Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mike: Desert Explorer

My Brother -in- law lives in Moab Utah where he is able to go out and explore. I am fairly jealous. He has told me several times that he would take me out on one of his trips; I will take him up on that someday.

This is the text of an email he sent; there is a link at the bottom for his Flickr page.

I just got back from a great journey out into the San Rafael Desert; meeting with Chris Schiller, who was just coming up from Natural Bridges and a visit with Dave and Peggy, and (briefly) Mike Painter.
We met at the little kiosk where the dirt road splits to either Hans Flat and the Maze, or north toward Horseshoe Canyon and Green River, both arriving within ten minutes of each other--not bad given the distance/terrain. The dirt road was generally in decent shape, but got a bit more rugged as we passed the Horseshoe Canyon turnoff, following alongside of a wash on the sage plains with little sign of the canyons that cut deeply into the seemingly sandy desert.
We located our turn-off, parking the vehicles for our trek into Moonshine Canyon, as suggested by Chris a little while ago, one that I hadn't heard of before (and then saw a picture taken by Aaron Ralston at his talk last week of this same canyon). The weather couldn't have been better for a slot canyon hike--zero clouds and a reasonably cool day (there was frost on the windshield when I left Moab), the temps getting to maybe the mid-seventies. Perfect.
We noted another vehicle down the side road a bit, hard to believe, but it looked like someone else had the same destination. Oh well.
We simply headed overland until we came to an opportune drainage, which in turn led us right into the canyon that we sought--which at this point was a medium sized wash with walls of thin rock strata layers.
We indeed located two pairs of fresh footprints in the sand.
The wash quickly started to go deeper, usually by the big steps of pour-offs, many of which included some pretty massive chokestones to get over and down from. The plunge pools below started dry, but as we got further into this deepening gorge, they got slick first, then had over-the-boot deep water, making the going with dry feet a challenge (we both maintained dry socks!).
We stopped for a snack, and poked around a little side canyon; it didn't go very far until each of it's two branches became vertical. Soon after resuming our journey, Chris noted that the pair of prints we had been following were gone. Strange--neither of us noticed any "escape" out of the deep canyon, and we didn't pass anyone.
The narrows run out after you pass under an old sheepherders bridge--I doubt highly that I'd try to cross it myself. We followed for another hour maybe, meandering in a beautiful scoured drainage lined by the constantly changing character of the sandstone walls--sometimes smooth and curving, with huge water streaks running down the vertical walls, sometimes highly textured by strata or water and wind. Awesome.
After debating for a second, we decided we needed to head back up the canyon to get back to the vehicles before dark. It was a hoot climbing back up and over all the obstacles we came down, stemming over the narrow canyon by wedging ourselves between the two walls and shimmying our way along. We once again noticed the two sets of tracks that didn't belong to us--still no sign of where the owners went, or how they got out of the canyon.
We had no trouble finding our way back to the vehicles and a couple of almost cold beers--and noticed the other car down the road was gone. Weird. Chris made a great red bean, rice, sausage and salad dinner, and we chilled out until we had our fill of shooting stars and the getting-cold air.
We woke this morning to a colorful sunrise, and absolute silence.
We went our separate ways after some more chatter, including the idea of checking out sites for AFXII--possibly near Goblin Valley/Little Wildhorse Canyon--Chris might have more to say later.
The ride home was great, a slow journey over the San Rafael River and on to Green River, then the frontage "road" along the freeway to Clay Hills, finally hitting the pavement by the Moab airport, only fifteen miles from home. I even got to meet Collette for lunch before going home and getting mauled by the dogs--who would have never made it through the obstacles of the surprisingly pretty slot canyon.
some pix can be found:

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