I wasn’t wrong. Getting deeper into Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith was a lot easier for me now that I could picture the country on the Utah-Arizona border where Short Creek’s FLDS community is located. I’ve also read more about other exploration of the west. For example Krakauer suggests that perhaps Mormons who had been involved with the Mountain Meadows Massacre may have been involved with the killing of William Dunn and the Howland brothers who abandoned John Wesley Powell before they descended Separation Canyon (historians have long believed it was the Shivwits Band of Payutes who killed the explorers).
Also fascinating is the revisionist history of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Church, more commonly known as the Mormons. I honestly found this uneasy relationship between fundamentalist Saints and the mainstream branch of the religion more fascinating than the central narrative of Ron and Dan Lafferty’s crimes.
Ron and Dan struck me as “typical” religious nuts of any stripe. Killing their sister-in-law, Brenda, and her daughter because God told them to was just the culmination of a descent into increasing extremism. Brenda had stood up to Ron and Dan as they attempted to rope her husband Allen into their delusions.
I devoured this book on my trip down to Oklahoma City. Despite being really tired (definitely recovering from the end of the school year!) I was pretty happy to find a quiet spot and do some reading. Like all good books, this one lengthened my reading list but I learned a lot about how pieces of western history fit together.
A cursory Google of my intended route had turned up the (free) Great Basin Museum in Delta, Utah. I figured I could use a leg stretch when I arrived after driving across the state so I pulled in behind the visitor center and walked around the corner.
Before I reached my intended museum, I noticed the Topaz Museum sign. This gorgeous building, with its exterior clad shou sugi ban style, stood out in the plain western Utah town. I’m a little embarrassed but I wandered inside partially not knowing what to expect and partially expecting a rock museum.
It only took me a few minutes of wandering around the lobby to understand what this museum was about. I was confused about whether there was an entry fee and about where to go. Eventually, a woman came out and ushered me into a group with a docent that had started just minutes before me.
We watched two films before the docent ushered us into the start of the exhibits. The first was about the history of Topaz and how it fit in with the rest of the internment camps in the western United States. The second was footage actually shot in Topaz by someone who was held in the camp. An administrator had helped him acquire a camera but didn’t fully give him “permission” to film. This is one of only two home movies to be housed in the Library of Congress.
I was nervous about taking photos of all of the museum exhibits but within minutes of entering the museum I had a sad sinking feeling in my gut. I attempt to not be overtly political on this blog but it is clear that our country has elected someone who is unclear on how much internment is in conflict with true American values and that underscored how important it is that we recognize how we failed ourselves in the 1940s.
The Topaz museum is astounding. The exhibits are incredibly well designed. Housed within the museum is a residence for four people and outside the backdoor is a recreation hall moved from the site. There is furniture from the site that was constructed from found wood and photos showing how Topaz interacted with Delta once it was realized that the internees were not actually a threat to our country.
The last piece of the museum is a discussion of how the internment was handled in the courts after it happened. This didn’t feel like the end of the story to me so I decided I should head out to the actual site of the camp, just outside of town.
I only made it to the memorial before I sat down on its sunwarmed granite and cried. I hadn’t even entered the site yet. The museum had so well laid the foundation for an understanding of how the internment of Japanese-Americans fit into our history and into our present that I couldn’t help but feel the moment so acutely.
While I was in the museum, one of the docents commented how terrible it was that they were confined to such an ugly place. I couldn’t help myself when I responded, “It’s only ugly if you’re stuck.” On the very edge of the great basin, I was struck by the mountains and the sky. But to imagine being trapped in such a space was unthinkable.
I grew up near the Puyallup Fairgrounds which had been an assembly point for those of Japanese ancestry while waiting to be sent to their permanent camps further inland. In elementary school, we’d had a presentation by the author of Baseball Saved Us, Ken Mochizuki, and we learned about internment camps and how important baseball had been.
