Monday, April 1, 2013

What Draws us to Utah's Red Rock Country?

What is it that draws us to Utah's Red Rock Country? Is it the red color of the rocks, the tantalizing sunrises or the remoteness of the countryside. When I think of Utah's Red Rock Country, I think of Moab, the Four Corners and Canyonlands. Just the thought of it, conjures up visions of John Wayne, the Navajo, the Anasazi and my favorite - Indiana Jones.

For me personally it is the pure Indiana Jones, adrenalin rush type of adventure that you can achieve on almost any visit to the region. That is, if you so desire. This rush does not just come from a remote hike into an Anasazi site, or hanging your hind end out on a Mountain Bike ride on the side of a cliff. This rush and inspiration can also be achieved by simply getting up early and watching the sun's early morning rays strike the monoliths in Arches National Park.

I am no expert on the region, but I am madly in love with it. My first visit occurred in the late 1980's while on a trip to repair the electronic controls on a houseboat at the Lake Powell, Bullfrog Marina. I drove all of the way down from Washington State and when I saw the scenery around Hanksville and then Lake Powell, I was awestruck! What was this place of red rock, this land of wild and towering rock formations, of remote and alluring canyons calling out to me. It leaves a lasting impression that I did not soon forget.

My first real visit was a trip to Moab. I believe it was the fall of 1994. My brother in law and I went there to do some hiking and mountain biking, to experience the adventure. And what a trip it was! We rode the Slick Rock Trail near Moab for the first time. This is where I found out that you can't actually ride up vertical rock, even though it seems like you can, but my complete backwards somersault proved otherwise. We also rode the Portal Trail, where leaning to far in the wrong direction can lead to a 450 foot fall. One of my favorite exploit's of the trip was rappelling into an alcove in a cliff to see if any human being had been there before. We were thinking that maybe it had been visited before by, perhaps an Indian, but alas, we were only greeted by a bunch of mouse droppings. It was adventure none the less.

What fun that first trip was and there was one other intriguing fact of knowledge that came up while on that trip. It was the photo that we saw at the Moab Airport of a large Anasazi Cliff dwelling. We asked at the airport and around town, but no one would, or could, tell us where it was located. Now, this was pure intrigue, the seed that plants visions of adventure in my brain. It took a couple of more trips to Moab and two years of asking around, along with minimal research, to learn the location of the cliff dwelling. And so, with that knowledge in hand, we planned a trip back down to Southern Utah.

Since I don't keep a journal I can't remember if it was one of our spring trips, or fall trips to Moab. Let's just say for fun that it was May of 1996, since I was probably down there at that time. We headed down to Southern Utah with the expressed purpose of visiting that cliff dwelling.

To get to the trail head, we had to drive 17 miles in on a dirt road, after driving for almost 2 hours on paved road. Our plan was to hike in, set up camp, hike to the dwelling, spend the night and hike out the next morning. We drove out from Moab early in the morning and arrived at the end of the dirt road around noon. The view of the canyon where the cliff dwelling lay was fabulous, with stripes of Painted Navajo Sandstone. The dwelling itself was not visible from our vantage point. The remoteness of the location and the rough desert beauty conjured up the image of an Anasazi Native American hiking along the canyon rim (just day dreaming).

The hike took us immediately down hill for 800 feet onto the canyon floor proper. Then we were following what seemed like little more than an animal trail. The first part of the canyon was wide and open. After the first about a mile and a half, we came upon an old log cabin, which I later learned was built in the late 1800's.

Inside the cabin were a couple of old pans and assorted odds and ends. Wow, it was cool to see, experience and know that it hadn't been stripped bare in the following years. Who lived here in this remote location, how did they exist here, questions that were voiced between us.

Next on the hike were bushes and bushwhacking. Having lost the trail, this part of the hike was interesting and not fun. It seemed like we would never get out of there and when we finally did we came upon a small spring with clear water. We were hot and tired by this time and the spring was a blessing. Fortunately, we had brought a water filter with us and we refilled our water bottles and drank our fill.

Not long after we left the spring, we were greeted by a right facing spur reaching out from the canyon. The little information that we had about the main canyon was that this is where you camp. It wasn't really a camp site, more like a flat spot on the ground with fewer weeds. We set up our tent, stowed our gear and prepared to head out to our main objective.

We crossed the spur canyon and found a small Anasazi granary. We spent a few minutes looking it over then headed out again. As we entered the main canyon we greeted by our first glimpse of the cliff dwelling still a ways down the canyon. It did indeed look impressive! We sped down the canyon ushered on by finally getting to visit the place that had inspired us in a photograph two years before.

An hour and a half of hard and fast hiking finally brought us to the base of the cliff. I found out later that the cliff dwelling has 27 rooms and it was exhilarating to stand there beneath it. The alcove appeared to be over thirty or more feet from the base of the cliff. Some one who had been there previously had taken a dead log and leaned it up against the cliff to try to gain access. We toyed with climbing the log and even tried to go up a little ways, but concluded that it might be very difficult to get back down.

We hiked along the base of the cliff and came upon some pottery shards and other small artifacts that had been collected by others and placed in that one location. I was totally captivated by these items. I couldn't believe that these items were there and still existed after the approximately 800 years since the Anasazi had left.

This was pure Indiana Jones stuff, the adventure, the find (though hardly the first modern men there), the pottery shards. It was true, you could still do real Indiana Jones! And I was hooked, this was way to cool, this fabulous country, the scenery, the remoteness, the adventure. We stayed there a while and took a few photographs of the cliff dwelling, shards and surrounding area with my cheap film camera. Then we hiked back to our camp arriving well after dark. The only interesting thing that happened on the way back was the snake laying across the trail that I almost stepped on. I didn't go back to try and determine what type of snake it was.

The next morning we packed up, hiked out and headed back to Moab.

This was the trip that got me hopelessly hooked on Utah's Red Rock Country. Adventure, breath taking scenery, it has it all! Easy or difficult it is there for people of all abilities to enjoy and of course, photograph.

And what does this story have to do with photographing Utah's Red Rock Country you ask? Well, the canyon, the area and the cliff dwelling are calling to me to return and photograph them. I hope to return some time in the next couple of months and do just that!

You might have noticed that I did not tell you the location of the canyon. There is good reason for that, I am leaving that unsaid so that you too can enjoy the same adventure that I had.