Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Search For Beaver

August 20

I woke early, well-rested and feeling optimistic about my chances of at least getting close to Beaver by the end of the day.  I still needed to climb another 1500 feet to a Utah high of 9500, but I was rested and ready for the challenge.
Merely a mile in I made what nearly became a fatal error. I veered onto the wrong trail.  The turn I chose fit the description and the directions in the ADT book perfectly except for one detail: I was a quarter of a mile too soon.
I should have been concerned when a few hundreds in maintenance deteriorated to nil.  Downed timber covered the forest floor.  I was forced to portage my equipment in the worst areas, carrying the pack, then the water, and then the stroller past the tangled branches and rotting trunks.  Needless to say, progress was slow and deliberate.
I forged ahead one mile before joining a new trail, which I was sure would be better.  It was an improvement at first, luring me ever deeper into the dark forest.  This turn too had perfectly aligned with my directions.
More obstructions appeared every few hundred yards.  I continued to sink further into danger. I was irked but surprisingly unworried - until a massive pine came crashing to the earth only a fifty feet to my right.  At this juncture I properly digested the facts: I was very alone and far from help.  Humans did not pass this way often.
Then the situation grew much worse.  Near the top of what I thought was Chokeberry Point the path disappeared completely.  I searched everywhere but the conclusion was inevitable.  I could go back through the mess behind or plunge forward cross country.  Returning meant six more hours shoving past the same mess.  I was unlikely to escape before dark.  I did not want to relive that nightmare so I resolved to continue.  Sadly this course of action signaled the end of B.J.'s usefulness.  He must be abandoned.  The little stroller served me well in our short time together, but where I was going was beyond his abilities.  I unloaded the buggy and bid adieu to the kindest, gentlest inanimate object I've pretended to be friends with ever.
Stock photo of dude lost in the woods.  We'll just say I was not in the mood for snapping photos.

The next step was to head for the top and get a view of potential options.  I summited the nearest high point, but saw little besides another ridge.   Plan B was to head for a stream and follow it out.  Thick tangles of brambles and branches grabbed at my legs, slashing and lacerating as I worked my way to the bottom, trying to find this bath tub's drain.
Halfway there I stumbled upon another trail.  Thinking this might be my ticket out I hopped aboard.  A while later I came to an intersection and moved onto another, heading in a more westerly direction.  I was still under the illusion I would somehow find Beaver tonight.  The trail checked these ambitions by ending.  I returned to the previous path, which also fizzled out.  Plan B returned to the agenda.
Heart racing, I focused in again on finding a stream.  At the base of the mountain I found success - and better yet another trail.  This one did not let me down.  Ten minutes of walking and I reached a dirt road.  A mile later I hit another.  I headed southwest on the second road, believing I would eventually reach Fremont Wash, which would take me to I-15.
For once I was right.  Two hours later what I thought to be Fremont came into sight.  I also saw my first evidence of human existence, a group of RVs camped in a field, hunters more than likely.  Exhausted beyond belief (I had been carrying extra weight in my pack thanks to the equipment I took off of B.J.) I decided to bivouac there in hope of obtaining water and assurance about my new route to Beaver.
My wish was granted in minutes when Kay and his wife drove up in their truck.  They filled my water and assured me Fremont Wash was indeed in the distance and I could use it to escape.  After dark more hunters, Cody and Mike arrived, shocked to see a hiker so far from civilization.  Cody let me use his phone to let my family know I was okay.  They listened to my story stunned.  Cody later told my mother, "that kid is either crazy or tough.  He went through country where the elk don't even go."  I'm just glad being crazy is finally starting to pay dividends.

Thanks to the Egglestons, Cody, and Mike for being there for me, a complete stranger, in my time of greatest need.

? miles/? total miles - I have no idea how far I went today.  It was far and it sucked but those aren't numbers last I checked.  Tomorrow I will just add in the ADT distance from Circleville to Beaver and subtract the six of those miles I did on Sunday.  Assuming I make it to never know I could have died and a demon possessed my body and is now writing this passage.  Stay tuned to find out for sure.

Circleville Gets the Square

August 19

I strolled into Kingston Sunday morning wondering if I would be invited to my first Mormon service.  No such luck as the microscopic village was the first community I have seen in Utah without a LDS church.
Kingston does have a unique history, having been founded as a commune.  The original settlers shared a grist mill, dining hall, and cattle, in addition to crop production.  The grand experiment failed and no evidence remains. In the 1970s a controlled burn on the edge of town came unleashed and incinerated the old buildings.
The larger Circleville was only a few miles away and I reached the city limits in time for an early lunch.  The counter top at Dottie's was covered with articles detailing the history of Circle Valley.  Their most famous resident had been the teen-aged Butch Cassidy, whose family moved there from Beaver.  Butch clearly learned the lay of the land in Southern Utah well during these years.  During his criminal career he made regular use of hideouts there, including Giles Town and Robber's Roost.
The Cassidy ranch was a few miles south of town, but I turned into the woods a bit earlier, entering Fishlake National Forest.  An early Mormon leader, Parley Pratt, led an exploring expedition through this region of Southern Utah in 1849, helping lay the groundwork for the church's expansion there.  Posts of wood memorialize Pratt, who was tragically murdered in 1857 by the estranged husband of his twelfth wife. Clearly he should have stuck to the more manageable number of eleven.

The incline steadily grew as I walked, and the sun's power seemed to increase proportionally.  I stopped at every shady tree and paused, praying the small black cloud to the east would dump its moisture and cool my skin.  Fatigue grew exponentially and I began to feel sick to my stomach, perhaps having over-compensated with my water intake.
I was forced to half early, extremely upset to have covered so little ground.  No sooner had I set up than the skies opened and I sat miserably in the tent listening to the rain, which did not let up until sundown hours later.
I wonder now if some higher power was slowing me down.  There would be trouble tomorrow, the most serious of the entire trip.  I would need every ounce of my strength to survive.

