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Monday, October 30, 2017

Chasing Wonder in a "Spooky" Slot Canyon

"Those who are truly decrepit, living corpses, so to speak, are the middle-aged, middle-class men and women who are stuck in comfortable grooves and imagine that the status quo will last forever or else are so frightened it won’t that they have retreated into mental bomb shelters to wait it out."
Henry Miller, reflecting on the art of living in 1939. 

Good ole Henry had his mental and physical shit together well into his 80s. From his writings on The Joy of Turning 80, which includes a treatise on The Joy of Urination, Miller blends irreverence with philosophy that bears repeating... 

Bobbie drops into "Spooky"

If you can fall in love again and again… if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical… you’ve got it half licked.Miller

Still giddy from Peekaboo, Bobbie and I dropped into upper Spooky, another slot canyon one drainage east. Such an October-appropriate name, Spooky... 

We hoped for more of the same skinny shimmy experience as Peekaboo. We weren't disappointed. 

"If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power. " Miller

To "mountains and sea" I would add, Utah's surreal canyons. Few places are more capable inspiration than Utah's bottom half. It's one ginormous magical Wonderland.... 

"The problem...is how to keep free, how to do only what one wants to do." Miller

Spooky began to narrow. It wasn't long till backpacks came off in order to slip through its slender, red coffin confines. All is well, until... 

Until we happened upon a "narrow," chock full of choke-stones. I tried crawling over, under, and around the impasse, looking for passage...and not without a good deal of trepidation. A massive tumble of boulders, delicately wedged against each other and Spooky's slot canyon walls, suspended, waiting to crush the life out of some day-hiker. In places like this, I tend to wonder, what if an earthquake happened while I'm under such massive boulders

Shouldering Bobbie...
It was Bobbie who finally found a route through the impasse, one that ended in a pretty sizable jump for old knees and a bad back. Time to drag out the "rope."  

Thinking we might need the rope again I didn't want to tie it off. I ended up threading it around a "touch-point" between two boulders. After success at lowering myself down it was Bobbie's turn. About then a couple of young guys going the opposite direction showed up. I tossed my camera to one of them so he could recorded the moment... over Bobbie's protests.

Using our rope for assistance, the guys scrambled up and disappeared. I was about to pull the rope down when a chatty Chinese couple peeked through the maze of boulders, looking for a way down. I expressed to the lady that she could use our rope and that I would help "shoulder" her down. She wasn't too sure about it. Though smaller, she was heavier than Bobbie, and, well, let's just say that in order to not drop her my hands found some rather "intimate" holds. 

I helped her husband down, trying not to molest him like I did his wife. They expressed considerable gratitude and politely waved us on, waiting for us to continue so we could have the canyon to ourselves again. It was a refreshing gesture, especially after having had a couple loud guys ride our asses in Peekaboo. We finally reached a place wide enough to let them pass. I think some cultures have more "respect" for others; something fast becoming a lost tradition in America. 
I enjoyed how Miller put the idea into words: 

"One can fight evil, but against stupidity one is helpless… I have accepted the fact, hard as it may be, that human beings are inclined to behave in ways that would make animals blush. The ironic (and) tragic thing is that we often behave in ignoble fashion from what we consider the highest motives. The animal makes no excuse for killing his prey (while) human(s) invoke God’s blessing when massacring his fellow man."  Miller 

No Earthquake Zone 
"You observe your children or your children’s children, making the same absurd mistakes, heart-rending mistakes, often, which you made at their age. And there is nothing you can say or do to prevent it. It’s by observing the young, indeed, that you eventually understand the sort of idiot you yourself were once upon a time — and perhaps still are." Miller

"...and perhaps still are," Indeed. Later, reading myself to sleep with Miller, I wondered at the "idiocy" of some of our outdoor antics, particularly given our age and that we often go off half-cocked. Hey, at least I carry a rope...though any real mountaineer will tell you that, in curious ignorant hands, all a rope does is get novices in deeper "shit." Thinking back, I had to admit that we validated that point of view several times.  

"Picasso once said: 'One starts to get young at the age of sixty, and then it’s too late.' It was only in my forties that I really began to feel young. By then I was ready for it...by this time I had lost many illusions, but fortunately not my enthusiasm, nor the joy of living, nor my unquenchable curiosity." Miller

Overhead debris, including rocks, demonstrates how deep the water level gets during flash floods, velocity that would rip you to shreds...

