I’ve always been enthralled with trees that cling to life in harsh environments. Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah is one of those environments with cold windy winters and blazing hot summers that are occasionally interrupted with lightening, strong winds and short torrential downpours. It is here these extreme elements converge and shape the twists and turns of these trees.
Raeski chooses to eat healthy and she has somehow managed to get Wooly on the bandwagon. While Wooly has always been onboard the low salt train, he begrudgingly eats more green stuff than he wants. But sometimes unintended consequences accompany our choices.
Driving into Canyonlands National Park we found the desert flowers bursting with color. Spring has a late finish in the high desert and we were fortunate enough to catch it. It’s a good time for hiking. The extreme heat and summer monsoon rains with accompanying flash floods haven’t arrived. However, it can still get quite warm.
We were riding top down in Miss Mini and as usual she attracted attention. This time her suitor was a rather bold raven who audaciously strutted his stuff on Miss Mini. Either that or he was hoping to snatch away some food or a bright shiny object. Ravens are highly intelligent birds that play the role of a trickster in the lore of many Native American tribes. Other cultures consider them harbingers of ill omen.
We were here to hike, so ignoring ancient raven legends and fully loaded with lunch, snacks, camera gear, and three gallons of water we set off on our six mile journey to the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. It was late morning and a little warm. Had we know how hot it would become we would have started earlier in the morning. This was the first of a series of life threatening mistakes.
In hindsight, taking four camera lenses also added way too much weight in the backpack. This became one of those painful lessons and was miscue number two. Why does it seem that every extra ounce ends up feeling like pounds later in the day?
Steep canyon walls, towering magnificent rock formations and stunning views accompanied our every step. Canyonlands was once an ancient seabed that was uplifted thousands of feet and subsequently eroded into the awe inspiring shapes which we’ve bestowed with names and sacred status. We followed the trail as it dropped into ravines and scrambled over ridges. Each ridge crest unveiled a new view as the trail dipped and rose like a roller coaster.
With the sun beating down on us and reflecting heat from sandstone blackened from hundreds of years of weathering we sought refuge in what little shade the twisted junipers could provide. Small puffy clouds gave fleeting respite from the heat. As if to punish those who dare to enter its realm, the desert begrudgingly gives up shade.
After hiking four miles we encountered a 10’ slick-rock drop. Slidingdown the steep drop was our only option. On the way down my pack snagged and knocked me off balance. Dropping the last 6 feet my heel struck a rock. OUCH! That really hurt! With only two miles to go I decided to ‘walk off’ the injury and continue. That was a terrible idea.
After limping another mile I gave up hoping my denial would magically erase the pain. My painful heel wasn’t getting better. With only a mile to go we made the difficult choice to turn back and walk the five mile trek back to the car. While climbing back up that devilish 10’ slick-rock obstacle my legs started cramping. No big deal, I thought. It’s only because I’m tired and need a little rest. No problem, right? Well, maybe not.
Remember the healthy low salt diet? That diet isn’t a great idea when spending extended time exercising in the heat. Like most people, I didn’t know heat exhaustion has two primary causes. Not drinking enough water to stay hydrated is the first. Profuse sweating sometimes accompanied with nausea are symptoms as the body tries to cool itself. However, Wooly, never willing to go half-way unwittingly went the extra mile for heat exhaustion version two (HE-v1.2).
HE-v1.2 comes with a couple more symptoms along with a different cause. Low levels of salt and electrolytes in your body places you at risk for this less popular version. The ‘bonus’ symptoms are cramps along with dizziness. And to think I used to joke with Raeski about how our healthy diet was killing me. Kind of ironic isn’t it.
Coping with cramps and dizziness I trudged along as the day became hotter and hotter while the backpack seemed to get heavier and heavier. With two miles to go we ran out of water. As our thirst grew we desperately sucked on dried cranberries for what little moisture they contained. Soon my only thoughts were, “Just a little farther.” Step by torturous step, nausea, cramps, dizziness and thirst beckoned me to quit. Soon a few hundred yards was all I could muster without having to rest. With a mile to go Raeski took the backpack so I could keep going.
The day’s best view greeted us when we crested a ridge and could see the parking lot and Miss Mini patiently awaiting our return to reward us with her precious cargo of water. All we had to do was follow the roller coaster trail into a ravine, climb a ridge, drop into another ravine and finally claw our way to the top. Maybe it wasn’t the best scenario but it still energized us.
Exhausted we trudged on. At the bottom of the last ravine I sent Raeski ahead so she could get water. I followed behind at the only pace I could manage – very slowly. Finally at the end I was a caricature of the desperate thirst driven cowboy in old western movies – scratching, crawling and using every last ounce of energy to survive.
Important lessons learned were start EARLY on long hikes, take lots of water, put the backpack on a diet, and dump the low-salt diet about a month before we go on any long hikes. I tested and stretched my limits and hope to never do it again.
On a sad note, one week later, the desert heat claimed the lives of two hikers in a nearby area called “The Wave”. When hiking know your limits and turn back when you are in trouble. No great view is worth your life.
The road into the southern part on Canyonlands National Park (the Needles section) is very photogenic and not nearly as busy as the more heavily frequented northern part. Wooly likes taking pictures of these seemingly deserted roads
One of the stops on this road is Newspaper Rock which I wrote about previously. Along the way we started getting hints of what the Needles section was all about.
Springtime is a great time to visit our National Parks. The late spring bloom was very evident at the entrances of Canyonlands.
This was the most colorful park entrance we encountered on this trip. One of the reasons I love desert climates is because it only takes a little rain to make the ground come alive with color.
When they fly they seem as though they are having fun. With one of the largest brains of all birds they are known to work out problems. They are noisy, mischievous, can recognize and remember faces, and above all are opportunists.
They are loyal and mate for life. They protect their territory and young vigorously. When used to humans they are somewhat fearless. While you may see their cousins (crows and grackles) in the city, ravens prefer the wide open spaces.
In different cultures, superstitions, and mythologies, ravens have known as a trickster (one I can believe), a bad omen, or a god. Wooly just thinks they are opportunists.
When Wooly and Raeski arrived at a trailhead in Canyonlands National Park we were greeted by a Raven. He? was bold and vocal. As Wooly pulled out the camera Mr. Raven took a liking to Miss Mini and flew onto her. Now Wooly knew enough to make sure there wasn’t anything handy for Mr. Raven to make off with. Raeski on the other hand was more concerned with Mr. Raven scratching Miss Mini’s sensitive paint. And this wasn’t Miss Mini’s first encounter with ravens. Apparently her shiny chrome is irresistible!
However Wooly happens to enjoy the decidedly uncommon Common Raven of the Southwest. When I spoke to this one I got a very vocal CAW CAW back. My guess is he was telling me, “I know you have food and shiny bobbles in this car, now hand them over!”