, they enjoyed it. We opted to spend the rest of the afternoon on another hike; since we were planning that big ten-hour one the next day, out through Chesler Park to the Joint Trail, I suggested we should wait till the heat broke, then familiarize ourselves with the leadup to that. We all snarfed some canned food (I had chicken and some Spaghetti O's, yum!) and set off.

Along The Chesler Park Trail

The Chesler Park trailhead wasn't far from the campground. Took the road to Elephant Hill (still don't know why it's called that); the landscape was basically White Rim stuff, thinner on this side of the river, with the Cutler formation below. But here, instead of giant hoodoos like those at Monument Basin, you got much smaller mushroomy white-capped ones, with the road winding through a canyon full of zillions of them. Huge parking-lot at the end, with an extremely vile fly-ridden crapper...didn't go in. Lot was surrounded by cliffs...yet again, the worst stretch of the hike was the initial fifteen minutes, in this case, up to the White Rim. After that, it was generally fairly flat, the stone broken up towards the edges. Off in the distance, there were various Needles...they looked like inverted red ice-cream cones, with pointy white caps...they're all over the place in the Southern Unit.

Some Needles

Slipped through a gap into a large sandy circular parklike area with peculiar desert vegetation and loads of cryptogamic soil, little towery-looking things which are alive somehow, and whose biology I don't understand. This round area was surrounded by more needles...we passed through another gap on the far side, and into another circular thing, all of this foreshadowing the much-larger Chesler Park, which we'd reached once before, on an earlier Canyonlands trip. Passing through that second park, we descended into a crack fairly similar to what we'd encounter the next day in the Joint Trail...we decided to take a break, and Jeannie and Pat chimneyed some way up between the walls. There was a lot of of rock in there that was great for chimneying and climbing, including excellent ledges down by the end, piled up like horizontally stacked red books.

Jeannie Chimneying
Once we got out of the slot, the path led even farther downward, and we came to a spot where the canyon intersected another, larger gorge whose floor was a grey-blue  and seemed most out of place...maybe it was Mancos Shale, Caineville stuff. Then we headed up the other side, into a fairly narrow tributary canyon that kind of corkscrewed to the right. I think we got about halfway up...would've been a great location for a gunfight in a western. I would've liked to have pressed on, but we'd said we were going to turn back after an hour and a half, and time was up...more importantly, it looked as if we had about an hour and a half of light left.

We retraced our footsteps, fairly agreeably; once we got back across that blue-floored canyon and up to the slot and to the top of that, it was pretty much all downhill to the parking-lot...passed a guy who was heading in, told him it was lovely up ahead. The next day, outbound to the Joint Trail, we met him again, inbound; he'd let the night creep up on him in those canyons, decided he'd better not risk returning in the dark, and had spent the night out there.

We got a bit lost on the final leg down to the lot, but by then we'd figured out enough about the terrain to wing it, and we struck the trail further along. I think Jeannie chanced the toilet, although I passed it up again. The bathroom back at the campground was really clean, although there weren't any showers or lights. There was a washbasin for dishes outside, and while bathing was strictly forbidden, we filled up plastic waterbottles and washed up in the toilet stalls, where there were drains on the floor, and I don't think anyone's ox was in any way gored. Had some more canned stuff, then sacked out pretty quick...I slept on a nice warm ledge under the overhang, along with Pat, Nick, and DJ, all of us on mats and more or less using sleeping bags as blankets. Kate slept in somebody else's tent, and Jeanie had her own, which had all the food in it.

We'd agreed that we were going to get a real early start, and got fed and going before the sun cleared the buttes out east. Brought a whole lot of hydration...mine was half Gatorade and water. Everybody had at least two sandwiches, and fruit. Drove to the Chesler Park Trailhead....we noticed that that guy's car was still there, wondered what was up with that, particularly because he hadn't been humping a pack or equipment. I told everybody that, because I was kinda slow, I'd just go on ahead...but it turned out that no paid attention, because I got some distance up that slope and out over the White Rim sandstone before I realized that no one was up on a ledge and waited around...still no one. Went back to the rim above the parking lot, and there everybody was, waiting around and wondering where I'd gone. I yelled, and up they came.

Repeated the hike we took the day before...before we got too far, we ran into that guy, who seemed pretty good-humored about the whole business. We wished him well. Should've offered him some water, didn't think of it, and he didn't ask, even though he must've been mighty thirsty. The air out there is very dry, needless to say. But we lucked out on this particular day...even after the sun cleared the buttes, it was covered by haze or clouds much of the time. The temperature might've cracked ninety, but I bet most of the time it was in the high eighties. Actually, we'd been fortunate with the weather the whole trip, even though I'd been expecting to get fried, late July in Utah, you know...but it just never got too bad.