16 miles/3248 total miles

Kill Your Television

August 18

I continued careening to the bottom of Dry Wash in the morning.  My heels dug in against gravity's pull, B.J. and I finally reached a gentler grade after the first hour.
The last mile was an appliance graveyard, refrigerators, washers/dryers, and their ilk rusting out in the morning sun. The cemetery is not a place for an Amana to rest easy, for it doubles as a shooting range, the failure to properly clean clothes or cool meat punished with a few caps in the ass.

As with each small town I've visited thus far, there was one church in Antimony.  The Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints facility was far larger than anyone would expect in a village of barely over one hundred souls.  Over a century and a half after Brigham Young led his people here, Utah is still Mormon country.  Randy claimed 98% of the population in Wayne County are affiliated with the faith of Joseph Smith.
I headed north from Antimony and soon reached Otter Creek Reservoir.  I had lunch at the RV Park there and was well-treated by the host, Carol.  She bought my meal and showed me where I could take a shower and launder my clothes.  I spent a couple of hours going about those tasks while conveniently avoiding the midday heat.
I finished at two and decided to keep going.  There was too much sunlight left to waste.  Circleville was still twenty miles on, so I would have to figure out something in between.  The land was at first dominated by ranches, which had me worried, but I soon reached the Kingston Canyon Wildlife Management Area, an idyllic strip of land adjacent to the east fork of the Sevier River.
The surrounding cliffs sported additional tricks, a series of caves and rock formations unlike any I have seen before.  Utah has numerous state and national parks, but there are numerous other equally outstanding places to visit outside the umbrella of the park system.
Kingston Canyon Scenery

I quit for the day a few miles east of tiny Kingston.  I found an excellent secluded site where the Paiute ATV Trail crosses Utah 62.  I slept soundly under the brilliant starlit sky.

19 miles/3232 total miles

Knob Bobbin'

August 17

In the morning I checked the map and discovered I had slept underneath the shadow of Elsie's Nipple.  They have quite the knack for naming geographical features in Utah.  The morning was spent bobbing up and down over various people's knobs.  I would climb a hill, head downward about half the distance I had risen, then head upward once more.
A couple of miles in I faced the age old dilemma - a fork in the road.  I picked up the utensil; you never know when you might need such a thing.  Then I had to decide whether to go left, towards Jake's Knob, or right, to Parker Lake.  Surprisingly, I chose right and turned out to be correct as well.
The next few hours of the hike were easy, through gentler hills, past grazing cattle and the occasional mule deer or herd of pronghorns.  Small forests spread over the knobs, the bark of the aspen trees used as a sign-in book by every young couple from the three surrounding counties.

Autographed Aspen, not my photo
I hit Dry Wash late in the afternoon, which would take me the last eleven miles into Antimony.  At this point the path began to go downhill in a hurry. I was forced to hold on to B.J. for dear life, my calves burning from the effort.  The wheels wanted to be free, to roll with reckless abandon.  Alas, as much as I would have enjoyed watching the buggy fly off the side of a cliff at full speed, I do have a soft spot in my heart for my water and food supplies.
The effort of a long day ground me to a halt about five miles into Dry Wash (the name seems redundant, if it had water regularly it would be called a river).  I found an agreeable patch of dirt and set up my camp for the evening.

25 miles/3213 total miles

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Up in the Dumps

August 16

I joined Gaby and however you spell his name for breakfast and more tea.  I've now had more caffeine in the last twenty four hours than I usually consume in a month.  I do admit I can understand the concept.  My feet were like rockets all day, my energy level through the roof.
Sunrise with my German neighbors

Spirits rose even higher with the reintroduction of tall trees and green grass, which appeared as I entered a valley.  There was even a string of small towns, Bicknell, Lyman, and Loa.  In Lyman I fell victim to a kindness drive-by.  A woman and her daughter stopped, handed me a Popsicle and bottle filled with ice, then sped off before I could say "thank you."  I merely sat there, stunned and smiling.
I was given a second chance at redeeming southern pride when they came back with chunks of watermelon. I at least got off the common courtesy before they drove away once more, saying, "we are working outside today and know how you feel."
Loa was the last in line and where I planned to take leave of Highway 24.  I went to the the ranger's office there and inquired about a road to Antimony I had once heard tell of.  The office personnel were friendly and confirmed the existence of such a path.  They even had an excellent BLM map of the area I could use.  The route will shave five miles from my original one as well as removing me from traffic.  I have about a few day tolerance for vehicles rushing past me, only inches away, at high rates of speed.
I grabbed the map, as well as some provisions at the grocery store and headed into the hills.  The rigorous hike out of the valley tired me, but also brought an outstanding view far beyond the limited scope of my camera to convey.  I at least made it past the Wayne County landfill, which at least did not have the pervasive odor of the notorious dump in Nelsonville.  People of Ohio, I suggest you bury your waste underground in the future.

20 miles/3188 total miles

The Good Germans

August 15

Wednesday was a slow, relaxed hike, the goal of Torrey only twelve miles away.  The hardest part was a one mile ascent up an eight percent grade, the steepest hill I've had to push B.J. up.  At the top I bumped into a fellow long distance traveler riding his bicycle into the Reef.
Twin Rocks, Capitol Reef National Park

Brian is a retired school teacher from Davis, California.  He is heading from his home there to Durango, Colorado in order to meet his two sons so they can attend the USA Pro Cycling Challenge together, sort of a Tour de Colorado as I understand it.  We had a lengthy conversation and I agreed to meet him when I reach his neck of the woods.
The rest of the walk went smoothly, the weather cooling as I head into higher elevations.  By three I was in Torrey, which seems to exist mainly to provide hotel accommodations for tourists visiting Capitol Reef.
Most of these visitors seem to be European, as were my neighbors at the Sandy Creek RV Park, Gabrielle and Uwe (Uver? I can't spell in German).  They were taking a holiday of three weeks from their physical therapying and dental technicianing to explore Bryce, Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, and the Grand Canyon among destinations.
Over hot tea I heard of their love for the beauty of the southwest.  I concurred and ranted about the lack of good beer in Utah.  They no doubt thought I was an alcoholic.  Of course, maybe that's a positive character trait in Germany.  If so I think I want to go there.

