Discovering Moon House: Dag and Zook and The Fear of Falling

Thanksgiving Day 2018 was a memorable one. We spent the week in Blanding, UT. Unlike Moab to the north with its trendy, sporty persona, which I don’t much love, Blanding is unvarnished and unpretentious. I would rather feel like traveler as opposed to a tourist, if you get my meaning. In mock appreciation to the sporty set we took up the names Zook (short for Gadzooks) and Dag (short for Dag Nab It). We spent three full days in the area, hiking to House on Fire ruins, traveling Monument Valley, and taking the La Sal Mountain Loop over to Arches NP. It was all quite lovely. Those who know me well know that the desert, especially red canyon country, is the landscape that resonates most deeply with my soul.

I love the grim gaunt edges of the rocks, the great bare backbone of the Earth, rough brows and heaved up shoulders, round ribs and knees of the world’s skeleton protruded in lonely places.
Maynard Dixon

On Thanksgiving morning we decided to trek out to Moon House, a beautiful and well preserved ruin in Bears Ears National Monument. The guidebook advised us to budget 2 to 3 hours and to be ready for some “moderate scrambling”. Best laid plans of mice and men… We took Totoro, our Honda Pilot, 8.2 miles down Snow Flat Road. He did well–very sure-footed on the gravel–but it was a test of Dag’s skills and Totoro’s design, especially when parts of the road were along slickrock shelves. The second half of the drive we took very slowly, almost turning around at a particularly nasty rock that threatened our center of gravity. We managed to ease around to one side and get over it. Finally we made it to the trailhead, where the guide book told us to park and walk up the remaining couple of miles to McLloyd Canyon. Looking at this section of road, sandy and washed out in places, we decided that was a smart decision.

When we reached the rim we did not immediately locate the ruin, which is to the left part way down the canyon wall. There was a better vantage point along the rim to our left, but we didn’t confirm that until we were past the point of visiting that spot. Reaching Moon House is a dramatic descent down one side of the canyon and up the other. It’s an extremely picturesque place and the ruins are plentiful and attractive. About that moderate scrambling…

On the way down there is a rippled slickrock shelf that leans into the canyon and drops off. My husband and I are little people… Dag is 5’7 and I’m right at 5′. If we were a little taller, this might not have been as much of an issue. There are two possibilities. It looks as if someone has piled up some rocks under the lip of this shelf, but that means going straight out over the edge and you’ve really got to trust that the pile of rocks is there for your benefit. Option 2 is to walk to the right along the slickrock, which is steeper on this side, until you come to a small tree that you can grasp and lower yourself onto the trail below. At this point we were the only people on the trail (there would be two more parties behind us, comprised of taller folks) and we spent some time negotiating this perilous spot. I don’t think that a fall here, or more of a roll actually, would kill you, but you’d probably break something and getting help out here in the middle of nowhere is EXPENSIVE. Dag opts for the tree. After some moments of sheer terror, I follow, my running shoes slipping down off the slickrock as I manage to scoot across. I discarded my hiking boots two days earlier after they ate holes in the back of my heels. The tree takes a nice gash out of my jacket as I drop on to the trail. My legs are jelly. We spend a few minutes trying to ascertain whether or not the trail is going to get worse or not, but decide not to turn around after all that struggle. Moon House is closer now, and absolutely gorgeous.

The  rest of the way down is rocky and a bit steep but far from scary. There is a lovely wide place to cross to the other side of the canyon, passing by a large boulder. It is a great place to catch your breath before the last moderately difficult task of pulling yourself up to the next ledge. The route goes between two rocky protrusions that keep you from feeling as if you are going to go tumbling.  Once you traverse that, you find yourself on the Moon House patio. The ruins are right in front of you.

