Friday, September 25, 2015

Escalante and Southern Utah

June 22-26, 2015.

When Freebird was hiking the Hayduke this spring, he met a man named Will LaFever while passing through Escalante. Will, of Colorado, who was always drawn to the wilderness, chose to come to and explore southern Utah because of its remoteness. Upon arrival in 2012, he began a journey down the Escalante River, unprepared for what lay ahead, and a month later, emaciated, was rescued by helicopter and taken to the hospital in Panguitch, UT. Then he was brought back to his family in Colorado Springs. A more-detailed article about him and his rescue can be read here. After this piece was written, eventually he made his way back to the Utah desert, and has been wandering the area for a few years since.

Will doesn't own a cell phone, and he calls his father, John, when he makes his way into town. Eventually we got a hold of Will through John and arranged for a visit. Freebird would interview him while I took the pictures. Another article is now in the works to be submitted to a magazine. Since that is still to come, I'll spare most of the details for now as well as the photos of Will.

Before heading westward for Escalante, we stopped by our friend Alf's place in Castle Valley to purchase a portrait lens. He ended up generously lending us his Nikon v1 and a couple of lenses. In addition to that, he gifted me a laptop (which didn't work for very long, but no complaints!). Then we set out for the journey, which was thankfully able to be extended an extra day because a coworker offered to cover one of my shifts.

Hours later, after retracing the scenic drive that we took last fall on our journey back to Moab, we arrived in the familiar town of Escalante. According to plan, we met with Will at Nemo's for dinner. We downed some burgers and ice cream, snapped a few photos, then took off in search of a campsite.

Freebird and Will at an overlook along the scenic Highway 12.

Sunset somewhere near Hog's Back.

We parked and night-hiked up the Escalante River and found a place to set up camp. Will lit a fire, I took some more pictures, and then we all resolved to get some rest and start the interviewing the next day. Freebird set up camp for us across the river from Will, in view of the Escalante Natural Bridge.

The next morning, we opened our eyes and realized that we had slept at a location that afforded quite possibly the best view of the natural bridge, rather close to its base. The sun rose, setting the bridge aglow. We enjoyed quite a stunning morning show long before some other tourists arrived. 

Escalante Natural Bridge.
Morning light creeping over the cliffs, illuminating sage near our campsite.
Breakfast was cooked, and then we packed up everything for an excursion further up the river. Will, as energetic and enthusiastic as a child, was eager to go, throwing twigs at the tent to get us moving.

Escalante Arch.
Pictographs were seen along the way, nearby some cliff dwellings (ruins not pictured here).
We continued upriver then followed Sandy Creek over to a delicious spring, where we filled up our bottles with its fresh water and topped it off with some mint leaves growing in the area. From there we turned around and hiked back out. Will, in such excitement, had so many places that he wanted to show us. But time was limited, for I had to return to work. Moreover, we also had a rental that we were responsible for, which we couldn't take on the many 4WD roads. We eventually agreed to park somewhere closer to town and wander away from the road to look at some pictographs in caves that were about an hour's walk one-way.

Resting and cooling down (it was over 100 degrees that day) in one of the three neighboring caves.

Once we found our way back to the car, after pouring ice-cold water from the cooler over our heads, we migrated into town to eat dinner at Escalante Outfitters. Next, we stopped by our friend Gary's (who opened his home to us last fall for 2 nights and took us on tours of the area) to say hello, but he wasn't there. Then we went to the visitor's center. Will is fascinated with this place, I think largely because of all the insect specimens on display and tucked away in drawers. He showed us many of the kinds that he's spotted in the Utah desert, and he also pointed out to us, on the topographic map, all the places that he's wandered. Later Will introduced us to one of his friends in town. Then we dropped him off at Cowboy Blues to call his dad, while we went back to partake in showers at the outfitters.

After picking up Will again, it was back to the wilderness. We set up camp in a gulch off of the Burr Trail. Another campfire was made, and we had a first interview.

The last interview the following morning.
It was getting to be time for Freebird and me to start slowly making our way back to Moab. After a final interview, we split ways. Will chose to hike on up the canyon, and we continued to follow along the Burr Trail, which would take us through more breathtaking scenery and would eventually lead us into the gorgeous backcountry of Capitol Reef National Park.

A quick venture up a short slot canyon.

An arch, with the Henry's in the distance.

Looking toward where the Burr Trail was about to descend through switchbacks.

Passing through Ticaboo. Several boats bound for Lake Powell to the south are parked around a gas station, seeming out of place in this desert.

Overlooking the Colorado River, and part of what used to be Lake Powell. The waters of the "lake" have been receding, and it seems that this fan of Edward Abbey is thrilled about it, though the damage caused by the Glen Canyon Dam remains.

The Dirty Devil River.

Driving on a runway.
Approaching the Colorado River, where we stopped to throw rocks in the water.

