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Thursday, October 29, 2015

AWOL, and Natural Bridges



From the perceptive "seeing-eye" mind of Helen Keller: "Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."


Sometimes bloggers go AWOL. For me it's usually temporary  Maybe nothing's going on, seldom the case for Bobbie and I as we are out and about almost every day. More likely, at least in my case, once or twice a year I question the "rut" of blogging. Is the BCB becoming an obstacle? Avoidance mechanism? A "bad" habit? Obsolete? Maybe there is something else I could/should be doing with the all the hours it takes to set the BCB table with a feast of photos and daily muse. After all, hasn't it all been seen and said before? 

It reminds me of my dear mom, the slave labor of preparing three meals a day for a family of five… often starting on the next meal before cleaned up from the previous. How is long term blogging any different? Mom's labor was a toil of love. So is blogging… for a while, anyway. Lately, not so much. At least in Mom's case, we kids eventually left home and she was able to semi-retire. Anyway…   

Utah's backcountry internet signal is about as weak as the ale from its near-beer breweries. We've been riding the 1x wave lately… no service, no blog posts, no 911. I almost blew off the past couple of weeks, let you feed from someone else's trough. But untold stories have a way of building up steam, so what's new.

Our annual October escape to Utah started with radiant blue skies, full bore sunshine, a topnotch red-rock boondock, and 3G Verizon. Truth be known, a tad too hot for mountain folk. But we persevered and bagged some notable hikes and bikes and thought it well worth the increased chance of (more) wrinkles, age spots, and ultimately, skin cancers. 

The heat was on, so, per our request, the Gang agreed to move to higher ground in the nearby Abajo Mountains. We found cooler temps, a picturesque ponderosa pine boondock, and more hiking and biking. But as with Life, everything, good or bad, is temporary. The only constant is change.

With El Nino forecasted to crank up several days of heavy rain and flash flooding, we abandoned our boondock for pavement in National Forest Service Campground a couple miles back. It was less than perfect, what with highway noise and too many trees for proper solar charging, but it beat calling a tow truck to muck us out of the mire. The rain pinned us indoors. To add fuel to that fire, at dawn on Saturday morning we awoke to the crack and boom of high powered rifles. Yep, opening day of deer season. Talk about an "alarm clock."  

The combination of cabin fever and ricocheting bullets took its toll. The Gang got restless and splintered… running to favorable forecasts and No Hunting zones. Jim and Gayle hit the "eject button" first due to an unexpected med situation. They wound up in the Mountain Biking Mecca of McDowel Mountain Park near Fountain Hills, Arid-zona. Laurelee and Pooch Libby escaped to Sand Island Campground along the San Juan River south of Bluff, Utah, while Bobbie and I spit in the Weather Guessers face and moved on to their "bullseye," Cedar Mesa, hoping to dig into some treasure troves of Arty Facts and Ruination. Flutter-bye Suzanne rode the fence, basically waiting to see where she ended up, as opposed to deciding where to go. God loves her different drum, as do I. 


Bobbie and I tried for a boondock off Cottonwood Road on Cedar Mesa. Good Grief, Charley Brown, there was more "hunter orange" than at a Broncos game. Rvs, ATV's, and 4X4 Pickups, all squatted like muddy rats on every piece of dry ground. It seems unfair that hunters get to own Ms Autumn lock, stock, and gun-barrel. Real outdoorsmen should have to hunt Bambi in January… with frost on their balls from wading deep snow and camping in tents instead of motorized mansions with forced air heat and the Playboy channel on satellite TV. Take away their scopes and cross-hairs and most of them couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Now I'm a target :(.

So we moved on 20 miles and found a negotiable looking dirt/mud road. It turned out to be the entry to Mule Canyon, a yet unfulfilled destination in our Cedar Mesa "bucket. I found some high ground about a Nolan Ryan stone's-throw from the highway and leveled Goldie without the aid of a single piece of lumber. 

Suddenly, "Beep Beep-a-Beep!" It was Suzanne, waving from her Minnie Whinnie, headed west. Restless land-yachters, passing in the fog of "Russian Roulette" and sweet desert rain, looking for a high, dry spot to camp. 

Verizon continued to be spotty and uncooperative, the price paid for exploring remote, unpopulated areas. That night I texted Suzanne's Satellite Delorme on the outside chance she might have it on. I got a text back that she was camped in "Overflow" at Natural Bridges, a less than par spot on an old abandoned runway. We agreed to accompany her on the Natural Bridges Loop Hike if she would then accompany us exploring Mule Canyon's antiquities. It's fun to share a hike with relative newbies. I always enjoy their as yet un-jaded perspective, curiosity, and excitement.


Flash Flood Warnings be damned… 

The forecast sucked… flash flood warnings all across southern Utah with admonishments to stay out of canyons and low lying areas. We stopped into the Natural Bridges Visitor's Center, fully expecting Ranger Ted to nip our canyon hike in the bud. Instead, he had a rather cavalier attitude about our plan to hike through "his" park's storm drains. "My canyons are wide," he shrugs. "You can scramble to higher ground in all but a few places." Lovely, then. Finally, we meet a Park Ranger without a rule book hanging around his neck. "Enjoy!"

The "Ted Talk" also included suggestions about how best to hike the loop. "I'd do the two mile mesa portion first. Then descend, make the loop and come out back out." He says it with a haughty air of authority while staring at the ceiling. Bobbie then points out that, since it wasn't raining yet, maybe we should do the canyon portion first and save the mesa hike for last, you know, in case there are flash floods. "Ah, a very wise and cognizant idea. Yes. Much better." Of course we teased the "wise and cognizant" Bobbie the rest of the day. "Should we have our PBJ's now Wise and Cognizant Bobbie? Can I pee here?" 

I pulled into a parking area that said "Sipapu" something or other. We were all excited… readied our gear, tightened boot laces, put on another layer of clothes. Everyone stared, "Are you going to hike the canyon?" "Yep… Come hell or high-water." Lord, it looked like we were going on a 7 day backpack. Finally we hoisted packs to backs and hit the trail… which promptly dead ended at an overlook after only a few steps. Oops, wrong parking lot. Back to the car, shed gear, drive to next turnout. "You should have known that 'wise and cognizant' one."

To say there were a thousand creek crossings is hardly an exaggeration. It was a zig zag effort to avoid being cliff-ed out and/or knee deep in water crossings. I was thankful for my new waterproof Gortex hightop boots as there were plenty of missteps. The bridges were magnificent, so massive… muscular… Manly. Our bit of sun at Sipapu quickly disappeared. Still, it wasn't raining… yet. Count thy blessings.

Kachina Bridge was next, every bit twice as massive as Sipapu. By then the rain had started and the canyon was dark and dismal. Not a good day for photos. I decided to bail at Kachina where there was a trail to the top, rather than commit to the full 10 mile hike in bad light and weather I could get the car and meet Bobbie and Suzanne at the next exit point and save them the boring two mile mesa hike. We stood at the intersection, eating PBJs, rain beating down. Suzanne wanted to go on, of course… she's a "finisher." Wise and cognizant Bobbie agrees to go with her. We talk about not risking creek crossings if it floods, to wait it out.

I wish them luck and start the long climb out of the canyon. A couple of minutes into it there is a simultaneous flash of lightening and booming roll of thunder, the kind that turns your innards into soft serve. I holler back, "The gods have spoken." Now there are are three of us bailing.

We regrouped at the top, thankful for the cover of a parking lot pit toilet and waiting out the lightening storm.Tourists kept lining up behind us, thinking we are waiting to use the facility. We wave them forward, wishing them good luck trying to go with an audience. Nobody offers us a ride, in spite of some serious hints about being trapped, wounded, starving. Frankly, I wouldn't have given us a ride either. Suzanne was a muddy mess, having fallen while trying to cross a sloppy ditch full of sticky red goo.  

Lightening continued, followed by long rolls of thunder that sounded like sonic booms. We grew impatient and cold, trying to wait it out or catch a ride. Finally we agree to just go for it and get the last two miles over with. Thunder and lighting is directly overhead and it hastens our pace up and over the mesa. At least we're out of the canyon, safe from flash floods.

With less than a mile to go we begin to hear a familiar roar of rushing water. The trail drops into a small canyon where we are confronted with, yes, a flash flood. It's small, but stands between us and the car, daring us to cross. I wade out, slowly, thinking my hightop boots and Goretex might be enough. The water is red and churning and is soon at my boot tops. I decide to try and jump, hoping I can land in a shallow spot on the other side. Of course wearing a heavy pack my leap of faith is undermined by gravity and old legs. I land knee deep in a hole. So much for Goretex… it doesn't waterproof stupidity. Bobbie and Suzanne head upstream, looking for a better way. There wasn't one; they must wade. 





































