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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Subway Concluded... and A Few Thoughts on Solitude

Difficult as it was, we took the easy route to The Subway. There is also a top-down hike from Kolob Terrace, where one gets to experience the entire slot canyon... all the way to the surreal "tube." The "catch" is that it requires climbing harnesses, ropes, wet suits, and training, not to mention a near dawn to dusk effort. The past couple of years I've thrown the "bait" out that maybe our gang of geezers should try it, only to be answered with scrunched faces and a polite, "No thanks." This year, however, I had a few "nibbles." 

To be honest, the groundswell of gang members interested in the top-down hike could be counted on an retired butchers hand (three fingers). It's not so much a question of, "If not now, when?" as it is a statement, "If not soon, never."   Why not "go out" with more "high-fives" than regrets.

The reality of the Top-Down route is that it requires a long, cold day in a sunless canyon. As early as October, the sun is far too low for even moral support, and I've learned the hard way that one of my Achilles Heels happens to be immersing my skinny ass in ice water. All five times I've hiked Zion's Narrows has been a cryogenic experience... entering pink as a pig's butt and exiting a deathly shade of blue... promising never again. 
Those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it (sigh). 

Bobbie and I have hiked to the The Subway at least five times... excluding when we got stopped by Mr Ranger Sir for not having a permit. What a crushing blow that was. After three hours of blood and sweat—bouldering, wading, falling—we were turned around a few hundred yards from the "tube." I'm still not over it. 

In the "good old days" we practically had The Subway to ourselves. But, things change. You've probably noticed the trend, how National Parks, State Parks, Forest Service camps, and even once remote BLM Boondocks are now overrun with humans and their toys. We truly are "loving our outdoors to death," as our parks and playgrounds attract record numbers of visitors. Bobbie and I had to adjust by going further... staying clear of pavement and the over-trod main corridors.

It's been challenging. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you seek a solitary experience your favorite National Park or Playground, starting with the obvious:
  • Avoid holidays
  • Avoid weekends, including Fridays and Mondays
  • Avoid core areas
  • Probe the outer boundary areas
  • Go off-pavement
  • Go off-trail
  • Explore obscure, "nameless" canyons, washes, and ridge-lines
This works especially well in the Zion area, and why we continue to come back year in and year out... sometimes not even making it into the main corridor more than once or twice in the six weeks we hang around. There is a rich abundance of less-trampled places, some just as cool as beyond the gates. Unfortunately, Subway is not one of them. Even though the Park only allows 80 people per day, the "tube" was crowded and loud this year. I know, our Geezer Gang is part of the problem. I have ambivalent notions about this reality. 

As mentioned in the last post, there is a certain joy to be derived from sharing. Though I sometimes whine, this blog is a good example of that. I also derive joy from sharing a good trail in the company of friends. There are many occasions when I prefer/need to hike/bike alone. Oft times Bobbie and I purposely put distance between us during our outings, so much sometimes you wouldn't think we were on the same hike. This allows us to be alone with our thoughts, go at our own pace, to take delight in solitude. There are times when my mind needs to be free... to flit about like random chickadees, branch to branch, idea to idea. Then there are times when I enjoy the "flock," like geese, on a southward mission. Humans are perhaps the oddest, most complex, and intelligent species, yet we push to the very fringe of destroying our own "habitat." When we reach the tipping point, when we can no longer find solitude in our National Parks and public lands, we will have squandered the most precious gift of all.

"Language created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone... and the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone." Paul Tillich

Heading back to the car...


  1. I am multitasking this morning listening to a news audio, so I thought I would scroll through your photos first, then go back and read the text after the audio is finished. I got the gist that you were saying the subway was crowded this trip, so then I scrolled down to see the photo of a group of EIGHT people lined up. OMG! LOOK AT ALL THOSE PEOPLE IN THERE! But then I recognized they were familiar faces. LOL!

    I think of this often when I am hiking alone. I crave the quiet and solitude, and become quite irritated when I can hear voices echoing through the canyon. Why can't they shut the F* up and enjoy the sounds of nature?? Yet when I hike with friends, my motor-mouth never stops.

    We are all "the man in the mirror."

  2. That is one big bunch of Subway folks, for sure. Nice that they were mostly all friends. You didn't take photos of all the others. Funny, Mo and I have done that separate hiking thing as well, perfect compromise between alone time and hiking together. Works perfect, especially when only one of us has to manage the dog!

  3. Out of this world pictures, Mark. Such incredible beauty. From my experience here in "Grand Prairie" ( not much of a 'prairie' any more!) the motto seems to be: if it is green, get rid of it! We bought a house in a subdivision in what was a rural area 30 years ago. As the years have passed, the fields have all been covered with concrete. Miles upon miles of new housing, this last year, all of the remaining fields have been filled with huge trucking centers. I am talking at least a dozen of those within 5 miles of our house. We USED to be able to ride our bikes in the neighborhood, Now our neighborhood---about a mile in area---is surrounded on all sides by thoroughfares. I would not think of riding a bike. Just taking our Yorkies for a walk feels dangerous when a four-lane 40mph(yeah, right, more like 60!) is about 8 feet from the sidewalk. No barrier of any kind. This is the world that man in all his wisdom is creating. I thought of you today as I was driving. All of the new houses are humongous in size. So close you can almost hear sneezes from one house to the next. And, how many people live in those houses? Probably fewer than five. It is rare for families to have more than 3 kids, anymore. But the huge house is a necessity. Not one air conditioner to run, but two! So we need to produce more power to keep everything cool. In summer, when the temperatures are over 3 digits for days on end, the weather people point out how much hotter the "developed" areas are than the rural areas. Yet we make it our business to continue to shrink what was rural.

    This scene of packed houses, business, warehouses, is not pleasant. So what do people want to do at every opportunity? Well, of course. They want to go visit the parks, forests, etc. That's where the peace is. It surely isn't in the concrete jungles!

    I see what you see. Total lack of stewardship. And karma is going to bite.

  4. Thanks for the refresher photos of the subway hike, it's great to relive it this morning. I like your suggestions for finding some solitude in our public lands and national parks. These places certainly are being loved to death. I'm one of those "nibblers" on the full Monty subway hike...maybe next year?

  5. No nibbles from me, as the lower Subway exceeded my comfort level in places, but I sure did enjoy that day with our great group of hikers!

  6. Always enjoy your Subway postings. Such an unusual place and it looks like you all enjoyed the day! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving day with friends and turkey!

  7. If you are there next year...please guide us on this adventure! In the meantime, if you are headed further south this Winter maybe there will be new trails to explore.

  8. Such a mixed bag in nature. To get away from the maddening crowd, share it with friends, or absorb it in solitude. The fact that more people want to be there is good for their health, though not necessarily mine.


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