After two heavy weather nights in a commercial RV park, we’re finally back to camping in the real world. This time it’s Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah. False advertising however. Fortunately, we’ve not seen a single dead horse out here.
The park sits atop a plateau peninsula near the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park. After parking the A-frame and getting everything set up, we did a short hike near the Dead Horse visitor center.
We then drove out to the end of the peninsula where sheer-walled canyons separated us from the Colorado River meandering far below. It proved to be a splendid place to watch Kayenta and Wingate sandstone walls glow in the setting sun. Don’t tell the Congressional Budget Committee, but if camera digits cost a dollar each, we shot enough photos to pay off the national debt.
Sometimes things don’t work out as planned. The idea was to drive to Natural Bridges National Monument, camp for the night and then hike the 8.6-mile bridge-to-bridge-to-bridge loop tomorrow.
From the Grand Canyon, under ugly gray skies, we headed across the Navajo reservation, up past Monument Valley and into the land of 3.2 beer. Beyond Mexican Hat, we dragged our A-frame trailer up the vertical, gravel switchbacks of the Moki Dugway. Let me tell you that nobody beats the Utah Department of Transportation when it comes to turning a perfectly smooth road to a mass of teeth-chattering washboards.
When we got to Bridges, we learned there were there no formal campsites to be had and the old overflow camping area, our planned bailout, no longer existed. In addition, the weather for our hiking day would include rain and snow.
We were basking in air conditioned 90+ degree heat in the Superstition Mountain desert a week ago. I’m not hiking in no freaking snowstorm! If I wanted to do that, I could have stayed home.
So bail we did. We’re now in Blanding, Utah, sitting in a commercial RV Park. The wind is howling, the rain pelting, but we’re snug, dry and toasty warm in our trailer with the heat-pump warming us up.
Okay, a casita at the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North would be better, but this is pretty darn nice.
Friends of ours have a 23-foot Airstream trailer on order that will have a john with a shower onboard. Our A-frame pop-up has neither. That means that by the time this trip is over, we will have spent 29 days using communal restrooms and showers. Without exaggeration, it would be easier to join the mile high club on a commuter jet than it is to get dressed in the phone-booth size shower stalls here at the Grand Canyon.
Today was a miserable day with a happy ending (nothing to do with the mile high club). We were going to hike the Rim Trail from Hermit’s Rest but due to wind, rain, hail and biting cold temperatures, we took the shuttle bus both ways instead. When the weather then cleared, we headed out to an overlook and shot some interesting pix of the play of light and shadows on the canyon walls. Nothing award winning, but still nice.
Tomorrow, we head for Natural Bridges National Monument where the vacation ends and the work resumes. For a Denver Post assignment, I’ve got to do an adventure piece covering the long hike between the bridges. It’s a repeat of a romp I first did 40 years ago with my step dog’s owner.
Back then, we showered Woodstock-style in the buff under a solar shower back at camp. This time Dianne and I will put up our privacy tent and use the outdoor hot and cold shower on the trailer. Thankfully, our privacy tent is bigger than the stalls at the Grand Canyon’s public showers.
The past countless number of times I’ve been to the South Rim, I’ve always been engaged in something productive. We were on our way to Flagstaff for a dory trip down the river or coming back from a rim-to-rim hike with friends or on our way to and coming back from leading 50-mile, 10,000+ foot rim-to-rim-to-rim in one day hike for the Colorado Mountain Club. Spending time, seeing the sights and ogling the view was never on the agenda.
This time, in spite of hiking a quarter of the way down the South Kaibab Trail, we’re playing selfie-taking tourrhoids. Today, we drove out and hit every viewpoint from Desert View to Mather Point. Tomorrow we plan to do the same out to Hermit’s Rest, hiking and shuttle busing the entire route. It’s cool to listen to other tourrhoids explain the sites to their friends, getting 90% of the information wrong.
Having failed to find the Dutchman’s gold, Dianne and I have set out on an even bolder quest. We will search for Coronado’s Seven Cities of Cibola. And like the 16th century conquistador, our most important discovery will probably be the Grand Canyon, Arizona’s monument to the power of erosion.
Saturday evening we drove to a trailhead at the edge of town to photograph the sunset on Superstition Mountain. Our photo site sat at the edge of an upscale housing development, and the first home seemed absolutely perfect for us.