Standing behind what had been the backstop of one of the baseball fields, I finally started to feel some peace. I’m not sure if its the idea of baseball being “America’s game” or if its just that my long association with the game makes me feel closer to people or what. I sat on the hard dirt and looked out to the northeast, just like ball fields are supposed to, for a bit and collected myself to move on.
While my visit to Topaz wasn’t expected and it certainly wasn’t easy, I really recommend a stop. The museum is located in Delta, Utah right on the main highway and the camp is a relatively short drive outside of town.
Departing from Katherine and her friends, I headed north towards I-70. Although I detest driving on the interstate, I must say, Green River to Salina is actually pretty damn amazing. Just outside of Green River you cross up and over the San Rafael Swell and then cross through some pretty mountains before descending into Salina.
Views of the Book Cliffs from US-191:
Approaching the Swell:
I got off the interstate near the crest of the swell to hike out to San Rafael Knob. The beta I attempted to follow lead me to the edge of a cliff. I’m pretty willing to scramble a lot of things but I couldn’t quite figure out how to get back on track for the route. After a bit, I abandoned the hike (fortunately its right off I-70 so making it back here isn’t hard).
It was a nice ramble along the canyon rim even if I never did find a way to penetrate its defenses.
Just after the hike, I started to descend from the swell before heading up into the mountains.
From Salina, I headed around Fishlake National Forest to Delta, Utah. (Delta was mindblowing so it gets its own post…until tomorrow!)
Mt. Peale has been on my list of mountains to climb since I first went to Moab in 2009. The La Sal Mountains tower above the red rocks, often graced with snow during “desert season” in the spring and fall. Being based in Norwood this year brought fresh incentive to climb Mt. Peale since the La Sals grace the western skyline on most of my after school runs.
The highest peak in Utah outside the Unitahs, Mt. Peale comes in at 12,721′ above sea level. Moab, to the northwest, sits at only 4,000′ while Paradox Valley to the southeast is at about 5,300′ of elevation. Peale is on a whole slew of peakbagging lists, including clocking in at #57 on the USA prominence list (it’s the 3rd most prominent peak I’ve climbed to date).
Early this winter, my rooomate Katherine mentioned that she wanted to climb Mt. Peale in the winter and wanted to know if I would join her. I was somewhat hesitant considering that I wasn’t sure when I could commit to climbing the peak since I was working 7 days a week and as a result of all that work, I wasn’t running very consistently. She basically ignored me and just kept talking about the hike like it was something that was Going To Happen.
As it happened, I suggested March 12 for our ascent. I had paid no attention to daylight savings time beginning at exactly the time we planned to depart from the house (2am MST/3am MDT). Somehow I figured I had plenty of time to finish my shift at Mouses at 9pm, drive 50 miles to the house, sleep a bit and still climb a giant mountain? I was, however, committed, so I was in. Three hours of sleep and all.
Also throwing a wrench in our plans was that the weekend prior, Katherine had twisted her ankle in an ice climbing fall. I was willing to let her off the hook on the hike (in some ways, I saw an escape that would prevent me from facing my fears about my own fitness) but she continued to insist that she would be fine despite not wearing real shoes at school all week. (#realchampion)
My alarm didn’t go off because I very wisely set it for 2:45am, a time that actually didn’t exist that day. Katherine gently woke me up at 3am and then attempted to lay out to me that she was 75% sure her ankle could handle the hike. It was 3am, I was out of bed, and we were leaving. That was that. We jammed to T-Swift in the car on the way to the trailhead (which meant that I had “Bad Blood” and “All You Had To Do Was Stay” in my head for 16 miles…) and I kept my eyes peeled for deer lurking on the roadside.
Honestly, when we strapped our snowshoes on at the start of the snow-covered road, with Peale looming in the full moonlight, I gave us a 50/50 shot of making the summit. We had a long slog of road before we could even think of moving up the slopes. The magic of hiking in the dark took over though and we made great progress. I didn’t even turn on my headlamp because the moon was totally sufficient for light.
