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Hiking Happenings May 2006

Solitude and The Season
by Rory Tyler

Courthouse Wash
Courthouse Wash

Paul and I had been backpacking a few days when we met the old shepherd and his two dogs in the bottom of the canyon. Once a week he would climb to the rim and pick up supplies his boss had left. He hadn’t seen anyone in a long time. We talked and he showed us how his old dog taught his young dog to work the sheep. We stopped talking and watched the sun setting in the inner gorge. He grinned, the gold fillings that outlined every tooth of his ancient smile glinting in the last light, and asked, “Don’t you love the solitude?”

For a lot of hikers, that’s the gist of it. Beautiful vistas, unusual arches, and alien geology all have their charms. At some point, however, they just want to leave everyone behind, immerse themselves in solitude, and let the stress, obligations, and pressures of that other life evaporate into the emptiness.

But, dear friends, it’s May in Moab…“The Season”. The motels are full, the campgrounds are full, and someone with a huge white pick-up truck, two ATV’s and four kids has found that remote sandstone ledge where you and your friends used to rendezvous in the old days and raise a glass to, yes, Solitude.

If you’re the kind who craves a quiet time, place and space, do not despair. Despite its ever-expanding reputation and visitation, there will always be more topography in Moab than visitors. Still, the path to getting clear of the dust, din, roar, and chatter of your fellow citizens is not always obvious, especially if you are unfamiliar with the complexities and pitfalls of this unusual terrain. So, Pilgrim, may I assist you, in finding a vortex of visual, aural, spatial, and spiritual stillness in this beloved desert, even if it is The Season.

The first challenge is finding a place that is sequestered, visually and sonically, away from Wheeldom. Next, it has to be somewhere that’s not highlighted in a million brochures or posters, like the highly exposed Delicate and Mesa Arches. Third, it can’t be somewhere everybody and his dog found long ago, like Negro Bill Canyon. (If you’ve got a dog, this Negro Bill is a nice place to take it.) And, lastly, it has to be big enough so that, no matter how many literate hikers have run the gauntlet of gibberish I’ve written so far, there will be Solitude for all. And so…drum roll, Maestro…may I direct your attention to…Courthouse Wash.

Well, that’s not a very good hint. Courthouse Wash is huge so, let me narrow it down. Go into Arches National Park (sorry, no dogs), cross the Courthouse Wash Bridge, park the car, cross the road, and go downstream. (Upstream is nice, too, but it takes longer to lose the road.) A flat, sandy trail follows an intermittent trickle all the way to the Colorado River. Within the first quarter mile the canyon entrenches, shutting out all the earthbound sights and sounds of technological culture. Soon, you’re walking beside tranquil reflecting pools, in the shade of majestic cottonwoods, below tapestried cliffs two hundred feet high while the watchful wrens trill news of your presence to the rest of the canyon’s residents. (Some of those pools have pretty soft bottoms, so exercise due caution if you don’t want to lose a shoe.)

About a mile along, another canyon enters from the left. This nameless diversion snakes for miles and miles through its narrow, shady chasm with minimal pedestrian challenge. It’s not as big or wet as Courthouse proper, but it’s definitely off the beaten track. Two words of warning. There is no apparent access out of this byway other than the way you went in. Also, there’s a bit of poison ivy about, so make sure you know what it looks like.

Another half-mile down Courthouse Wash is another side canyon on the left, and past that another still. You can climb out of these two, but it’s rough walking and the egress is, shall we say, esoteric. Not only that, but because of the reach and impassibility of the first canyon, emerging from either cannot be deemed an expeditious way to get back to your car. Good judgment, the old cowboy says, comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. I’ve had the experience and therefore offer this advice, gratis.

A last cautionary note. If you hike the day away and you’re trudging wearily back up Courthouse Wash, your attention diverted by thoughts of an impending cold beverage and a hot shower, it’s easy to get diverted up that first side canyon. You might put on an extra mile before you realize you’ve made a mistake. This advice comes, of course, from the same source as my unflagging good judgment. Funny, but when you’re exhausted, sore, thirsty, and out of water, solitude doesn’t necessarily seem like such a good thing anymore.

Rory Tyler is available for cowboy poetry/campfire song gatherings which include lore, science, history and lies of the Moab area. (Suitable for all age groups). Rates are negotiable. Give Rory a call at 435-260-8496.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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