NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
May 23, 1999; Sunday
Mi Casa; Fort Collins, CO
This story actually
has its roots months past on a cold winter evening when Dave and I mulled
over topographical maps of the Needles District in Canyonlands National
Park; a backpacking trek through the area no more than a fantasy. By and
by that led to correspondence with the Park Service, reservations, more
planning, shopping, packing, etc., all leading up to 6:30 AM on a dull
and cloudy Sunday in Fort Collins. We loaded the final necessities and
stopped by a bagel shop on the way out of town. Why do all bagel
shops sell Odwalla fruit drinks?
The clouds became
less substantial as we drove west on I-70 through the Rocky Mountains,
and soon the weather matched our spirit of adventure. We stopped
in Glenwood to have lunch with a friend, Rachel. We grubbed on greasy
Americana fare at Burger King, and an hour later, Dave and I were on the
road west once again. Grand Junction came and went, and soon we crossed
the state line after which we exited I-70 on 283(?) and sped through the
bustling town of Moab, UT, stopping for gas at an outdated Conoco filling
station (the kind where the mechanic doubles as cashier). The road
led us to Canyonlands National Park about the same time the weather turned
ugly. We picked up our permit after paying (grudgingly) the $10 entrance
fee (we already paid $25 for the reservation). We had planned to
camp at Squaw
Flat, but it was full of the first come, first served crowd. At the
suggestion of the ranger with a skunk spot on his beard, we camped about
6 miles outside the park on BLM land. (Land of the free) The campsite
we found was beautiful; nestled under young cottonwoods in a grassy field.
Across the 2 lane blacktop lay a mammoth butte with sheer rock faces rising
200 feet straight up in the air from a base of rubble accumulated after
eons of weathering the desert.
The weather let
up without raining, and we set up camp in comfort. Dinner of spaghetti
served uphot followed, and shortly after dinner the sun came out.
I took the opportunity of pleasant light to take my first trip snapshots.
Camera junkie. It's an expensive habit.
After dinner's dishes were clean and stowed, we hiked over to the butte
across the road. We followed a trail up the boulder-strewn slope,
passing cactus, bunchgrass and lots of lizards. We examined the vertical
cliffs along with the subtle adornments of very brave rock climbers (screws
in the rock about 20 ft up).
We agreed that no such thrill sounded inviting at all. I prefer to
keep my feet on the ground where the possibility of compound fractures
is significantly less. Moving along a sand pathway, we found a crack
in the wall that led to a cave created by a vertical slab of rock, probably
several million tons in weight, letting go of the rock face, falling to
the base of the butte and then slamming back up against the cliff after
having wavered out away from it about 10 feet. Caves of any kind
are meant to be explored. Unfortunately this one afforded about 1
minute worth of active exploration, but it was interesting all the same.
I tried to photograph it but the sun was low and the light was insufficient
for a satisfactory shot. Nothing more was left to see, and the sun
was getting low behind a red mesa. Shadow slipped over our camp in
the cottonwoods below.
We went back to the tent and watched tiny bats, like nocturnal butterflies,
flap slowly but deftly against the dark blue horizon seeking their invisible
blood-sucking prey. They were so close at times we could hear their
ultrasonic sonar pulse (the not-quite ultrasonic portion of it anyway).
A doe came to investigate our camp briefly while I was shuffling through
gear in the Jeep. It bolted at the sight of me and disappeared instantly
in the thick brush. Night set in and we retired to the tent until
dawn. I slept well with the prospect of a week's adventure ahead.