The day dawned just as we reached the start of our ridge ascent. Once we left the road, the snow got steep fast. My 2nd hand snowshoes purchased when I lived in Montana (in 2010!) don’t have ascenders. They’re small, definitely not designed for mountaineering on 30% slopes, and some of the quick tighten bindings don’t stay very tight anymore. It wasn’t long before my calves were screaming and I was tugging on my bindings every few minutes to keep them tight. I was tired and just wasn’t feeling it. The sky was greyer than I’d expected and I felt terrible.
I’d seen the exposed rock on the ridge from the road and all I wanted was to make it there. As soon as I could, I removed my snowshoes and strapped them to my pack, opting instead to go up the scree with microspikes and ice axe. On the rock, I started to find my groove and the sun started to come out. I moved efficiently upward grabbing short breaks while waiting for Katherine to catch up; during one of these little breaks I actually fell asleep in the wind at 10,000′. It was sort of nuts.
At the top of the exposed rock on the ridge, we crossed some steep snow on our way to the summit. We were both tired but the summit was only 150′ above us. Most of the way, we managed to stay below the ridge and were somewhat protected from the worst of the strong winds out of the northwest. On the final walk to the summit, however, the winds were definitely something to contend with. I braved the wind to take a couple of selfies and then it was time to head down.
Our short summit stay was sort of disappointing since the views were incredible. We could look north to the bulk of the La Sals, including Grand County highpoint, Mt. Wass:
Looking south over South mountain the Abajos and the Henrys were visible along with most of canyon country:
Looking back to the west, there was the Uncompaghre, Pardox Valley, and my beloved San Juans:
We debated a little how to descend and eventually settled on a glissade down the gully. It was steep in some places but it worked out okay. The day was getting warm and the snow turning to mashed potatoes so our pants were soaked. By the end, when the grade had lessened, we were both laughing and mentally preparing for the long slog back out to the Jeep.
12 hours after we’d gotten out of Ruth, we arrived back in the parking lot and headed out hoping to make it to Naturita in time for burgers and milkshakes at Blondie’s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two milkshakes consumed that fast.
At home in Norwood, we attempted to have celebratory beers but I was sleepy by the time I’d had two sips. We’d covered somewhere in the ballpark of 15-16 miles and climbed 5000′ in elevation. That’s definitely not too shabby for an afternoon on the snow.
Thank you so much to Katherine for an awesome day in the mountains. I learned a lot and I reached the summit of a mountain that had been taunting me for years.
Once #RuthXJ, Sprocket and I made the descent from Mount Ellen, I realized that there was still a lot of daylight left but I had no idea what to do with it. I contemplated reading but the weather still seemed a bit unsettled and not great for basking in the sun. I thought about heading to Hanksville, finding some internet and working on this little blog and then I decided if I were going to spend money I’d better do it the good old fashioned way: at the gas pump.
I’ve checked into most of the Utah county highpoints over the last few years, aimlessly clicking around Peakbagger, SummitPost, and the like learning which ones are drive ups and which ones require large amounts of hiking. Wayne County’s Bluebell Knoll (also known as Boulder Mountain or Boulder Top) popped up as being not too far from Hanksville (ahem, if 60-ish miles counts as not too far). Fortunately, Utah’s Highway 24 passes through Capitol Reef so the drive was pretty much gorgeous.
When I arrived in Bicknell, there were some clouds sitting ominously over the Aquarius Plateau (again, also known as Boulder Mountain) but there didn’t appear to be rain falling from them. I figured I’d come this far and the only way to know if the forest roads were too muddy was to actually go check them out.
I’m so glad I went! The roads were only barely wet in places and mud wasn’t really an issue at all. I found that the route was in really good shape. It was, true to name, a bit boulder-y on top but nothing that really needed high clearance, just patience to pick a less bouncy line.
Everything about this drive and short walk (it was less than a quarter mile from the road to the “top”) reminded me a lot of Grand Mesa. I guess that makes sense because both Grand Mesa and the Aquarius Plateau are uplifts on the uplifted Colorado Plateau.
