The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

It is eerily empty here in the Red Rocks boondock. The gang all pulled out this morning bound for Kodachrome, while I am headed east to cross a couple more national parks off my never-ending task master, my Bucket List. But without a list, I lose track of my desires. And without desires, there is no expansion, no growth. Right?

There they go, one by one down the hill...sniff

There they go, one by one down the hill…sniff

Only the Winnie remains...

Only the Winnie remains…

The standard by which all other boondocks will be measured.

The standard by which all other boondocks will be measured.

The campground that has been my “landing strip” for the past week is now empty. It will forever hold the memory in my personal history book as my first boondock after retirement, and the first page in the next chapter of my life. I take some time to walk around the campground after the others have left. It feels like an empty movie set now. Void of energy. The wind is blowing up some ghostly-looking swirls of red dust around me. I want to leave and I don’t want to leave. I seem to be lacking focus, but I guess that is to be expected after leaving a job of 24 years.

The Upper part of Lower Spring Canyon, near Chimney Rock trail head

The Upper part of Lower Spring Canyon, near Chimney Rock trail head

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Yesterday, I did a solo hike in the other side of Spring Canyon. After having made it two thirds of the way in, I wanted to see what I had missed on the other side. The rest of the gang had done this part of the canyon prior to my arrival, so while they all went in to fill and dump tanks, I “filed a flight plan” with Debbie. “If I am not back by dark, I’ll be in Spring Canyon.” Her response is comforting. “I’ll come looking before dark!”
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I realize mid-day is not the best time for photographs, but the walls of this canyon are so vivid from the sun’s reflection off the red rocks that it looks like my eyeballs are bleeding! The others have promised a visual feast, and they did not exaggerate. I have the entire canyon all to myself as I wander through these hallowed walls for almost four hours, marveling at the beauty of nature’s impermanent sculpture garden against the stark architectural angles of the canyon walls. I am filled with awe to have such a place all to myself.IMG_1422

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I have always enjoyed solo hiking. Since I am not focused on keeping pace with others, I spend more time reflecting, basking, and pondering quotes like Emerson’s “Adapt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” Instead of thoughts focused on whether or not I will be able to keep up, whether I can make it up the hill, following butts and boot heels in front of me, I relax more. I see more of the vegetation along the path, the rock formations, the topography that unfolds in front of me. I hear more of the clicking of insects and melodic birdsong. And I embrace the sound of my own labored breath in the silence, rather than worry that others will perceive it as struggle.IMG_1425

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But hiking with “the gang” has given me new insight into the joy that can come from hiking with people who share my same lust for adventure and exploration. Particularly those with a higher skill level than me, as I have always wished for a group of friends who would inspire me to “take it up a notch.” Doing things like scrambling over boulders, fording streams, all at once I am a kid again, back down on the farm, following in my big brother’s footsteps. Doing crazy stuff like “base jumping” out of the second floor barn door with my Barbie parasol as a parachute. Tunneling through my Dad’s wheat fields like a maze. Flying over terraces on my bicycle. It feels like being a kid again, not something I have done much of over the past 30 years.

This photo reminds me of a big block of chocolate.  ;-)

This photo reminds me of a big block of chocolate. ;-)

IMG_1436IMG_1442So as with everything in life, it’s a tradeoff. Surrendering one’s ego to always be at the back of the pack, in exchange for the thrill of exploration? Giving up intimate immersion in the solitude of nature to enjoy the laughs from an adrenalin rush? Dealing with the group dynamic in order to go places I wouldn’t have the nerve to go alone? Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? I don’t know, but I sure would like to try…

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin

Fording the River Fremont

One thing I have quickly learned to appreciate about the Red Rocks Gang is that no hike is going to be “pedestrian.”  You may find yourself skirting stagnant tanks in the side of the mountain or being hoisted over boulders, but one thing for sure, it will be an adventure!   So bring your water shoes, as today, we are walking across a 10 ft wide river and bushwhacking through the bulrushes to reach the trail!

Gayle crosses the Fremont River

Gayle crosses the Fremont River

There are a few "expletives deleted" coming from Jim.

There are a few “expletives deleted” coming from Jim.