12 miles/3168 total miles

Capitol Reefer Madness

August 14

I picked up a couple of hiking companions in Caineville, shortly after leaving Mesa Farms.  The small dogs looked to be a beagle/collie mix assuming those two breeds are even sexually compatible.  They were a lot better behaved than Spazz the Mutt, who joined me in Kentucky, darting into traffic as if being hit by a car was his only goal in life.  These two followed along content to search the roadside for fun, but always keeping pace with B.J. and I.  Five miles into our excursion their owner showed up and our fellowship came to a close.
Ten more miles brought me to the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park, which was originally a National Monument until President Nixon promoted it for good behavior.  The main attractions of the Reef were still to come, but I did encounter evidence of some of the earliest inhabitants, the Fremont Indians.  Contemporaries of the Anasazi, the Fremonts lived in the area from 700 to 1300 A.D., although they probably weren't named after the first Republican presidential candidate at that time.  The structures I saw were much simpler than the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings of the Anasazi, small granaries and storage chambers built into the sandstone.  Archeologists know the culture to have revolved around corn horticulture and foraging, but they are in the process of making up the rest of the details.  The discovery of a new undisturbed sight at Range Creek in Utah will provide more yarn for the spinning of their fanciful tales.
Erosion of that sandstone produced an effect I have only seen in only one other place, Cappadocia, Turkey.  Countless small holes made the rock face look like Swiss cheese in spots.  Tiny caves only a few feet in circumference are the result, many of them separated by only a thin pillar, the resident rodents only a few thousand years away from having a duplex.

As I neared the main course I was met by a park ranger named Jordan who made sure I was coping with the heat okay and showed me a short cut to the campground.  I thanked her and continued on, coming to Navajo Dome, a structure which reminded me of an onion pulled from the earth with the tuber still intact.  Of course, if there were onions a thousand feet tall and hundreds of yards wide we would have this whole world hunger thing under control.
Navajo's neighbor from across the street is Capitol Dome, which appears to be a huge pile of stone penises. I felt this to be a pretty fair representation of the current makeup of Congress.
Next I took a side trip to the Hickman Natural Bridge, a couple of miles round trip off Utah 24.  What I saw looked exactly like many of the arches at Arches National Park.  In fact all "bridge" formations are arches, they just tend to have a nice flat surface on top you can walk across.
The last sight of the day were the petroglyphs.  These are examples of rock art left by the Fremonts.  The drawings I saw were stick-figurish depictions of humans and bighorn sheep, more evidence human behavior has remained unchanged throughout the eons.  Nowadays we put those silly stickers on the back window of our vehicle.
Click on the pic to make it full size and you can see how many kids and pets these Indians had!

Jordan's suggested shortcut worked perfectly and I lay in repose at Fruita Campground by seven.  She came over to check whether I had arrived and left me with a bag of fresh apples from the adjacent orchards, which the park service now operate.  Fruita was once home to a small Mormon farming community, but like the Fremonts they have moved on, the last leaving in the 1950s.  I will follow their example in the morning.

22 miles/3156 total miles

Zen and the Art of Agriculture

August 13

Hanksville was just too small, it couldn't hold me.  I moved west on Highway 24, the air dry and dusty.  The Fremont River cut a muddy course below.  The hike was over pretty even terrain while the temperature kept the mercury boiling as usual.  There was little settlement to speak of in the midst of twisting canyons.
Once a band of men did inhabit these spaces.  Giles Town was planted in this remote corner of Utah by a band of outlaws whose chicanery often left them in need of refuge.  Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, the McCarty family, Blue John, and many lesser known villains made a temporary home here when the posse was on their trail.  When their era came to an end Giles had outlived its usefulness.  An attempt to create a tourist attraction here failed.  Nothing is left but a few signs and relics decaying out in the desert.
Mannequin of Blue John and other debris from the Giles Town Experience

I neared Cainesville by early afternoon, wondering where I would lay my head tonight.  A sign to my left reading Mesa Farms jogged my memory.  Lynne had recommended the place and she hadn't been wrong yet.
Inside I met the owner Randy, who turned out to be part farmer and part religious philosopher.  In my opinion he is a success at both.  Mesa Farms is a favorite of Europeans, especially the French, who are presented with a rare opportunity to acquire the fresh cheese, bread, and vegetables that are mostly lacking in the United States.  A stellar write up in one of the French guide books and the nearness of several national parks keep him running in an otherwise isolated location.
Randy was raised on a farm in South Dakota, but his parents sold the land before he could take his shot at tilling it on his own.  Exile in Salt Lake City was the result, hard work at unskilled positions meant a long uphill climb before the dream of farm ownership could be realized.  Finally in 1994 Randy was able to purchase this property in Cainesville.
He may not be a holder of multiple degrees, but Randy is a wiser man than most doctors or lawyers I have met.  I won't begin to describe his belief system, except to say it is a combination of Buddhist, Christian, Mayan, and Ancient Egyptian theology.  The idea that we are all part of one great whole is paramount.  I find it difficult to wrap my head around this thesis, but I suppose there's a reason why Buddhist monks sit in rapt meditation for hours and days on end.  On the other hand, in a universe where some suggest we all come from the same chunk of matter, the idea is appealing.
We also discussed negative thought and emotion, how it can bring us down.  I considered my own plight and how something sort of niggling pain was always bothering me.  How can I conquer my obsession with these ailments and end the distraction they create?  I don't know the answer, but I feel it is found somewhere in the way my body acts towards the end of a long day.  At some point I reach a trance-like state and all of these minor worries are forgotten.
I've heard marathoners use the term "runner's high" and I think the concept is the same.  We become too tired to even think about pain.  The challenge is to find a way to access that state of mind at a whim.  Only then can we clear our mind enough to touch divinity.
Where I am along the path of enlightenment is anyone's guess, but meeting Randy provided me with plenty of mental ammunition to help me work towards that goal.  In addition, he gave me some excellent goat cheese and fresh bread - those couldn't hurt either.