The only bummer of the hike was that I noticed Sprocket had split a nail sometime during our Mt. Ellen adventure. I couldn’t find a nail clipper in the Jeep (gotta fix that!) but Sprocket let me use a pocketknife to clean it up a bit so it wouldn’t split further. This was a huge bummer because it meant that the big black dog was mostly out of commission for the rest of the weekend.
After we were done, we headed back to Hanksville. The weather for sleeping the previous night had been AWESOME so I basically wanted to back and do it again.
When I realized that I had the whole Labor Day Weekend to go out exploring with Sprocket, I decided it was high time to go check out Utah’s Henry Mountains. I’d been past them before but since it was early spring, the roads up into the mountains themselves were too muddy down low with snow gracing the higher peaks. The Henrys are rarely explored despite the fact that the highpoint, Mount Ellen, stands 11,522′ high giving it more than 5,000′ of prominence. The summit is also the high point of Utah’s Garfield County.
As is usual, I had a hard time gauging just how rough the road to Bull Creek Pass actually was going to be. It can be difficult to tell just what people expect road conditions to be. As it turned out, it was rough but nothing that ever required me to use 4-wheel drive. On the way down, I did avail myself of low range since it was pretty steep.
From the saddle at Bull Creek Pass, we made our way up through the wind pretty quickly. It looked as if a fairly major rainstorm might be approaching from the west but it wasn’t moving very fast and seemed to only be rain (no thunder or lightning).
Our views were way more expansive than my iPhone camera can show you. We could see all of the myriad canyons around us plus the Abajos and the La Sals in the distance. I was a bit disappointed that it was slightly hazy; I would have loved to glimpse my home San Juans from this distance!
The trail petered out when we reached the ridge and made for kind of slow going through the large rocks. Sprocket hates this sort of hiking. We lingered on the peak for just a few minutes before heading back down to the Jeep. The clouds continued to appear to not be moving quickly but the wind was still whipping across the ridge from the west.
Almost back at the Jeep, I was shocked at how powerful the gusts were! There as a bit of rain in the wind and it stung my cheeks and the wind pushed me continually off trail as we jogged back to Ruth as fast as was prudent.
As I stood on the summit, I felt a weird feeling: I just wanted to go explore the canyons at my feet instead of climbing more peaks in the range. Perhaps it was the vagabond traveler in me but I felt the call of exploring pulling me back out of their remote clutches and back on the move.
I am a mountain girl at heart but having some time in the desert has become really key to my happiness. While looking at maps of the deserts of the 4 Corners region, I’ve traced the length of Comb Ridge with my finger, marveling how far it extends. Browsing the adventure travel section of the library, I found Sandstone Spine: Seeking the Anasazi on the First Traverse of the Comb Ridgeby David Roberts.
Knowing a little bit about the terrain of the area, I was impressed that someone would have done this (although I still dream about The Hayduke Trail which is even more impressive). Traveling with two friends, the author describes the slow going over the tricky terrain, tensions of traveling in a group, and ruins found throughout the ridge.
My bar for a good travel book is one that either makes you see an area you know in a different light or desperately want to travel to a new area. I’ve spent some time around Comb Ridge both on the Butler Wash side and on the Comb Wash side but never really explored the canyons of the Ridge. This book makes me want to go wander canyons so badly.
Roberts very lovingly describes the Anasazi and Basketmaker ruins that he, Greg, and Vaughn explore along their trek. He pulls in just touches of his understanding of the history of the human occupation of the area, mentioning Robert S. McPherson’s work as well as some of his earlier books (it also made me want to revisit Craig Child’s House of Rain).
Sandstone Spine excellently combines history, travel, and human history for a very readable book. I am also excited for fall desert season. Anyone up for adventure?
This post contains affiliate links that help fund 3Up Adventures. All opinions are my own.
