Sauntering In The River

It is quite delicious, the Paria River.

At times the canyon constricts so the walls are a mere one-metre apart.

Canyon walls loom 800 feet.

And the river is the trail.

In February, the Paria is cold thanks to the ice still lingering in the shadows of the canyon. We came prepared, with 3mm thick neoprene socks and two puffy jackets each. Where the sun fell down to the canyon floor we were warm. Where shadows fell we were chilled and nearly shivering. After only an hour of hiking in the river our feet fell numb but still we hiked on, deeper into the canyon. Once inside Paria Canyon, it’s hard to ever want to leave her sensual belly.

Despite February being cold it is a marvellous time to visit. For the days we spent camping and hiking in the Paria, we were alone. And the quiet solitude of the canyon was worth the toe-numbing cold.

Hypnotized By Buckskin

A 28-kilometre jaunt through the world’s longest slot canyon was almost too much beauty to bear.

There is so much shadow and light playing between the canyon walls, colours of red and orange and yellow that would make you believe you’re tripping.

But there is so much more.

There are petroglyphs of bighorn sheep.

And bits of dead animals scattered on the canyon floor, from birds of prey perching high up on the canyon walls and dropping their leftovers – jackrabbit legs, cottontail rabbit tails, the feathers of songbirds, perhaps even the wings of other raptors.

The silence inside was also delicious. Even a soft whisper echoed loud so for much of the day we hiked in silence, relishing it. That silence is missing in our everyday lives. And we need that silence to hear our inner voice.

The hoof prints and poo of a wayward cow deep in the belly of the slot canyon had us a bit perplexed. Was it lost or simply seeking out a water hole? The tracks made me uneasy. I know what to do when I meet a grizzly on the tundra but what do you do when you meet a cow in a canyon barely a metre wide?

Perhaps most remarkably, beyond the Wire Pass and Buckskin confluence, we were the only humans in the belly of Buckskin, despite its beauty and well-known status.

Southern Utah In Late October

Oh, Utah, you always exceed expectations.

This was our four visit to Utah and still she amazes us.

Below is a brief recap of some of the wonder and joys and discomfort we experienced during the three weeks we traveled in southern Utah.

  • Sleeping in late when camping at temperatures falling as low as 9F/-15C
  • Squirmed our way through a few slot canyons and scrambled through many other canyons
  • Watched a couple of female desert bighorn sheep trot across the P-J forest
  • Skirted around a sun-bathing on slick rock rattlesnake
  • Spooked a jackrabbit in rabbitbrush
  • Hiked past a herd of female mule deer and startled one great big buck
  • Watched the sun rise and set almost every day
  • Was serenaded by canyon wrens and nuthatches
  • Found Ancestral Puebloan ruins, petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Read books by headlamp
  • Ate a lot of oatmeal breakfasts, Luna bars and trail mix for lunch and dinners of rice and beans
  • Wished upon a shooting star; marvelled at many more
  • Found free showers
  • Ate lots of cookies while sitting on rocks
  • Drank litres of tea
  • Found frozen waterfalls
  • And we met a dog that purrs. And no. That is not a typo. A dog that purrs!

All in all it’s been a good few weeks.

#thesimplelife

A Typical Day For These Two Dirtbags

John and I have been running off with our backpacks and our Toyota 4Runner for quite a few winters now, traveling around western US and once down into Baja, Mexico. (We’ve been backpackers for more than 20 years as well in Canada). We enjoy the simplicity of living outside, out of our truck, without WI-FI or cell service, just books and each other for company. But there is a question we hear so often from our parents and family and some of our friends.

“What exactly do you do out there?”

This post is for them.

We wake with the sun, no matter how early or cold. Sunrise over a southern Utah canyon should not be missed. It’s best to find a lovely lookout for breakfast, to enjoy the views while shivering from the cold late October mornings.

With bellies full and caffeine fuelled, we head off hiking, scrambling, crawling and clambering down into the belly of a canyon in search of Ancestral Puebloan ruins, pictographs and petroglyphs, sites 800+ years old.

Our day of hiking and scrambling is broken by long pauses on slabs of rocks, drinking in the sun’s heat and the canyon views, the sandstone cliffs, listening to the song of canyon wrens. Some days we come across mule deer grazing, or spot a few desert bighorn sheep on a cliff. Maybe a rattlesnake will force us to detour into the willow thickets.

And after a full sunrise to sunset hike we settle down for a quick rice and beans dinner, followed by peppermint tea and a good book, enjoying the stars and Milky Way, wishing upon shooting stars, though what more could we hope from life?

