Day 17: twisting and turning 

Woke up to a 35 degree morning. The wind never died down in the night. I checked my shoes for tarantulas (we were camped on Tarantula Mesa and there were a bunch of strange, cylindrical holes in the sand all over the place–you can never be too careful), slipped from the tent, and quickly packed up while the wind blew at my back. Cold morning, biting wind, and clouds gathering at the corners of the sky. 

Hit the dirt road winding across the table of land that is Tarantula Mesa, making fast miles in the soft road bed. A few miles later, we left the road and wound across a juniper flat to the top of a white sandstone cliff band. The descent was slow. After the monster descent of the Henry Mountains yesterday (down 5000 feet), one of my knees is a little crabby, a little filled with fluid, a little won’t bend or straighten all the way. Steep descents with a heavy backpack mean a lot of deep squats under load, so I proceeded cautiously. As I was inching slowly down the loose scree and dirt descent, it started to snow from a thick band of gray clouds over the Henry Mountains, where we had been yesterday. Snow! Down on the desert floor! The juxtaposition was somewhat hilarious, the descent into a huge sandstone-rimmed canyon and snow flurries whirling down on wind gusts from above. In this madness we picked our way to the floor of the canyon. It’s new stuff, the canyons today. Every day sees dramatic changes in the landscape I pass through, and today the canyons had mounds of erosion-resistant mud called Chinle at their base. Chinle skirts. The mud is much softer than rock, and even looks like it’s rock-to-be that just needs another few million years to make it all the way. But it’s still hard, hard enough to support other rocks, hard enough to erode slowly rather than simply dissolve. The erosion of the Chinle left marvelous structures. See pics. 

There was quite a bit of cross-country today, following washes, leaving them, cutting cross country, and descending into washes again. Navigation requires a steady awareness: where are you, how long ago were you at the last place you were certain of, how long until the direction changes, major identifying features of the immediate environment. It’s like a memoir of place, space, and architecture. Some days this developing story is simpler, other days the plot twists and turns. Today the story changed in leaps and bounds as we followed some sensible paths and other mysterious ones through what sometimes seemed like a beautiful but undifferentiable landscape: rolling scrub land seamed by shallow washes blending into low ridges. 

Still, we made it through well, stopping at a large pothole in a canyon bottom in the afternoon to cook an early dinner before dry camping tonight. Shortly after the pothole, we arrived in Capitol Reef National Park, approaching the Waterpocket Fold from below and climbing up it on the steady switchbacks of the Burr Trail Road. It was stunning. See pics. (Sometimes words are better than pictures, and sometimes the opposite is true.)

Camped now in the very beginning of Lower Muley Twist canyon. The wind just died down and I can hear a bird sing. Graying light, cold air, snug in my sleeping bag. Peace be upon the world. 

morning on Tarantula Mesa

Tarantula Mesa, looking back towards the Henry Mountains


starting the descent off the mesa


the Chinle below the canyon walls


some typical Hayduke hiking


Chinle erosion and Erin


lichens are colorful


dried mud in a wash

a cactus ball

the Henry Mountains


the bottom of the Burr Trail up thebWaterpocket Fold


walking up the Burr Trail



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