Desert camping trip wears off cheap shine
In the “Divine Comedy,” the medieval poet Dante wrote about the seven levels of hell: The frozen world of Satan, the second level where the lustful are buffeted about by hurricane winds and the fifth level, where the wrathful and speechless tear at each other with their teeth.I have an eighth level to add, the Level of Gnats.
On a four-day camping trip to southeast Utah a couple of weeks ago, for some reason I was all but devoured alive by gnats, while my two buddies were virtually untouched, earning me the nickname “Gnat Bait.” The wretched little creatures buzzed around my head from first light to dusk, climbing into my hair, nailing my ears, and disfiguring my face and forearms because the bites raised hives that lasted for days.But no matter. Fortunately, Susie came in her brand new camper, and I could hide out there until we took off for our daily hike, where I found if I walked fast enough I could outpace the little suckers.Besides the gnats, and a species of gray fly that swarmed up near the creek and bit like a son-of-a-gun, we had a terrific time exploring slickrock canyons and poking into prehistoric Indian ruins.
We left Glenwood Springs at the crack of 9 a.m., and after a quick stop to have coffee and cake with my mother-in-law in Grand Junction, made pretty good time to Moab, where we arrived in a driving rain storm.After burgers and beer, we were on our way south and wondering if we would ever outrun the rain. But once we made Blanding, the sky cleared and the sun came out and we knew we were home free.Our destination was Arch Canyon, on the west side of Comb Ridge, about 15 miles southwest of Blanding. This country is chock full of ruins, from Butler Wash on the east side of the ridge to Cedar Mesa about 10 miles west, all home to thousands of Anasazi farmers about 900 years ago.
Luck was with us when we came to the end of the road and found the prime camping spot unoccupied. It was well-shaded by a grove of huge cottonwood trees and next to the stream that comes out of Arch Canyon.On Saturday morning after a leisurely breakfast, we set off on a trek up Arch Canyon, a broad valley with towering sandstone cliffs that harbor loads of ruins.I was especially struck with the rock art on the cliff face. It looked to me as if the petroglyphs, incised drawings in the rock, might have originally been on the interior of the rooms. Many of the drawings were intricate spirals. Rock art has always been intriguing to me, because it is almost like hearing someone speak, although in a foreign language. The pictures are so evocative and seem to have been laid down so recently, you wonder if the artists are just out of sight.
Susie and I hiked a couple of miles up the trail and walked up to one of the handful of ruins we saw tucked into a shelf about halfway up the cliffs. The heat finally got to us, and we plunged into a deep pool in the creek, an unusual perk in southeastern Utah in early June.Sunday we took off up the north side of the sandstone cliffs that form Arch Canyon, toward a well-known ruin at a place called Hotel Rock. We did not make it all the way, as heat and the dreaded gnats were taking their toll on us. Just crawling up the slickrock was plenty fun in itself.Monday morning we headed back home, grateful for our renewing sojourn in the desert. I always remember a phrase I read in a book about the slickrock country that said every trip into the desert is like a pilgrimage, and you come out of it with some of the cheap urban shine worn off.
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