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when you seek and expect beauty from the natural landscape. Cindy and I expect that from the mountains, particularly when one is above treeline feeling like they are on top of the world. After passing through Capitol Reef National Park, we now expect that from the red rock canyon lands of Utah. Yet there are times when the beauty of the natural landscape is found unexpectedly. As we headed out east from Notom we had such an experience. Both the landscape east and west of Notom is canyon country. West of Notom was dominated by draws and gorges; east of Notom featured a broader landscape with mesas and spires. This might have made the landscape we now passed through similar to what we would find around Moab, with similar flocks of people coming to tour the area. However, another key difference in the landscape we now traveled was the stark grayness of everything that surrounded us. The dirt road we traveled on first out of Notom was as barren as the landscape, virtually no vegetation, virtually no color, only the imposing topology one imagines from the moon. That gave me a sensation similar but different from my accustomed experience from standing on exposed ridges and mountain tops. Instead of a “top of the world” experience, I felt “apart from the world” as we traversed through that faux moonscape. Add in the constant heat from the early August sun and we might have been visitors to the fictitious desert planet Dune, though I've always imagined Dune to feature more tones of brown than gray. On our previous two desert stretches we climbed above one hundred degree heat once each time, with mountains somewhere in the background to serve as a reminder of cooler climates. On this stretch we experienced one hundred degree heat every day, and the background once we got to Utah 24 and beyond was either more moonscape or simply more open desert. This created an aura of “no escape” from our desert planet, even though by this time we were fully acclimated. We passed through Hanksville, reported to be both the hottest and coldest town in Utah. The
desert can be cold indeed, I remember a winter evening spent in a New Mexico desert that got down to the single digits. That was not the case in Hanksville or throughout this stretch. The evenings were uncomfortably hot, in a way making sleeping more difficult than walking. At one point a woman from the Utah's Department of Transportation stopped to see if we were doing OK. We looked fine as far as I know, no viruses or heat exhaustion adding a pathetic touch to our appearance; we had recovered fully since Nevada. Yet the DoT woman was concerned because of some information she shared with us: the road temperature where we were walking was 132 degrees. In response to this heat we regimented our walking as we learned on US 6 in Nevada. Now we were up to four miles per interval, with 5-10 minute rests. Putting one foot in front of the other along the road shoulder was simply automatic, something the body could do with no greater effort than lying down on scorched earth. Of course Ky provided support, which meant water was never an issue for us. The biggest problem in a sense were mosquitoes. Yes, mosquitoes in the desert! We arrived at this “desert planet” just after abundant rains, which of course hit us while we were still in elevated mountain country. We even encountered an emergency road sign declaring “Flood Area,” though not a drop was in sight by the time we walked by. The mosquitoes apparently made a home in whatever dewy vegetation they could find and attacked our legs with a vengeance. We could minimize mosquito encounters with a stiff pace away from the edge of the road, and as the day progressed the mosquitoes were less abundant overall. Worse than the mosquitoes were the little gnats that loved to float around in the shade of our visors. At times I would take my cap off just to get rid of these pests, but exposing one's bald top to the afternoon desert sun is not an ideal solution either. Fortunately, the deer flies were not bad now or ever during our journey. I've come to hate deer flies with a passion. Brisk walking at least cuts down on mosquitoes and black flies; deer flies just keep buzzing and biting along in preference to your movement. I killed 73 deer flies during one 50 mile day on the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut, which eventually I will submit to the Guinness Book of World Records. I have witnesses.
As neared Green River the landscape because less alien and more monotonous. Yes, there were spires and mesas you can't see back in Connecticut, but even these were developing a sameness to them. Between bugs, heat and monotony this section was not doing wonders for our mood.
