Tough canine meets tougher Utah desert
“Lucy, would you like to join us on a hiking trip to Utah?”
My tail wagged an excited thump and my eyes sparkled with excitement as I responded with sharp, enthusiastic barks, “Naturally, I’ll follow you anywhere!”
“Are you sure? Desert weather and hiking are unlike anything you’ve experienced.”
“Well, I’ve accompanied you on countless desert hikes near Bighorn Sheep Canyon between Canon City and Salida. I’m experienced. How different can it be?”
And so, I joined Kathy and Greg on their mid-May 2013 trip to Utah BLM lands in the vicinity of Moab, Utah. We were aware that Utah’s world famous national parks had inflexible regulations forbidding canines from hiking on parklands, but I trusted Greg and Kathy’s perception that nearby, lesser-known BLM lands still offered an exciting variety of hiking and exploration opportunities.
My first Utah hike was 33 miles southwest of the Colorado Interstate 70 border and north of sleepy Thompson Springs. We trekked steadily up a dry jeep track near Sego Canyon and the Book Cliffs. I saw weird formations and narrow, towering fins with nothing growing on their pale sandstone flanks before we left the track to walk cross country on a broad, juniper-covered mesa. While comprehending the value of following trails and jeep tracks, I prefer being off trail with my humans. It feels freer and has more new scents. Greg and Kathy always seem to know where they’re going, and our hike ended at the edge of barren cliffs dropping 1,000 feet to scrubby flatlands bordered with formidable walls and lifeless buttes. I had never seen anything like it. Feeling confident with my surefooted agility, I, unlike my humans, never slipped on the crumbly terrain. Despite everything being new to me, this hike was easy and I concluded that Utah wasn’t that tough.
I FELT BORED the next morning when my humans wasted time by slowly studying Sego Canyon panels of ancient petroglyphs and pictographs. Those huge, square-shouldered rockart figures are called anthropomorphs; bizarre beyond imagination. Kathy excitedly said they represented three distinct cultures: Fremont, Barrier Canyon, and historic Ute. Big deal! I felt better when we finally drove south of Green River village to begin an active hike heading toward the Butterfly Bend rockart site above the Green River.
After parking near the top of a butte, we descended a dangerously steep scree slope before following a twisting, faded track to a boulder clogged gap. We never found the petroglyphs. Bummer! The sizzling heat was tough on me and my humans. Greg said the colorfully rugged, eroded landscape was a badlands and Kathy compared it to hell. I, wearing Chocolate Lab fur, felt overheated as did Kathy and Greg’s mumbling something about “mind over matter” didn’t help during the exhausting return climb to our vehicle.
While Greg found this nasty hike in a guidebook authored by the southwest’s pre-eminent canyoneer-explorer, several of our trip’s other hiking destinations were described in a backcountry jeeping guide. We just prefer hiking to driving those routes. None were easy, but some were definitely harder than others.
That afternoon, something new and unpleasant happened to me for the first time. I was so weary from the Butterfly Bend fiasco that my humans decided to leave me with a bowl of water inside their cool camper while they hiked down a sandy track to a vast sand dune field backed up against a series of sandstone bluffs and buttes. My humans said hiking in sand under an unforgiving sun would be too exhausting for me. Usually, I’m strong with boundless energy and my pride was hurt, but they were right. After the hike, Greg said the otherworldly dunes and bluffs looked more like Mars than Earth despite a small oasis of scattered cottonwoods. Utah was tougher than I realized!
I felt more like myself the following morning. The weather was cooler and our hike to an oddity, called Dellenbough Tunnel, was in a higher elevation desert. Beginning near a skyscraping natural landmark named Tombstone Rock, we hiked over undulating slickrock, turned left at a wash, circumvented Spring Canyon’s cliff edge, descended between red rock domes, and stopped at a cave opening. Yet, it wasn’t a true cave, but a natural, 120-foot-long tunnel, created by floods eroding soft sandstone. Spooky! I led the way through the tunnel to a ledge overlooking Spring Canyon’s lush bottomland. Miles distant, we saw Tombstone Rock still piercing the heavens.