15 miles/3134 total miles 

Desert Aide

August 12

I started off sluggishly, my attitude lousy.  What can I say?  Another ten hours of scorching heat seemed unappealing at the moment.  Susan and Gail showed up and that frown did a one hundred and eighty degree reverse windmill jam right in my face.  The two were out exploring the national parks of Utah in their RV when they spotted my downtrodden visage.  They stopped and gave me a goodie bag with enough grub to feed Equatorial Guinea .  B.J. strained under the load of vittles.
Later on I was paid a visit by Officer Friendly of the Utah State Highway Patrol.  He checked my water supply to make certain I had enough, then drove away.  An hour later he returned with two liters of ice cold Aquafina, a godsend for the fried traveler.
As an aside, sometimes I feel like the sun is on Iron Chef and I am the secret ingredient, to be cooked and prepared in a variety of different ways.  I recommend the Alastair souffle with truffle oil on top.
The scenery began to improve as well about ten miles from my destination.  Cylinders of rock stood lonely out to the west, looking like a messy bowling leave.  It seems even God cannot hit a seven-ten split.  The feature was known as Brigham Butte according to a posted sign.  A dastardly hooligan had removed the "e" from Butte.  I cannot abide this sort of immature tomfoolery.  Clearly the "r" should have been removed as well.

The approach of Hanksville was signaled by the Dirty Devil River.  The water was the color of chocolate milk poorly stirred by an impatient five year old.  Powell's expedition rowed past the Devil's junction with the Colorado and were not impressed with the sight or smell and thus they applied the unflattering name, which has stuck.  A fair assessment on their part I feel.
I was on the home stretch but their was still a surprise in store.  With no warning a cloud of mosquitoes appeared around my legs and began a ferocious attack upon my blood supply.  I was shocked to see my old Lowcountry* nemesis in such a dry place.  Credit the pest with resilience if nothing else.  I have not needed to carry bug spray all year, but that trend will come to an end tomorrow morning.
I reached Hanksville and enjoyed a relaxing evening thanks to Mom, who purchased me a room at the Whispering Sands.  The A/C cooled me down and a shower washed off the layers of sand I had accumulated over the last two days in the desert.  Having shed off my veneer I can really show off my tan.  You might call it a terrible sunburn or the early stages of malignant melanoma, but either way I am looking good!

20 miles/3119 total miles

*A region of South Carolina near the ocean.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My First BJ Day

August 11

This morning was one of the toughest emotional moments I have yet faced.  Colin and Mom were set to leave.  The next six hundred miles are mostly desert and I don't know a soul along the route.  On a more positive note, I realize I am blessed to have a family that will come out on their vacation time and suffer in the roasting pan with me.  Their presence will be greatly missed.
With the support car gone I am now reliant on the baby jogger to carry the massed of liquid required in these great open spaces.  I went ahead and named the stroller B.J.  Since I am bound to go mad from loneliness I thought I would get a head start by developing a relationship with an inanimate object.  Hopefully the pack won't become jealous.  I didn't name this one after losing the first two.  I didn't want to be hurt again, the pain is still too deep.
Photo by Amy McCandless

There wasn't much for B.J. and I to look at on our first day of companionship.  A ranch runs along both sides of the highway here for forty straight miles.  There were no crops, no livestock, nor was there oil or natural gas extraction in evidence.  Pretty exciting stuff.
The ranch's fence restricted my ability to remove myself from the road for camping purposes to about thirty feet.  At nineteen miles I resolved to take what appeared to be the best camping spot available, a gray spot of dirt below a small hill.  I would at least be partially concealed from motorists' prying eyes.
I crawled into my hole and hid from the sun's radiating blast.  The fly was attached, turning the tent into a sauna.  You can open one side to allow a breeze in - if you don't mind a pound of sand entering as well.  A small storm combined with a strong wind cooled me down, but brought a new problem.  The sandy ground pukes out stakes with ease.  Two kept firmly implanted in the earth while the others were coming undone and with them the fly.  I managed to tie my rain protection to B.J.'s rear wheels, which proved a temporary fix.  I'll have to work on a more permanent solution.  Perhaps B.J. will think of something.

Thanks to Matt and Nina for stopping and giving me some cold water as well as a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.  Let us not forget other recent givers:

Henry Martin
Cynthia May
Mark and Melissa Normington

19 miles/3099 total miles

The Momster Takes Over

August 10

Friday was my last full day with Mom and Colin, so I decided to take things easy with a big day of being abandoned ahead ( I kid).  So easy in fact, that Mom, AKA Dr. Amy McCandless has written this particular blog episode.  She is the author of "the Past in the Present" as well as innumerable scholarly articles.  Currently the dean of the Graduate School at the College of Charleston, Amy has two grown sons who both try to drive her crazy, one of them by wandering through the mountains and desert alone.  I hope you enjoy her take on the day's events:

Colin and my last day hiking with Alastair was Friday, August 10th.  We went 
from Green River 18 miles south on old County Highway 24 until it joined the 
current Rt. 24 about 44 miles north of Hanksville.  After we left the outskirts 
of Green River, a sign said that the road was no longer maintained by the state 
-- one really didn't need the sign to come to that conclusion.  For most of our 
18 miles, we were on a gravel path with nothing but a few cow patties to 
indicate the area was home to any living creatures.  As Colin remarked earlier, 
one runs out of synonyms for desolate.  As we neared the junction of Rt. 24, the 
hills became more pronounced and the road wound between various colored rock 
Alastair decided that the junction was a good place to stop for the day because 
it would give us a quiet place to drop him off Saturday morning where he could 
put together his jogging stroller and back up his five gallons of water for the 
long stretches of road ahead.  We drove back to Green River where Alastair went 
to the hotel to get his gear ready for his solo days ahead.
Colin and I decided to squeeze in one last National Park so we drove to Island 
in the Sky, one of the Canyonlands Parks.  To say the views were stunning is an 
understatement.  The name comes from the canyons carved by the Green and 
Colorado rivers. The Island in the Sky is a broad mesa between the rivers and 
provides splendid views of the white rim, a sandstone bench 1,200 feet below the 
Island and of the rivers, 2,200 feet below. We took a short hike to the Mesa 
Arch and enjoyed the views from the Green River Overlook and the Grand View 
Point Overlooks.  It was hard to stop taking photos.
Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park

Alastair's response: as usual she gave Colin credit for something I originally said. In her 
defense, she may not have known he stole the idea from me, the thieving rapscallion.  