While we were hiking through the Dixie National Forest on the previous stretch, Barrett and Buster were somewhere south of us, eventually getting lost. They knew about where we should be and hitchhiked to meet us, joining us in time for the Notom Bed and Breakfast Ranch. Cindy and I hiked out of Notom without Barrett and Buster, as Barrett had a lead for work provided by Ky's friend Jenny. Hiking the whole ADT was no longer feasible for him; he would make his way across the country alternating between hiking, working and catching up with us. Barrett and Buster next caught up with us in Green River, melon capital of the world, where he joined us as we backpacked through remote country to Moab. We only had to pack for one night spent in the backcountry, but with no sources of water until we reached Utah 191 that meant loading up our packs. I carried about 1 ¾ gallons; Cindy, 1 ½ gallons. Barrett carried around two gallons but he was also packing for Buster. I found a romantic, pioneering appeal in being dependent on only the water we carried through the desert. The appeal of this stretch was enhanced by antelope. We saw more on this two day stretch than on the rest of the journey combined. I remember first watching antelope while hiking through the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming. They are the fastest hoofed animal in the world. Think about how Secretariat made the second-place finisher in the Belmont look slow. An antelope would in turn make Secretariat look just as slow. One is reminded of the Road Runner cartoons as blurred legs and clouds of dust are kicked up while the head and body seem to be gliding along effortlessly. On this journey the only thing that surpassed the spectacle of antelope was what we witnessed in one Nevada box canyon. We were passing though the floor of the canyon, covered with pasture grazed on by both wild animals and cattle. We came upon a large flock of big horn sheep. When they saw us
approach they bolted en masse straight up the sides of the box canyon. Watching them pick out the tiniest of “hoof holds” as if they were effortlessly ascending palatial steps was truly a jaw-dropping moment. You think “Surely, there must be accidents; some of these critters must misplace a step and fall to their death.” No accidents befell the large flock bolting in front of our eyes. Watching speedy antelope has the same physics-defying effect on the viewer. As evening approached we saw some antelope a little closer up, without them charging away. They are still entertaining then, in the same way that watching a herd of elk is entertaining, but nonchalantly grazing antelope just does not have the same pizzazz. There were no clouds that evening that would otherwise make for a fantastic sunset, yet watching the subtler transition of colors through space and time over the broad desert horizon provides for its own inspiring, reflective mood. Our own tent had a neighbor in Barrett's and Buster's; other than that we were alone under the expansive sky, long distance hikers left to their thoughts and dreams. The next day Barrett and Buster were running low on water. Barrett already carried Buster around his shoulders at times; long days got the best of the little dog. He might have to carry Buster more while rationing water with his dog. Meanwhile, I rationed my water a bit more as well in case it might be needed. Cindy and I were used to hiking for awhile then resting while Barrett and Buster caught up. Buster was in the habit of charging ahead of Barrett to where he could snuggle under the shadows our bodies cast. Just at the point when I thought I should split my remaining water with them they never caught up. As we continued to wait I started to weigh two options. If they were in trouble I needed to either hike back to them, or go ahead to flag down Ky for more water. Not knowing why they had not caught up nor how far back they may be made the decision easy. We needed to go on ahead, meet Ky at Utah 191, then travel back with her on the BLM road as far as possible to deliver more water. By the time Ky drove us back with water for Barrett and Buster we did not have to drive too far in. Barrett looked a little dazed when we arrived, but he still had a few swallows of water left. His
Desert Storm experience no doubt prepared him well. Buster bolted into Ky's vehicle at first opportunity and Barrett followed him in.
We spent our first evening in Moab with Lions Marilyn and Dave Stolfa, who had arranged for my first potluck presentation at their Lions Club. Each Lions Club has a different humanitarian emphasis in addition to the usual eyes and ears missions. The Moab Lions Club was involved in some homelessness and food initiatives, as well as with local parks and trails. This made the Lions Club a good fit for the Stolfas, who came to Moab upon retirement, wanting to both make a difference and to enjoy their golden years. Like many others who came to Moab they were attracted to the abundant recreational opportunities in the area. We showered and did our laundry at the Stolfas, then joined them in a feast. With our common interests in recreation and humanitarian causes we had a nice long chat during dinner and afterwards. One of the topics was the desert stretch east of Moab. The ADT route followed the Kokopelli Trail, another hundred mile stretch between water sources, though popular with mountain bikers. Dave touted the appeal of the stretch and introduced the possibility of water caches. We knew that Ky could not get into the