Took another break in that slot, then continued...even though it wasn't too hot, I was conserving my water-and-Gatorade as much as possible...meant that my big damn clumsy waterbottle stayed heavy and awkward. We got to the place where we turned back the day before, but this time we went to the top. There was another of those needle-ringed places, although the ground was stony and ragged instead of sandy...there was a particularly large wall of needles on the far side, and we had a long scramble up a rather nasty natural stair...took another break at the top, then rounded an outcropping and looked out over Chesler Park.

Chesler Park

It's quite a bizarre piece of real estate, actually...some geologists think it's a meteor crater, in which case I guess that those other, smaller circles were chunks that broke off the big chunk and landed close by...apparently there's yet another place called Virginia Park that very few people go to. Chesler Park is much bigger than those smaller circles, surrounded once again by needles, with a big bunch of them lunging right up out of the middle, rather suggestive of those mountains that come up in the middle of craters on the moon. Apparently the whole needly rim is shot through with fissures, too, or joints, as in the Joint Trail....these fissures all radiate fairly out from the center of the park, and once again, this really suggests that something huge smashed down. If so, it must've been a very long time ago, with the crater being rather a fossil, a whole lot of erosion having worked on those fissures, forming the needles.

Chesler Park Wall
As for the floor of the Park, it's all covered with sand, relatively flat towards the middle, but piled up in biggish dunes, covered with scrubby dark vegetation, out towards the edges. The Joint Trail leads away to the left at first...we came to a gap in the needles, which overlooked a spectacular valley filled with hoodoos. There was another trailhead there, leading towards the Druid Arch and our campground, but we weren't going that way. Our trail snaked round to the right now....ground levelled out...the trail widened, and there was a low ridge up the middle of it...people bring their 4X4's out there sometimes. There was a gate for a 4X4 road back at the campground, and Pat says you can indeed drive up to Chesler Park if you want to, by that route, even though you'd need a winch. Apparently it's one of the most badass front-wheel-drive roads in the country.

We headed on past that little mountain range in the center of the circle...on the western side of it, there's a primitive campground, and some guys had pitched some tents there, under some trees. They waved at us, and we waved back.  It was another mile or so, I think, till we hit the joint part of the Joint looked at first as though we were going to head right on into the needles ahead, but then the trail jogged farther to the right, and the land began to fall away, even though there had been no hint of that from a distance...we switchbacked on down, finally came to a stair that seemed to be taking us into the very roots of the needles, and that's just what it did. Oh boy.

Stairs Down To The Join Trail

 Basically, we found ourselves in a much longer, deeper version of that slot we'd gone through some miles back. DJ in particular was having a blast. We just kept descending, and at one point came to a sudden drop, and had to go down a slanting log...either someone had dragged it there and set it up, or it had washed down, as logs frequently do, in places like that....there were steps cut in it.

Joint Trail Corridor

We began to pass fissures that intersected the one we were in, ran straight across it...there are a lot of these on the Joint Trail, and you can get into some of them and go some distance...if indeed Chesler Park was formed by a meteor impact, these things would seem to express a different aspect of the big jolt, concentric rings of cracks, instead of cracks radiating at right angles from the center, like the trail we were in.

Looking Straight Up

As we went along, both sorts of fissure just kept on getting bigger, until finally we came to places where they all really widened out, and you had the radial cracks forming canyons, and the concentric cracks forming big cracks that went all the way through the walls in some places.

Cave Going All The Way Through

If you go online and look for Joint Trail pictures, you'll see a cave where lots of hikers have to stopped to make cairns, hundreds of them, some smaller, some larger, some tucked away in wierd places, or high up on the walls. Well, that's where the main route takes a jog to the right, into a cave that comes out overlooking this big canyon.

View From The Cairn Cave

Big downhill drop...after a five mile hike, with another five miles back, I decided I really didn't want to go down there and then back up...we settled down in the cairn cave to have our lunch. Magical place...looks like it was designed by Brian Froud.

Cairn Cave

Pat decided to do a bit of exploring, went some ways off on our left, and found another cool cave...after we'd finished eating, he led us over there. Most amusing. You could look clear along it to the next fissure over, and see another cave in the wall beyond that.  In addition, there was a very satisfactory natural arch that you only noticed if you turned around and looked back the way we came in. Then you saw it silhouetted against the light.