"Perhaps it is curiosity — about anything and everything — that made me the writer I am. It has never left me…

With this attribute goes another which I prize above everything else, and that is the sense of wonder. No matter how restricted my world may become, I cannot imagine it leaving me void of wonder. In a sense, I suppose it might be called my religion." Miller 

Long ago I forsook the hand-me-down "religion" of my parents; it just wasn't "a fit." I couldn't reconcile its over-regulated, servitude lifestyle...narrow as the very slot canyons we are so fond of squeezing through. I grew weary of Hell's fire licking at my adolescent feet—the ultimate threat that tries, yet fails so miserably, to hold the "salvation army" in step. No.

Today, as with Miller, Wonder is my religion. It feels more honest, resonates, and helps keep one's ego in proper perspective. We are small, Wonder is big...and, unlike "religion," no one dies from idealogical disagreements regarding the Wonder of slot canyons.  

Thanks for allowing me to flaunt my "religion."
Mark and Bobbie... 

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spot light
Losing my religion...


  1. Hope you have a day filled to the canyon rim with wander and wonder. Happy Birthday, my dear friend!

  2. Enjoyable read and photos! Will be downloading Miller's "obscene" novels to take with me for a 10-day sea SCUBA adventure coming up soon. You'll enjoy John Prine's song . . .


  3. I love Miller as well. This is one of my fav quotes of all time: “If you can fall in love again and again… if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical… you’ve got it half licked.” So it was fun to see you use that and so many others.

    I would love to do a slot canyon hike with you guys while I'm in Utah!

  4. First of all, I guess a "happy birthday" is once again in order. So, happy birthday! On another front, our pastor back in California always used to rail on the difference between a personal relationship with God, and "religion". Religion is man-made and almost always gets in the way of a personal relationship if one is not alert to the difference. Hopefully, your resistance and abandonment of "religion" has kept God close at hand. Particularly in your line of "work" :) It certainly seems you are having your annual blast in Southern Utah. Keep on keeping on, my friend.

  5. Loved the REM song lyric/quote and associated photo!
    Here is mine....
    It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine. :-) REM

  6. Happy Birthday Mark! I notice you always seem to get a little more philosophical around your birthday. Nice post, love the picture of you assisting Bobbie thru the slot.
    Now watching Broncos vs KC on Monday night football. Colts/Broncos just have not been the same without Manning. Tomorrow we'll have about 60 kids trick or treating at the front door, it's Halloween. I get to eat the leftovers so I plan for 80 kids, enjoy a spooky Halloween.

  7. Happy Birthday Mark...may your days be filled with wonder. Cheers to the religion of Mother Earth!

  8. Aloha Mark,
    I have enjoyed your blog for years. I first got hooked on Henry Miller in high school when an older boy told that his books were obscene. As my other friends had real smut, I was severely disappointed but became a fan and read all of his books.Some years ago I was at a wedding in Carmel and took time to drive out to Big Sur to the Henry Miller Museum there. You and your readers might want to pass a delightful afternoon checking up on what Henry was up to, while on one of the world's great drives.

  9. I am so glad to see you didn't encounter any water in either slot. It seems that people often hit water. Love Bobbies shoulder lowering:) I came down from the choke stones in Sheetz Gulch on John's head! We laughed and said too bad someone didn't film that one! I so enjoyed reading all of Miller's quotes. I made lots of connections. But I do believe the most appropriate for our time right now is, :one can fight evil, but against stupidity one is helpless... Sums up how I feel about our present situation! Love the B&W photos of the slot!

  10. I, too, share your religious beliefs, but if I have to hike through Spooky to get to Heaven I don't think you'll see me there!
    Glad those guys showed up to capture you climbing down the rope.

  11. That looks like a very tight slot canyon. The selfie in there is great. Really enjoyed the Henry Miller quotes, he has some good insight into the aging thing....speaking of which, Happy Birthday

  12. Mark I think the Man is doing a fine job with you, at least you acknowledge him more than most and like H. Miller says you probably should be getting down on you knees morning and night, don't wait till your 80, your experiencing the Wonder you were designed to feel I do believe. You both are.
    Loved the way you treated your viewers with this thrilling hike and the sage advice of Henry Miller . Bravo

    Hell Im not waiting till I am 80 I figured that out yrs ago.

    Stay Thirsty my Friends & Thank You for the Birthday Present

  13. Hmmmmm, Henry Miller, reflecting on the art of living in 1939... somehow this one got past me... going to have to find it now!

  14. I think half of the adventure is getting there,,,, the other half of the adventure is being there

  15. I love slot canyons! Thank you for sharing your religion with us. And thanks also for "introducing" Henry Miller. How did I miss out all these years? I will certainly have to read his works. May your days be filled with much Wonder!!

  16. Wow, fantastic pics of the slot. Does make me think of 127 Hours..... Glad you got through it fine!

  17. Ace post! Impressive shots, would love to see this slot.

  18. I loved this series of photos, it really tells the story of your adventure.


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