backcountry with her vehicle, but might someone else from the area be willing? Adding to the complexity of that question were the necessary river crossings to first get into the backcountry. Ironically, the unusually wet year created too much water as an obstacle barring caches for too little water. Dave entertained doing caches for us, but was uncertain if he could do so. During much of subsequent stay in Moab I considered different possible routes going east and how we might obtained water. After the first evening we stayed at a BLM campground near Moab for five additional evenings. During the days in between we alternated between rest days and half days of hiking. On our half days of hiking we spent the afternoons as tourists, visiting both Canyonlands and Arches National Park. The best photographs of the journey came from our visit to Arches. In addition to the awe-inspiring landscape
we were there for sunset, with a late afternoon storm adding additional lighting effects, including a rainbow. Obviously I hoped for more great photo opportunities to come, and would get them, but after Arches I felt like I had no right to complain about any future photo opportunities I might miss. When not hiking or in the National Parks we were in Moab, often times in their award winning library; for myself, often working on the problem of heading east out of town. I stopped in at Gearheads, the local outfitter, to get additional maps of the area. Gearheads is run by three brothers and I spoke with Steve Kennedy, the one who came in later as sort of a junior partner. Steve went the extra mile to help us out and gave us a bunch of Clif bars and gels to take with us. The next day I got an email from him asking if we would like to test his brother Greg's LazerBrite product. This is a flashlight with both white and red lights on either end, with a connector tube that can also be used as a light. The lights also can be detached from the tube and hung up by a clip. We were honored to be asked and made another trip to Gearheads to get equipped with LazerBrites. We also stopped in at the BLM office in town to get more information on conditions east of Moab. By now I was focusing on a route through the Dolores Triangle that would be a little shorter than the Kokopelli trail and a little less distance between water sources. We still would need water caches, and that was the point of my talk with Miles. He showed us real time data revealing a rapid decrease in water levels for the Dolores River, which seemed promising that we might be able to get a cache into the Dolores Triangle. When we finally left Moab it was with that plan in mind. Assisting us with that plan would be Bill Finley, a retired doctor who was now the host for the BLM campground where we stayed five nights. At one point Ky asked him if we could get a discount for the campground. He thought I was a senior citizen and already deserved the discount. Bill had worked his way up to hospital administration, where he finally became fed up with the system. He and I spent one evening sharing our different perspectives for systems out of balance. His move towards a semipermanent BLM host was an escape from that system. Bill met us at another campground after we hiked 20 miles up Utah 128, along the Colorado
River. We climbed into his 4wd jeep to find a crossing across the Dolores River. Whenever I climbed out of the jeep to look at a river crossing along with Bill I limped back and forth from the river's edge. While my foot problem stabilized when we did consistent, moderate mileage, it acted up most on long days after a rest day, such as this. This prompted Bill to declare: “You're scaring me, man.” He found out I was taking ibuprofen at night, in order to sleep better, and insisted I should be taking it before hiking each day instead. I suppose I wasn't countering the senior citizen image he had of me. We came to one crossing that was wide, with a gravel bar in the middle. What is wide is often shallow and we hoped this to be the case. Bill decided to walk all the way across as Cindy and I waited behind. Bill left behind in the jeep his dog Oscar Meyer, a dachshund of course, but he did not stay. He charged across the shallow water to the gravel bank after his master, who was now navigating deeper, faster waters to get to the far bank. I thought Oscar Meyer would stay on the gravel bank and did not yell out he was coming. Fortunately, Bill turned around soon after his dog started swimming after him and rescued him from the rushing water. We concluded that the river crossings were still too high for vehicles which meant no water caches and no Dolores Triangle. We would instead continue on Utah 128 a little longer, heading for the Cisco desert and north of I-70 before turning east into Colorado. Ky would continue to supply us water until we got to the Colorado border.
As a tourist town Moab was a victim of an economic phenomenon known as spending cascades. The next time you hear the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats,” keep “spending cascades” in juxtaposition with it. Wealth disparity has increased for forty years in this country. With ever greater wealth concentrated at the top comes ever greater disposable income. The wealthy compete for a million dollar home by paying two million and the spending inflation cascades down the housing market until affordable housing no longer becomes affordable. Spending cascades particularly affect tourist towns because of the attraction they hold and demand that they create.
