It hasn’t rained in the month we have been in Southern Utah – not complaining mind you as the temperatures for the first three weeks were delightful – high 70’s during the day and comfortable sleeping weather at night – usually in the low 50’s. However, in the last ten days, temperatures are slowly creeping up into the 90’s during the day which poses a couple of problems for hiking. One, you want to get going early before the temperatures hit the 90’s and two, in the desert, you start to have to be aware of rattle snakes. Several hikers we crossed paths with during that time said they had either heard rattlers or seen them. Now, I am a cautious type of fella and I believe in letting the indigenous wildlife have what is naturally theirs. In the Tetons I learned that just being smart about bear, moose and elk will almost always leave you with no scratch marks or puncture wounds. Carry bear spray and be bear-smart. Not so much here in the desert where rattlesnake spray is not on any radar I have seen, leaving Jan and myself with hiking poles as defense. Good luck with that. But, in the four hikes we have taken with elevated temperatures we’ve either been lucky or blissfully unaware of any impending snake attacks. Moving soon to cooler climes.
This is a Mojave Desert Tortoise, who along with ravens, gila monsters, kit foxes, badgers, roadrunners, coyotes, fire ants and snakes, roams the southern desert of Utah. We didn’t see one in person but did run into a couple who saw one belly up and got it upright and on its way. It lives only in Washington County, with a lifespan of 50 years and survives on foraging the natural habitat of the desert – shrubs, foliage flora. Not that this is particularly germaine to this blog, but interesting none the less.
With the temperature rising, we decided one day to go to what we thought was a park in St George only to be misled by our Google Maps. Our Google Maps App lives in an alternative universe as it has three times misguided us and taken us to totally random and unrelated areas. Sixteen miles out of St George it had us on a hard packed gravel road with heaves that made any speed over 10MPH untenable. Six miles of riding in the desert, dust swirling and leaving us in no doubt that we were not headed to Pioneer Park as planned. We finally got to what Google said was our destination, got out of the car and promptly came face to face with a chap, who not only was not masked nor gloved, but barely clothed. An elderly chap at that, with a rather flabby upper chest bare to the sun and wind, hints of that pink burn that comes with a SPF of 0 on the body, and trousers exposing a wide waistband of his underwear emblazoned with “Frolic Naked”. I asked him where we were and he replied that it really didn’t matter to which his woman companion, a little more sensibly dressed, said that we were at the trailhead of The Vortex.
She said – follow the white checkerboard sand stone around to the red sandstone, go around that and work your way hugging the red cliffs to that point that looks like a camel. Climb to the summit and there you will find The Vortex. Kind of like a fairy tale.
Again, we were almost totally on slick rock and from the initial drop off into the canyon we could not see the twists of the canyons that we had to navigate to get to the camel. Up we went, again only on hot slick rock with nary a cairn in sight to guide us.
One interesting feature however, is the presence of potholes in the rock. Etched by wind and water over a millennium of years, these potholes contain a vibrant ecosystem that not only harbors life sustaining water when it rains but also is essential to desert micro-organisms that help the sustainability of animals, insects and in even humans, as the size of these potholes can range from minuscule to quite large. As you will see.
Nearing the summit, with nary a cairn to guide us, we crested a rock and lo and behold, a cairn factory! Probably because of the pandemic the factory was on shelter at home rules and hikers just had to deal with it.
But really, check them out. Just waiting to guide lost souls back to civilization.
It looks like a short rise, but probably it was a hundred feet to the summit of this bloc of sandstone with two mounds signifying the camelback.
At the top you run into two potholes – the first is filled with water and shrubs and is of an indeterminable depth, but the second one is empty, some thirty feet deep and appropriately called The Vortex.
Pretty cool stuff.
Tomatoes are in season, actually you can buy them any time of year now, but they seem particularly sweet right now. With temperatures climbing we love to relax with a great salad and perhaps a gill of some sorts. This recipe for killer marinated tomatoes fits the bill! Adjust the quantities accordingly.