One of the bonuses of being a teacher is that a lot of school districts seem to have gone to week long Thanksgiving Breaks! This actually makes a lot of sense considering the number of families that travel for the holiday and missed some school anyway. Last year I took advantage of the break by spending some time in Denver and then flying to Connecticut to celebrate Lucy and Franz’s wedding. This year, I decided to return to an infant holiday tradition and go to Arizona to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with a dear friend from high school who had been kind enough to invite me to Thanksgiving in 2012 and 2013. I think she’s stuck with me now. 🙂
Thursday after school, Sprocket and I hopped in Ruth, made a quick stop at the gas station and headed out of town. I decided to take advantage of the long stretch of driving to run a fuel mileage test at about 55 mph so we weren’t making great time but I wasn’t worried about it at all; we were cruising down the highway listening to podcasts and simply enjoying the freedom of the open road.
I’d hoped to make it all the way down to Kayenta that night but I’d gotten a start about an hour later than I’d hoped plus it’s amazing what a difference driving 55mph for 200 miles compared to 70mph makes. (I think I drove about 40 from Monticello to Blanding…holy deer everywhere on the side of the road!) We made camp along the San Juan River knowing that it would be more difficult to find a good place to camp once we crossed the bridge onto the Navajo Reservation.
In the morning, we got our start just before the sun crested over the buttes to the east. It was lovely to cruise along watching the desert become fully light.
Originally, I’d planned to take the standard route to Flagstaff via Kayenta but, seizing the luxury of traveling alone with no real schedule, I decided to take US-191 south to Chinle and visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I’d passed right by the monument in 2013 but it just so happened to be during the government shutdown so even though the park is run as a partnership with the Navajo Nation it was no dice on visiting.
Roadtrips are my absolute favorite. I almost didn’t take this one to try and save some money but I am so glad I did and I’m excited to share stories of the adventure with you all.
Continuing our adventure from Ridgway to Green River! Check out Part 1 here.
At the top of the canyon, I was treated to some awesome views of the northeastern side of the La Sal Mountains. I’ve seen them from pretty much every angle but this one so it was pretty awesome. This area was gorgeous and I’m excited to come back this way to grab the Grand County highpoint (Mt. Waas).
This road was so much fun to drive. It’s in great shape and brought a new perspective to a sort of blank space in the middle of my home adventure region.
Just before total darkness, we dropped down into Castle Valley. It was a little odd to be here for the first time since my wedding to F and all sorts of feelings got raised during the drive through the valley. By the time we got down to the River Road though, the air was warm and I was cruising along the Colorado with the windows opening feeling like summer had arrived.
It was almost 11 when Sprocket and I pulled into camp off of old Highway 6 near Green River. He had a late dinner and we took a walk in the bright moonlight. It was fun to walk around without a headlamp but the moonlight doesn’t differentiate very well between damp sand and mud so I ended up with a bit of a spa treatment.
The sleeping temperatures in the desert were absolutely amazing. There was a soft breeze blowing through the jeep and the moon was streaming through. I was enjoying it so much it took me a long time to fall asleep but I slept hard once I did. I woke up to this happy dog checking out the view:
I cannot think of a better start to summer than a roadtrip! Even better, Colorado decided to cooperate with me and get sunny and summer-like just as it was time to head out and meet Amanda in Green River. Amanda (of Amanda Summerlin Photography fame) had emailed me way back in April to see if I’d be interested in an adventure in early June. She’d photographed a wedding in Salt Lake and had a week to drive to Denver before flying out to another wedding. Of course, I couldn’t refuse the offer of a great adventure partner so plans were made.
I needed to leave Ridgway the day after school had gotten out so I didn’t get a particularly early start but after a busy morning of getting things ready to leave, Sprocket and I set out over Dallas Divide.
I had initially intended to go the fast way to Green River via Grand Junction. And then I decided to go through Moab. And then I decided to take a new route through Gateway. It was a beautiful afternoon and I was so so happy to be on the road with Sprocket.
I think he was pretty happy to be on the road as well:
I’d seen bits and pieces of the Dolores River Canyon around Slickrock, Paradox, and Bedrock and I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised that Colorado 141 alongside it on the way to Gateway was absolutely gorgeous. I was so glad that I’d decided to come that way!