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Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Long Wander...just wandering, thinking, existing, and appreciating the luck of his landing

A man said to the universe: 
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe, 
“The fact has not created in me 
A sense of obligation.” 
Stephen Crane

Oh the crapshoot randomness of "existence," the roulette-wheel luck of where one lands, the fortune or misfortune of birthplace, the era in which one came to be...how long or short one's life, and the inconsequential mark of having lived. I say "inconsequential" because how does one grain of sand stand out among innumerable others? 

On days when biking muscles and bruises need time to heal, I take great delight in having a maze to explore...right out my front door. There are no trails. It's strictly seat-of-the-pants wandering, without all the distractions of modern life...including people...a place and time to ponder questions without answers...talk to myself out loud, sing off key, pee on a bush, and appreciate the luck of my "landing" in this thing called life.  

Such are the musings of a lone camper guy with more outdoor things on his list to do than time and energy allow, not to mention, record them for the world. But today, for lack of a live person to share, lone camper guy pulls up a blank page and takes a stab at making sense of the muse in his head full of questions for which there are no answers. The blank page on the screen mirrors his blank stare, the now familiar drooping mouth and tussled hair. 

The night was long, but the day is young. He wants a long, long walk in the wilds to distract from questions about life's unfair realities that keep him awake when he needs to sleep, something to add substance and purpose to his otherwise insignificant grain of sand existence. Fuck the blog. He slams the laptop closed and loads his pack.

He waits for incessant morning winds to calm, then tumbles out of a ramshackle Rv, a barely-better-than-nothing roof over his head. Still, it beats the old days of tent camping, the aches from sleeping on cold, hard ground and eating god-awful powdered campfire meals with the gritty crunch of Utah's desert sand. 

So a hiking day it becomes. No annoying cleaning and lubing gears and chain, just don a heavy pack start walking. But where? Does it matter? Delight abounds in all directions at this camp. There are no wrong choices, especially on rare perfect day with sun and warmth.

In about a mile, he notes the first layers of red dust accumulating on his boots and lower legs...something to match the inevitable blood from bushwhacking and skittering up sandstone. His course is more meander than a crow's line. He feels obligated to make a serious attempt to avoid fragile cryptobiotic soil that abounds our here. So he saunters a circuitous route of dry rivulets, depressions where the next rain washes away evidence of his intrusion into the wild, less known, but highly regulated portions of Arches National Park...the back-a-beyond, as he's prone to say.

Cryptobiotic Soil...it grows, therefore It's Alive!
He aims for distant white slabs of uplifted sandstone. They serve as convenient access ramps to peculiar alignments of red mounds he calls "The Loaves," which, to him, resemble loaves of bread baking in the sun. And oh how they bake during summer when it feels like a 350 degree oven.

The Loaves are crisscrossed patchworks of straight-line grooves between each one...erosions that create maze-like opportunities for exploration. Beyond the "bread" is a circus-like riddle of sandstone hoodoos, bobbleheads, and fins...a veritable Disneyland for adult geezers who have yet to grow up. 

Just before losing high ground, he stops and looks for a landmark...some guiding clue to help him find his way home. He spies Goldie, sitting atop her hilltop nest. That'll do.   

Goldie, the white speck just above dead center

His route is speckled with dense, heavy rocks that sparkle in the sun. They look out of place in otherwise demur red buff landscape...like Gummy Bears melted onto stone. The rocks appear molten in origin, maybe from an era when volcanos spat lava goo and sun blocking ash, ash so dense and hazy it cools the earth into bitter ice ages, with pulverizing glaciers hundreds of feet deep that grind ironized mountains into red sand and dust. Eventually the glaciers melt, the ice retreats leaving seas that reconstituted the sand into stone. Erosional forces then go to work, sculpting uncanny figurines like the ones before his eyes. 

The earth has a way of recycling itself. It made him wonder if, someday, volcanos will return in force...push up new mountain ranges and spew ash that blocks the sun and plunges the planet into the next ice age. Or a meteorite. That would accomplish the same thing. Scientists say the ice ages come in regular 20,000 year cycles, and the last one was about 19 thousand years ago. Modern Man is soft, not well equipped to deal with such a catastrophic event. It would push the "reset button," he thought. Sea levels will retreat; Global Warming turned icebox.  Best of all, for the planet, is most of the population dies. What good is a planet if there's no one here to enjoy it? If a tree falls in the forest....Whatever. There's nothing he can do to alter this crash course...beyond recycling, of course. 

In spite of mans "superior" intellect and ability to reason, we are a temporary species at best. 

