A Nice Kind of Birthday Present
While I hope the "story" is at least somewhat interesting, my main goal here is to showcase a few of the nearly countless possibilities that this part of the country holds.
My birthday falls on or very close to Columbus Day Weekend, and as a little treat to myself, I like to go away for a night, or two, or three. Most of the time I go alone; I like to be alone and need to be alone, especially in the mountains, and my wife puts up with this better than most other spouses seem to, for which I'm thankful. Although she always knew what she was getting into, I have heard too many stories of spouses losing or outright dropping that acceptance. Life without going to the wilderness by myself to refresh and inspire my spirit would be a cage for me, and I'm grateful that I have found someone who realizes it even if she doesn't totally understand it. Only others who are this way can really understand it, after all.
Usually, my birthday escape is just a jaunt out to Shenandoah National Park, only a 90-minute drive from me, or down the Blue Ridge Parkway, easily covered over a long weekend, but it occasionally is a bigger affair, such as when I took a Friday flight to Portland, ME, to spend a couple nights in Baxter State Park in order to climb Katahdin.
But sometimes a three-day weekend is not enough, and last fall was one such sometimes. For a lot of reasons that aren't necessary to share here, I felt life closing in all around me last fall and just needed to get away for more than a few days. A working man I am, and thus something summer-like was out of the question, but a week sounded about as nice as reason would allow. Down went the time-off request, out came the pen, and under "Reason for Request" went "Birthday present to myself."
Request approved. And a damn good thing, at that-- in 17 years now at the same job, I have never taken a sick day, so I think asking for four days (since Monday was already a holiday) wasn't too much to ask.
Destination: Utah's San Rafael Swell and Capitol Reef National Park via Grand Junction, Colorado, with a day in Colorado National Monument thrown in along the way.
Luck was on my side heading out. I had to fly from Dulles Airport in Virginia to Denver International and then to Grand Junction. The first flight left on time in sunny t-shirt weather and arrived in Denver as temperatures there began to plummet and a significant snowstorm was bearing down from the north. With creeping despair, I watched flights north into Wyoming being canceled as the storm moved from Sheridan and then to Casper and further south all the time. As we boarded the little plane to haul us to Grand Junction, reports had the snow in Boulder, just 40 miles or so northwest. Everyone was ready to go, and we were set to pull out early when we learned that by regulation we had to wait for a missing passenger everyone knew wasn't showing up and who never did show up. Visions of cancellations danced, actually thundered, in my head. But we took off, had a smooth flight, and landed in a warmer and calmer Grand Junction less than an hour later. I picked up my rental car, stopped at the liqour store and the grocery store in that order, and headed off into the Colorado midnight for Colorado National Monument and an uncomfortable night in the car. (I had decided to spend my nights in motels but couldn't justify the expense for that first night considering how late I'd be arriving, so it was a thin blanket and a cramped back seat for me, plus the stench of beer, as I'd managed to spill one while rummaging around for stuff in my pack. Why is it that beer in the bottle or the glass smells so good but beer anywhere else smells so awful?)
Dry weather and sunshine most days made for nice hiking and climbing conditions, and I got plenty of both done. The next two sections are galleries of favorite photos from the trip, with explanatory captions. There are no riveting stories to tell of weather gone bad or desperate route-finding or menacing wildlife. In fact, the only interesting story to tell didn't have a thing to do with climbing, and that story is recounted in the fourth and final section of this trip report. Remember, you can always skip sections by clicking on the Table of Contents. Please look and read on...
Shameless Side-of-the Road Shots
No pretending otherwise-- I've posted these here just to show the gorgeous colors and shapes of these parts of Utah. The next section has the proof that I actually did a few climbs.
Face-saving Shots from Actual Climbs
Just to show I did a little more than simply stepping outside the car and going trigger-happy with the shutter button, something very easy to do in places like these--
Yet Another Touron Stuck in the Mud
So on my last day out there, after climbing Queen of the Wash, I had to get back to Grand Junction. Instead of taking the paved way via Hanksville, I decided to head back through the Swell by crossing Muddy Creek and rejoining the paved roads near Goblin Valley State Park and Temple Mountain. A few years before, I had driven down to the northern side of Muddy Creek from Little Wild Horse Canyon, and the ford, though marked as "Dangerous Ford" on my Trails Illustrated map, had looked passable from that side, so I figured that since it had been dry recently and water levels were low, it would be in good shape from the south side, too. Plus, this would give me the chance to check out Factory Butte, a peak that intrigued me from maps and online photographs and which I was interested in scouting a scrambling route up (I didn't see one, but I didn't thoroughly scout out the peak, either).
Plans to drive across the ford went by the wayside, though, when, lo and behold, there was a Jeep Commander badly stuck in mud there. And by badly, I do mean badly; the front wheels were almost completely buried and the front bumper was resting atop the mud. The driver had no shovel, no boards, nothing of any sort that might help him get some traction and get out. That Jeep wasn't going anywhere by itself until the next long-term drought turned the creek to a trickle and the mud dry and hard.
You could tell from the temporary Colorado tags that this was some out-of-stater who, feeling invincible in his brand-new SUV, had gone out where he had no business being. Kind of like those people who rush out in their trucks as soon as it snows, drive like jackasses, and get stuck. What an idiot.
Oh, but I was the one driving that Jeep.
What happened was really indefensible for two reasons:
• The opposite side was a steep dirt embankment that almost any stock SUV was going to have trouble getting up.
• The Jeep did not have real four-wheel drive, as in being able to go into 4-Low. Instead, it had that lame full-time all-wheel drive that appears in all too many such vehicles nowadays. Whoever heard of a Jeep without real four-wheel drive? Come on! But still, I shouldn't have ventured onto questionable ground without it.
But I will defend myself, anyway, with the following: