It was the kind of day only a rattlesnake could love... hot, still, a full high desert sun bearing down like a blowtorch. It was exhausting, minding each footfall to avoid a run in with a rattler. They can be hard to spot in glaring sunlight...brightness that renders shade black as night. I kept removing sunglasses while easing through sagebrush and groves of ghastly cottonwoods, fully aware that the snakebite kit was in my backpack, which was in the car...along with water.
Ironically, I learned to remove sunglasses in snaky shady spots about 20 years ago while hiking Chiricahua's woods. Bobbie and I were chugging along on a pine forest trail...pushing 9,000 feet...when she spotted a Diamond Back. Two more steps would have had us setting foot on it; this on a cool day and at elevation.
What was supposed to be a short exploratory excursion to probe the probability of finding a way into the canyon bottom ended up luring us bit by bit from the car. We hopscotched pocked and pustuled sandstone, seemingly bleeding crimson from sores. By the time we were able to determine a route to the bottom, we were at the bottom...hot and thirsty. In our excitement from finding a well preserved granary ruin, adrenalin rode roughshod over caution.
We knew better; two things are needed to survive Utah's maze of canyons: Water and "breadcrumbs," which is another way of saying, leave either footprints you can retrace, or cairns you can follow out.
But it was too late for that, so we decided to probe the canyon and its sub-canyons "a little ways." And wouldn't you know it, our canyon happened to be a treasure trove of mystery and intrigue...a ruin here, a ruin over there...bones and other fascinating finds of Anasazi Indian lore, the kind that takes one's mind off time and distance from a car...the one with backpacks and water and Gatorade. Ask any gambler; it's difficult to stop "betting" when you are on a roll...stumbling across quality dwellings, corncobs and wall-scribblings.
I mentioned a couple of times to Bobbie that we needed to turn around, only to realize "finds" trumps thirst. Every canyon curve brought another alcove of what we were there to witness. Thankfully, a boxed canyon made the decision to turn around for us. A one hundred foot vertical spillway blocked further exploration.
Our original route into the canyon was exposed, loose, steep, and snaky, thus I didn't relish the idea of going out the same way we came in. About a mile from our entry/exit sub-canyon I spotted a small trail leading up and out. Tired and thirsty, I followed it. "Let's try and take a shortcut back to the car...I think this will save us some time if we can stay on the ridges between canyons." Another no-no, "shortcuts."
The new trail led us into yet another dead end boxed canyon. I was about to express my displeasure (whine) when we both noticed that the trail was aiming for another ruin. Ok, one more, then we got to get the hell out of hell. We literally fell into the canyon...eyes glued to the prize. A lizard rattled through dead leaves inches from my ankle and scaring the bejesus out of me. I shot a glance right expecting to see a coiled rattler. That's when Angels began to sing, or at least in my head they did. There, suspended above the canyon floor, was the most preserved, intact and amazing example of a cliff dwelling I ever set eyes upon outside of Mesa Verde! We froze...simultaneously gasping with glee. "Oh my God! BAM!"
Safely back at the car, chugging Gatorade like it was Kool Aid, it occurred to us how a charmed series of misdirected, unintentional events lead us to such special places we'd never forget. Way out in the middle of nowhere, pushing on for lack of a proper boondock, mistake upon mistake, and on this day, no water...which pushed us to bail early, in search of a shortcut, which led to a near perfect elevated panel of Anasazi dwellings. Yep, everything but the pine pole leather bound ladders.