Make America great again’!, what kind greatness hangs in the balance of monetary scales? Corrupt politicians shift property lines, while snorting lives of cocaine and preaching “okay”. National monuments, passed like condiments for compliments at suit and tie conferences. But while they eat soup and pie, Residents like those at Havasupai watch as ancient conservations, become rational conversations between irrational international investors. Lands protected for millenniums, blessed, kept sacred in honour of kinship between man and God. Ancestors protected these lands for investors? Land that housed blood, sweat and tears, becomes a flood for offset shares!
After weeks of a desert tan beige being all the rage and Utah for the most part being a treeless state, the greens of the Dixie National Forest came as a real treat. The fear of missing out, having only had a quick drive through Capital Reef National Park had merely passed as I found myself distracted in the forests’ higher elevations. The change of scenery was like an oasis for the sole. The dry crusts of blasé thoughts springing with renewed love for the deserts surprises. The forest was definitely not one of our preconceived wonderlusts but never the less we were glad we had stumbled into its canopy. The original plan was a night Couch Surfing near, Coyote Gulch then a further 2 nights searching remnants of a lost sole rumoured to haunt the gulch. But as we stumbled into the small community of Boulder, we re-labled the ideas enabled, a family that came in threes set amongst trees. Rusty expectations shatter into rustic destinations and remain in a tale to be told.
Lone Survivor, Alaska the Last Frontier, Mountain Men, Naked and Afraid. All mighty outdoor indoor, in front of television experiences to capture the viewers wild side whilst couch side. I too have fallen prey too there altered reality, have dreamt the Jack London dream of alaskan escapades. So when Evelyn graced the gates of actual 100% off the grid, flying two fingers to the GOVT, homesteaders Mike, Carrie and daughter Willow, my endorphins kicked too over-drive, excitement encompassed my true calling to learn what otherwise would remain a Hollywood script across my brain. They greeted us into their home, a yurt with the only the essentials, some would label ‘rustic’, a turkish feast, remnants of a lunch shared with passing travellers lay still out on a wooden table, soft cushions lay about in the shadows of a loft style ladies sleeping quarters. Harvest had blessed the hard working family and a broth simmered atop a wood stove. We ate in awe of Willow and her 1930s style medi-evil dress, and her beautiful unashamed confidence to confess she made it with old curtains herself. We marvelled at her belt, and the blade she weilded as though that was how the rest of society went about. Her innocence was pure untarnished beauty, spotless like the chain maille she held proudly next to her beaming grin. She wasn’t ignorant to the world, she’d travelled (although mostly by tall ship), but she dances to the beat of her own drum, tantalising with normality but in her altered reality. She was giddy to teach the fire wizard some new tricks. And with a bow and stick she struck a blaze in our hearts. Carrie, quick with joke and to smoke out the yurt, the food from harvest imparted and swelling our bellies. A mother of two and “the who”ever graces her door. Bohemian nature, time stuck by nature, love and nurture. A woman but yet a wife, Mike homesteading adonace wooed her with love letters through the winter. Trapping for fur, whilst trapping for her, scribbling poetry in the hope of courtship. There eyes lit with love joined at the hip. We sit in a circle while mike emparts seven years of back country knowledge on how to kindle a flame. Tinder in our hands, we struck rocks with metal. Sounds semi sensual but anyone sensible would notice the switch from romantic antics too survivalist tricks. We extended our stay to four evenings of feasts, campfire tales and “just for the night” travellers, our tent pitched on soft grass was a soft affair from the southern utah sandy shit we had accustomed ourselves too, and amongst citrus trees and green pastures we counted sheep to the water irrigation beat.
The grand staircase National monument is easily explained in the name. Each step a different grade of rock starting south in the grand canyon and making its way North to where I am now. If we were giants with our heads in space, we’d be swatting jupitar whilst stumbling on the five, white, grey, pink, vermillion and chocolate cliffs that make up the steps. The perspective is as hard to grasp as the concept of being a giant with your head in space. The land spans a massive 1.9million acres and a playing field for those in there white lab overcoats. The vast desolate land is a breeding ground for the unknown, its mysteries unfold like how children prod sticks at rocks to discover the creepy crawling inhabitants. In particular the study of bees and there relationship between native desert plants is being studied by NASA as to how they might detect fluid on Mars. It was the first BLM (Bureau of Land Managment) to be made into a national monument, and has hinted in my first paragraph is now being torn apart like Jesus’ cloak and sold to the highest bidder.
The terrain is was crafted after Gods pleasure for the wild at heart. Showcasing some of the most alien beauty. Its mysteries aren’t found in brochures, its trails don’t show first as Featured Hikes, its awe is to be found in the hearts of those who sought out the wonders. But I shall impart the wisdom I learnt, packing out for a few days on the trail.
