I am currently staying at Red Mountain Adventure Spa, a wonderful fitness spa just outside St. George, Utah. Hiking is the core of their fitness program, and each morning at 6 I join a group of hikers and a couple of guides to go out into the desert to spend 3 hours in the fabulous red rock that surrounds this area. Most of the hikes have a good deal of scrambling around on the slick rock, mostly sandstone that is very sticky, at levels that push many of the hikers to new levels of comfort and through some pretty good fear of heights. It is marvelous to watch people who haven't spent much time climbing, find out what they can do in this challenging terrain.
I am becoming more fit every day and revel in feeling like
an athlete again. I am unsure at this point whether I will go up to Glacier
National Park as planned or extend my stay here and continue to play in
this fabulous desert arena, eat great healthy food and chat with fascinating
people. More shall be revealed!
This hike took us close to Zion National Park, about an hour van ride away from the Red Mountain Ranch. From what I had been told, I expected a moderate hike through marvelous red rock of unusual patterns with lovely views of Zion. Not exactly!
From the van we hiked in along a sandy trail following a small stream in a quite narrow canyon. The temperature was still quite comfortable, and the trail meandered through a variety of small shrubs, Ponderosa pines, cactus, and an occasional hardy wildflower. It was a lovely setting and an enjoyable walk.
The meandering ended after about 20 minutes. The trail turned uphill quite steeply and wound up and down and in and around, following the contours of the slope. The even sand evolved into broken and unbroken rock, interspersed with sand-covered rock, creating a bizarre sort of stairway up this narrow canyon. The footing required focused concentration, the bandana wrapped around my forehead was already soaked with sweat, I was breathing hard, and my heart monitor 167. I was in challenge-loving heaven!
As I breathed and took step after step and wiped from my face the sweat that seeped below the headband, I began to feel truly like a hiker, climber person again. For the first time in several years. My coaching practice, speaking, and writing has kept my life very full the last few years, and I have not made exercise the priority it used to be. The obvious consequences of about 15 extra pounds and the lowest level of fitness in many years had left me feeling not much like an athlete.
The major goal of this summer adventure is to turn that around. And today, hiking up that trail, sweating even before the sun hit us, I found that place inside me where the athlete lives. The place where putting one foot in front of the other even when I think I can't do it one more time, is simply what I know how to do. The place where physical effort in the outdoors quite simply makes my heart sing - loudly and strongly and clearly.
As I embraced this regained sense of strength and athleticism, we reached the actual Gateway: a natural amphitheater whose walls are formed as the canyon narrows and whose floor is the sand formed by eons of erosion and wind and water. It was a beautiful place with a natural breeze cooling our drying sweat and a phenomenal view at the far end of the stately red rock ridge, almost 2,000 feet above us, that was our goal. It was a terrific photo opportunity, and I will have the images here, on this page, as soon as I can find a scanner in my travels.
We rested a bit, drank a lot of water and pressed upwards. The trail steepened even more, switchbacking up the side of the canyon, rewarding us with increasingly powerful views of the rock around us complete with arches and caves and sandstone goblins, and of the desert below. At the top of the climb we traversed for a mile or so across the slick rock, following the contours of this high plateau, covered with marvelous layered piles of red sandstone: mushrooms, short goblins, taller phantoms, leaning apparitions, scattered across the high rock.
And just as I thought it couldn't get any better, we crested the plateau and could see what was on the other side. It was Zion National Park, spread in its glory in the distance. The West Temple standing above the rest, on a long ridge of glorious formations of red rock. It quite simply took my breath away. I stood, silenced, watching this masterpiece of Mother Nature and cried quiet tears of gratitude. I am so very grateful just to be alive on a daily basis (as most of you know, there are many more reasons for me to be dead than alive), and then to be in this kind of terrain moved me to my very core. This feeling is why I am so drawn to wild places: mountains, red rock country, high desert, forests, places where I can be in Nature and away from people. This feeling of unbounded joy and gratitude. I come alive out here in a way that does not happen in "civilization." Where do you come alive in this way?
The descent was just as beautiful, down a gentler trail into a two mile hike out of Squirrel Canyon. A small stream marking the way, leading us to the water and cool, wet towels we had left so many hours earlier at the trailhead. We had all run out of water by this time (we later learned the temperature had hit 106!) and the towels and drinks were very welcome! And so our adventure was over. Or was it...