Thus on the same day we scouted river crossings with Bill we met Mary, a full time vineyard worker who lives out of a tent. Her story is a common one in towns like Moab, full time workers with no drug or criminal activity who yet are homeless. Mary was not the only homeless person we met personally. On the day we traversed the Cisco desert we stopped for a long afternoon siesta in the ghost town of Cisco. The town once thrived on uranium mining and being a connector from the Colorado River to the railroad for steam engines. There still appeared to be a couple buildings where people might have lived, but most were falling apart. During our break a BLM worker we met the previous day spotted us and stopped to give us ice water. Keith is an avid biker who, among other trips, biked from Oregon to Alaska. He also was a former news director who gave us tips on how to approach broadcast media in upcoming Grand Junction. Speaking of media, Jeff Richards of the Moab Independent Times attended the Lions Club potluck presentation and wrote a terrific article on us. Our story moved a river guide named Dre, who happened to be living out of a tent as well. From the article's description Dre figured we would be going through the Cisco desert around the time he would be driving rafters to and from the Colorado River nearby. He and fellow guides April and Kyle were on the lookout for us and spotted us resting in Cisco not long after Keith left and Ky arrived to meet us. They made short detour to see us, with clients in tow. Dre gave us a copy of the article he had been saving, along with more ice water and snacks. He shared that both he and April were living in tents and how much what we were doing by drawing attention to Housing, Health and Hunger issues meant to him. Early on in the hike we got the sense we were hiking for Roger Monty, who planned to come watch us finish at the end. Along this same line, a couple from New York met us along Utah 128 as they were vacationing in Utah; they ended up following our whole journey and came to watch us finish as well. Both those cases made us feel like we were walking for the interest of others. In Dre's case we now felt like we were hiking for the need of others. How could we be anything but touched by the fact he
wanted to find us in the Cisco desert just to let us know what we did meant something to him. In addition to the expressions of support we were getting we continued to witness kindness and camaraderie through our desert walk. Early on in this stretch a Bike and Build team passed us throughout the day, as we shouted encouragement to each other. They knew about us beforehand from encountering Ky up the road from us, while we knew about them once the first riders passed. We also spent an evening with Don Del Monte, a horseman who was riding from Kentucky to Los Angeles raising awareness for teen suicide prevention. I started the hike with a seventies recollection that long distance travel for a cause was unusual; we were finding it now to be a rather common occurrence. In Hanksville we had a touching experience with Elliott, the owner of the Red Rock Restaurant. Due to Alzheimer's he no longer can manage what he owns, but he walks freely through the combined restaurant and campground, chatting it up with anyone he meets. He told us how he ended up buying the property in the parched town of Hanksville after having a few too many beers. In Green River we camped near Kathy and Phil who stopped over on their way home back to Grand Junction. They actually allowed us to spill over into their campground with our tent. We spent a long time talking about our common humanitarian interests. They also gave us tips for the Grand Junction media, based on Phil's previous work in broadcast media there. On one of our half days of hiking around Moab we finished much earlier than expected and decided to hitch back to the BLM campground. The first car who passed us turned around about a hundred yards down the road and came back for us. I did not catch her name but she was from Arizona returning from a business trip in Landers, Wyoming. She made a donation to our cause when she dropped us off at the campground. I should reiterate that we never ask for donations, but people sometimes choose to do so.
Neither the tastiest juice nor most refreshing alcoholic beverage beats ice water in the desert. Between Keith, Ky and the river guides we met in Cisco we certainly had enough ice water for what
turned out to be the hottest day of the journey, as far as we knew. Ky reported a temperature of 111 degrees to us in late afternoon, though we previously noted that on hot days her van reported 2 degrees less than other sources. That afternoon hiking out of Cisco also featured our one token sandstorm in the desert. Usually with fierce thunderstorms the sky turns very dark gray to black, on the horizon to the west of us the sky turned dark brown instead. We never experienced a sandstorm before but we could guess that's what those low-lying brown clouds meant. I could visualize the sandworms of Dune advancing before the crest of those clouds. We chose to keep hiking as the storm swept over us; there really was not any good place to take cover anyways. This was a quick moving storm, less frightful than perhaps I'm making it sound. There were no huge sand dunes sweeping down upon us, no scorched earth in the wake of the sandstorm's path. We were not on Dune after all. We later heard that this same storm unleashed significant amounts of water elsewhere, but we mainly got sand. We camped out with Ky in the middle of BLM desert that evening, and again the next evening after we continued through the remaining Utah desert to the Colorado border. We camped just a short ways into Colorado and our first Colorado evening, like our first Nevada and Utah evenings, featured a beautiful sunset. With the sunset came the time for reflection. We now left the two most remote, challenging states behind us. Both Cindy and I agreed on one thing: we were never going to hike through the desert in summer again. Even so, there was a good feeling of accomplishment. We learned new tricks hiking over the desert and my tan, hardened body could very well have been transported to this planet from Dune. I doubt we would ever feel like such capable desert nomads again. We still had a short stretch of desert left ahead of us in Colorado. After that we would be in mountain wilderness for a good while; for us that almost would be like coming home. Podcast: Moab Lions Club
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