Hiking Happenings January
The Old Folks' Home
by Rory Tyler
Jose told me about Charlie Peterson’s dream. Charlie was a backcountry runner and regularly liable to appear in some remote and peculiar places…my kind of guy. One night Charlie dreamed of one of the great sandstone domes that rise above Spanish Valley along the Moab Rim. On top of the golden dome were two old people…kindly giants in giant rocking chairs rocking gently back and forth where they could see all of us. Charlie started calling the dome “The Old Folks’ Home”.
The name kind of stuck and Todd Campbell used it on his Moab East map. I’ve always loved the story and the image and couldn’t think of it any other way. But a few weeks ago I was walking around up there and met some people who referred to it as ‘The Molar’. It does indeed resemble a giant, collapsed molar (a topographical template my tongue is familiar with), but that name is not such a good name. This glorious formation seems entirely in harmony with the dream of kindly old spirits watching and gently guiding their many grandchildren on the path of life and much less like a humongous monument to tooth decay.
You can get to the Old Folks’ Home from the Moab Rim Trail or the Hidden Valley Trail. The distance is about the same either way, but for this article I’ll use the Rim Trail. To get to the trailhead go to the south end of downtown and turn onto Kane Creek Road. Stay next to the cliff and when you go around the curve by the river it’s about a quarter mile to the parking lot on your left.
The Rim Trail is Moab’s natural StairMaster; a half-mile of Kayenta Sandstone ledge that slopes up from the river 800’ to a magnificent view of Moab, Spanish Valley, and the LaSal Mountains. Winter afternoons are particularly nice along this sunny, spacious walkway and it can be quite the social scene on a pleasant day. The walking on top is easy and straightforward. Follow the four-wheel drive road down the valley then, about two miles along the road turns south along the base of the second dome. The Old Folks’ Home soon comes into view. But, before you go there, go into that deep, wooded alcove on your left. Stay along the left wall, keep your eyes peeled, and you’ll find an elegant little rock art panel camouflaged by many centuries of moss and lichen. Now, up the hill.
There’s a canyon between the second dome and the Old Folks’ Home. Don’t go in there unless you are searching for one lone and enigmatic petroglyph on a boulder next to the base of the second dome. Go, instead, across the drainage, and up the aforementioned hill. Then, either cross the Old Folks’ canyon to the West Buttress of the Home or stay high and right and head over to the East Buttress. Both buttresses of the Old Folks’ Home have some very nice Basketmaker rock art panels. Basketmaker Indians dominated the Moab area two thousand years ago. In fact, the East Buttress has two panels; one down at the base and another up behind the pinnacle that marks its terminus.
The seep line of the alcove between the East and West Buttresses is the easiest route between them. On the west side of the alcove a sharp eye will find the dilapidated remains of an old Indian structure and a dinosaur track or two in the limestone lens that transects the sandstone. The West Buttress has a terrific rock art panel and a shelf that can’t be beat for basking on a sunny winter day. This panel is notable for all of the Basketmaker necklaces that adorn it. I counted 25. These totems, shaped like a cat-face, might have been surrounded by painted figures. If so, the paint is long gone but the ancient clan symbol remains in the rock. Often, each necklace is accompanied by a pecked belt below. You can find many more of these icons a mile to the east at the Hidden Valley petroglyph site and just about anywhere you see rock art around Moab.
From the West Buttress you can contour around west side of the Old Folks’ Home and hike up to the Moab Rim. From there it’s an easy bushwack over to the Rim Road. However, I don’t recommend this route if it’s snowy or icy as there are a couple places where a loss of traction could be regrettable. Total walking time for the loop is four to five hours plus whatever sightseeing, lunch eating, lovemaking, photography, or arcane pagan rituals you might indulge in along the way.
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.
Soil Crust (aka)
Cryptos (krip’ tose):
The surface of
Moab’s desert is held together by a thin
skin of living organisms known as cryptobiotic
soil or cryptos. It has a lumpy black appearance,
is very fragile, and takes decades to heal when
it has been damaged. This soil is a critical part
of the survival of the desert. The cryptobiotic
organisms help to stabilize the soil, hold moisture,
and provide protection for germination of the seeds
of other plants. Without it the dry areas of the
west would be much different. Although some disturbance
is normal and helps the soil to capture moisture,
excessive disturbance by hooves, bicycle tires
and hiking boots has been shown to destroy the
cryptobiotic organisms and their contribution to
the soil. When you walk around Moab avoid crushing
the cryptos. Stay on trails, walk in washes, hop
from stone to stone. Whatever it takes, don’t
crunch the cryptos unless you absolutely have to!