Another once-molten, now cool rock...as in neat.      
Where red dirt meets white sandstone

After a couple meandering miles of dodging precious Crypto, he forsakes circuitous dry bourns for wide open sandstone where he can roam uninhibited. Slick-rock they call it, but it's anything but smooth around here. 

He turns to take in the majesty of the La Sals, so pristine and white, top to bottom. Yes, it was a good winter. It tugs his heartstrings, but it will be July before the mountains will let us in this year. We always want what we don't have. As a young whippersnapper raised in the aridity and desert heat of southern Arizona, he became fond of snow and mountains and pine trees. A whim and a prayer and twenty years later, he lands in Colorado, where he discovers that working outside in snow and cold day in and day out is a lot less fun than playing in snow a couple times a year. But it's beautiful, nonetheless, and he's found no place better, so it's "home." 

The "circus" awaits. He turns his back on the La Sals, thanking his lucky random stars for the luck of his landing in the wild west with Utah's red desert conveniently located next door to his Southwest Colorado home. Such an opposite and wondrous place to escape mud season in La Crevice.

The "loaves" and the "circus."

In the middle of nowhere, the borderline to Arches National Park. 
He notes that there's no fence between BLM land and Arches National Park. After being so attentive to avoid stepping on cryptobiotic soil, he questions the hypocrisy of allowing cattle to range free...to pillage, plod and poop wherever they damn well please, free to wander in and out of Arches National Park with impunity. People, on the other hand, would be arrested and fined for doing less.

He hears something. Graaap...graaap graaap. What the Hell? It's an ATV—miles away. He loathes them...land-scarring scourges of pristine desert and forest everywhere. It reminds him of how "the times they are a changin." It's out of control, he thinks, the growth of motorized Quads and ATV's. Even way out here, far from any backroads, the land bares the deep scars of motorcycles and ATVs. He wants to blame the machine, but it's the riders who are at fault. The "Motor-head mentality" that pristine public lands are here for them to consume. They track unspoiled turf willy-nilly, fouling solitude with obnoxious levels of db's that can be heard for miles, carving up crypto with horsepower and knobby tires. It seems to be the new face of "recreation," he sighs, grab the wife and kids and raise dust and Hell on wheels. 

What ever happened to self propulsion, he wonders, the good-ole-days when Moab was primarily a Jeeping and mountain biking destination? He has no beef with Jeeps and their SUV counterparts. They are slow and quiet, where the new dirt-bikes and ATV's are built for speed. 

He plods on, toward the "loaves," to where sandstone takes on reddish highlights. This backdoor part of Arches is about all that's left for anyone wanting a solitary wilderness experience. He remembers the profane number of bumper-to-bumper vehicles lined up at Arches entry station...an hour's wait, minimum, just to get in. As with Zion, he wonders at the impending disappointment of all those people patiently waiting to get into the Park, only to discover they must again circle like buzzards in search of a place to park. Can busses be far behind?  

There are many "loaves" to choose from, each separated from the other by mini slot canyon cracks. Some cracks are narrow and can be jumped. Others are too wide and deep for a lone Geezer. He's forced to backtrack when a loaf cliffs out. As with some video games, one must unlock the secret route in order to advance to the next level. He thinks it fun.

Finally, he lands a broad sandy wash and follows it. It's still tacky from plentiful winter rains and snow. Eventually the wash intersects an old Jeep road. He sticks with the wash. It's far more interesting and peaceful. 

Suddenly, Fins begin to appear

The was reverts to red sand
Wash by wash, he veers toward the "circus."  As washes peter out, he goes cross country to find another one to follow.

More Fins!
Random choices land him in a random slick rock wash with potholes of water.

He scrambles past all but the last pothole, only to be stumped by near vertical sides. He backtracks again, route finding...getting lost...finding a way out. It's all he wants to do, all he's ever wanted to do: hike, explore, admire, appreciate.

He stumbles across a Tinaja, or "Tank." If it was July, he'd take a dip. He notices a thin film of ice in the shade under a cedar tree. Not today.  

His random wash squeezes down to a narrow slit at the end. Maybe if he took off his pack...

So far so good...

Nope, way too narrow, not to mention the choke-stone wedged at the end. Not wanting to pull an "Aron Ralston," he backtracks again. I'd be dead before anyone found me in there, he thinks, way out in the middle of nowhere.

He nears the "circus," giddy as a kid in a candy store.

Between Fins: Wonder where this leads?

He's like a child skirting the outside of the Circus Tent, looking for a way in. He can see the Hoodoos and bobbleheads. Apparently it's a private show. Oh well, sometimes things outside the "tent" can be just as interesting than what's inside. 

