Southern Utah is famous for its soaring red cliffs, snow-capped mountains and green shrubbery, an unbelievable panoply of color contrasted with stark rock and desert landscape. It can be a foreboding area, this land, so little population embedded in a mass of mesas, cliffs and desert. It is home to six national parks and the Grand Canyon is only a bird’s flight from most of them. The expanse of this land is surreal and to be able to explore a little of it daily for the period of some six weeks is a blessing in these turbulent and uncertain times.We were here in Hurricane, a suburb of St. George, having bolted from our winter haven in Goodyear, AZ. We intended to work again in the Tetons as we did last year, but as with Spring Training in baseball, restaurants, theaters, bars, just about everything non-essential, the Tetons were closed until further notice.
However, we were told by our supervisor that the park would most likely reopen sometime, either in late May or early June, but until the Park Service made a determination we were to wait it out. 100+ degree weather in Arizona didn’t feel like an option, so we decided to mosey up north to Southern Utah, hunker down there, and go exploring. The fact that Hurricane Country had 45 reported cases of Coronavirus and no deaths certainly helped in our decision making process.
If you hike, or bike, in any wilderness throughout the world you will often see cairns, mounds of delicately balanced rocks placed by humans to often signify ceremonial sites, burial grounds, and most commonly as navigational aids for lost souls such as ourselves who need guidance when prancing around the slick rocks of Southern Utah. They came in handy several times during our daily hikes and have become as vital to us as our jugs of water.
Our first hikes were in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, a 62,000 acre area set aside to protect unique wildlife such as the Mojave Desert tortoise, the Gila Monster, desert sidewinder rattlesnake and a plethora of flora and fauna. We didn’t see the tortoise or the Gila Monster but we did see a sidewinder who gracefully slid into his hole never to be seen again that day. And we did get to photograph a long-nosed Leopard Lizard , a dude or dudette that can grow to 15″ in length and carries a nasty bite, and is also prone to soaking up the adulation.
Our first trail was called called White Reef Trail and Leeds Reef Trail Loop a moderate 3.4 mile hike with elevation change of about 350′. This was where the movie They Came to Cordura was filmed in 1959 which starred Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin and Tab Hunter.
The hike was easy and the only people we saw were a couple on horses that were moseying along like us, and a helicopter that came out of a ravine like out of a scene in Blackhawk Down. However easy this trail was it was only a prelude to ensuing hikes that we took over the next week to ten days.
A wash is a dried creek bed that every once in a while is filled by exorbitant amounts of rainfall. I don’t think that happens much in this part of the world, and this very sandy creek bed was very soft and after a while very hard to walk on.
We were on a hike that would take us about 1 1/2 miles into Bone Wash and then hike about another 1/2 mile along a trail of moderate elevation change to Elephant Arch, a very pretty formation at the end of a slot canyon.
No shade, temperatures rising, feet getting heavy from slogging through the red sand, accumulating in our shoes and turning our ankles and socks to a burnt orange hue , we followed narrow trail to a destination whose view was hampered by rock falls that have taken place over centuries.
It was rather anti-climactic when we reached the arch, but we had a sense of having completed a rather grueling hike. On the return, the hike was an in and out trail, one could only wonder who lived here and how on earth could they survive the elements.
This area was first settled by the Anasazi Indians and subsequently the southern Paiutes. Other than a few pictographs nothing remains of their stay here, a mystery as to why they came and why they left. And perhaps most fitting was this image of a pull-over fleece made of polyester and discarded by the side of the trail.
Some 15 years ago, maybe more, maybe less, one of the younger members of the Rawson family, decided that it was time for a reunion. At the time, with brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, first and second cousins, the family probably totaled some 75 people. The idea of coordinating that many people in one venue other than for a wedding was anathema to all but Eddie Rawson, nephew to many and son to Ian and Lucy. He managed to rent a couple of huge homes in Nags Head over Christmas and sent out details of the things one could do on that spit of land during a not so friendly weather time of year. Of course, for him and his myriad of cousins who were all of drinking age the necessity of a curriculum to fill up for day activities was widely put into the dresser drawer as night-time activities were far easier to coordinate and more fun, louder, boisterous and more effective than any sleeping pill .
Through some wisp of fate coursing through our universes, my six brothers and sisters all managed to show up, our destiny that weekend to be responsible parents, a task that we failed at quite miserably. But we did have fun, all of us in our own ways, and we lament in ensuing conversations that time is running out on chances of coming together again except for the occasional wedding, one of which actually occurred this past September.