Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 7, 2011

In which Kathryn ends up in the wrong valley

I took a girlfriend hiking, someone who hadn’t been up to Hidden Valley before. We had heard through some informal sources that there were some ancestral ruins there, but knew only very approximately where they might allegedly be hiding. Julia’s an anthropology major, and we’re both crazy about ancient cultural things, so we elected adventure over predictability. We were going to try to find some “old stuff,” and following established trails wasn’t going to cut it.

Did kangaroos ever live in Utah?!? (Hidden Valley petroglyph)

Exiting the main path at what looked like an appropriate sandy wash, we began to head upward for a bird’s-eye view. Surely a granary or a kiva would be more visible from a higher vantage point. We crested the rocky ridge and followed it along, as I told her that “that huge wall of Entrada sandstone over there is covered with petroglyphs for us to study.” Yes. It was. Only there are multiple huge walls of Entrada sandstone that look similar, and I was pointing to the wrong one. Off we went.

Thus commenced an off-trail adventure following game trails and gut instincts until we found a way to scramble over one cliff wall and into the correct valley. Please don’t laugh; this is my life. After successfully accessing Hidden Valley at last, we celebrated with Clif bars under a juniper tree, a good chuckle, and a most thorough exploration of every detail of the marvelous petroglyphs. Never did find a structure, but isn’t the joy in the journey instead of at the destination?

April 24, 2011

Up side / Down side

Find our yellow tent hiding in this photo.

Just for fun I’ve tried to summarize my backpacking trip into two lists. Here they are:

UP SIDE: Being in the fresh air 24/7. Stunning scenery. The smell of sage. Finding artifacts everywhere. Sleeping on the ground. Pushing my body nearer to its limits. Climbing down a ladder into an ancient kiva. Sound slumber. Relying on maps because there are no trail signs anywhere. The fine taste of camping food, no matter how humble it is. Learning about ancestral people from a millennium ago, solely via what they left behind. Silence. Getting along fine without a toilet or outhouse. A Mountain Bluebird that made us do a double-take, it was so blue.  Lavender-scented sunscreen. No cell service. Drinking our tea out of the pot because we had no mugs. Seeing few humans. Watching what the sun does to the rocks at day’s beginning and end. Being okay with physical discomfort. Claret Cup Cactus with many scarlet buds. Finding out how strong women really are. Stumbling upon a Peregrine Falcon pair. Training my eye to see likely places where we’d locate ruins. The fine taste of filtered spring water. Lizards. Studying a strand of black hair mortared into an ancient granary. Never having to go inside. Holding pottery shards. Attending to the sun and the sky. A cozy sleeping bag. Rock scrambling. Feeling a strong sense of connection with everything around me. Hiking twenty miles.

Does tree-climbing increase happiness? Or do happy people climb trees?

DOWN SIDE: None. Except possibly the pricklypear glochids that lodged in my left thumb when I reached out to stabilize myself. But I got ‘em out. Mostly.

Put those two lists on your scales and weigh them. And then borrow a backpack and go into the wild! Take a child, a parent or grandparent, a sibling or a friend with you. If you have limitations that prevent you from going, rent a wonderful documentary about backpacking a major trail, pop some popcorn, and enjoy it vicariously.

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