Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 25, 2011

The ruin that keeps its secrets

A well-preserved ruin in Grand Gulch Primitive Area

Turning sideways and ducking, I wormed my way through the T-shaped masonry opening on the cliff ledge. This quasi-doorway was a defensive piece of construction, intended to ensure that only one person at a time could gain access to this habitation site. Brilliant. It also told me that the people who lived here were short and small. I sat and studied it for some time, impressed by their ingenuity. The odd shape may have allowed load-bearers to pass through more easily.

Backcountry etiquette discourages revealing the names of the more fragile ruin sites, so I will say only that I stumbled upon this one in a side canyon in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area. It sat fifty feet or so up a cliff wall, daring me to find a route up to it, beckoning me to get close enough to study its features from arm’s length. I picked my way far past it until a hump of sandstone created just enough ramp for my boots to grip. Ascending carefully along the exposed edge, the thrill of having made it here made me smile in disbelief. I had overshot this canyon on my way downstream and despaired of even finding it before the threat of darkness ruined my plans. Eleven miles of solo hiking brought me to my reward.

Its food storage granaries were almost intact, complete with stone slab doors. The wattle-and-daub walls still stood, and I dug in my pack for my headlamp to see the interior construction. The lashings used to hold the sticks in place were still doing the job every bit as well as they were eight centuries earlier, to my utter astonishment. Skillful craftsmanship was evident everywhere. Unusual green pigment was painted on exterior walls with much artistry.

I sat and ate a smashed Snickers bar to celebrate my find; the bottom-of-the-pack treats are always the best. Meanwhile, hiking partner Tara was at another alcove site, marveling at her find of the day: a well-worn but complete human molar. Everywhere we turned, evidence of ancient dwellers was waiting to be discovered, and we were the designated explorers. What a supreme treat.

Just now when I went to retrieve a photograph of this spectacular place, every shot of that ruin is gone from my photo library. Tara saw ALL of them on my camera three days ago and I find that mystifying; no other photos are missing. I wonder if the place wants its privacy? Enjoy this photo of a nearby ruin.

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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