Upper Calf Creek Falls – 3.6km / 2.2
The view screams profane indecent conditions, the tan sand slick rock, mocks those under prepared. Sticks and grippy shoes are required for the initial steep climb down a lifeless face of beige. Small scratchy bushes, and sharp flat spear head type stone giving some kind of spread topping to what could only look like burnt toast against a blue sky. Tired, hot and bothered Id always anticipated those child hood stories of scouring the desert to stumble upon an oasis. Well this is it. The burnt off whites, drop into a tourqoise slim algae, encompassed with the lush green trees, the sound of a gentle rain open to a tap on high. And before you know it, the oasis becomes you in the freezing refreshing well that is the Upper Calf Creek Falls.
Lower Calf Creek Falls – 9.4km / 5.8mi
Like its little brother higher up the staircase, the slow tumbling Green River cups its hands to prayer and obeys its laws of gravity. And what is a short drive 20min south, high along a road with cliff like drops either side, leads to the more popular Lower Calf Creek Falls. And with reason, the 4.7km trail of sand following back North up the Green River, a bit of a cattle drive, hoarded along with fanny packs and plastic water bottlers in flip flops and no concept of manners, is rewarded by the magnificence of the falls. As the cliff walls start to encompass the sun, you walk until it is cold, then when you can’t walk any further your met by the enormous water mass dropping from heaven. The popularity now apparent by one of Utahs’ poster boy.
Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons Loop – 4.7km / 2.9mi
The extruding bumpy metal road stabs the horizon like a needle piercing the skin. Insure your petrol tank is full as its a long road, you will pass the Zebra Canyon trail, and a further 30 min drive down the way is the start of the Coyote Gulch Trail, listed below. We choose the more exterior route, to cook in the sun a little, before delving deep into the slimmest crevices. The peek-a-boo trail lives upto its name, with constant turns, churns, stomach drop as a trantula stands in our path, we protruded like the billy goats gruff, promising the spider a bigger feed. The slick rock, smooth and tan, a big kids playground with plenty to scramble, Parkor as you gain confidence. But like a swift come down after a hectic weekend, before you know it you will reach “spooky”. A slim slit, big and you may not fit descends into pitch black, and theres a moment of transcendence, complete unknown, a leap of faith as you drop into nothingness. The scaly walls, sharp, ugly and lacking humility, with there dark complexion, low ledges to bump your hedges and cold knee deep rain juice, the trail makes for quite the challenge, but when has the easy things in life delivered the greatest reward. The trail is definitely a highlight of the area.
Zebra Canyon – 8.4km / 5.2mi
We tacked the trail on in the mid afternoon sun. The 4.2km trail is across desert sand, dried river banks and amongst scratchy greenery. Apart from a weird gate, probably crafted by aliens after the great pyramids, stretches across a dried out wash, the trail offers nothing to ecstatically pleasing. We reached a small Canyon pool, freezing cold. Our travel companion decided the unknown beauty ahead wouldn’t pay out over the chest high soaking investment into the payout. Charlotte and I on the other hand paid the full deposit, stripped down and swam around the bend to find a small canyon, no longer than 15m long, and in the low evening light revealed the zebra like cliff walls in a zootopian splendour of shades. The zebras stripes will be painted in my brain for years to come.
Coyote Gulch – 45.7km / 28.4mi
The finale of hikes spent in the Grand of Gods staircases was reserved for that of legends. First presented to me n the book ‘Into the Wild’ as a side story to Chris McCandless, is mention of another wanderlust adventurer with ghostly ideologies around travel, a young missing man Ruess’s remains are reportedly lost in its gapping cliffs. So after yet another night spent sleeping in the aluminium shell of Evelyn we set out to the yipping of frisky coyotes too find his remains. Our expectations were high, but our energy was low. We had intended on hiking the full 22km into the Gulch via the Red Wall. But reality set in as the whacking through bush soon whacked with our minds. Wet soaking torso’s dampened the mood more than our feet and we lowered our expectations. Hunter and Brenna mentioned in our Salt Lake City blog mapped out a campsite they stayed in near Hamblin Arch, around 14km along the river. We found the site vacant and beautifully perched in a natural sandstone amphitheatre, a sandy beach alongside the river and few remaining hours of sunlight made for the perfect camp. I took off at a fare pace a further 5km along the river in search of Coyote Natural Bridge, while intention was good, leaving Charlotte alone in the airy cliff walls left me with a sense of loneliness and the odd hikers I encountered along the rest of the trail only heightened these feelings. So when I glanced the bridge with a little bit of a “meh” attiturde. The spooked out feeling I had now buiilt up gave me a shot of adrenaline and I almost ran back to camp. I took a tumble in the river, laughed it off and thankfully found Charlotte with a beaming smile drying out her socks in the final few minutes of sunlight left on the camp. If got really cold, a while a small sneaky fire lodged into a dead log provided a little warmth we retreated to the warmth of our tent and sleeping bag. The feeling of un-ease never left me that evening, I feel asleep fearing a flash floods. And my fears were met in the early hours of the morning. While the beauty of sleeping in what one could only call a natural speaker is very appealing the reality is, “its a natural speaker” and when a rock dislodged nearby in the gulch it sounded like the sky was falling. Both Charlotte and I woke in alarm and struggled to get back to sleep that night. Reuss was out there somewhere and he was keen to break the silence.