The Lower Spring Canyon Trail is a little over nine miles from the Chimney Rock Trailhead to the Fremont River.  Prior to my arrival, the Red Rocks Gang hiked the upper part of Lower Spring Canyon (it gets confusing) approximately 3.5 miles in until it becomes, according to NPS.gov, “extremely narrow and has steep, loose sections with severe exposure.”   But there is reportedly an equally beautiful canyon on the other side of the obstruction, beckoning.  Bobbie has “intel” that says the opposite end of the Spring Canyon trail can be reached a few yards from the turnout across the Fremont River, so we will hike the other direction and see how far we can get to their original turn around point.IMG_1369

IMG_1372We attempt to follow Bobbie through the thicket, but she has us at a disadvantage, as the thicket is higher than her head.  We can see the cliff in the distance and know the river passes in front of it.  But the challenge is finding a break in the cliff to reach the Canyon.   Finally, we hear shouts from the river, “We found it!  OVER HERE!! THIS WAY!!  Are you coming??”IMG_1381IMG_1380 IMG_1379

We all change into water shoes for the river crossing…unless you are Box Canyon Mark, that is.  He just walks across in his socks and tennis shoes.  No problem, he will make the 13 mile hike with wet feet.  The man may wax poetic and publish postcards, but he’s one tough (or crazy!) hiker!  Once on the other side, water shoes are exchanged for hiking boots, then the shoes are hidden in the weeds along the bank to await our return like Moses in the bulrushes.

It takes a few stickers, reed cuts, twig jabs, and there is even blood drawn before we reach the wash that leads to the canyon, but once we find the trail, it immediately opens up to a glorious walk.   The steep, stark, severe walls of the canyon are stunning, with natural designs in the rock that eclipse any petroglyphs.IMG_1374 IMG_1387IMG_1396

There is a small stream with a trickle of water, just enough to make the canyon floor slightly muddy.   Soon, we begin to notice fresh tracks that appear to be big horn sheep.    Then shortly, fresh mountain lion prints.   If we weren’t sticking close together before, there is certainly reason to do so now.

Mountain lion tracks

Mountain lion tracks

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According to Peterman’s GPS, we have passed the six mile mark, so it seems we should be approaching the opposite side of the obstruction soon.    It will be another six mile hike out of the canyon, and it is getting late so the group decides to turn around, though I would have pushed on through to the other side of the canyon. ;-)

Our turn-around point.  Don't you think it looks like a lighthouse?

Our turn-around point. Don’t you think it looks like a lighthouse?

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Once back at the riverbank, shoes lie in wait for the cool, refreshing river crossing.   A perfect ending to an exceptional hike on an extraordinary day with like-minded friends.

Ladies Choice!

Hiking with the “Red Rocks Gang” takes on a whole different aura when it’s a “Ladies Only” hike.   One would think tempo or pace would be the obvious difference, but quite the contrary.  Of our two dynamic duos, Gayle and Jim and Mark and Bobbie, both women tend to be the trail blazers, up front setting the pace.  So when the guys have other things to do back at camp, whether it be a writing deadline, a football game, or just unnamed “guy stuff,”  the female contingent does not skip a beat in the daily hiking schedule.

There tends to be a bit more observation and interpretation when it’s a Ladies Only group…studying the rock formations for recognizable shapes, admiring “striations” (which some of us can pronounce while others cannot) pointing out different textures and colors in the rock.   Looking for signs of petroglyphs, or reflecting back on what life was like when the first pioneers explored this dramatic, foreboding, impassable “reef.”

The mood is lighthearted, often times with humorous tales at the expense of those who remain behind.   There may be stops at the pie store.  And then sometimes there may even be great singing.  Right Bobbie?   ;-)

But we don’t all hang in a pack of cackling hens either.  It’s still all about the hike with this group, which I appreciate, as the space between us affords me more time to reflect, admire, and appreciate the wonder of nature that surrounds me. “Do your own thing, and I’ll see ya when I see ya” seems to be the pervasive credo.  For someone who is typically a solo hiker, it is the best of both worlds.   A solo hike with a built-in rescue squad.  ;-)

We did three “Ladies Only” hikes in Capitol Reef;  Sunset at Chimney Rock (my favorite,) Cohab Canyon, and the most challenging “easy” trail I have ever hiked, the Fremont River Trail.

