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The American Southwest desert calls

Bill Kight
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The desert of the American Southwest has unique powers that either attract or repel you.This time of year those of us who hear the siren call of its sandstone canyons start planning hikes to avoid winter’s clinging grasp.Or we read books that take us places we wish we could escape to where the sun’s warmth would awaken us from our seasonal doldrums.Now that I’m finished reading such a book, “Sandstone Spine,” by David Roberts, my appetite has only increased for a spring trip to Utah’s desert country.At first there was confusion in my mind about one of the three hiking buddies featured in this book about traversing Comb Ridge near Bluff.Robert’s companions were Greg Child and Vaughn Hadenfeldt. Vaughn was one of the first outdoorsman I bonded with after arriving in Glenwood back in 1984. More about Vaughn later.It was Child who was mixed up in my mind with Craig Childs, author of my favorite desert book, “Soul of Nowhere, Traversing Grace in a Rugged Land.”Famous mountaineer Greg Child was the trio’s photographer who took the hauntingly beautiful photographs in “Sandstone Spine.”There was no confusion regarding the area around Comb Ridge, which holds many fond memories for me.Been over much of Cedar Mesa, hiked Slickhorn Canyon to the San Juan River, fought fire near the Bear’s Ears in the wilderness of Dark Canyon Primitive Area, etc.Even drove along Comb Wash one night looking for Jack Snobble for a hike we were to take along Comb Ridge. The light from his campfire led me to him.Like any good travel writer, David Roberts weaves his words into a once-in-a-lifetime story of adventure. Drama sells books.The drama centers around two plots. One is the plodding and often difficult personal journey through some mighty rugged and unforgiving desert.The other theme is the inescapable presence of the Anasazi, whose mass abandonment of the area in the late 1200s will forever remain a mystery.There’s nothing quite like a good mystery story.Roberts says the “back walls of its shady, hidden alcoves served as canvases for the hallucinatory visions of its shamans.”The Comb is indeed a place that seems out of this world. Its 700-800 feet high monocline stretches north from a remote part of the Navajo Reservation in Arizona for some 125 miles.It’s the second plot of interpersonal drama that bothers me.I promised more about Vaughn Hadenfeldt. He is a friend and someone you could trust your life with in any backcountry crisis.Yet Robert’s tales of his conflicts made Vaughn out to be something he is not … a difficult curmudgeon.To make sure my suspicions were right, I called Vaughn. He was gracious as usual and said yes, there was conflict but he harbored no ill will.You can hear Vaughn’s story of the Comb expedition this fall at Through the Looking Glass bookstore where he will give a slide show.Then decide whose spine is made of sandstone.With over 35 years of experience in the backcountry, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week and suggests you look up Vaughn’s Web site at http://www.faroutexpeditions.com.


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