Life lived out of a vehicle is pretty ideal until you get sick. At midnight I bolted awake, drenched in sweat. I had to leap out of the 4-Runner and dig a pit beneath a juniper in which to puke into. The Milky Way was twinkling, the near-to-full moon casting shadows in the forest but gripped with a stomach flu I was fixated only on the red dirt in my pit. For five hours back and forth I ran between the 4-Runner to sleep and my pit to get sick – first to throw up dinner, then lunch, then bile once there was nothing left remaining. My fever would ebb while I was outside in temerpatures well below freezing, in little more than long johns and wool shirt. How I wished that evening for four solid walls, a couch and a flush toilet. Instead, I toughed it out and slept away the following day on various benches along the rim of Bryce Canyon.
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.
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.
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.
I heard his soft rattle before my eye caught his movement. I was blithely unaware that I was only one step away from stepping on him, a midget-faded rattlesnake. But he rattled his warning then coiled up his body, head up, tongue flicking in my direction to which I responded with an expletive and a few leaps backward. I trudges into the mormon tea and rabbitbrush, ceding the trail to the rattlesnake, giving him ample room to continue on with his day in the sun.
John, being a birding fanatic and from the Yukon where there are no rattlesnakes (or reptiles of any sort), also heard the rattle but looked up into the juniper tree branches wondering what kind of bird could be making such a pretty rattling sound.
Now every time a chipmunk or a whiptail lizard scuttles across the trail my knee-jerk reaction is an expletive and a leap backward. My hope is as I continue to hike in the desert the rattlesnake will settle into my subconscious the way grizzlies have. They are there – and they are dangerous – but I have met enough to begin to understand they do not want any more trouble than I do.
Human interaction with technology is fascinating. In the last three museums we have visited – Dinosaur NM, Canyons of the Ancients NM and Mesa Verde NP – we watched people snap photos of all the exhibits and then leave. I don’t think they looked at the artifacts outside of their camera lens. Isn’t it more satisfying though to linger over pieces in a museum in real life than to interact with them from a computer screen at home? It puzzles me still. I too did snap a few photos of some of the artifacts I found most intriguing but they don’t compare to simply standing and looking at them only through the glass. I am particularly drawn to the effigies.
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.
There is a quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption that has been rolling in my head for a while. The old man Joe (I think that was his name) is released from prison after thirty years and is shocked by the changes and says something along the line of “The whole damn world seems to have gotten in a goddamn hurry.” I share a similar sentiment even though I live in the Yukon, which to the outside world is small and quiet. But even in the Yukon we seem to all be in a rush to get somewhere. Even if the time to get to that somewhere is only five minutes in the difference people are happy to run red lights, weave in and out of traffic, speed. Traveling through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons from one hiking trailhead to another the traffic seemed so hurried, so frantically rushed and I am baffled by it. We have all come to these wild places from all the corners of the world, the scenery is stellar, there is wildlife lurking in every bush and plain and glen. What’s the rush? I was thinking of this quote while John and I sat on the boardwalk in the Thumbs area of Yellowstone, amused by a wee geyser out in Yellowstone Lake, spouting sulphuric puffs. People walked past us, snapping photos, selfies, then continuing on to the next thing, the next Instagram photo opportunity. We didn’t have much time to hike in Yellowstone, with a snowstorm threatening to close roads so we hiked what we could and enjoyed the peculiar landforms Yellowstone is acclaimed for. This little geyser might not be quite so mighty as Old Faithful but in its own unassuming way, is just as worthy of our attention. But only if we remember to just slow a little. And really look around at where we are. There is a lot to be discovered, amused by.
I don’t think red squirrels get enough love in the world. We are leaving our cozy little 300-square foot cabin in the woods to go traveling indefinitely. This means saying goodbye to the red squirrel who has been living in the abandoned shed beside our outhouse. We have become friends with the squirrel whose territory our cabin sits on and have been watching his antics. He has entertained us with his chittering, mushroom drying, cone collecting and his territorial disputes with neighbouring squirrels. The only time we find fault with him is in the fall when he develops a desire for our cabin insulation. Instead of killing him like so many people would do we scrounge up scrap pieces of insulation and leave it on our deck. His excitement when he stumbles upon it is obvious. It’s a win-win situation for both of us. He still gets a cozy home for winter and our cabin keeps its warmth. He has been a good friend and we’re going to miss him.