Here is a little of what the guys missed…

CHIMNEY ROCK TRAIL

Ascent on the Chimney Rock Trail

Ascent on the Chimney Rock Trail

The sun is dropping fast

The sun is dropping fast

The top of the bluff overlooking Chimney Rock

The top of the bluff overlooking Chimney Rock

Red rocks ablaze in the sunset glow

Red rocks ablaze in the sunset glow

High above Chimney Rock

High above Chimney Rock

Bobbie, Debbie, and Gayle on overlook on the way down from Chimney Rock

Bobbie, Debbie, and Gayle on overlook on the way down from Chimney Rock

Descending the Chimney Rock switchbacks

Descending the Chimney Rock switchbacks

Near the base of the trail

Near the base of the trail

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COHAB CANYON TRAIL

Cohab Canyon trail starts out with a whole lotta "up," then levels off.

Cohab Canyon trail starts out with a whole lotta “up,” then levels off.

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We venture off the trail a bit and find our own "box canyon."

We venture off the trail a bit and find our own “box canyon.”

Looks like melting caramel ice cream..

Looks like melting caramel ice cream..

Looks like...the brunt of many "Ladies Only" hike jokes.

Looks like…the brunt of many “Ladies Only” hike jokes.

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I tell Bobbie I admire her ability to "accessorize." Her shirt matches the mineral colors in the rocks.

I tell Bobbie I admire her ability to “accessorize.” Her shirt matches the mineral colors in the rocks.

FREMONT RIVER TRAIL

The "Capitol Dome?"

The “Capitol Dome?”

Local residents of the Fruita Orchard

Local residents of the Fruita Orchard

Trail begins along the Fremont River, but then rises steeply

Trail begins along the Fremont River, but then rises steeply

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“It’s like DISNEYLAND!”

Box Canyon Mark and Bobbie have been everywhere, and have mental files of boondocking spots and scenic hikes that would rival any travel publication.  So when Mark says “It’s one of my most favorite hikes,” I take note.

It’s over Jim’s celebratory birthday lunch when Mark makes his pitch.  “Hear me out.  I know of a place you would love.  It’s a long drive, and we would have to get an early start, but it is one of the most fun hikes ever.  It’s like Disneyland!”

There is some hesitation as we finish up our desserts.  It would mean an early start, and a total of three hours on the road.   We are already positioned in one of the most scenic areas of the country.  Why drive 3 hours?   But it’s not one, but TWO slot canyons!  I really want to do this hike, but two slot canyons in an area I have never been before is not a hike I would be comfortable doing alone.   I keep my mouth shut, since I am the “junior member of the Red Rocks gang.”    I wait.  I study facial expressions.  Finally, Mark says, “Well, Bobbie and I are going regardless, so anyone is welcome to join us.”  YIPPEEEEE!!   And slowly, one by one, Gayle, Jim, and Debbie are in.

Beautiful scenery near Goblin Valley State Park

Beautiful scenery near Goblin Valley State Park

Crazy Cottonwood Tree

Crazy Cottonwood Tree

Let this be a lesson to you...KEEP UP!

Let this be a lesson to you…KEEP UP!

One thing I learn quickly is that punctuality is critical with the Box Canyon Duo.  They are sitting outside my door 3 minutes early at 7:57am, while I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet!  I race out the door as fast as I can, and we are off for a grand adventure!

We will hike up Bell Canyon first, then take a long, uphill connector road, and return via the more scenic of the two slot canyons, Little Wild Horse.

Box Canyon Mark says "It's just like Disneyland!"

Box Canyon Mark says “It’s just like Disneyland!”

Choke-stone

Choke-stone

Jim in a tight spot...