DURING OUR AFTERNOON hike over sun heated slickrock to a gigantic, solitary club like formation, overlooking Spring Canyon, I tried catching several scurrying lizards. They played chase unfairly with rapid direction changes before disappearing under rocks. Frustrated, I rested in shade under the club which is named Secret Spire.
Metal Masher is a strange name. In Moab, it refers to an extreme four-wheel track following a circuitous route over expansive stretches of slickrock, passing above isolated canyons, climbing ledges, and continuing toward the breathtaking cliffs of Arth’s Rim. The track’s challenge demands so much concentration that I doubt drivers can appreciate the starkly awesome scenery. After being completely alone for hours, we suddenly met some knucklehead drivers deliberately attempting to overcome an impossible looking obstacle.
Leaving them to their foolishness, we continued walking upwards past smoothly eroded buttes, and stopped at the edge of the world! Silently, we took in dizzying downward views, panoramas of furnace like canyon mazes, and the snow clad Manti La Sal Mountains. Snow! With so much blinding heat, I fantasized about rolling in the white stuff, but had to be satisfied with afternoon shade from widely spaced junipers.
Finally, we enjoyed a relaxed day of short wanders around little known arches and rock formations. My paws, sore muscles, and sunburned tongue appreciated this well deserved respite before returning to heavy duty activity.
I like mountain bikers. They are always smiling, friendly, and polite. They talk to me, pet me, and if I’m lucky share their food. I share their daredevil dispositions and as the Moab area is a biking Mecca, looked forward to meeting them during our nine mile roundtrip hike on mountain biking’s holy grail, the Porcupine Rim.
Once again, we were hiking above a major, steep walled gorge, this one named Negro Bill canyon. Morning sun gave way to high clouds as we crossed the canyon’s headwaters drainage, transitioning to dense Pinon-juniper woodlands.
Steadily trekking uphill to an open outcrop, we stood at the cliff edge, taking in our first dramatic vistas of Castle Valley, faraway buttes and spires, and the inviting snowy summits of the Manti La Sals.
After visiting with a gregarious pack of mountain bikers, we continued walking our gently rising route to 6,796 foot Placer Benchmark, the highest point on our trip and on the Porcupine Rim. We gazed at an array of solitary monoliths which looked like they were imported from Navajoland’s Monument Valley.
DESPITE MY FEELINGS of camaraderie with mountain bikers, I remain puzzled as to why they never left their bikes to walk the short distance to Placer Benchmark’s astonishing views.
Oh well, to each his own.
After having looked down into so many Utah canyons, I finally walked into one, Hunter Canyon, on our trip’s final day. I had a blast, trotting along its gracefully curving watercourse. Around every S-shaped bend, the marvelous Wingate Sandstone walls towered higher, revealing a secret natural arch, roomy alcoves, multiple clusters of exotic wildflowers, and strikingly eroded rock formations. Canyon shadows kept the bottomland cool and comfy and oh, the water! I pranced through rhythmic riffles and swam in broad pools, never feeling thirsty.
At a junction, we entered a short, narrowing box canyon. Our unmarked route led through thick vegetation as we scrambled up ledges and over boulders to a final arcing wall, the site of a wild hanging garden adorned with greenery and yellow columbines.
Then unexpectedly; a sudden near disaster when leaving the box canyon. Leaping on a tilted sandstone boulder, I took an uncontrolled slide into a small pit. Slickrock is appropriately named. Feeling shocked, I stared blankly. My humans yelled, hiked downward, and encouraged me to slowly leave the pit. Fortunately, I had no fractures; just a scraped nose and chin, and bruised ego.
While Utah proved interesting, I found myself longing for the familiar comforts of Colorado’s High Country.