Sunday, June 8, 2008

(More) Dust in the Wind or How to discover where "the middle of nowhere" really is.

It's been a while, but we're learning more and more about this part of the country every day. Cell service is shoddy at best, and internet is really difficult to find. I'm writing from the town of Hurricane, UT in the southwestern portion of the state. It's quite a long way from Moab over here, and it reminds us just how big the country is.

We left Moab to head south. On our way, we passed through the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Unfortunately, the scenery here paled in comparison to the desert wilderness of the White Rim. Everything seemed to be on a smaller scale when compared to the epic proportions of the canyons of the Colorado and the Green, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

Right outside the park is a place called Newspaper Rock. It's a rather interesting Native American archaeological site. There are so many petroglyphs on this rock that to some observers, it seems like a newspaper. To tell the truth, archaeologists are neither so insightful nor so adventurous as Indiana Jones, so the following is the stated explanation of the petroglyphs, and I quote: "There are no known methods of dating rock art. In interpreting the rock figures, scholars are undecided as to their meaning or have yet to decipher them... Unfortunately, we do not know whether the figures represent storytelling, doodling, hunting magic, clan symbols, ancient graffiti, or something else. Without a true understanding of the petroglyphs, much is left for individual admiration and interpretation." In other words, "We don't know what we're talking about so feel free to have fun on your own." And so I will. Please notice the photos below. Look for bulls, deer, flying squirrels, bear prints, hunters on horseback, an indescribable monster in the lower left corner, a rather scary looking cowboy complete with sword and lassos protruding from his head like snakes from Medusa, and my personal favorite, a yeti. Needless to say, Newspaper Rock was the highlight of our day.

From there we continued south through the last chance gas station of Blanding, UT on to Natural Bridges National Monument. The Monument protects a small area of canyons containing three natural bridges. (Geological Note: A natural bridge is formed when the eroding force of a stream or river breaks through a rock wall which forms the canyon wall for an oxbow bend. The wall then becomes rock bridge through which the stream now flows, abandoning its accustomed course for the newly formed path of least resistance, which, in turn, enlarges the bridge. Note that a natural bridge is geologically different from a natural arch, which is eroded by dust in the wind rather than water. In short, a natural bridge is formed by water; whereas an arch is formed by wind. [Of which I apparently have plenty this morning.]) As I was saying, the monument has three quite large natural bridges and an important archaelogical site, but its most important claim to fame is the darkest night sky in the United States according to the International Dark Sky Association. It recieves virtually no light pollution and has extremely low moisture content in the air, so we took the last spot in the campground, cooked an excellent Mexican dinner, and waited for the sun to go down. After dark, we hiked to one of the bridges and set up a star trail shot that is indisputably our best yet, thanks to Greg's growing genius in star trails.

The following morning we moved on to go toward Capitol Reef National Park to the west. There are quite literally two buildings in the 130 miles between Blanding and Hanksville, UT. One is the ranger station for Natural Bridges. The other is a misplaced hotel which serves the mapmakers as the "town" of Fry Canyon. We passed over Lake Powell and through Glen Canyon, another canyon cut by the Colorado and continued without seeing so much as another vehicle for almost a hundred miles. Capitol Reef is a long line of cliffs separating the badlands to the east from the arid highlands to the west. It was mostly unremarkable, but we did stop for accustomed picnic lunch of ham and salami sandwiches with fruit and a cookie. We never knew until we spent time in the desert how truly tasty and satisfying the traditional lunch of a schoolboy really is.

Seeing that Capitol Reef was unspectacular without being able to explore the narrow canyons because of the threatening rain,(Any rain in these canyons can cause flash flooding and likely death.) we decided to move on to Zion National Park hopefully by way of a good bookstore. (Yet another side note. We've been getting a tremendous amount of reading done, and this has caused an especial crisis for Greg. He's simply run out of books that he wants to read. Since Moab we have yet to see the first bookstore or even public library for that matter. I, for one, thought that every county seat in America, at the very least had a public library, even if it wouldn't do us any good. Alas, I was wrong! I am at a complete loss as to how those who were inclined to read in this part of the country found books before the internet! Best leave my worries for rural Utah aside. Greg needed a book. It took about 300 miles to find a bookstore that sells novels, so he bought several and we continued on.)

When we arrived at the entrance to Zion, we discovered a problem. There are lots of people. Lots and lots of people. Entire busloads and crowds and droves and throngs of people. I literally was laughed at for asking for a place to pitch a tent for the night, and this man told be about some public land five miles away to camp on. He gave the mile marker it would be at and sent me off. We then encountered a problem. There was no public land along the road, and the mile marker didn't even exist! Having been sent on a wild goose chase we decided to punt and continue along this road until we could find a place to stay, and so that is how we came to Hurricane. I hope the next post will end on a happier note than "No room in the inn, or the stable either. Thank you very much."


Anonymous said...

Dear Jason and Greg: I have been keeping up with your blog and have enjoyed it very much. I have a couple of questions: what was wrong with the Land Rover and when you were traveling the White Rim did you encounter many other folks doing the same, are you having any problems keeping your food fresh? We missed your family at the reunion. Our crowd at the KOA wasn't as big as usual but we had a lot of fun. Be safe. Keep posting! Barbara

Nate said...

I still couldn't figure out the difference between a natural arch and a natural bridge. I would appreciate some further explanation on your next post(s). Perhaps dedicating an entire post to explaining the difference would be adequate.
I found Santa's sleigh on the newspaper wall, in between the flying squirrels. The only problem is it has legs and no runners. Definitely has reigns though. Huge ones.
I'm curious to know if Greg finished his Cussler. I know he probably has, but I'm impressed. I think it'd be cool to have a blog feature with current pages read total by the Lewis bros on the trip.
Can't wait to see your star trails; they're tantalizing. Keep the video camera rolling too - I'd love to see you guys taking a sandy switchback or climbing a rock in the desert when you get home. The blog's great; I'm thoroughly enjoying it; can't wait to hear from you guys again.
Be Dangerous. Keep posting.

Jason Lewis said...

Thanks for the comments!

Good to hear from you! The Land Rover has an air suspension, and there was apparently a software problem that was keeping it from operating properly. It wasn't a big deal, but I had no way of knowing if it was a minor or serious problem at the time. We saw a few other groups on the White Rim road. Many of them were actually mountain biking it, but they have to have at least one four-wheel drive vehicle as support. Our food is staying very fresh because of our refrigerator. It runs off our battery during the night, so it stays cool 24/7. We had a little trouble in the desert with the bread, which could become stale in a matter of minutes.

Nate: Arch -- wind. Bridge -- water. Greg has not only finished the first Cussler, he's read a second and is half way through the third. I've read half of the John Wesly Powell expedition that explored the Colorado River, and I'm almost done with the Three Musketeers cycle. I didn't see the sleigh, but you can find most anything you want. Did you see my yeti?

Anonymous said...

Oh, by the way, I finished the third Cussler, the entire 3 Musketeer cycle and one C.S. Lewis book. This morning I started on my fourth Cussler, which seems to be quite promising.