18 miles/3080 total miles  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tribute to a Wounded Warrior: John Wesley Powell

August 9

Six miles, no cars, and little scenery of note meant a dull start to the hike.  Mom had all the action, trying to coax the Mitsubishi along over no-name dirt road.  Crossing a deep canyon she was almost defeated, the tires squealing on the wet mud.
Fortunately she snuck through.  Colin and I had little problem on foot and by eight thirty we returned to Old Route 6, an old strip of blacktop we had used until Thompson Springs, when it mysteriously disappears.  The ancient highway took travelers west from Grand Junction until I-70 was completed in 1970.  Old Route 6 has been abandoned to the elements, but was still in good enough shape to lead us the last twelve miles into town.
Once in Green River we spent the afternoon exploring the two main attractions, Crystal Geyser and the John Wesley Powell Museum.  The geyser is located directly on the river, a few miles outside of town.  We had low expectations since the eruptions occur randomly every twelve to fifteen hours. 
Nonetheless, we were impressed by the terraced features of the rock, set like great steps falling to the river bank.  The surface reminded me of coral, the minerals in the water having etched their indelible marks.  Their work is colorful as well, green, blue, and red puddles are left in the water's wake and the terraces are a pale yellow or rust colored.
The ground around the geyser, which reminded me of coral

As Colin and I completed our examination of the geyser's drainage we heard mom shout "its getting bigger."  We headed over to investigate and sure enough the geyser was beginning to bubble like a jacuzzi.  The water continued to rise as if someone was preparing to cook spaghetti and had left the burner on took long.  Like a liter of cola shaken, not stirred, the pressure became too much and the fountain shot up into the air a good three feet.
We later learned Crystal Geyser is known to shoot between thirty and sixty feet high.  For whatever reason the smaller eruption we witnessed has been the norm of late.  Still, we honored to have the opportunity to see such a rare event.
Next we drove to the John Wesley Powell Museum.  You may know Powell as the leader of the first expedition to row the length of the Colorado River, the last unknown region in the You may not know that they started on the Green River, an equally rough piece of whitewater.  In those days the upstream portion of the Colorado was known as the Grand and only at the confluence with the Green did the Grand become the Colorado.
You may also be unaware that Major Powell was a wounded warrior, having lost his right arm to a bullet at Shiloh.  He never let the injury stop him, often scaling cliffs thousands of feet high to scout down river.  His crew of mountain men (who had zero whitewater experience!) performed countless courageous deeds as well.  If you want to learn more I highly recommend "Down the Great Unknown" by Edward Dolnick. 

Did you know?
Major Powell married his first cousin Emma.  How hot is that?  Am I right West Virginia?

18 miles/3062 total miles

Friday, August 10, 2012

Arch Chillin

August 8

We left Thompson Springs on what for this area is a well-traveled road.  A vehicle actually drove by us in the first two hours!  I have been getting up early with my family, trying to take advantage of the cool mornings.  I prefer to have my daily heat stroke during the later part of the hike.
There was little to see unless your turn-ons include scrub grass, sand, small cacti, and dull-colored rocks.  The highlight was a couple of pronghorn antelopes who paid their respects to Colin and I.  These animals are quite curious, often following along at a safe distance for up to fifteen minutes.  Fellow pronghorns, please note this distance is only safe because we are not carrying rifles.
Mom joined me for the next six miles and we turned onto 191, which is actually full of traffic headed to Arches and Canyonlands.  We would be following shortly, but first let me tell you about all the exciting stuff that happened while we were walking together.  We left 191 and began another deserted country road.
Now that's over I will be pleased to tell you tales of Arches.  Located to the northwest of Negro Bill Canyon and Jackass Canyon, Arches National Park is a wonderland.  If God is a little boy than sandstone is his Play-do and he clearly had a ball turning it into the shapes we saw.
Balanced Rock, Park Avenue, and the Petrified Sand Dunes were all on display in this natural art gallery.  The arches were the clear star, however, the tourists playing paparazzi, recording images of erosion's finest works before they disappear.
Some do, in fact, collapse.  Landscape Arch lost a sixty foot wide chunk of rock recently, but despite the weight loss maintains the proper form, if barely.
A three foot opening in a rock is required to earn the title of "arch."The park has over two thousand qualifiers, the most of any spot in the world.
The only downside for the summer visitor is the intense heat.  We arrived at eleven and were beaten into submission by three.  Our savior lay only a few miles south of Arches in the form of the Moab Brewery.  Cold beer for the boys and a tea followed by gelato for mom dropped our temperatures to a normal level.  I wonder if I could fit the Brewery and their lovely A/C unit in the baby jogger....