Ah! Marching Men! He's familiar with this sight from past hikes. But what's that? He approaches a huge sandstone boulder, precariously balanced on top of a conglomerate of mud and sand. It's so frail and off balance. He rests his hand on it. The kid inside is tempted to push, just a little, but the Geezer thinks better and leaves erosion to the gods. It's a wonder how it withstands hundred mph gusts that whip through here. He circles it like some Michelangelo  "David," waiting for it to topple but it just sits there, defying gravity and reason. 

This new, albeit ambiguous, route gives him a new perspective from which to photograph the stone soldiers called, "Marching Men." He's totally alone... enamored by his surround, feeling privileged...no, lucky, for the luck of his landing. Somewhere, right now, children sweep through landfills in search of a rotted morsel of food. 

There are places in the Southwest that are difficult for him to process...grand canyons so deep, fragile monoliths so tall, boulders precariously off-balance on mud foundations. And here, it's gargantuan anthropomorphic men, frozen in time against a cerulean sky backdrop. He's such a soft hearted sucker, dumbstruck and drawn in by silly red rock formations. What is it about red that flutters hearts? 

He sneaks off from the sinister Marching Men, feeling as if they watch his every move. 

Back on familiar ground, he knows right where he is. Might as well take a peek at the Sombrero Petroglyphs, see if anyone's graffitied it with "David loves Susan." It was Bobbie who noticed the petroglyphs a few years back while wandering off trail. The name Sombrero is his, though. He likes to name things.

He encounters more and more footprints. No doubt tourists hearing that there were petroglyphs, wandering in search. He was amazed to find not one footprint in front of the petroglyphs with all the tracks on either side. Good thing it's easy to miss. 

The petroglyphs made him feel privileged. In a world where "everything's" been discovered over and over again by people doing just what he's doing today, only a few know about this ancient artwork. Seems only oceans and science holds secrets nowadays. He shoots more photos of the Petroglyphs, carefully erases his tracks, and slips away.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Solomon, Book of Ecclesiastes, The Holy Bible.

What the Hell did this guy represent? Smoking a little to much peyote...

The main trail to Tower Arch, barely noticeable below the nose on the big sandstone boulder.
He looks at his watch. Hmm, 1:30...might as well check out Tower Arch.  

Some of the many "Bobbleheads" around the Tower Arch area. Monstrous figurine monsters.

The approach canyon to Tower Arch.

Tower Arch

Under Tower Arch

After the obligatory photos and a snack under Tower Arch, he decides it best to head back to camp. "Miles and miles before I sleep."  He choses a different route home, just wandering, thinking, existing, and appreciating the luck of his landing.

Goodbye Marching Men.

Hello again, La Sals...

Panorama of Tower Arch below:  Scroll →


  1. Such a wonderful way to explore the red rock world.

  2. Wow!.;....Killer Post.......love the new format.......great look at Arches and especially the unique narrative, I felt like i was right there with you, only the younger version of myself.
    Should anyone stumble across this Blog today they will we be hooked for many moons.....but just a little to late Im afraid
    .....the Wild Lands of Utah have sure inspired many creative thinkers......
    ......and once again , loved the photos, loved seeing the La Sals all dressed in White , the Whitest ever....
    you lucky SOB
    Stay thirsty my Friend

  3. Purdy! Enjoyed the walk with you :)

  4. WOW - what a hike, what a day, what a privilege ! Beautiful - thanks for sharing it with those of us who are unable to explore those wonderful places.

  5. You've outdone yourself. These photos are absolutely gorgeous. We are finally heading in your direction... soon. This post is making my mouth water. I can see the benefit to where you boondock - the walks into the Park look very special. Thanks!

  6. Looks like "he" had a great wander through the Utah desert. Looking forward to doing the same before long.

  7. I can't even express how much I enjoyed this. Such a spectacular place and I don't know that I'll ever get out there to see anything like this myself. Thank you for sharing.

  8. The gift of solitude is getting harder to find. I was in the back county of Wyoming boondocking by myself on an Alpine lake and never saw another person for 4 days.
    At first it was a little spooky and my ears rang from the silence. But the beauty of the land and joy that comes from the solitude is something I always will remember. I would enjoy this hike with its stunning scenery as your photos show. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Mark, a masterpiece, one of your Best in many ways. Thank you for what it gives to me, and I know the exploration gives so much to you. Peace out, Sean

  10. I love that you had this stunning terrain all to yourself...and even more that it is just beyond the hordes of folks paying big bucks and waiting in long lines to see the same terrain. I miss Utah.

  11. Beautiful petroglyphs, what a lovely secret to have


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