The BLM allows visitors to enter the outer wall, although we did not feel right doing so. As we came up the ruin side there was a gnarled tree. Usually if anybody sees or feels something weird, it’s me, but in this case Dag swore that he saw, out of the corner of his eye, a Native American man sitting on it. He seemed a friendly presence, but he commanded some respect as well. Moon House was visited by looters many times before it was set up as a park site. There was a smuggling ring in Blanding that was broken up a few years ago, resulting in some suicides in the community. Several of the items recovered came from Moon House. It didn’t feel good to identify in any way with that kind of activity.  Instead I thought about my mother, who is very unwell and dealing with end of life issues. I said a little prayer asking for help as we walked the canyon. There was much to be seen, and we certainly missed some things along the way. I feel it is important not to be greedy in the wilderness, be it for loot or experience. Greediness gets you into trouble–gets you over-extended and over-burdened. Perhaps it is not so different in everyday life.

Saying goodbye to the friendly canyon spirits, we hauled ourselves out of the canyon and headed for the car. We arrived at 11am and it was now nearing 3:30. We were several hours overtime and the weather forecast had indicated a 20 percent chance of snow in the late afternoon. As we walked the two miles back to the car, the snow arrived, a gentle dusting. As we took Totoro back over Snow Flat Road, it started to snow in earnest. We managed the 8.2 miles of gravel without incident and were very glad to reach pavement. We jokingly cried out “Tarmac!” in homage to Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman in Long Way Round and headed back to Blanding for our Thanksgiving feast of prime rib, mashed potatoes and megasalad, topped off with pumpkin pie with whipped cream (the real thing, baby!) There’s nothing quite so satisfying as the meal that follows the accomplishment of a quest.

What did all that scrambling tell me, other than I should keep myself in better shape? That I need to let myself risk falling and failing. I’ve always fit Synkroniciti into my other schedules, letting them set her pacing. Part of this is the result of putting my life back together three times, part of it is a legitimate fear that Synkroniciti will fail, or, perhaps more frightening, that she will succeed and draw me into a new place. One does not simply jump off the side of a cliff, neither will I quit everything else I am doing to follow Synkroniciti into thin air. But it is now time to edge my way toward new sights, to  puzzle out the landscape before me and, if needed, create new trail.

Nothing is achieved alone. Would you like to join me on my journey for a while? We all have different goals and different challenges such that we can never truly comprehend each other’s journeys, but we can certainly lend a hand when we cross paths and root for each other from our separate vantage points. Let’s get out there and find what 2019 has to offer. And if you slip along the way, take comfort in knowing you aren’t the only one out there.

Waving at you from the trail!

Zook

 

 

From the Trail: A Walk at Lake Brownwood State Park

It is easy to miss delightful things when we only accept and cultivate experiences that we expect to be life-changing.

Last summer, my husband and I stayed one night at Lake Brownwood State Park here in Texas on our way to New Mexico. I woke up early that morning and decided that I would take a walk over to the lake. I didn’t expect much, being far more excited about the places to come, but it was not too hot yet and I needed the exercise.

The hike was a pleasant one, notable for the interesting mix of desert and wetland plants and the juxtaposition of habitats. The Western Cross Timbers, Edwards Plateau, Grand Prairie and Rolling Plains regions all come together here. There are also some attractive stone structures and features made by the  Civilian Conservation Corps before and during the World War II era (1933-42). Moths and butterflies were plentiful, and I met up with an itinerant road runner who kept me from missing the trail on the way back. This trail reminded me that some of life’s great moments happen unannounced. If we only take those walks that promise to impress us with spectacular scenery, we miss the subtler beauty that lies all around us. Sometimes that is all we need and all the more precious.

