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 23, 2011

Exultation & Exhaustion

Rookie job of packing, but it worked! Kathryn treks in Bullet Canyon, Utah.

The verdict is in for my first backpacking trip: Marvelous Success. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. You know that combination of “I love this so much” plus “it hurts so good” — ?? That delightful satisfaction that comes when you push your limits and find that nothing terrible happens?

Filtering your own water from a spring, or finding centuries-old pottery shards to admire at a ruin, or climbing 60 feet up a steep cliff to photograph an archeological site —  these kinds of “firsts” open up a whole new world of possibilities. I found myself thinking outside the box the entire time. “What’s stopping me from (X)?” began to supplant “I don’t think I can (X).”

Truth be told, I’m spent… especially legs and hips. My body is resilient, however, and I’ll get that spring back in my step by tomorrow. The pure joy of being in a wild land and being able to decide where to put our tent and how many miles to hike and what alcoves to explore, without having to bump into more than a handful of others, was what caused my heart to sing. The nights were cool, the days perfect, the experience magnificent. Details to come.

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