Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Canoeing in the Canyonlands, Part 2

*click the title to go to the 400-photo gallery or continue with my ramblings and personal pic picks*

Our second day begins with virga-burdened overcast but there is no rain expected--only wind, which arrives mid-day on a front that sweeps the clouds away.  A fair trade; the river turns enough that it's not much of a bother.  Now comes the part the geology nerd in me has been waiting for; the rising of the White Rim sandstone.  From viewpoints in the Island in the Sky district high above the river, the White Rim is a distinctive and intricate lining of the canyons and tributaries of the Green and Colorado Rivers.  Indeed, my first interest in the area was the White Rim Trail, a 4x4 route traversing dozens of miles across those ledges.  I've yet to add that adventure to the list, though my companions of this trip are certainly more favorable to this non-mechanized mode.  Can't say I blame them.

Swallows, too, favor the White Rim, as they have built hundreds of their mud nests under the overhanging slabs.  By the time we reach camp at Anderson Bottom, the sandstone ledges are soaring 200 feet above the river.

Tonight we must climb a steep bank and go back on a short path to a campsite under a large cottonwood tree.  I am pleased that we have chosen Anderson Bottom, an abandoned meander of the river.  The flat grassy area between our campsite and the wall of sandstone is the old river channel.  The guidebook mentions a panel of "cowboy glyphs" about a mile down the meander and so we set off in search of.  It's a nice walk, but the panel looks like recent graffiti reminiscent of cow brands.  Nearby is a more curious and poorly-scratched panel appearing to be some sort of commemoration, but with a date of A.D. 2864!  Time-traveling cowboys?

Mmmm, the Wisconsin boys brought beer and bratwurst!!  Did I mention that we ate well?  In the deep-darkening sky, a seeming armada of satellites cruise silently overhead as the Milky Way brightens into a glowing river of light.  The continuing breeze will keep the air mixed and warmer for the next few nights.

Our third day will be our greatest effort, not that we planned it that way.  Before noon, we stop above Turks Head to hike a mile over some tablelands to a large boulder covered in petroglyphs; really, quite an impressive site.  Much of the rest of our day is that quest for the perfect campsite; perhaps the sought for 'lay-over' camp that would allow us a day of recuperation and shore-bound exploration.  Deadhorse Canyon comes up short, in that we all vote to go farther and knowing it commits us to another five miles to Horse Canyon. (I guess that one lived.)  Alas, anything near the mouth of Horse Canyon has the ambience of a recently drained wash.

And so, after 17 miles, we settle on a large sandbar-island camp just below Horse Canyon.  For all of our wind-weary muscles, there will be no layover here.  But the island does make a nice camp; clean dry sand and thickets of young willows provide a myriad hidey-spots for tents and groover alike.

Day 4.  Still gorgeous and the wind has abated.  Stoked on Ibuprofen, w set off on an expectedly shorter day of paddling.  In just two hours we've reached the ruin at Jasper Canyon and halfway to our goal at Water Canyon, where we have delayed lunch to arrive early in the afternoon.  Another canoe is tied up at the campsite but there is no gear above to call dibs...and so we move in.  This site is a series of benches and platforms a few dozen feet above the river with some fallen rocks providing a natural seating area.  The owner of the canoe returns later and gives us a report on hiking up Water Canyon, but hadn't been planning to camp here.

Next day I am chef.  We start with three skillets of hearty corn beef hash; a mixture that I'd prepared before the trip for easy pan-frying.  Of course, I'd had to make extra to leave at home for Kirsteen, lest I'd filled our home with the aroma of roasting corn beef for a day with no reward for her.  It's cloudy again this morning and a handful of raindrops have touched skin.  It will clear later, but not before a judicious use of the satellite phone confirms that a rumored storm before we had left has passed north of us and will not be a bother.

The only plan today is an exploration of Water Canyon, which turns out to be a bonanza of fossils!  Chrinoids mostly, and other shallow-sea beasties are packed into the bedrock shelves which line the lower portions of the canyon. Half a mile up the canyon splits; both routes continue steeply among a conglomerate of house-sized boulders.  Lynn and I opt to explore the fossil beds while the guys spend most of the day climbing to the head of Water Canyon.

On my return, I choose the well-trodden path on the opposite side of the canyon below a dramatic undercut.  The path deteriorates as I approach the river, the reason becoming obvious as I find myself trapped on a bench with no way down.  I can see Lynn relaxing back at camp 200 yards away and call over my need to backtrack.

Chicken fajitas are on the menu for dinner.  Discovering the proper use and benefits of dry ice has created the unusual issue of ensuring that the meat is thawed for preparation.

Continued in Part 3...

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