25 comments:

  1. Where's Debbie????

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    1. Well, I can see her rig right out my window :) But that's not what you mean, right?
      Debbie slipped out under the cover of darkness (we'll, almost… some of us don't raise our shades as soon as others). She headed to Page, I believe, to meet up with Annie, another Lazy Daze solo gal. Of course they are not there now, but hopefully that's enough information to answer 3 out of 4 of your question marks :)
      On another note, Debbie has about every rv gadget/tool you could want. She has bailed us out a few times and always offers to pick up or drop off hikers at trailheads, bikers at roads end… just one of the nicest, most generous people I have met on the road.She is like an offensive lineman (something I can relate to) an integral but unsung member of the "team." Sometimes I think she prefers to remain incognito, so I try to respect that.
      Mark

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    2. I'm her mother ....and I haven't seen a picture in quite awhile, I know she is VERY camera shy.

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    3. Sorry "Mom," I can assure you she is just fine. I saw her walking Rupert and Elliot just a couple of hours ago :)
      mark

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    4. sneak a picture if you can PLEASE! Love your blog.

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    5. Pat, nobody ever said the Wittness Protection Program would be easy.
      Jim

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  2. This is such a wonderful loop, but I can't imagine doing it with flash floods and all that water. But then, on the other hand, the sand might be much easier to walk on than when it is dry! This is six miles of very gradual uphill and the sand is rather deep in a few areas which caused VERY tired legs by the end. We like the route the ranger send you (and us). Going down the longest drop to bridge one and coming out with the least elevation at bridge 3. Sure is a beautiful loop. I bet it wasn't crowded!!!

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  3. Oh, sure, it's my fault you couldn't get a ride! You couldn't blame me for being late this time, so you blame me for being muddy, I see. LOL! What a great account of a fun and memorable day, in spite of the uncooperative weather. Glad to see you didn't throw the keyboard out with the leftovers.

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  4. Wow! Wish we were hiking with you. As usual, great post. Stuck in Yuma sweating a mementary lull in activities. Next; Kofa NWR.

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  5. What an ordeal...in an amazing locale!

    I now have an idea of the quantity of exploring possible in that area...guess we'll be returning sometime.

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  6. Thanks! I liked your version better than Suzanne's. :-)

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  7. I want a guarantee of no rain if I come hike with the gang where you are now. Maybe next week.

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  8. Oh, no, you can't stop blogging just yet! We want to see what we're missing! And we're glad we missed that hike:-)

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    1. Today you missed clouds and wind. Bobbie and I hike from camp along the Virgin River Canyon… found a way to Sheep Bridge, crossed over and hiked the Jem trail backwards for a couple miles. When the wind quits we'll go ride it again. Love how close it gets to the edge of the canyon… I can't believe Gayle didn't flinch a bit biking it, as my ass puckered just walking it!!! :)
      Mark

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  9. Keep blogging! Some day when you're old and rickety you'll have these pages to look back on. Plus, I really like reading it. All writey then!

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  10. Your first comment made me laugh. I just started (yesterday) writing a blog post with the title "5 Reasons You Shouldn't Blog". Don't know if I'll end up posting it but basically....I understand! Looks like you guys had yet another great little group hike. You should start thinking about a gang logo & tattoos :)
    Nina

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  11. Great blog, Mark. Reading through it this morning I looked at the calendar and saw that today is also the day of your birth...October 30, 1950! Welcome to Senior Citizenhood and all that goes with it. Keep hiking, biking and blogging. Love you brother...
    Dan

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    1. Use to chase sunrises, now it's sunsets. Oh well, they're both pretty :)
      Thanks Bro,
      Mark

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    2. "Use to chase sunrises, now it's sunsets". I resemble that. :)

      Still here waiting on blood test results for you know who. We're both going nuts, itching to come your way. In the meantime, selling stuff off for the "Escape" and making improvements...yesterday a new TV antenna.

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  12. Happy Birthday Mark!
    Your like a little kid with your new pair of boots, finding a muddy puddle to test how they work. Always enjoy reading your hiking adventures and the photos that come with the stories. Keep that blog going, it's good exercise for your brain. Enjoy your birthday and keep those boots dry.

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    1. Thanks John… I think about you every time the Colts lose :(
      Mark

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    2. Gonna be a great game this Sunday. Hope you're in a position to watch.

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  13. "untold stories have a way of building up steam". Best line ever. Know it well. Blog when you want to, skip it until the story insists on being written. I must say reading Suzanne's blog first and then your version was a kick! I did that hike one October, but had great weather thank goodness, and dry creek beds.

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  14. Well, if you stop blogging, please show us pictures!

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  15. We giggled at your very similar description of Ranger Ted and his personal park— we just posted about this same hike, probably a week after you. Check it out if you'd like http://beyond.thirddoor.com/11/2015/natural-bridges/
    It would be fun cross paths sometime "out there" - chris and david

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