Jim in a tight spot…

We are not into the first slot canyon but a few hundred feet when we come to our first obstacle…and it’s a big one.   Being the slowest, least experienced of the hikers, I stay to the back, and I soon learn when I come upon the group stopped, there is trouble ahead.   There is a shelf in front of us that is higher than our heads.  A few rocks have been piled up as steps, but even so, the path is still over our shoulders.    It is interesting to watch between Mark, Bobbie, Jim and Gayle how they discuss getting the six of us up and over.  Mark slaps his knee and says “Step here.”  I say “Only if you want a broken leg!”   It is at this point that all vanity must go out the door, or get left behind.   Mark and Jim are on both sides of my posterior end, trying to hoist me up over the ridge, and I am just holding my breath hoping I don’t fall backwards and topple them both.  Well, at least I shaved my legs…

"You want me to step WHERE?"

“You want me to step WHERE?”

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The one with the longest legs is the last one up...

The one with the longest legs is the last one up…

Although there are more “choke stones” (the large rocks that fall into the slot canyon, causing an impasse,) none are as challenging as that first one, and navigation through the canyon does indeed start to feel like a game from my childhood.  Mark is right.  It IS like Disneyland!

Bell Canyon offers many dramatic landscapes with stark opposing angular walls, overhangs, and varying shades of rock, with a few challenges to navigate through.  But we ain’t seen nothing yet…until we get to the red rocks of Little Wild Horse.  Though one advantage of Bell Canyon, we have the entire canyon to ourselves with the exception of a mother daughter duo.

Path is only as wide as your shoe.

Path is only as wide as your shoe.

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Soon, we are on the long and winding road uphill that is the middle section of the loop leading to the entrance (or actually, in the case of the loop hike, “exit”) of Little Wild Horse Canyon.   We stop for lunch in a scenic spot with nice flat rocks for a bit of a break from the uphill climb in the sun.

IMG_1265IMG_1269IMG_1267IMG_1272Jim and Gayle always look like clean, crisply pressed Columbia Sportswear models when they are hiking.   But Jim has a certain swagger that reminds me of someone, and I have been trying to decide who it is all week.   Finally, as we are sitting on the rocks, it hits me.  He reminds me of J. Peterman of J. Peterman Catalogue fame.   If you were a Seinfeld fan, you will remember J. Peterman was Elaine’s boss, the eccentric adventurer who has a love of fine clothing.  Even after climbing over rocks and scrambling through dust and dirt, Jim is spotless.IMG_1299 IMG_1301 IMG_1305

We are having a grand time, walking single file through the narrow, high walls of the canyon, climbing over choke stones, dodging mud puddles about half way through the Little Wild Horse Canyon, when all of a sudden, crowds are upon us.  It seems as Mark said “Church must have just let out!”   It is UEA weekend in Utah, Utah Education Association, which equates to all of Utah being out for fall break, and it would appear half of them have come to do this hike!

Bobbie checks out the path to the canyon floor, which is filled with water, so we must go up and over.

Bobbie checks out the path to the canyon floor, which is filled with water, so we must go up and over.

Mark is attempting to coax the rest of us down the "slide."

Mark is attempting to coax the rest of us down the “slide.”

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Throngs of people, most of them kids come flooding into the canyon making it impossible to move.   There is a line behind us, and a never-ending line in front of us, all waiting for their turn to walk through the narrow, single-file section of the canyon.   I do not suffer from claustrophobia in tight spaces, but the crowds are enough to make me want to climb the canyon walls.  Given the long lines of sweaty bodies, Mark’s description of “It’s like Disneyland!” takes on a whole new meaning, as we find ourselves waiting in the longest line yet for the “ride” out of the canyon.IMG_1287IMG_1289

Finally, we all emerge intact.  We are covered in bright orange dust on the seats of our pants, elbows, backs, socks and shoes.   All except for “Peterman,” that is.   He still looks like he just stepped out of a catalog shoot…IMG_1320

What’s in the Wash?

There is unfinished business in the Capitol Gorge Wash. After the Golden Throne hike, only five of the original eight opt to hike the wash, and two out of those five turn back early. So the group decides to return the next day, as there are many reasons to revisit the wash.IMG_1155
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Prior to 1962 when Highway 24 was constructed, the “wash” beneath Capitol Gorge was the only road through what would later become Capitol Gorge National Park. Diversion dams were built along the road, and one can only imagine the amount of rock clearing required after a rain. This must have been one tough road to navigate through soft sediment, curving canyons, and massive boulders.

The first signs of settlers are seen along the walls on what is called the “Mormon Register,” or the more politically correct version, the “Pioneer Register” which contains signatures carved into the walls of the canyon dating back to the late 1800’s.

One of the "tanks" or water pockets that flow into the wash.

One of the “tanks” or water pockets that flow into the wash.

View from the top of the tanks spur trail.

View from the top of the tanks spur trail.

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About a mile into the canyon is a sign indicating “tanks,” or water pockets two tenths of a mile up.  This part of the trail leaves the shade of the canyon behind, and begins a long circuitous route over many steep steps in what feels more like two miles to me, rather than two tenths!

Debbie makes navigating the obstructions around the edge of the tank look easy.

Debbie makes navigating the obstructions around the edge of the tank look easy.

The day prior, Mark has spotted a natural arch that has both a concave and convex side, opposing curves from water flowing over and under the arch. But the lighting was not right for photos on the previous afternoon hike, and only he, Gayle and Bobbie saw it, so Debbie and I want to return. Besides, Mark has decided he needs his photo standing on the arch. But a closer look reveals a steep, slick decent to get onto the arch, and what would potentially be a long fall into a steep stagnant hole below.

Box Canyon Mark surveys access the the arch below.

Box Canyon Mark surveys access the the arch below.

Even those long legs are not long enough to reach.  Hard to see, but the arch is actually the curved shelf one level below.

Even those long legs are not long enough to reach. Hard to see, but the arch is actually the curved shelf one level below.

Bobbie maintains her cool while Gayle and I shriek “NO! DON’T DO IT!!” until Mark either comes to his senses, or gets tired of the women all yelling at him, and settles for a photo instead.

Bobbie watches calmly while Mark explores a route.  He can get down, but can he get back up??

Bobbie watches calmly while Mark explores a route. He can get down, but can he get back up??

A collective "WHEW!" can be heard amongst us.

A collective “WHEW!” can be heard amongst us.

Thank goodness, he settles for a photo from a distance.

Thank goodness, he settles for a photo from a distance.

We continue on down the wash in search of what we have heard to be an old abandoned car. We must cross the barbed wire fence and continue to the point where the canyon opens up, but we finally make it to the car, our designated turn around point. Apparently this was an old sight-seeing vehicle, as the sign painted on the door says “Scenic Attractions entering capitol Reef National Monument.” (The monument received National Park status in 1971.)
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Gayle quizzes our Junior Ranger Bobbie on geology.

Gayle quizzes our Junior Ranger Bobbie on geology.

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There is another side climb past the turn off to the tanks to “secret petroglyphs.” Mark, Bobbie, and Gayle found the secret. Gayle reveals the secret over on her Life’s Little Adventures blog. But for this blog, they will forever remain a secret, as I was just too hot and tired to make the scramble….

My one poor excuse for a petroglyph.

My one poor excuse for a petroglyph.

Trail to the Throne, or Go It Alone?

I awake after my restless boondocking night to see Debbie outside my window walking her dogs, the ever-entertaining Rupert and Elliott.   I have originally announced my plans to do a “solo acclimatization” hike on my first day, but Debbie assures me the group hike will be “doable,” with plenty of photo stops along the way (READ:  Opportunities to gasp for breath, slow my pounding heart, and steady my dizzy, swirling head.) Continue reading

Sixty is the New…Retired???

As if I don’t have enough going on during the current convergence…dealing with the my little Tracker, the “automotive heart transplant candidate,”  I have also been helping move my 86 year old Mom and 93 year old Dad back down to the farm.  Turns out, they aren’t city folk after all…

Throw in one more simultaneous life-change, and you have the makings of what I have been calling “The Perfect Storm,” as all these things converge during the same week.  Coincidentally, sixty days ago, I could not have known about the first two “storm elements” when I announced my intent to retire Continue reading

Together…Again

There have been a few tense moments here at the Highland Village Hospital.   I have tried to stay occupied outside the “waiting room” by doing a few menial tasks of my own, like changing a couple of burned out blubs in the Winnie, changing out the air filter and cabin filter, and cleaning and washing her inside and out…..just short of pacing as the two “smiling surgeons” keep assuring me that everything is progressing nicely in the lane next to me. Continue reading