Grocery store is just around the corner, I think…
The cooler with ice packs is loaded into the vehicle, along with every shopping bag we own. We remember to grab the all-important List. Others’ requests are dutifully collected as well, because anyone’s pantry may be thin before the calendar says it’s time to go to town — especially in stormy weather when the road may become impassable.
Our first grocery bill was $299. The second one was $427. Add 18 gallons of gas to get us to and from the grocery store; it can be expensive living in the middle of nowhere.
Rice and beans can be stockpiled and don’t go bad. We keep staples on hand and don’t mind eating the same things over and over. A bruised avocado and Jell-O Jigglers are tasty for breakfast! Pistachios and salsa for lunch! Spam and grapefruit* for supper! One gets creative, in a pinch.
[*Note to Hormel Corporation: I may have inadvertently discovered your next flavor for Spam. Yummm!]
I want you to see where I live: the wonder, the beauty, the mystery.
Barrier Canyon Style pictographs from 2000-4000 years ago. Stunning.
Rare endemic Cave Primrose
An ancient hearth with charred wood is eroding from a cliff bank. One has been dated to 4400 years ago.
Rhizoliths! Ancient root casts
Rubicons are for serious 4WD-ing
Doll House, Maze, storm
I’m on a pile of Giant Ground Sloth dung and Mammoth dung. Yes, I am!
A strong old corral made of juniper trunks
Don’t ask. It’s kind of creepy.
Land of Standing Rocks, the Maze, oncoming storm
Tafoni: chemical weathering in sandstone
On top of the world with my beloved
Panorama Point, the Maze
An old sheepherder’s cabin
ALL our roads are 4WD high clearance, but one!
View from my living room window each evening
Hiked to a hidden arch
Quintessential southern Utah landscape
A projectile point made of red chert, also called jasper
Eyes focused a few feet in front of him as he hiked, Chris abruptly knelt down in the wide sandy wash and muttered, “Oh, yeah. Finally.” His intent stare was fixed on a sharp red piece of chert, and when I got to his side he reached to pick up his find. He’s been on the lookout for projectile points for years.
This sweet little arrowhead was dwarfed by his finger. The fine workmanship showed off the skill of its maker, who expertly used an antler to press away tiny flakes along each edge until it was the shape and sharpness desired. It was missing its stem or its notches, used to fasten it to the shaft, but it was alluring in its imperfection.
Three photos later, he bid farewell to the point and flipped it back into the wash for a future person to find. “Catch and release,” I call it; you find a treasure, admire it, and let it go. Keep the photos, not the point, as a souvenir.
This area is a place where the Ancestral Puebloans would have spent considerable time; a nearby spring would supply their water needs, and flint-like chert was available to knap. Much of this “lithic scatter” has been flushed into the wash — a subtle reminder of their presence here 700, maybe 1200, years ago.
Thank you, ancient point-maker. Your survival tool made our hearts sing!
Hands are chapped, face is dry, fingernails dirty and chipped. Haven’t donned clean clothes for five days — too cold, and I’m wearing every layer I own — and my poor hair hasn’t seen a brush. I’m not exactly presentable.
But I am very, very happy.
I am out in untamed places where I see few others, where all sound except the wind (and an occasional wren) is conspicuously absent, where clouds are studied for important clues, where my body is toughened by exposure to elements, where a frozen water bottle means I’m exploring new comfort zones, where adventures await around every sandstone outcrop.
This week, here in Utah, I’ve stumbled upon ancient slab-lined hearths that cooked Indian Ricegrass when the pyramids at Giza were still young-ish. I’ve sat with pictographs likely painted while King David ruled in Jerusalem. I’ve hiked miles down washes that have echoed with the steps of people for many, many millennia.
And I am very, very happy.
[Thank you for your understanding and patience concerning photos. It is far too data-intensive to get them on my blog unless I’m near WiFi, which is infrequent. I will make up for it by posting a photo album when I am in town.]
Looking north from my back porch, canyon vistas gouge the landscape for a hundred miles. From a nearby point, five mountain ranges can be spied. In my wilderness hamlet at this moment, exactly six neighbors are within hollering distance.