As Larry, our marathon-running guide, headed back to our beginning trailhead (we had come out about a mile away from where we had started), he discovered a van of kids on a school field trip stuck in the deep sand that made several sections of the road very challenging. They had spun their wheels trying to get out, digging themselves in up to their axle. Hopelessly stuck. And our van could not get by. The kids and teacher were residents of Hilldale, a polygamist community near the trailhead (see cultural comments below), and were pretty much out of ideas about how to help themselves. Their cellphone didn't work this far out, and it was a looooong walk into town. We had all walked back to the van by this point to see if perhaps a joint effort could push them out. No way.
Fortunately our van had a satellite phone in it with which the teacher was able to contact her son, explain the situation, and tell him to send help. However she was unable to tell us whether that would happen right away or in several hours. She and the kids with her seemed content to wait as long as it took. We were admittedly a bit more impatient, and there was much creative discussion about how we might free their van from its sandy confinement. We'd been down from our hike about an hour now, and it seemed time to put a call in to Red Mountain Ranch which was an hour and a half away, to send a van for us with equipment to move the other van, in case help was a long time coming.
Of course, as soon as Larry got off the phone to the Ranch, help did arrive in the form of a beefed up little 4-wheel drive truck driven by a hot-rodding teenager. It was pretty clear that there was no way he was going to have his ego bruised by not getting the van out in front of all of us strangers. His first go was singularly unsuccessful, however, and things were not looking good. He got out of his truck, took a look at the situation, nodded once, and climbed back in his truck. He backed up a couple of feet, putting a good bit of slack in the chain connecting him and the van, revved his engine, and took off. He was going to get that van out or pull the front off it trying. The chain tightened, shook for a second, and the van moved a bit then faltered. We jumped behind it and pushed - hard. And out it popped. Larry then gunned the motor on our van and amid much cheering, fishtailed his way through the deep ruts left by the other van.
We had an uneventful drive back to the Ranch and some great stories to tell. The Gateway day will live long in my outdoor memories.
As I mentioned above, the teacher and kids in the van were from a polygamist town. There are a number of them scattered through Utah. They are folks who have broken off from the Mormon Church and continue to practice polygamy and other older, more rigid rules. The men we saw were all in Levis and long-sleeved shirts, despite the temperature. The women (all those over 10) all wore dresses that closely resembled those wore by pioneer women: flower-print kinds of material, high necks with little round collars, long sleeves, and down to the ground. They wore black pants underneath the dresses and black leather shoes. I don't know how they stand the heat in those clothes.
The women never cut their hair, and I saw wonderfully ornate braids and ponytails wrapped in wonderful coronets on top of heads. Many also wore marvelous flat-brimmed straw hats with bright flowers on the brims. It was like stepping back 100 years in time. It is evident that marriages are consummated at a very young age, as we saw several young women who couldn't have been out of their teens with 3, 4, and 5 young children. Clearly modesty is a huge issue, and we couldn't help but wonder what they were thinking about us: men in shorts and T-shirts, women in tank tops and running tights. I don't think it could have been good!
One of the strangest things about the towns is that in order to not pay as little property tax as possible, most of the houses are left, in some way, unfinished. Utah law states that until a house is finished, the owners only pay tax on the value of the land. So the houses don't get finished. Some had a window with no glass, some were not painted, one had walls that looked like Styrofoam. Front stoops weren't painted, roofs still had piles of shingles on them. It was very odd.
We were treated very well by the folks we came across, and it is a culture very different from any I have been in before. There are about 30,000 polygamists in Utah, despite the practice being outlawed by the Mormon church in order for Utah to become a state. This is a culture I am learning more about, and I've found several interesting websites.
One is a newspaper article describing a polygamist family:
It's a fascinating topic, and I'd certainly be interested in reading your comments and opinions, Send me an e-mail and let me know what you think.
