Sept 27, 2012
I opened my eyes around 7:00 amidst the growing glow of light inside my tent, and savored the explicit quiet hush of the desert all around. So beautifully quiet out here. After a few moments I got dressed in the cold air outside my sleeping bag, and stepped out into the cool and dewey morning air. The smell of wet grass filled the air, and my tent sagged from the weight of collected dew. The sun was up but not visible. The glow was coming from an east facing cliff near camp that was catching the first light of the morning, causing the rock to burn orange high above.
I walked down the hill to the truck, and Griff was stirring. He boiled some water and we made oatmeal and coffee. I watched the orange band of sunlit-rock sink down the cliff face over my steaming mug of coffee. After breakfast we pulled down our tents. They were soaking wet, but neither of us was willing to wait until the sun hit camp to get moving. As we were not driving far, we left the tents out in the bed of the truck weighted with miscellaneous gear so they could dry in the sun while we hiked.
In the truck, we drove down the dirt track some ways from camp to the trailhead of Chute Canyon. Here, a narrow 4-wheel track leads off up a steep incline to the left, while the main road slides into the Chute Creek channel. We decided to drive on a bit and see where this led. Not far, as it turned out. We drove perhaps another 1/8 mile in the creek channel to a sign that said ďEnd of Emery County MaintenanceĒ, and just beyond, boulders blocked any further progress. We parked in a wide open area next to the creek channel, and pushed the ice chest under the truck before heading out. Near the truck we inspected a series of rusted metal panels and artifacts, indications of some sort of cabin or camp here many years ago. Just beyond, a plaque on a large boulder marked the death of Carol Etherington in this canyon in 1992.
The canyon was narrow to begin with and became moreso as we walked downstream. Sparse cactus, Indian rice grass, sagebrush and rabbitbrush adorned the beautifully-smooth, undulating sandstone walls. The bed of the channel was filled with course sand that crunched under foot, each footfall echoing backwards and forwards between the walls. Chilly at first, the sun climbed higher and soon we were quite warm, and we stopped to slather on sun screen and drink water. The scenery is so engrossing, itís easy to forget to drink enough water. There was a particular steep chute of rock on the west side of the canyon that, after several attempts, I managed to scale up into and look around. A deep pool of dark water resided, hidden, up in a hanging pothole, and it barred further progress to the steep slope beyond. How many other such hidden pools live in these canyons? How many people have looked into the still depths of this pool, located only 20 feet off the trail?
We walked on, in no hurry. There were no obstacles in the canyon, and we simply followed the creek channel the entire time. Most of the time, the canyon walls were 20 feet apart, but in spots they narrowed down to 10 feet. I donít know why narrow canyons such as this are so fascinating, but they just are. We stopped and ate lunch of crackers, cheese and jerky on With continued progress downstream, the canyon walls began to shrink in height, and soon we could see the flats beyond where the rock sunk below the level of the sand, and the channel became a meandering wash through the sagebrush. We turned around at that point and retraced our steps upstream.
Out in the wide world, it was Thursday, and people were sitting at office desks and typing on computers. I shouldíve been there, too, but instead I was crunching my way up a sandy wash through a stone canyon under a blue sky, many miles from any town. I love to savor that contrast when Iím out hiking, and I indulged in that thought for a long time while we walked upstream. We reached the truck where our tents were dry and the ice was still cold in the ice chest. We hopped in and drove east.
Not far down the road, we stopped again at Crack Canyon and began walking downstream. Crack Canyon is narrower and was much wetter, on this day at least. A thunderstorm to the north the previous day had brought lots of water rolling down this drainage (though curiously, not down Chute Creek only a mile away) and every depression was filled with fresh water, and everything was mud. We walked for some time in a wide valley, sometimes following the channel and sometimes hiking on narrow paths overland to cut off the oxbows. Soon we reached the rock uplift of the swell where the creek cut a deep canyon through the buff-colored sandstone. Several dropoffs and plunge pools required a detour almost right away, and we were into narrow passages with overhanging walls beyond that. Thereís no trail, per se, in the canyon, but thereís only one feasible route, and that is to walk in the creekbed. We followed the channel on its winding course between narrow canyon walls hundreds of feet high. Usually the walls were not sheer, but broken and convoluted. In many places, if you had to, you could climb out. After an hour of easy walking we reached a stretch of deep water 30 feet long sandwiched between two smooth walls about 8 feet apart. Though Griff and I had both been hiking in canyons like these before, we inexplicably failed to bring water shoes along, and I didnít want to get my boots wet. Jumping into murky water barefoot seemed risky, so we simply stopped. We climbed up a side crack a little ways looking for a way around, but it seemed like more risk than it was worth. We sat in the shade of the canyon wall and snacked on salty foods. After 10 minutes, we heard the faint crunch of footsteps coming down the canyon, and several minutes later, two hikers appeared. At first they didnít see us, and after a minute or more of them standing at the waters edge looking down canyon, I felt like I had to say something or risk seeming like a stalker in the shadows, so I called out hello, surprising them greatly. We chatted a little bit, and then they sat down to also have a snack. We packed up around that time and left.
The hike back up canyon took
far less time than the hike down. We encountered a burly fellow that looked
like Santa Claus snapping photographs in the narrow section near the plunge
pool. We also noted hundreds of little brown frogs with red dots, only
1 cm long. They live a tenuous existence out here, with only a narrow ribbon
of moisture in a sea of baked rock. We reached the truck in late afternoon,
and drove off east to find a camp for the evening.