Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wilderness Tracks

Wilderness Canyon

A few days back, Dangerous and I were helping Utah Jack cut firewood. Dangerous noticed a trail head sign that he hadn't seen before, so we stopped to read it. Since I don't read, Dangerous tells me that the High Plateau country is the most remote wilderness remaining in the lower 48 states. Well, I didn't need the Forest Service to tell me that. I might not be able to read but I do know that once you leave Highway 12, Highway 24, or Highway 95 you don't see many other dogs or people. A few hardy souls like us wander the back country, but not many. That doesn't mean you don't have to share the few remaining wild places with others, and you will find evidence of those visitors scattered all over the landscape.

Hite Bridge, Highway 95

Stretching across the entire Colorado Plateau is a network of highways and roads. We use them regularly to access the many remote canyons that Dangerous and his buddies like to ride and hike. Without them, I suspect that Dangerous would saddle Dottie up and ride her to the places he wants to visit, but I don't relish the idea of trailing behind through all that rough, dry desert country. So, we constantly face a paradox. We might detest the highways and roads, but we choose to use them. If we didn't, we would be limited to a very small corner of our world.

Deer Tracks

There are a few permanent wilderness residents that we don't mind sharing the canyon country with. We are constantly on the lookout for mule deer. With me along, Dangerous complains that I scatter them before he gets a chance to get a close look. From my perspective, he is just too old and too slow to catch a glimpse of what I see close up even though I am usually on a dead run with my tongue hanging out. There are times, however, when he gets a close look. This time of year there are always a few big bucks hanging out in Capitol Reef orchards that he can admire. I have to stay in the truck, so I don't scatter the herd.

Capitol Reef Buck

Sorting through all the tracks we come across isn't easy even for an intelligent sheep dog like me. I sometimes can't tell the difference between a mule deer track and a desert bighorn hoof print. They're both cloven and smell about the same to me. You have to remember that I am a herding dog who depends more on sight than smell. However, there are times when even I can tell the difference between a deer and a sheep. Even at a distance you can tell that the buck in the picture has a full curl rather than a set of forked antlers.

Desert Bighorns

Dangerous and his buddies like to pretend they are the first people to visit or ride a canyon. However, Dangerous is the first to admit that there are few pristine wildernesses left, and none on the Colorado Plateau. Get him started and he will tell you that technically the only time this country was actually wilderness was 13,000 years ago. Since that time, humans have occupied and used the canyon country for their own purposes. That doesn't mean Dangerous doesn't want to see the High Plateau protected. It only means that men have been leaving their tracks here for thousands of years. In fact, one of the reasons we visit so often is to see the tracks these early visitors left behind.

Timeless Doorway

About the only difference between this door and the one in the Grover cabin is time. I know Utah Jack likes to think he is building for the future, but I rather doubt the place in Grover will last 750 or more years. I guess we can only hope that those who come after us wonder about us like we do about those who left the finger prints we frequently find in the mud holding ancient ruins together.

Ancient Finger Prints

Wherever you look, you find evidence of those who left these ancient finger prints. Using primitive tools, the ancient ones built lasting and imposing structures. Their buildings may not be as impressive as the Hite Bridge, but they have stood the test of time.

Anasazi Kiva

On the High Plateau, the tracks you find are very diverse. They include the tracks of permanent residents like mule deer and desert bighorn to the finger prints left by those who built this ancient kiva. Not far from this kiva is Arch Canyon. Sitting on the rim you can see the road traversing through pinion trees and red rock hundreds of feet below. These roads define our current culture and the struggle to preserve what little is left of the past. What you probably don't notice without careful study is another track this time left in the air. Can you find the airplane flying down Arch Canyon? It is a small but obvious dot in the middle of the picture hundreds of feet below the rim.

Arch Canyon Flight

Track Hunters

While the rest of the world is sitting at home, I suspect we will continue our wilderness wanderings. With some misgivings, we will haul the "Sheepdawg Kamp" or drag the horse trailer over the oiled tracks leading to the canyons we love. Dangerous and his buddies with me in tow will continue looking for mule deer, bighorn sheep, and the tracks they leave in the mud and sand. I am sure we will continue searching for the ancient ruins we have seen many times before, trying hard to avoid the intrusion of modern conveyances like airplanes and jeeps that frequent places like Arch Canyon. We don't like to share, but we have little choice in the matter. Love to hear from you!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of your best posts! Excellent photos and detailed writings, makes me want to hop in the car and go, love everything off 95 and about....that airplane was amazing, as were the sheep...everything!