Another out-of-place boat at Hite, where we stopped to use the public restrooms' sinks to take baths.

Leaving Hite, we found a no-fee campsite not very far away. Freebird had actually spotted it when he walked past it months before. No one else was around - so peaceful! We set up camp, then watched an amazing sunset over the Henry's.

That night, I experienced the most wondrous smell of burning juniper for the first time ever. That campfire brought to mind childhood memories of cedar being cut in my dad's workshop so many years ago.

Drying some soggy bread we had kept in the cooler.

In the morning, we continued our journey back to Moab. We stopped at Natural Bridges National Monument and drove the loop to check out all three of them. With the incredible heat, we only hiked halfway down to one of them - the Sipapu Bridge. The other two - the Kachina and Owachomo - were only glanced at from the overlooks.

Sipapu Bridge.

We crossed paths with this beautiful bull snake.
Some Indian ruins.
After looking down at the Sipapu and seeing all the miserable, sweaty tourists making their way back up to the parking lot, we chose not to hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon. Back at the car, we poured more ice-cold water from the cooler over our heads. A couple, who was about to begin the descent, approached us with alarmed looks on their faces. "Was it that bad?"

We finished the loop, pulled over at a campground, ate some lunch, then continued on, Moab-bound.

A few miles south of Moab.

Along the way we made another stop at this incredible arch. There were 9 ravens tucked back in the shadows, most of which flew away when we walked through the arch. 

I had been going through excruciating mental anguish that day. Pain from the past was resurfacing, and this was another one of those challenging moments that arise in the letting go of one's ego. Interesting enough, as Freebird and I talked about it, a raven fledgling was being weaned from its parents about 50 feet away. It was crying out in anguish, convinced that it would find no more food and that it would die a slow death. It seems to me that we all go through that in letting go of the ego, the false self. Just like the young raven, we forget at times that we're a part of the greater whole that provides for each of us.

We lounged in the arch for awhile, talking of how we are made in the image and likeness of the infinite, omnipotent God, who is purely good, love. Therein lies our true identity, not in this false self that sees itself as separate from the source, full of error, susceptible to disease and death. I started to feel a little better after this, but still was feeling somewhat down.

We left the arch and ravens behind, filled up the gas at the edge of Moab, then returned southbound, back to the La Sal Loop Road. It was decided to follow the loop up to Castle Valley, drop off the camera and lenses with Alf, then return to Moab. We rose higher and higher into the mountains, into another world, rolling down the windows to enjoy the cool breeze. The desert scenery vanished and all of a sudden, it seemed, everything was green. The La Sals were in the midst of spring.

Gazing down at Mill Creek.
I had been hearing many of the locals talk of Oowah Lake. We turned off the loop road and climbed gravel switchbacks until we were there. It was quite lovely strolling along its shore.

We noticed a short trail leading from Oowah to Clark Lake and changed our plans (as you may recall from my past blogs, our "plans" are never set in stone). The car was due back at 9 AM the next day, but we figured we could wake before sunrise and still have enough time to go to Castle Valley first. So we packed up our bags with what we needed, and hit the trail.

On our ascent, we were greeted by a refreshing spring!

After ascending awhile, the trail flattened out and opened into a grassy meadow. Here we saw one deer, a male and female elk, and a bull. The first three took off, but the bull continued to graze with no intention of running away or charging at us. He, who Freebird named "Sassy," could care less about us. We walked past him a ways and found a log on which to sit and watch the sunset. All suffering vanished (once I stopped thinking about it) and I had a mountaintop experience, right there in the La Sals.

Thank God we hadn't returned to Moab yet. These experiences needed to happen. As the sunlight faded, we proceeded to walk toward Clark Lake.

Clark Lake and Mount Mellenthin, I believe.
The air was a bit nippy along Clark Lake that night, compared to the previous night when we stayed near Hite. I couldn't even zip up my sleeping bag then, for it was 85 degrees at night. Here in the mountains, it was in the 40's. We camped beside the lake and a rushing stream and slept peacefully.
Hiking out the next morning, we bid farewell to Sassy, who was still grazing away.

Evidence of bears.

Hopping back in the car, we drove away from Oowah and returned to the loop road. Winding through the mountains in the beautiful morning light, the rabbits and free-range cattle were by far the most numerous of the creatures near the pavement. We had to keep an eye out for their sudden crossings!

The views were incredible that morning! We followed the loop road to Castle Valley, dropped off the camera, then meandered down the winding river road back to Moab. Of course we stopped at Matrimony Spring before entering town; as always, that's a must. It's been said that once you've tasted its waters, you're hooked. You'll never leave Moab. 

Once back in town, there was enough time to chat with the roommates for a bit, as well as for each of us to shower. After that we succeeded in dropping off the car off at Enterprise by the deadline. And so we made it back to Moab after such an amazing adventure. What a glorious, rich experience!