It consisted of a 3,119 square foot stucco residence with a 2,534 square foot, five-car attached garage serviced by two pull-through driveways. The 1.13 acre lot was exquisitely landscaped with rock and native cacti. Out back, it featured a patio, pool and because it sat on the Tonto National Forest boundary, nothing but an uncluttered view beyond. Zillow says it’s worth about $655,000.
“It’s not quite as nice as the view from our campsite,” my lovely wife observed, “and ours comes at a mere $25 a night.”
Yes, another joy of camping. Of course, the owners of that property probably don’t have to walk 200 yards to reach the bathroom.
This mourning dove couple was busy building their nest in the saguaro next to our campsite. The male repeatedly flies down to the bird version of Home Depot, selects an appropriate twig and brings it up to his mate who places it in the nest to her liking.
Some t-shirts are earned. Back in my youth I ran a dozen marathons, 26.2 mile after agonizing mile, just to get a stinkin’ t-shirt. I’ve climbed to 7,000 meters in the Pamir’s and hiked rim-to-rim and back again in the Grand Canyon for the right to wear celebratory t-shirts.
But that was back in my brain-muddled youth. You’d think that I would have gotten over that by now.
Near the summit of Superstition Mountain, a chunk of rock juts out from the cliffs like the prow of a ship. It’s called the Flatiron, and a trail from our campground leads up to the summit. It’s three miles up with a climb of 2,680 vertical feet, which would make it an easy 14er by our home state standards. And even though the young ranger (who also serves on the area search and rescue team) strongly tried to dissuade us old geezers from even attempting the hike, we figured it would be no problem for this pair of Colorado climbing vets.
And it would have been no problem if we’d stayed on the correct route. The first two+ miles of the hike leads up a broad trail that even Grandma could follow. The challenging part comes in the last half-mile where the route climbs a gully straight up to a saddle near the summit. And straight up it is. It’s literally Class 3, hand-over-hand scrambling for 1,500+ vertical feet, all the way from the basin to the top.
Years ago, someone marked the route with blue dots painted on the rocks, using much the same system the National Park Service uses on the Keyhole route up Longs Peak. Unfortunately, the Forest Service thinks that having a dot-painted route for people to follow is inappropriate in a wilderness area, so they’ve done their best to obliterate the trail-markings.
At one point, the gully looks like it dead-ended, and a prominent trail started up the hillside. We took that route.
Bad decision. Instead of hand-over-hand scrambling up solid rock, we found ourselves clawing up talus slopes and scree-filled gullies where the pebbles acted like ball bearings. Very Colorado like, but very slow going. Three hours after departing camp, we finally made the summit of the Flatiron. After an hour of ogling the spectacular view, we departed. This time we took the correct route.
Three hours, two beers and a shower later, we headed down to the park’s visitor center. There on display was a t-shirt proudly stating “I Hiked the Flatiron.” Dorky, yes, but the proceeds, we were assured, go to help fund the park’s volunteer program.
Yesterday became an example of a bad day gone good. We originally planned to hike a 12-mile loop around Weaver’s Needle, the iconic symbol of the Superstitions. At our incredibly advanced ages and decrepit physical condition, that would have been an all-day affair. Unfortunately, we got too late a start to safely pull it off.
Instead, we hiked up the Peralta Trail to the top of Fremont Saddle. There, standing before us lay Weaver’s Needle in all its monolithic glory. After snapping a few photos in the ugly, flat light of midday, we considered our options.
We could continue down into East Boulder Canyon, hope to find the unsigned Weaver’s Needle Crosscut Trail and follow it around to trails that would ultimately take us back to the car. We could follow the scenic but short Cave Trail down a ridge to the Bluff Springs Trail and back to the trailhead parking lot. Or we could simply return the way we came.
We chose a fourth option. We would wait for decent light.
In the shade of the only piñon tree in the entire zip code, we sat and waited. And waited. Five hours after we got there, my shadow finally stretched longer than I am tall. That’s when we shot sellable photos. Staying later would have been even better, but we still had a two-hour return hike back to the car. Here in buzz-worm country we did not want to hike in the dark.
And what a glorious hike down it was. The setting sun painted the hills at canyon’s end into glowing shades of Bronco orange. And while we did see an Arizona cardinal on a paloverde limb, no Arizona diamondback was heard or seen.