12 miles/3044 total miles

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Outskirts of Nowhere

August 7

We got the band back together this morning, set to make a big push towards Green River, which still lay fifty trail miles away.  Cisco's rotting corpse was the starting line and the hoped for conclusion Thompson Springs. In between lay a fantastic pile of nowhere.  I have to always correct myself and say we are on the outskirts of nowhere.  Having looked at a map, the middle of nowhere is clearly in Nevada.
After a dozen routine miles the desert heat began to flex its muscles.  Colin and I bore the brunt on the third shift, when the mitigating force of the wind took a lunch break.  We had run out of water by the time we reached the end of our stretch together.  I ducked into the rented Mitsubishi to escape the desert broil  for a few minutes.  Then I dumped water down my throat and on my head before heading on the end run with Mom.
The breeze mercifully returned and I was reinvigorated.  We even watched a small thunderstorm to our northwest, proving rain does exist out here.  Green River sees a grand total of five inches yearly. 
Two hours of work brought us to Thompson Springs, which was more of a mobile home park than a town.  Any settlement with live souls is a miracle out here.  The environment does not favor the presence of humanity. 
I was wasted by this point, having logged twenty four miles in only nine hours.  I chose to nap while Colin and Mom explored Green River, our base for the last four days of my family's visit.  Our intrepid reporter Colin will tell you what he saw:
"Poor little Green River has seen better days to put it bluntly. I spied with my little journalist's eye vacant building upon vacant building along the town's Main Street. Empty hotels with for sale signs lining the windows and abandoned gas stations dotted the road through this sleepy little hamlet. To be fair though, the local grocery store the Melon Vine was clean and nice and stocked with edible food stuffs. And not everything is dead or dying in Green River. There are still several family style restaurants, dive diners and chain hotels alive and kicking-our Super Duper 8 case in point. Some tourists still use it as a way station to Arches and Canyonlands.
I must also give props to the sweet elderly couple who sold us cantaloupe and canary melons at Dunham's Fruit Stand a block away from our hotel. They allowed mom and I to sample a variety of their prize-winning juicy and delicious melons before committing to our purchase, then agreed to pre-slice the melons they sold us since our only utensil was a Super Duper 8 plastic knife. Green River is known for their melons-the climate plays a helpful hand according to the Dunhams-the hot days and cool nights in the high desert create the perfect conditions. Of course, as Alastair alluded to, precipitation is scarce so none of this would be possible without the wonders of irrigation."
I hoped you enjoyed our guest contributor.  Now you know why journalists are given a word limit.  See you tomorrow with more family adventures in the burning desert as we walk more (boring!) and take an excursion to the red hot surface of the sun at Arches National Park, just to turn the temperature up a notch and see if we can take it.  Oh, and there might be some of the most unique rock formations on the face of the planet too. 

24 miles/3032 total miles

Thanks to Recent Contributors:
Bob Arnold
Karen and Bill Lawton
Donnie and Mark
Jeanette and Curt
Amy McCandless
Colin McCandless
Peter McCandless
Corey Smith

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Solo Artist

August 6

I started out on the Kokopelli trail as the sun was still lazing about below the horizon.  There would be no accompaniment on this hike; Colin and Mom headed to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison after dropping me at the Westwater trailhead.  I had thirteen miles ahead of me on the Kokopelli, named after the Hopi fertility god.
I was hoping to see some wildlife since. I-70 was miles to the north, but I was not obliged in this request.  Just how alone I was soon became apparent.  When I stopped for a few spoonfuls of peanut butter I realized the only sound had been my shuffling gait.  There were no birds, lizards, or insects and even the wind was silent.  I felt like an actor who has shown up for work and is greeted by an empty set.
With so little going on I fell to reflecting on the landscape of the Southwest.  Local authors Edward Abbey and Craig Childs have written thousands of pages documenting the surroundings and allure of the region and I won't pretend to have their lifetime of understanding and descriptive √©lan.   I suggest instead a hands-on experiment so you can get a real feel for what I am seeing.
Take an apple pie. Any pie will do, but apple is the patriotic choice and I know you don't hate America.  Smash the pie repeatedly with a hammer, shake vigorously, then toss the remains up in the air.  What you are left with is a mess.  This exercise shows the superiority of the Earth's crust when compared to Crisco.  Honestly I can't remember if there is a point here.  I've been obsessing about baked goods ever since I noticed the crumbling mesas here look like a coffee cake.
The road mercifully distracted me at Agate, another in a long string of ghost towns.  The ground was covered in the rose-colored stone of the same name and I slowed to grab several examples for my family to see.
Soon enough I reached Cisco Landing, a boat launch on the Colorado River.  Here I left Kokopelli and headed on Pump House Road to rendezvous with Colin and Amy.
We met at Cisco, which makes the settlement in "Road Warrior" look like a Sandals resort.  All the businesses (one) had closed down, any cars were rusted hulks, and houses averaged two walls apiece.  Random piles of refuse and debris were strewn in all directions.  My tent would have been the classiest digs in town.
Done for the day we returned for our last night in Fruita.  We enjoyed a trip to Suds Brewing Company for juicy hamburgers and creatively named beers.  Colin and I tried Keeper Kummin Nut Brown, but you might prefer Red Monkey's Butt Amber, WTF Bavarian Lager, Herding Cats Pale Ale, or SOB Lager.  Whatever you think might go best with the pie scattered all over your floor.

16 miles/3008 total miles

Monday, August 6, 2012


August 5

If you've been following my journey across the United States for a few minutes you'll probably notice things don't always go according to plan on the rare occasions I even have one.  Adding a car and a couple family members to the equation complicates logistics even more. Not surprisingly, my temporary teammates and I found our first major impediment twelve miles into today's hike.
I should probably start by explaining that I wandered off the trail again yesterday.  We had previously decided using Kokopelli's Trail would be too difficult given the large gaps between pickup points.  The Ford Mustang mom rented is a pimpin' ride, but won't operate on most back roads in the West, which are usually repaired only once every couple of centuries.  Instead we found an alternate route, taking us to Green River, somewhat north of the ADT.  I'll return at some point, but I'm not much into the MacArthur thing, so don't hold your breath until then.
The Google Maps directions were perfectly spiffy until the third shift early this afternoon when Colin and I ran into a little problem, the Colorado River.  Westwater Road ends there, leaving us momentarily befuddled.    We had an hour to wait until mom returned with the car, so we sat down for a long wait, which did not occur.  
Rather luckily a man named Alan showed up and offered to take us to the Viewing Station where she was passing the time.  He also happened to be an Appalachian Trail alum, so we spent the ride talking shop.  The trade off for our good fortune was a lack of room, mainly for my legs, which slowly went numb.  When we arrived and I touched ground they had no feeling whatsoever. 
The sensation passed, but there were still other problems, like where we should go next.  I suggested we could hit up the bike shop and get a better map of the surrounding moonscape.  At Over the Edge we found our solution - head onto the previously forsaken Kokopelli Trail.  We had seen a Kokopelli sign on Westwater and a Forty Latitude Map convinced me I could hop on and get back to the Google route at Cisco Landing. 
Mom resolved to fix the car problem as well, heading to Grand Junction with Colin to trade in for a truck.  They had partial success, pinching a less stylish, but more practical Mitsubishi with a much larger back seat.  We still can't get onto some of the nastier tracks, but the baby jogger I've received from Karen and Jerry does fit inside.  The tiny Mustang could barely fit us, much less the new addition to my desert arsenal.
We celebrated our new plan (which could not possibly fail), with dinner at Rib City, courtesy of Mom.  Problems may drive us to distraction, but frankly, what fun would a trip of this length be without a little challenge now and again?  Even the best laid plans end up with yolk on their face sometimes, but as they say you can't make a senseless homily, metaphor, or saying without breaking a few eggs.

