Thursday, June 23, 2011

2500 miles and counting.........

Today marks my 26th day on the road and my odometer has clicked off just over 2500 miles. Maybe my standards are getting a bit low (or my stench unbearable) but a shower was an absolutely divine way to start the day!

Now before you go and say that the shower looks gross consider that is smelled clean. I talked with the owner of the motel and that he had recently purchased the place and was starting to make upgrades. He then told me a few stories of when he backpacked in Africa and fought off a baboon with an ice ax......not sure why he had an ice ax in Africa? Nevertheless I had a good time listening.

Although the day was cool I loaded up the cooler with ice and headed up to Hells Backbone. I climbed the road to 9000 feet above sea level where it was lightly raining and a few random snow flakes drifted down.

This is the Hells Backbone bridge. As you can see its a long way to the canyon floor below on either side. This road was the first automobile route connecting the towns of Escalante and Boulder. Until the 30's the only way to get to Boulder was along a rough and rugged wagon trail. When president Roosevelt announced the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) the town jumped at the chance to get a road built. The road was completed in 1933 and served as the towns lifeline to the outside world. The road climbs high into the mountains between the two towns. Because of its location the winter snow often blocked the route and travel was redirected to the old wagon roads. It wasn't until 1940 that an all weather (highway 12) was built. Once highway 12 was built the town of boulder was no longer isolated as it was in the past.

A section of "rip gut" fence in boulder. The residences here were so isolated that they had to construct fences with what local materials they could find. Store bought fencing was just too difficult to obtain. Boulder town was so isolated that they were one of the last areas in the United States to have mail delivered by mule train. Now only two such routes exist, both in the Grand Canyon. Also interestingly enough the town didn't get electricity until 1947. The homes in Salt Gulch didn't receive power until 1953! A reminder of the remoteness and ruggedness of the landscape here.

Heading down the Burr Trail towards the Waterpocket Fold. The Burr trail was built in the 1880's as a route to move cattle from boulder to winter pastures near the Colorado River.

I made a quick side trip to the Wolverine Petrified Forest. (no the standing isn't petrified.....I just thought it looked cool) The ground in the washes here is littered with bits of petrified wood from trees that lived here 225 million years ago. During this time the region was much closer to the equator and was covered in a wet sub tropical forest. The hike from the trail head is about a mile long and it leads you to large petrified trunks of ancient trees. I started down the wash when I stepped on a cactus......went strait through the sole of my boot in several spots. I couldn't get one spine that was lodged deep in my flesh without the aid of tweezers. So I hobbled back to the Jeep.

And for a public service announcement about visitor registers. It may seem trivial to sign in and out but it could save your life! Something as simple as sprained ankle miles from the trail head could suddenly turn into a life threatening situation. Without signing in and out there is almost no way of knowing how long a vehicle has been at the trail head, how many were in the group or where the occupants disappeared to. The desert doesn't care who you are, if you are unprepared it can and will take your life.

I hobbled my way up to the overlook above the Waterpocket Fold. The view and geology here is amazing! The fold is a series of reefs that stretch for 90 miles from north to south. The fold is also home to the life sustaining waters of the Fremont River.

I headed down the Burr Trail switchbacks and made it north to the southern most campsite in Capitol Reef National Park. I pulled up to the cedar mesa campground and made camp. I hopped into the tent to exhausted to even make dinner.

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.

Lazyness in the sun.

This morning I woke up at sunrise, but I felt lazy. So, after snapping a few pictures I decided to go back to bed. The morning was was cool and cloudy when compared to the last few mornings so the tent didn't heat up......before I knew it it was noon. Since I had wasted the better part of a day I decided that I would take the rest of the day and relax. Twenty four days on dusty, dry, hot desert trails has somewhat started to wear on my psyche......I spent the rest of the day napping, eating, texting friends, meditating and enjoyed the view.