 Woodland Mood

Wetland Mood

Desert Mood

Flora’s Fancies

Winged Beauty

Trailrunner

Ranger Residence

Stairs to Boat Dock

Lantern

Stone Tables and Benches

Quote for Today: Bill Bryson

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Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret.
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Walking Across China: Cristoph Rehage’s Disorienting Journey

In November 2007, Christoph Rehage set out to walk from Beijing, on the far eastern side of China, to Germany. One year and 4500 miles later, scruffy and tired, he stopped his journey in western China at the city of Ürümqi. Cristoph took some breaks to visit family, but, even so, the journey across China was grueling and the mountains and the desert took their toll on his mind and body. This is a stunning video which documents the change in his appearance and attitude during the journey. Why did he stop? He says he doesn’t know, but the experience changed his identity. Can you imagine the emotions he must have felt?

TrekWest Crosses the Border in Arizona: Raising Awareness for Wildlife

TrekWest Trail MapIn late January, John Davis, a conservationist and explorer, began a 5,000 mile journey from Hermosillo, Mexico to Fernie, Canada. He is hiking, cycling and paddling this route to  document the lives of wild animals and confirm the need for wildlife corridors in the west. Wildlife corridors are protected areas that link isolated habitats and allow animals to travel long distances, primarily for the purposes of feeding and breeding. He has already completed a similar project for the eastern side of the US.

Last week Davis arrived at the border between the US and Mexico, where he was met at a walled wildlife crossing near Naco, Arizona by wildlife supporters from both countries who carried an art project celebrating the endangered jaguar and other animals. A traditional Yaqui tribal blessing was held. Some supporters wore jaguar masks and some attempted to scale the border wall to show sympathy and solidarity with the desert creatures. As he continues his trek into the western United States, Davis hopes that people will take notice of the hardship the 16 foot high steel fence creates for animals who are trying to follow their traditional pathways to food and water. In some areas, animals are dying within sight of water while trying to find a place to cross to the river.

Arizona Border FenceCCLI by CBP Photography on Flickr

Arizona Border Fence
Public Domain Image by US Customs and Border Protection

Want to read more about John Davis’s journey and the loss of animal and human life on the border?

TrekWest website

TrekWest… an Epic Journey to Save Our Wild West is About to Begin (Wildlands Network)

Wildlife Supporters Gather at Border Crossing (The Sierra Vista Herald)

Border fence putting Arizona Pronghorns in peril (Arizona Central)

Fence in the Sky: Border Wall Cuts Through Native Land (The Native Press.com)

The Border Effect (The American Prospect)

Desert Light: Photos from Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

These are some of the best photos I have ever taken, from a hike in Capitol Reef National Park near Torrey, UT. The light that day was perfection, making even simple photos glow in a special way. The redrock desert of Utah is extremely dear to my heart and these are just a few of the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of desert photos I have taken. I am not much of a photographer, but the desert is quite an artist.

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Looking along the Waterpocket Fold, the land feature that forms Capitol Reef National Park. It is a very large monoclinal fold and provides spectacular hiking. These photos were taken in mid-March. I remember the wind that day was ridiculous. The scramble up to this point was a true pain, and it was just the beginning of the journey. We wouldn’t be exposed to the cold wind and dust for the remainder of the hike, though.

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This is the view in the opposite direction. Nice banding of the sandstone. The holes in the rock are known as waterpockets, and lend their name to the Waterpocket Fold. If you are stranded out here it is nice to know that you can sometimes find rainwater in them.

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Magical shady spot.

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The trail cuts through here. I’m pretty positive that interesting shaped shadow is a rock, but it sure looks like an animal, doesn’t it?

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Striations in the rock.

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Closing in on the waterpockets.

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These beautiful formations are slowly hollowing out, turning into sand.

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Tempting crevices.

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Deep waterpocket.

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Walls closing in… can’t go that way.

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Dead end.

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Heading up to the top.

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Natural statue.

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So many colors of rock, all basking in the sunlight.

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Rounding a bend in the trail.

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A bit of green growing from the sand.

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View overlooking the Fruita River. Splendid light. We’ll linger here a little too long, then rush back down before dark, feeling blessed to have been in this amazing place of color and light. And feeling quite tired.