12 miles/2992 total miles     

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Fruita Cake

August 4

Before dawn Amy, Colin, and I left the not so super 8 and began singing Willie Nelson.  I know we all want to move past this seemingly endless delay in western Colorado and meet new Mormon friends and even some godless apostates in Utah. I feel I would be remiss, however, if I did not say a few words about Fruita, my prison for the last forty eight hours.
An entrepreneur named who the hell cares came to the Grand Valley in the 1880s with dreams of creating an empire of apple and pear orchards.  The soil was willing, with a little help from irrigation projects, but an insect invasion attacked the fruit buffet like a starved Sumo wrestler leading to calamity, disaster, and other bad stuff.
The town shook off the setback and survived to the present day. Tourism is now a thriving industry in Fruita.  Huge dinosaurs such as brachiosaurus, supersaurus, and Ultrasaurus (I promise I did not make those names up) were all found nearby, as well as raptors, the tiny yet savage killers from "Jurassic Park.".
For those uninterested in dusty old fossils, Rimrock Adventures provides guides for a variety of outdoor activities.  An extensive series of bike trails also draws visitors.
Sadly if predictably I have missed the town's main event.  Every May Fruita celebrates the life and times of Mike the Headless Chicken.   Mike was beheaded in 1935, but refused to let that handicap keep him down.  His brain stem continued to function for eighteen months, during which he was featured in "Life" magazine and toured the world before crossing the road eternal.

Now back to our regularly scheduled walk.  Colin and mom took turns accompanying me during the day.  Each shift was two hours in length.  The most noteworthy was the fourth rotation, which carried mom and I across the Utah border. The values placed upon road M 8-10 by Colorado and her neighbor were readily apparent.  The freshly painted yellow lines disappeared immediately and so did most of the pavement.  I can't fault Utah's budgetary priorities too much considering we had seen all of five cars in the previous two hours.
This next hundred miles or so are pretty much bereft of any human dwellings whatsoever.  I hope you liked learning about Fruita because talk of civilization will be lacking in the coming days.  The words sparse, barren, and empty should dominate the discussion.  If you have any suggestions for good synonyms send them along.

22 miles/

Friday, August 3, 2012

Verbal Can't

August 2

Today I chilled out, waited, wrote, and talked to my friend Mark.  The waiting game is almost over.  Mom and Colin land in Grand Junction tomorrow.   My body is well-rested and ready for a an introduction to Utah. 

0 miles/almost some more miles soon

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Things to Around Grand Junction When You're With Dad

July 26-August 1

Thanks to Dad my purgatory in the Grand Junction area was more reward than punishment.  With his arrival on the 25th of July we had a week to see Western Colorado unfettered by a backpack.  We were able to see a large chunk of country and I had a chance to rest my aches and pains.  Eating regular hot meals and not sleeping on the ground were pretty nice perks as well.

1. Revisit a Monument: Dad had not seen Colorado National Monument, so since we were on the doorstep already we went there first.  I've discussed the place in detail before and will not burden you with a rehash (see "Blots in the Stone"). 
I did glean one extra smidgeon of knowledge about Wedding Canyon, the most recently named of the Monument's canyons.  John Otto's nuptials took place there, thus the appellation.  The memorial to the event has already outlasted Otto's marital bliss - the union was terminated after only three short months. 

2. Meet the New Arrival: The walls of the Book Cliffs and Monument Canyon are many miles apart, erosion has created the Grand Valley where a mighty canyon existed a hundred million years ago.  The younger Grand Canyon has had six million years to form, a perfect age to acquire the aesthetics required by tourists.  The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is the new kid on the block, formed by an uplift of the earth's crust only two million years in the past.  The result is a narrow chasm with imposing cliffs towering as much as 2700 feet above the Gunnison River.  The sight from the rim reminded me of Wiley Coyote and the inevitable plunge which always followed his attempts at capturing the Road Runner with a malfunctioning Acme product of some sort. 
Sunlight rarely penetrates to the bottom, earning the canyon its name.  The walls are not without color, however, as a pink rock known as pegmatite provides a dash of flash.  The pegmatite slashes and splashes across the otherwise dark stone, creating an endless series of abstract designs of which Picasso would be proud.  You might want to come view the display.  To me it is a lot more awe-inspiring than anything at the Louvre.

3.Head to Switzerland: After B.C. we drove down to the San Juan Skyway, a circular tour through three hundred miles of the Rockies' greatest hits.  The San Juan range boasts the youngest hills in Colorado, still retaining the craggy and uneven forms of geological childhood.  Our first stop was the town of Ridgway, where the movie "True Grit" (the original version) was filmed. We played the role of tourists well, entering the cafe of the same name.  The True Grit had all the kitsch you would expect, walls covered in John Wayne and Glen Campbell posters.  Missing was the Hard Rock Cafe food.  Instead of the mindless corporate menu of microwaved mediocrity we enjoyed fresh, perfectly cooked hamburgers accompanied by a couple of well-crafted local ales. 
A half day's walk away, or fifteen minutes via my current mode of transport, was Ouray (Your-ray), the Switzerland of America.  The town was given the nickname for the Alpine surroundings and a refusal to become embroiled in conflicts involving neighbors Silverton and Telluride.  The didn't appear to make chocolate, cheese, watches, or hoard money stolen from Jews if you are wondering.   The glacial valley is split by the Uncompahgre River.  With mountains higher than ten thousand feet on all sides the water has to come from somewhere above, which is usually accompanied by falling.  As a result a couple of cataracts exist around Ouray.  Cascade Falls is a pedestrian site in Colorado.  What would be a state treasure in Mississippi is as common as a bris in Tel Aviv here.
Box Canyon Falls, on the other hand, would be unique virtually anywhere.  This cataract drops into a stone cave, barely revealed inside its Pre-Cambian chute.  The cavalcade of noise cannot be ignored, however, and even those who doubt the power of water may wonder how this fiercely rushing force could fail to move mountains.
Ouray would not exist today if not for man's ability to do the same.  The walls of rock which attracted today's tourists would have imprisoned the early miners, who had no easy path to get their ore to market.  Freedom came thanks to Otto Mears, who constructed a toll road through the difficult terrain.  Even today this stretch, known as the Million Dollar Highway, is not for the faint of heart.  Exiting Ouray toward Silverton we were treated to ten straight miles of potential death were the wheels to stray from the asphalt.  I've seen guardrails in Iowa next to ten foot drops, but Coloradans don't seem to view this safety feature as a necessity even when riding next to a bottomless pit.