With bellies full of good food, hearts full of awe and wonder, good books, cozy sleeping bags and one another, this simple life is all we truly need or want.

Sleep comes early after a full day’s adventure so we are well-rested by the time the next day’s sun reappears.

And so we rise and repeat.

And it is really as simple and quiet as that.

Imagining Parks Without Roads

After a 26-kilometre trail run across the east end of Zion I spent the following day wandering Zion Canyon. From the campground I hiked the trails and the road, foregoing the shuttle bus to the trailhead of the Narrows. It is quite a fantastic way to experience Zion Canyon and other than the shuttle buses the roads and trails running alongside it are quiet. There is plenty of wildlife and birds to see. Wild turkeys and mule deer wandered in the shade by the river. Great blue herons fished the pools.

What a shame there is a road at all crawling up Zion Canyon. Imagine if it all traffic was cut from Zion Canyon, including the buses and the only way in was to walk or bicycle. The same could be said for Arches National Park, the Island In The Sky in Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and the South Rim of Grand Canyon.

Ambling canyon country never gets tiring. Life slows when we are outside. Thoughts clarify. Life is simplified. The calm we find outside we cannot replicate elsewhere. And the longer we linger out-of-doors the more of it we yearn for. The harder it becomes to go back to the confines of four walls. The paved roads of the national parks would make excellent hiking trails.

Trail Running Canyons

Until lupus interrupted my life five years ago I was an avid trail runner – when I wasn’t consumed and obsessed with backpacking, that is. I have continued to run but not with any consistency or with the endurance I once held. Instead of celebrating a strong forty-kilometre Sunday trail run I have had to learn to be happy with an eight-kilometre run. This winter, however, I have been felling strong when usually this is when I am at my weakest. Taking time from work to camp and hike in southwest US desert for a few months has done me well – mentally and physically. I have been waking up lately finding myself excited for a run. The other day I felt assured my body was strong enough for a fifteen-kilometre trail run through a canyon. It was half the distance I once considered easy but I haven’t run these distances with any regularity for so long. I won’t lie and say the run was easy. The trail was a steady gradual climb up and ran along a deep sandy canyon wash and over boulders, slickrock and chockstones. A few days earlier I jarred my shoulder in a slot canyon (see previous IG post) and after eight kilometres of running it began reminding me of its presence, reminding me that I was running with a body not quite 100%. Despite the challenging trail run I did obtain that addictive runner’s high that has eluded me since lupus came along. That high kept me floating about happily the rest of the day. I’m still taking it easy, careful not to push myself too much, but this high from running, there’s nothing quite like it.

Sensual Cedar Mesa

Considered an outdoor museum, Cedar Mesa (formally protected under the Bears Ears National Monument) preserves not only exquisite wind and water sculpted red sandstone canyons but also the rich archaeological ruins of the Ancestral Puebloans and the petroglyph and pictograph panels they etched and painted on canyon walls. The arid desert environment has preserved these archaeological ruins, offering hikers a unique opportunity to walk eight hundred years back into history.

We have been here four times over the last four years, spending weeks exploring the canyons, visiting not only the well-known archaeological sites but also wandering aimlessly, stumbling upon more hidden sites.

It is one of the most fascinating, intriguing wild places to wander. But it deserves respect. Tread lightly. Take only pictures. These sites have existed for hundreds of years. Let’s keep it that way. I also encourage anyone who cares about conservation of wild places to read more about the fight to keep the Bears Ears National Monument in its original form.

The Abajo Mountains

We came to the desert to hike and convalesce in the heat but then spent days hiking and camping nearly 10,000 feet in the Abajo Mountains in October.

While heat was not to fill our days here adventure certainly did. Away from the mobs and franticness of Moab, Arches National Park and the Needles District of Canyonlands, we enjoyed the places in between, the places lacking obvious beauty and Instagram fame which in turn are the places without people. The places we like to be.

It was here, inside a canyon somewhere in the Abajo Mountains of southeast Utah where we found a little glen of Gambrel oaks. It is nothing special. There are lots of Gambrel oaks in the Abajos but this particular place was in such an enchanting location beside a stream deep in a canyon. We felt pulled to sit. To linger. This was not a spot to merely wander by. Ruby-crowned kinglets fluttered above our heads. Sunlight filtered through twisted branches. A woodpecker rapped. The stream babbled. We wandered here without a trail, without a destination, without even a topographic map. We let ourselves be led by curiosity and, as always, our curiosity did not lead us astray.

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