Natural Arch Cave
 I bet there was a great deal more wonderfulness along the lines already described, and it really would've been swell to have had the luxury of coming up along that 4X4 trail, so we could've just hung around and delved into things. But we had that return march, and we soon got to it. It was nice and shadowy and cool down in the joints, but I was expecting the clouds to have burned off once we got back up into Chesler big water bottle was still about one-third full, and I guessed I was still going to run through the remaining two-thirds pretty damn quick. Lo and behold, however, the weather stayed a bit overcast, just enough to blunt the afternoon heat...the return trip was a great deal more pleasant than ever imagined it would be, and I really got to admire the landscape...when hikes become slogs, I tend to look down and concentrate on just plain walking, but I didn't have to this time.

We crossed the level part of the park, swung to the right by the Druid Arch Trailhead, gave some directions to a couple of folks from Kansas...then we headed to the left, back up into those sand hills, and reached the pass that we'd come through. Stopped there, had a bit more to eat...a pair of ravens cawed, announcing their presence, and followed us for a while, hoping for something sensational like an applecore. When we headed down, Pat stayed back to watch them for a bit, and I think he might've flung' em a treat, but I didn't see him actually violate Park rules.

Descended that rough slope beneath the needles, crossed the firstof the three lesser parks, and headed down into that corkscrew tributary canyon. Took another break. A guy was coming up...he'd just arrived in the area, was going to work at the park, and was heading to the Joint Trail. Asked about the terrain ahead...I told him there was one last crappy section before you got through the pass into Chesler Park...he got rather huffy about my choice of crappy...seems I should've said hard or difficult instead, out of respect for the land, I guess. It occurred to me that I could've mentioned that sand-wash out of the Upheaval Dome...there was a crappy, downright evil place if ever there was one. But I didn't say anything.

The rest of the hike was none too stressful. When we got back to the car, everyone started talking about ice cream...I didn't think there was anyplace nearby...hell, the nearest town was forty-five miles away. But there is this place called the Needles Outpost, which is just outside the park, and we gave it a shot. Actually, we'd stopped there on the way in the day before, and I'd gotten some eight dollar a gallon gas from this incredibly old gas-pump...had to pay cash inside. Since there wasn't a sticker out on the pump, I didn't know what the price was,  and the lady inside, who appeared to be some sort of ageing hippy, said that other people steal her price stickers...then she accused me of stealing the latest one...then she cooled off immediately and got sorta flirty and took my money. Anyway...

Today we were looking for ice cream, and she did indeed have some...we got some other food too, and  firewood. But there was a little yappy dog running around the place, and before we could pay, the lady got down and started chasing the dog around on all fours, barking and yipping. It was even more disconcerting than her accusing me of stealing her sticker.

Everybody informed me the ice cream was good though. They had to eat it real quick before it melted.

Cave Spring Overhang

We returned to camp, puttered around. Still had a good part of the afternoon to kill, so we ate an early canned dinner, then drove back out to  do some cruising about, with the intention of taking a smallish hike if we spotted one, then finding a good spot to watch a sunset. After a bit, we came to the lot for something called Cave Spring, and that proved to be just thing for diehards who still had a little bit of energy left. It was under an overhang  that went much of the way round a big mushroomy white sandstone outcropping rather like the one that made our camp so memorable...the path led through some tall weeds and tamerisks, then took us under the overhang, at the back of which the spring trickled down, staining the rock black...there was a hanging garden and loads of spiderwebs, also some indian pictographs.

Cave Spring Pictograph

 Farther to the left under the hang, there was an old cowboy camp from the nineteen twenties or thirties in a remarkable state of preservation, with tables and chairs, a couple of cupboards, and some box-mattress springs, although the actual stuffing was all gone. Lots of bottles and empty cans. Yet farther to the left, there was a corral, where I suppose the cowpokes penned their horses. Very interesting.

Storm Coming In

Took a right after the overhang petered back, and the trail returned us to the lot over the over the top of the outcropping. Off in the distance, thunderheads were building up, but they were still at the stage where they looked brightly-lit and very colorful, a couple of hours from drenching us, if they did it at all. We thought we had time to take the official Scenic Drive right out to its end, and climb up on some nice warm rock and watch the day flame out. Went as far as we could, and found a good vantage, looking west across a multitude of pink needles towards Grandview Point and that butte cut off from the bottom of Island in the Sky. A big thunderhead was boiling up behind it all with the light squarely behind it, the clouds getting increasingly menacing and purply-black. Spent a good long while watching all that, and sparing the occasional glance back towards our campground...there was a big storm building up off that way too, and it seemed to be coming on real fast...the air began to smell like rain, the last patches of light on various needles and features went out, and we piled back into the Yukon just as the first few drops were spatting against the windshield. I'd been entertaining the notion of going back to Cave Spring with flashlights after it got dark, to check out the critters, since desert thingies really come out at night and make for water. But it was getting increasingly clear that even if the storm didn't last too long, there was going to be a lot of water everywhere, so we ditched that idea.

Continued to hope the storm would blow right over, didn't. The sky just got darker and darker, even though it wasn't too late...there was a band of lighter sky down at the bottom, but it had this really-tormented and twisted looking black cloud-fringe hanging over it...lightning began shooting straight sideways, the thunder simply cracked, real close, simultaneous with the flashes, and the rain truly started to pelt down. We thought about getting into our tents or  the car, but since the overhang at the back of our site was so pronounced, we figured we could get in under that. Surely we wouldn't get doused...most thunder-storms pass pretty quickly after all.

But this one didn't, just hung right over the park. And while the rain didn't blow in at us, it began to crawl  under the end of the overhang, and though it couldn't get all the way to the back,  it started to drip straight down. I huddled up in my blue rubber mat for a while, and everyone else took similar steps, but it wasn't enough...not trusting the tents, we finally made a run for the car, and were in there a good hour I think, with the rain just hammering. 

Rain Coming Off The Overhang

Presently it started to abate, though...Pat decided we really needed a fire, because we had a firepit, we'd bought that wood, and we really hadn't any fires except the grilles for the whole rest of the trip, and the campfire was always a big deal on previous jaunts. In any case, we scraped together some kindling from junk in the car, and took some charcoal bricquets, and Pat managed to get a blaze going, even though the firepit wasn't under the overhang, and it was still raining somewhat. Very enjoyable fire...I sat under my mat watching the flames for about an hour before I finally packed it in...turned out Kate's borrowed tent hadn't leaked, so I slept in there with her.

Our Fire

Got up before sunrise yet again, had breakfast...everybody was moaning and shuffling about and hitting the bathroom, and since they could sleep in the car, and didn't really have to wake up, they stayed pretty groggy, except for Nick, who had to help me put the luggage on the roof. Once everyone hit the bathroom one last time and we were all wedged into the Yukon, we hit the road, and got back to the highway in short order. Stopped for some reasonably-priced gas in Moab, then blew on up to Route Seventy. Since we'd come through at night on the way in, it was very nice to see the desert east of Green River in broad daylight. Lot of Cainville Badlands type stuff. Then we hit the San Rafael Swell, and everything remained pretty mesmerizing all the way back to theWasatch Range, with every kind of geology I could think of on display. Stopped in Salina, had one last bag of chips. Then it was back on Seventy. Hit Fifteen and the Great Basin not long after. Listened to the score of Oh Brother Where Art Thou much of the way. Particularly enjoyed In the Jailhouse Now, Man of Constant Sorrow, and O Death.

I was feeling under the weather, by the way. Ever since we hit Dead Horse Point, I'd had sore throats in the mornings, and while I'd been coughing some, it wasn't too bad as long as I kept moving, and there had been a lot of that with all that hiking. Now, as we approached Vegas, I'd just been on a long car-ride and had a lot of air travel ahead of me, and the thought of being crammed into a little airline seat was seeming increasingly sucky. I was also worried that the rental company was going to get on my case because I'd dinged their car in a couple of places, but when we got to Hertz, they were all cool, because I had, of course, bought the insurance. But I was also quite contrite.

Hopped the Hertz shuttle back to McCarron. DJ wanted a big hamburger, so we took him to a place where he could get one. Then we got to the gate. Me and Kate let everybody hold down the carryons while we walked around a bit...I saw a store that sold diamond-encrusted skulls, and went back and told my kids, and this Asian lady across from me seemed to think that the idea of jewel-encrusted skulls was pretty funny.

My throat was feeling very tickly and scratchy by that point, so I was gobbling cough-drops, but I was still coughing pretty hard when I got on the plane. Jeannie was too...I bet everybody else hated us, and I probably gave some of them something...ditto on the connecting flight from San Francisco. Mea culpa, although we had to get home somehow. I've still got the cold, goes away, then comes back, and I've been having coughing fits from time to time, and taking too much Nyquil.

Overall though, few regrets aside from the choice of vehicle, rachet strap and med misadventures, and reservation confusion. Stupendous trip. Even the poor souls crammed into the back of the Yukon during the White Rim ride seem to have decided it was well worth doing, and that the White Crack was the best campground ever. Next time I go way off on a 4X4 road, though, I will have a more appropriate vehicle.

A Goodbye Cairn
Once again, the pictures were by Pat, and you should check out his Utah Blogs over at Even Fewer Goats...