Saturday, June 19, 2010

The dragon came from Escalante. He, or she, lived in a grand slot canyon that entered into the heart of the mighty river. In times past the mighty river flowed strong and thick into the even mightier Colorado. Nowadays it was summer, and 2010, and the once formidiable Escalante now trickled into the cold and narrow lake arm that swallowed it without notice.

In the canyon that he, or she, now resides in, is a Grand Cathedral. The alcove holds a spring and large boulders that have fallen from above. It is surrounded on all sides by towering red walls. The walls fortify and protect dark arches that make up the roof of the alcove. These ledges, dark and wet, make good homes for dragons.

After the rivers ran still and the mightiest Colorado backed up behind the dams the dragon found he, or she, no longer gained the satisfaction from cursing through the long river canyon from sea to mountain crest as he, or she, did when the water flowed strong. With wings wide he, or she, would bank from wall to mighty wall and follow the boisterous froth in its entirety, which was reportedly an easy feat for a dragon. Once the heavy waters stilled, parts of mountains dropped from them to the bottom of the not-so-mighty ponds, and with the settlement came that of the dragon. Clear, cool water now seeped from the bottom edge of the concrete spring and filled the former channel with sharp jumpy water – no place for a dragon regardless.

Its easy to see why he, or she, would pick such a place to settle. The slot would be a good place to hold up for the remaining long life of a dragon. The tourists aren't much of a bother and, for a dragon, the climate in surprisingly mild. The sun there is strong and reassuring and the ferns have many day to day usefulnesses. The canyon is named on maps but the name can not be said here. The dragon wouldn't like it published. He, or she, has asked nicely, and considering all that he, or she, has been through.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

We are in Egpyt

If Zion is adventurous, then Escalante is wild. Escalante Grand-Staircase National Monument was designated with a signature by President Clinton and with that penstroke almost 2 million acres of the most wild country in the nation was set aside to be managed by the BLM. The land has changed little under its new federal designation, though now it has been discovered by adventurers. It is a limitless maze of red and cream sandstone canyons and gulches, slot canyons, 1oo-mile dirt roads, primitive campsites, pictographs and pytroglyphs, springs, creeks, and swimmin' holes. The silty Escalante River is the backbone of the region, collecting the 1,000 year old trickling springs and alpine creeks pouring off the 10,000 foot Aquarius Plateau and delivering them all to the backwaters of the Colorado River forming Lake Powell.

We find ourselves again in the land shaped by the Colorado River. After working for so long canoeing great sections of the lower Colorado River, we feel happily connected to all the water flowing on this grand plateau. For we have seen it further towards the sea and know its future place on the land.

The Escalante is a river, but it is also a place. Though it's not an ordinary place. In the Escalante distance has a way of expanding, water is precious, and the energies of cultures past permeate the land. It's the sort of place you top off your rank and fill up the water jugs before heading out into it. Regular maps will lead to being hot and lost. Compasses become important again. I see it as a wild land, long explored by wild people. 1st the Pueblo and Anazazi, then the Navajo, then the hearty (and most likely crazy as all hell) Mormom pioneers, and now us. Hmm?

We've been driving on rough dirt roads for hours now – haven't seen a soul. We are headed for a desert slickrock bench named Egypt. There we will look for the aptly named Egypt slots. They are a collection on sinuous, miles long slot canyons dropping abruptly south into Twentyfive Mile Wash. We imagine them as damp, shady recesses offering cool routes through the Earth with nary a glimpse at the sky.

We get out of the car again under a hot desert sun. I move rocks, fill holes, get down like a golfer reading the break of the putting green. This is a rough road, it has been rough for hours, and Egypt doesn't seem to be getting any closer. We decide to go for it. The mini-van claws at the gravel and slickrocks. I marvel at its strength in this desert blast-furnace, the engineers back in Japan surely never imagine their Honda Odyssey in these conditions. No one would ever imagine anyone or anything in these conditions. These conditions, this place, can can not be planned for or a machine built for. This wilderness road with not a structure in sight attest to that. We are in Eygpt.

That night we burn a bright, smokeless fire of bone-dry juniper. From our lonely site the desert vista is long, yet there is not another fire or electric light to see. The fire reduces to a smolder and the starlit desert is all ours.

In the morning we pack our bags for the unknown, all the while pounding water and feeling dehydrated. We start down the road, continuing where we left off by van the evening before. A small Toyota truck comes around the corner and it is a weird reminder that other people still inhabit plant Earth. They stop and we climb into the bed of the truck. The road is surprisingly rougher still and we flop around in the back of the truck as its tears at the rubber-smeared slickrock trail. We are in Egypt.

We stand atop the 3rd slot counted from west to east. The landscape below us is another world. Slickrock rules the eye. The sandstone has been swirled and pressed by forces past, then eroded by the sensual yet unforgiving hand of water. There is little vegetation and its hard to focus because of the depth and distance in one frame.

The slot is cool and narrow and dark. The bottom is sand and mud, but the walls are hard and sometimes smooth and sometimes rough. We turn sideways , dragging our backpacks behind us. Michele is having a blast because her shoulders fit through almost every squeeze straight-on. I turn to the side and suck in my stomach. The sandstone is all around us – it is comforting but unnerving at the same time. Water has indeed carved this place; best not to think about the how's and when'snow.

We are blinded and melted as we are spit from the bottom of the slot. There are murky, tannic pools of water that we purify and drink. We are in the desert wilderness. The Toyota truck is long gone, our van (thankfully full of gas and water) is 2000 feet up the slickrock that forms our backdrop.

There are no trails in Egypt. There are no bushes or trees to warrant them. You can walk anywhere. A good map and a compass tells you where to walk. We take a bearing and follow it blindly (like in a snowstorm) up and across the tan, and peach, and maroon ramps of rock. It is afternoon and the sun is at its fullest potential. We weave through patches of cacti and sand; we marvel at our posistion on the land. We begin to call it: open desert. Because that's what it is. No water, no trails, no shade, no people, no informative brochures, no shuttle buses running on propane and bureaucracy. Nope. We are just walking on a bearing of 285 degree NW in open desert. We are in Egypt.

Photos: 1)Michelle plots the course for the day. Egpyt 3 below 2)They don't call it Grand Gulch for nothing 3)hiking slickrock 4)Wildflowers everywhere this spring 5)Native rock art along the Escalante River 6)I'm not really stuck, but I could be, Egpyt 3