Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shaken baby syndrome.

After spending a day relaxing and resting up I awoke ready to tackle the trail. The plan for the day was to wander up the Smokey Mountain Road and visit Hole-in-the-rock. The Smokey Mountains are named such because of they are actually smoldering. Deep below the plateau there are large deposits of coal that continuously smolder. It is unknown wither the fires were started by lightning or if the coal auto-ignited. It is likely that this has been going on here for centuries. The Bureau of Mines spent months in the 60's with bull dozers working the area in an attempt to stop the fires. With the hopes that one day the coal would be recovered. The fires stopped where the dozers worked, but the  smoldering would just flare up in new spot. Since the campaign did little to stop the fire the effort was abandoned. Now that most of the coal deposits are contained within the boundaries of Grand Starcase-Escalante National monument it is likely that the coal deposits will continue to smolder unbothered just as they have for centuries.

I turned on the GPS, punched in some coordinates and headed out. I missed a turn off along the way accidentally right out of the gate. Garmin apparently doesn't believe in telling users to make a U-turn so while i wasn't paying attention it auto routed me on a 80 mile detour. I managed to get 32 miles off course before I even realized it........stupid me! I usually watch the GPS and turn off the auto routing once I have reviewed the route, today I forgot and I paid the price. Long story short I ended up traveling up the rough and bumpy Croten Road. It turned out to be a lot of miles of backtracking and traveling the same roads twice to see the Smokey Mountains......I decided to leave the trail for another adventure at a later date.

Since I had goofed up my first destination for the day I headed to the second: Hole-in-the-rock. The Hole-in-the-rock expedition was an amazing achievement made by Mormon pioneers. The Mormon church called upon members pack up and settle in what is now Bluff, Utah. However the route to get there was 500 or so miles. The pioneers decided to forge their own path and create a "short cut." In 1879 two hundred men, women and children departed in 83 wagons herding nearly a thousand cattle ahead of them. They set up camp near Dance Hall rock.
Because of the acoustical properties and flat floor of the bowl here pioneers would hold dances and play the fiddle here to break away from labors of cutting a new trail.

This is the Hole-in-the-Rock. This proved to be the most difficult challenge of the new route. The canyon here was narrow and steep. Pioneers blasted, chiseled and shoveled a route to the river almost 2000 feet below. At points men were lowered down in barrels to place charges of dynamite. The trail ended up a 45 degree chute strait down to the river! A member of the expedition recalls the descent:

"It nearly scared me to death. The first wagon I saw go down they put the brake on and rough locked the hind wheels and had a big rope fastened to the wagon and about ten men holding back on it and they went down like they would smash everything. I'll never forget that day. When we was walking down Willie looked back and cried and asked me how we would get back home."

Once to the bottom the wagons were loaded on a ferry and taken across the river. On the other side the wagons faced a treacherous climb back up to the plateau. The "shortcut" that was suppose to take the settlers six weeks to forge ended up taking the six months to complete. In the end the route was just too dangerous and after about a year the route was abandoned.

I spent some time hiking partway down the chute contemplating the determination of the Mormon pioneers. The hike is steep and difficult. Today the lower third of the passage is under the waters of Lake Powell. Also many large boulders have fallen into the passage. Nevertheless it is still an interesting piece of history. While I was here I ran into a woman who was carrying gear up the hole. I asked her what on earth she was doing. She explained that she had floated down the Escalante River and paddled her way across the lake. She had spent the entire day portaging her raft and gear up the slope! She hoped to hitch hike out to the highway in the morning. Certainly a very determined woman!

After resting in the shade and rehydrating I decided it was time to face the road to Escalante. Ahead of me lay 53 miles of the worse washboards I have ever seen. It didn't seem to matter what speed you traveled you were destined to be shaken to death. The gear was rattled so badly in the back and I developed a few odd squeaks that I now need to investigate.

How would you like to have been the one to drive these fence posts?

I also stopped to take pictures of this water truck with a flat tire. I was not particularly interested in it, nor did I feel it was photo worthy but I needed a few minutes to allow my stomach and pounding head to settle before I pressed on. Finally after almost two hours of deplorable roads I made it to Escalante. I needed fuel so I fueled up at the only place in town open weekends. Still not sure where I was going to spend the night I wandered over to a dumpy RV park. I inquired about a tent site and was told $10 for the night and they had a shower. It was getting late (about 10:30) I was sweat drenched and exhausted. Plus it had been several days since my last shower. I gladly handed over the money and made camp.

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