I only took a few pictures......I didn't feel much like picking up the camera after Antelope Canyon. I am actually still sitting the fence wither the $50 was worth it. I got a few neat shots but for what I paid I may as well have just bought posters.

Gunsight butte from camp at sunrise.

And at sunset.

Well that's all I really have to say today. I wont drivel on like I usually do, until tomorrow!

Herded like cattle.

I woke late this morning because of the events of the previous night. I tried my hardest to sleep in but the sun was beating down on the tent since I was exposed in full sun. It was getting far too hot inside the tent to sleep. Reluctantly I got up and made some breakfast. The campers next walked over and asked it I was the one who had turned off the generator. I sheepishly answered yes. They thanked me and we proceeded to trash talked the guy while I ate and packed up.

I didn't have to be in Page for my tour for a few more hours so I went to the Glen Canyon Dam and walked around.

You could hear the electricity buzzing from this tower even though it was across the canyon!

Since I had slept in instead of waking up early as planned the photos (not my original intent) I made it to Big Bend much later than I had hoped. The lighting was great since I had missed the softness of the morning light. However it was still an interesting sight to see.

An interesting out cropping on the short hike to the bend.

I glanced at my cell phone to see how much time I had left before my ride to Antelope Slot Canyon departed. I about had a heart attack when I saw I was suppose to be there in 5 minutes! I ran back to the Jeep and zipped into town, only to remember that Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings and therefore has an hour time difference. Since I was early I drank plenty of water and relaxed in the air conditioned comfort of the tour office.

Antelope Slot Canyon is a truly amazing place. The canyon was stumbled upon in 1932 by a young Navajo girl herding sheep. A few sheep had wandered towards the mouth of the canyon and she followed. When she returned home she told her family of the amazing place she had discovered. It is likely that others had visited earlier, however they left no record. The canyon was open to the public until 1997 when the Navajo Nation decided to protect the area by requiring you to have a Navajo guide. The ride to the canyon takes you through some deep sand. Many of the tour companies have lifted trucks with big tires to get through the sand with ease. After a short ride we arrived:

 My favorite shot of the tour. I think its post card worthy......not bad for just being dumped from the camera card with no editing!

From the pictures above you would think that this place is the most beautiful and serene place on earth. Its beautiful, but sadly this is reality:

At any given point in time there are 100-200 people in this narrow canyon. The guides have the timing of the light beams to an exact science. our guide was push and did a great job of directing traffic to enable us to take shots. Antelope Slot Canyon is a beautiful place, however I feel that the specialness has been squashed by commercialization. On a busy day they bring 1000 people here. At 30-50 bucks a visitor you can see how lucrative the canyon is. The tour guides push everyone through like cattle, shout at people and tell you where to set up your tripod. The pictures tell one story, reality is another thing. One British gentleman in our group suggested that our bossy little tour guide would make a good dominatrix and that he would like to see what she could do with a whip in the bedroom........

Once the tour was over I went to the local gas station, fueled up and got ice for the cooler. I spotted this neat Hi-lux from Germany:
We crossed paths at Wahweep, the gas station and Mc Donald's. Unfortunately it was only a passing, I would have loved to have sat around a campfire and heard of his journey!

Stocked up on food, ice and fuel I made my way to the Smokey Mountain road and towards Alstrom Point high above the lake.

Ever seen the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes? These bentonite hills were used in several scenes. Maybe they look familiar to you? Its been a long time since I have seen it, but I would assume it was used for one of the "forbidden zone" scenes. One word of caution when traveling across this kind of clay. In the wet months or after a rainstorm the clay will make the trail extremely slippery and can rut deeply. My grandpa would say that the wet clay is: "slicker than snot on a breadboard." Luckily no such problems today!

I finally made it to my perch above the lake.

Even the Jeep seemed to be taking in the view!

I found a slightly sheltered spot amongst the rocks and set up camp. From this high vantage point I had wonderful cell phone reception. I made the best of it by catching up with some friends I haven't talked to much since my journey began. After catching up with old friends I climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep.