Day 4: cowboy country

It’s like I’m John Wayne and everything is lonesome and all right. There are some canyons around here that you wouldn’t believe, stacks of rock thrusting into the sky and the story of time and erosion written all over them. The scenery here is like something out of an original Star Trek episode when the crew lands on an alien planet. Or, of course, a classic Western: long vistas, mesas and canyons, and the occasional weedy campfire ring. 

I slept out last night, cowboy camping as its called, because the ground is basically just one big rock covered with little bits of sand and some shrubs. It won’t take stakes at all. So fine, I thought. I’ll just sleep free like the coyotes do. It was supposed to get cold last night, down around or just below freezing, so I slept in my wool long underwear and my rain suit and I wore the insulated hood over my hat and the rain jacket hood over that. So many layers, like the rocks around me. I slept just fine that way, warm enough for the most part except for an occasional bought of unexplained shivering which I assume was psychosomatic. I woke up at four and had to pee but refused to get out of my bag and let out the hard won heat. So that was fine, sleeping out. I almost never set up a shelter for years, on the PCT and elsewhere, but in the last couple years I got into the shelter habit and it is a hard habit to break. 

The route left the high shoulder of Amasa Back and plunged down 700 feet in a half mile to the basin floor below where it followed dirt roads for the rest of the day. Dirt roads here vary wildly from well-traveled thoroughfares to unbelievably rough rock paths complete with pour-offs and ledges and giant boulders right in the way. Though I didn’t see any jeeps on the rougher roads later in the afternoon, there were a lot of them and their dirt bike and dune buggy friends on the roads Erin and I walked for the first half our day. They would buzz up behind us and pass in clouds of dust, nodding on their way by. I understand why they want to be here too: it’s quite remarkable, the red cliff walls giving way to scraggly shrub covered mounds of dirt at their bases. We were near the mighty Colorado River the first half of the day and dropped down to its banks around lunch to get water. The mighty Colorado there was mightily gross, with heaps of manure in piles half in the water and the bank a muddy morass of cow prints. A lot of thick brown scum bobbed on the surface of the river and met up with other brown scum, forming little rafts and zipping away with the current. All of it interesting and irrelevant, because this was the only reliable water source for the next 30 miles. We took a long break there in the muddy cow bank, and I treated seven liters of water and stowed them in my pack. Add that to the ridiculous amounts of food I’m carrying and my pack is now a respectable mass of weight pulling me over backwards. 

For the rest of the day, I lugged all the water along increasingly rough four wheel drive roads, winding along the base of a great cliff while canyons webbed into the plateau below. So many canyons, and they hide from view: looking across the plateau, you think you could almost just walk a straight line where you want to go rather than winding so tightly along the cliff base. But the canyons are there, steep and unnavigable. They reveal themselves only when you are standing almost at their edge. 

The landscape here is so clearly made by water, water which is nowhere to be found. It’s like the land lost its lover and signs of her are still everywhere, in every corner a lingering scent. Bereft of water, the land waits. Her place has been saved for whenever she may return. 







One thought on “Day 4: cowboy country

  1. Christian Swenson

    Canyons canyons canyons, I can almost picture you’re trudging along with all of your treated water. Here in Seattle the sun is shining and we are in midst of huge preparations for a Seder dinner with 16 people.
    Keep smiling!
    Ox – Mr C



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