The Maze District is not for wimps. Tomorrow, four of us head into the backcountry (where no fires are allowed) for a five-day Jeep patrol…just as a storm system rolls in and brings rain and near-freezing temperatures.
A memo in the Ranger Station states unequivocally that Canyonlands National Park was created with the intention “to manage the Maze District as a rugged, wild area with remoteness and self-reliance the principal elements of the visitor experience.” Which means: unlike other parks, in which geysers or 19th-century forts or mangrove swamps are the centerpiece of the visitor’s stay, the raison d’etre of the Maze is to allow intrepid travelers to experience isolation and to rely on their own resourcefulness to get in, recreate, and get out in one piece. There is no Ahwahnee Hotel here.
Some national park visitors relish the chance to get far away from everyone and everything, and the Maze was established for that small subset. Let’s make sure we’re clear: unless you plan well in advance, obtain a camping permit, own or rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle, carry extra gallons of gas, at least one spare tire (if not two), a high lift jack, topographic maps/GPS, and water and food to last you days beyond when you think you’ll exit… you should find a different park to visit.
Does the prospect of self-reliance and self-rescue invigorate you, or trouble you? Leave a comment, please ~
Ranger life in the Maze is a different creature altogether, and I get many questions about it. Here are the most common ones; please ask if you have more.
Where do you sleep? ~ There are eight apartments with the usual amenities found in civilization, like heat and running water and toilets. And beds!
Is there electricity? ~ With 300 sunny days per year, a large photo-voltaic array has replaced the former diesel generator; it still exists for back-up. We are very frugal with our electric use.
How far to the nearest pavement? ~ 46 washboarded road miles, about 90 minutes. If you’re a raven, you could fly directly to the pavement in 24 miles.
Do you have telephone and TV? ~ Weak Verizon signals penetrate into parts of the park. No TV. Extensive movie collection of curious genres, in DVD and VHS. Funky solar-powered land line (party line) in apartments and ranger station.
How long do people live there? ~ We’re here for three months. The ‘old-timers’ have joyfully been here for 26 and 30 years.
Does the Post Office deliver mail? UPS, FedEx? ~ No. We pick it up at the PO in Green River, two hours (82 mi) away. Packages go to Moab for pick-up there, three hours away.
Are you being punished by the park service, sentenced to isolation? ~ On the contrary — pinching ourselves at the privilege of being here.
What do you do after work? ~ Read. Explore. Strum guitar. Think. Stare at the 100-mile view. Run. Bike. Play cards or board games or horseshoes. Hook up the player and watch a movie. Occasional potlucks with karaoke. Write. Read more. Photograph. Fantasize about sushi.
You’re in a desert. Where do you get water? ~ This deserves an entire post in itself. Wait for it.
What happens if someone gets hurt? ~ It’s a three-hour drive to Moab’s hospital, hours more if you’re in the backcountry. Chris and I recently took a ten-day Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, enabling us to render immediate assistance. There are other WFRs here and a former EMT. Life-threatening situations are evacuated by helicopter.
Do you get lonely? ~ No! Extroverts might struggle with the lack of stimulation and slow pace of life, but it’s an introvert’s paradise and a balm for our souls.
Please add your own questions in the Comments section and I’ll answer them next time I have internet!
We had just put the vehicle into 4WD for the descent into Shafer Canyon when Chris announced, “This would be a good place to see bighorn sheep.” I’ve learned to be attentive to his musings; they are usually spot-on. My eyes began scanning the cliff sides and talus slopes, safe places to browse.
Around the next switchback, there she was –settled on her belly by the roadside, soaking up the early eastern light, intently chewing her cud.
We expected to encounter ravens and lizards, not a rare mammal, on our first day back. Oh, Utah — you make my heart quiver with joy!
Beginning today, I am going deeper into the wilderness than I have been before. The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park beckons — one of the most remote locations in the West.
The challenge of isolation will take getting used to; it is hours of 4WD to anywhere, including grocery store, post office, and health care. The internet is grimace-worthy and cell service spotty on good days. We will be OUT THERE, figuratively and literally.
This adventure drips with newness and beauty, two things that stir excitement in my soul. I will not be able to blog often (see previous paragraph) but I will use my occasional returns to civilization to post glimpses of the harsh desert wilds that have captured my heart.
Let the season begin!