I was given the marvelous opportunity of being a part of a journey into the backcountry of Zion National Park that is by permit only, and to make the journey in a way that few people make it. The Subway is a very narrow section of the Left Fork of North Creek. Most people visit it by walking up to and through the Subway until they reach a small waterfall which requires a rope or some webbing to assist climbing the rock beside it. They then return to where they began, completing a beautiful 4 - 5 mile hike through this lovely canyon
We began far above the Left Fork at the Wildcat Trailhead and hiked across the sandy plateau through Ponderosa Pine, down onto sandstone, that wonderful sticky "slickrock", and down into the bed of the North Fork, then following it down into the Subway and through it. Along the way, we walked underneath Aspen trees, through the Tamarisk that threaten to overwhelm our southwestern riverbanks, over fallen trees, startled by darting lizards, serenaded by lovely birdsongs and vociferous crickets. Descending in this manner provided us with a number of obstacles which required a length of webbing and short rappels which greatly challenged and excited the four men from the flatlands of middle America who were on this hike with me and the owner of Flanagan's Inn at the entrance to Zion. Larry (known to his guests as Lorenzo Flanagan!) has done this hike many times and proved an entertaining and fearless leader. I provided a bit of climbing instruction and lots of moral support as the flatlanders courageously and for the most part quite gracefully solved the new puzzles of descending a rock face using a length of webbing, using that same webbing to lower themselves down a small waterfall, and swimming over-the-head pools of water while keeping the camera gear in their packs dry.
We scrambled and climbed, waded and swam, wondered at dinosaur tracks in the rock, took photos and video, and laughed a lot! It was a marvelous day, with great people, and a fabulous opportunity to see Zion in a way that not many people see it.
I offer a big thank you to Larry of Flanagin's Inn for inviting me on this adventure. Flanagan's is in Springdale, Utah, very close to the entrance of Zion, and right on the shuttle line. With a great restaurant, lovey rooms, and a great pool, it's the perfect place to base a Zion trip. You can make a reservation or learn more by calling 801-772-3244. Click here for information on Zion National Park.
...from St. George, Utah to Wells, Nevada. Where in the world is Wells, Nevada? Up in the northeast corner of the state at the junction of Routes 80 and 93. Today was a 5 hour drive in some of the most out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere part of this country I've seen in a long while. I chose to drive on 2-lane roads rather than highways, and was richly rewarded for the choice.
High desert - miles and miles and miles of it, with only the ribbon of asphalt dividing the valleys and plains in two; dry, sandy ground somehow supporting sage and scrubby evergreens and sparse grasses; the old pony express trail bisecting the road; five, six, seven minutes without seeing another vehicle; 20 miles or more between buildings or any sign of habitation bar the ever-present fencing; then, appearing as a glint of sun in the distance or suddenly from behind a hill, a ranch: a few head of cattle, a battered wooden-fenced corral, trailer with rusted sides or immaculate ranch house, always a herd of vehicles, most clearly junked. Occasionally the green, breeze-swaying clump of trees by one of the very few water sources. How do people live here, there is so little water? Clearly, there are also very few people.
The emptiness has a great beauty to it, enriched by the sudden surprises of green or life or the snow-gullied Ruby and Humboldt mountain ranges which the road follows as it nears Wells. And appearing, seemingly out of some magical source, a farm with acres of fields green from the slow, steady movement of thousands of feet of pipe on wheels spraying water as it rolls slowly, steadily back and forth across the fields creating life where there was only sand. The only such farm in 350 miles.
I couldn't help but think of the pioneers as I drove this desolate road, of the first people to travel this part of the country. Not knowing what they would find over the next mountain range or where the next water source would be or what strange animals or men might appear at the end of the next valley. Such courage! It is a great treat to be driving the back roads of this gorgeous country.
I left Red Mountain Adventure Spa today, after 16 days of fabulous hiking, and a full schedule of movement, weight lifting and stretching. My main goal for this summer is to reclaim the fitness I have lost in the last few years. This time has brought me a good distance along that road while also bringing some wonderful people into my life. I did decide to extend my stay rather than go up to Glacier National Park. Marvelous adventures to choose between! I am looking at the possibility of swinging up to Glacier on my way back to Colorado in July. We shall see! For now I will be on the road for another couple of days on my way to Breitenbush Hot Springs for a dance workshop entitled Dance Intimate given by Vin Marti. This will be an opportunity for each of us in the workshop to take the time, space, and form to dive deep into what it means to spend intimate time with ourselves. The main media is dance: unchoreographed, free, soul-initiated; the chance to invite a conversation in movement between our souls, bodies and minds. We will also have time for writing and reading and sharing with one another during the three days, as well as soaking in the natural hot springs of Breitenbush.
I'll be out of contact until next week as there are no phones or Internet connections at Breitenbush. Click to learn more about Vin Marti and his Soul Motion model of dance as spiritual practice or the wonderful retreat center of Breitenbush.