Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Canoeing in the Canyonlands, Part 3

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

Our last full day on the river begins with pancakes and homemade raspberry syrup--scrumptious!  Embarking from our two-day camp, we are in no hurry today.  It's only seven miles to our final campsite at Spanish Bottom, where we will be picked up by jet-boat tomorrow morning.  Before that, we reach the confluence with the Colorado River.  It's an irony that the rivers have reversed their hues, the greener water of the Colorado is squeezed to the eastern bank as the surface is overwhelmed by the ruddier billows of the Green.  The final leg of three miles is a nearly straight-shot hailing the start of Cataract Canyon.  Halfway down, a sign warns of the rapids below Spanish Bottom.  It's an adventure to be sure, but one we are not equipped for.

Arriving at a spacious camp, we choose a lunch site in the nice warm sun...then all squeeze into a pocket of shade to eat as we decide it's a bit too warm.  I am willingly left behind as the others explore downriver on foot; resting on a boulder in the shade as a myriad of birds flitter about and beg me to shoot them.  Gotcha!

Spanish Bottom is an incredible setting; a nearly flat plain a mile by a half-mile in extent and largely covered with creosote except along the river.  Surrounding this on every side are talus slopes and cliffs 1200 feet high, almost to seem that one is inside a pit with no way out.  On the western rim, a parade of hoodoos and spires called The Dollhouse is the awe-inducing finale to this wonderous place of nature.

The chilly air returns over our final night while the high eastern rim uncaringly blocks the morning sun.  We wait for it, and the jet boat, on the river bank after packing our gear and washing out the canoes.  Both soon arrive as the adventure begins its journey into our memories.

But wait!  It's only over for Dan, who must be on the road shortly after we have un/reloaded at Tex's.  When in Moab, a visit to Arches National Park is almost obligatory, though the next day, a beautiful Saturday in October, isn't the best time to avoid crowds.  After our isolation, the international parade of visitors is almost comical...even maddening as we see families with children two miles from their car without a lick of water.  But the kids are having a great time, bringing back my own ten-year-old memories of scampering about this remarkable landscape.

We all spend time exploring the Devil's Garden Trail then split up, as Lynn and I don't feel up to hiking the Delicate Arch Trail.  As the guys do that, we take off on the Tower Arch 4x4 road, a modest if not incredibly long challenge for my driving skills.  Even John Hill might have had some fun on it.

One more dinner and breakfast together and it is time to go our ways, though I have padded my own schedule another two days.  For something completely different, I head for the La Sal Mountains which have beckoned me before.  With nothing to hold me back this time, I answer the call.  Up high, autumn has lost its withered grip on all but a few of the trees and shrubs while a dusting of snow lingers on the northern cliffs.
A rough spur road leads down to Blue Lake, a hidden little gem with a worthy campsite, but it will be too cold for my comfort up here and my real goal is more explorations of the Canyonlands.  As I wend my way around the mountains, I surprise a magnificent pair of bull elks in the road...what a treat!  They bolt into the forest below while I creep forward, spying with camera in hand.  There you you too!

I have an affinity for lonely backroads that end at dramatic overlooks, and two of them are nearby in what is now called the Canyon Rims Recreation Area; one of the pseudo-national-park acquisitions now managed by the BLM, just like the lands were managed before the name change--but I digress.  The first backroad would have me looping back to the Anticline Overlook, just a few miles southwest of Moab as the crow flies.  Coming up short on sunlight I stop at the Hatch Point campground and have it all to myself, as did the person the previous night who lamented in the register for anyone with correct change to pay the fee.

The overlooks are, of course, dramatic.  This is southern Utah, afterall.  After the Anticline I head for the Needles Overlook, a bit more developed and visited since this road is paved.  The rest of my day is a flash through the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  I manage two short hikes and a tour of all the main roads in just a few hours, my hand forced in part by a full campground.

As dusk looms I am driving over a shoulder of the Abajo Mountains taking a shortcut into Monticello.  One thing is apparent...hunting season has started!  In just ten miles I must encounter a hundred pick-ups, on the main road and every little side road, alone and in herds, flooding the forest with light and creeping along at five miles an hour.  I'm not against hunting but--geeze Louise!!!  By morning, I'm at a cheap motel in Blanding and have the last laugh on them as I wake to a steady bone-chilling rain.  It'll be off-and-on stormy most of the way home, but nothing to hinder my way.

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