4. Check out Condos: Southwest Colorado is home to one of the earliest Native American apartment complexes, Mesa Verde.  The Anasazi originally built pithouses atop the cliff, but later moved below the rim, which would have been protected from the elements and easier to defend from invaders.  Within one hundred years of accomplishing this difficult architectural feat they were gone.  Archeologists originally surmised that the culture disappeared entirely and began to ask why.  Recent scholarship has uncovered clear links with modern tribes such as the Hopi and Zuni, revealing that the Anasazi were not raptured to heaven in Kokopelli's space ship as some have conjectured.  The Anasazi, who are now grouped in with the Pueblo tribes and referred to under that name, merely got a Mayflower fan and moved.  There still is a mystery as to why they would leave a place like Mesa Verde or even more elaborate sites at Chaco Canyon and elsewhere.  We surmised a combination of drought and fire, which would have devastated most of the food sources.  There was a long drought at the time and we saw recent evidence of great blazes across the mesa.  Over fifty percent of the park had burned in the last dozen years. 

5.  Have a Birthday: I devoured a scrumptious birthday dinner at the Smuggler's Pub in Telluride courtesy of Dad.  The steak fajitas were washed down nicely thanks to their Belgian Trippel, which I chose not based on taste but rather ABV.  Facebook claims I am a hundred and one, although I feel much younger.  I credit my religion, Buddhist extremism, which has allowed me to meditate sixty four of those years without remembering a thing. 

6. Try Out the Public Transport System: The day after I got older we explored Telluride with a more sober countenance.  Set in another glacial valley adjacent to Ouray the town boasts waterfalls as well.  The most impressive, just to the east, is Bridal Veil Falls, the highest in all of Colorado.  Amazingly, I wasn't all that impressed.  Perhaps drving around and seeing so much beauty so fast has desensitized me.  I may need to return to my slow walking pace in order to absorb my surroundings.  Racing about gives me the feel of having overindulged, like stuffing my gob with a pound of Hershey's chocolate.  The quality of each individual piece is lost. 
I did, however, rather enjoy the free public transportation in Telluride.  A system of gondolas was recently constructed connecting the town to the slopes as well as some of the outlying resorts, most notably Mountain Village.  The gondolas reduce the carbon footprint of residents and tourists alike, who no longer have to make the eight mile drive. 
At Mountain Village we visited Poacher's Pub for a brew and a nice lunch.  There I met Curt and Hawkeye, a couple of serious outdoorsmen.  Curt was a college volleyball player at the University of New Mexico and Hawkeye is a triple crown hiker.  They both are now avid mountain bikers and encouraged me to check out the new paths in Fruita upon my return to the Grand Junction area.  Hawkeye is planning to hike the Colorado Trail for the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program, a group which helps the disabled to engage in activities like skiing, biking, and horseback riding.  Check out his page at 

7. Mine the Gap: We still had a three hour trip back to Grand Junction, through old mining territory on the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Highway.  The main game here was uranium, which was found in and around towns such as Nucla, Uravan, and Vancorum.  Up until the 1980s the radioactive rock was removed and used to scare the Russians (and all other sane individuals).  By then we could blow up the entire planet fourteen times over and the workers were beginning to suffer from serious illnesses. 
Earlier miners have left an unique historical relic, Hanging Flume.  Water is essential in the process of obtaining most ores and the substance was lacking in the dry lands of Western Colorado.  The harsh landscape made known methods of delivery difficult and the Lone Tree Mining Company was not sure they could fully develop the claim - that was until engineer Nathaniel Turner came up with the brilliant plan of attaching a trestle carrying a flume directly to the canyon walls.  Of course, his design was only genius if it worked and obviously it did not disappoint or I would be making fun of him.  In the end the disappointment was the claim, which yielded significantly less ore than Lone Tree had expected.  Their investment failed and Hanging Flume was only in operation three short years. 
Despite the dark and unlucky history, the countryside of possessed a rambunctious nature, changing constantly as we drove between the canyons and hills.  The mountains were at first green as leprechaun blood, then dry and red as tired eyes after a coke binge.  More turns and suddenly we were surrounded by bluish green mesas the color of a tarnished penny, followed by the yellowish brown hills denoting our approach to arid Grand Junction. 
I've become a bit of a nomad over the course of the journey, so coming back to the same town again makes me feel like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day."  That interminable movie eventually ended and so will too will this pass. 

8. Roll on the River: Dad and I chose to spend our last full day together on the less than mighty Colorado.  The river is fairly tame on the Blue Heron Run.  We weren't even needed to row.  Our guide Luke propelled us on a placid trip which felt more like a Venetian gondola ride than a whitewater excursion.  We did leave the raft on several occasions, but not at the invitation of powerful waves or massive whirlpools.  Luke suggested we swim every now and then to cool down.  Complete lack of any physical exertion can really wear you out. 

9. Say Goodbye: The first day of August was departure day.  We took a quick ride up Mesa Grande, had an excellent pub meal at Naggy McGee's in Grand Junction, and said our goodbyes.  Dad's arrived last week at the perfect moment, allowing me to escape ennui and get a last glimpse at the wonders of Colorado.  My wounds seem to have healed as well.  Our week together will be treasured forever by most of my personalities. 
0 miles/lots of total miles