Winter doesn’t officially begin here in the Northern Hemisphere until December 21, but don’t tell that to the chevroned ranks of ducks and geese we observed exiting the area post-haste yesterday.
Dallas (and most of the rest of North Texas) has been closed up in a virtual Frigidaire for the past several days. It started with a freezing rainstorm early Friday and has ended up this Sunday morning with a whimsical bout of freezing fog — so those windshields that we recently chipped icebergs off of will now need to be scraped all over again.
Unless, that is, we’re willing to stay housebound awhile longer and wait for the hallelujah sunshine and 36 degree temps that the priest-philosopher-weathermen are telling us to expect later in the day.
(Can I get an “Amen”?)
Anne and I embarked on our Friday morning walk as the heaviest of the precip was ending, expecting to find ample opportunities for artistic photos of ice-encrusted leaves and such. (As you can see, we found them.)
What we did not expect to see — because, thankfully, our tiny little corner of the neighborhood was spared the worst — were scenes of devastation to our neighbor’s houses caused by the crashing down of overweighted tree limbs onto their roofs, eaves and cars.
Having seen the flashes and heard the buzzing chatter of transformers blowing out from our own house earlier in the morning, we were not too surprised to actually witness a transformer blowout as it occurred. Arcs of intense blue light continued for several seconds before the electro-beast finally gave up and died.
Even Old Glory was not immune to the ravages of the icy buildup, as you can see by the grievously ripped and tattered flag flying over the Baptist church on the corner. As we walked by, we could see that the folds of the rattling banner were still iced together, while some of the shredded pieces of fabric lay on the ground around it.
Presumably this season will play out as they usually do here after such an intense spell of early winter, and we’ll be able to count the number of nights below freezing on the fingers of one hand.
Two of those fingers are crossed, believe me.
Anne and I had one last grand adventure planned the last afternoon of our stay in Utah — a sightseeing tour of Dead Horse Point State Park.
Arriving at the visitor center, we debarked to discover that the cold drizzle falling on the high plateau where the park is situated contained additional elements of ice crystals. It was sleeting!
I took one turn around the overlook with my pocket camera (RX-100), and then went back for another quick pass with the Canon SLR after the drizzle/sleet abated.
With the main viewing point still a half mile farther out the narrow strip of plateau, we drove on over that way as the skies overhead began to clear and the “slizzle” abated.
Just a heads-up for first-time visitors to Dead Horse: Be aware that the visitor center, with its exhibits and gift shop and rim trail, is NOT the end of the road or the prime viewing point. The actual point of Dead Horse Point is farther out the road to the left as you exit the center’s parking lot.
(I mention this because I personally visited the park twice before actually discovering this. D’OH!)
Thankfully, there’s no getting lost on this highway — just keep driving until you reach the dead end.
And then — my advice — STOP driving, unless you plan on pulling a Thelma & Louise.
On the last day of what’s becoming our annual vacation to the canyon country of southeastern Utah, Anne and I awoke (at the preposterously idyllic Castle Valley Inn) to discover that the overnight rain in our neck of the woods had deposited a good deal of snow in the La Sal Mountains, just a few miles to the south.
We quickly geared up for a morning excursion and proceeded to drive upslope to get a closer look. The La Sal Loop Road itself was clear, with temperatures rising from slightly above freezing – but on all sides the junipers and pines were fluffy with the white stuff.
Even the cattle we passed along the side of the road had acquired an icy coating during the overnight snowfall, which made for some whimsical viewing.
Low hanging clouds still wafted across the tops of the mesas and spires around Castleton Tower as we drove back toward town.
This was October 4, by the way – which I imagine is a bit early in the season for a widespread snow event in the region, even at altitude. But then, as a North Texas native, my knowledge of snow in all categories leaves much to be desired.
Anne and I spent our next-to-last afternoon in the Moab area hiking the Hidden Valley Trail, which starts from a trailhead accessible from paved roads about 3 miles S. of town.
To the overlook view opening up above the fins of Behind The Rocks district, this trail takes you 2 miles one way – with the first half mile amounting to a pretty steep and rocky scramble, across terrain referred to by locals as the Barney Rubble section.
Once atop these initial switchbacks, the remainder of the hike crosses a (by that time) welcome flat stretch of ground, ending atop a brow of sandstone affording views to the west and the aforementioned redrock fins.
The trail is aptly named, because from below there’s no hint that this level benchland exists – in fact, it appears that the trail would have nowhere to go but ever higher on the precipitous cliffs above. This little valley is indeed hidden.
Continuing farther takes you to the terminus of the Moab Rim 4WD trail – but unless you have a vehicle waiting for you on that side of the pass, a return along the same trail back to your starting point will prove to be the order of the day.
I heartily recommend a quick trip to Milt’s as a follow-up, to replenish your protein supply with one of the best hamburgers you’ll likely find within 500 miles.
(And that’s a lot of hiking!)
Kane Creek Blvd. strikes out to the west off Moab’s Main Street from the south part of town center. It parallels the Colorado River along its southern bank, just as Potash Rd. does on the northern shore.
Both these byways are worthy of a planned excursion when spending time in the Moab area, with a greater variety of recreational options to be found along the latter (the trail to Corona Arch being one of the highlights).
A stop for a short hike at Moonflower Canyon makes the drive along the Colorado’s southern banks a worthy morning (or afternoon) endeavor – as do the several petroglyph panels that can be found both here and farther up the Kane Creek road.
Not to be overlooked are the simply magnificent views of towering sandstone cliffs across the river.
Just be aware that the short trail up Moonflower Canyon also serves the string of campsites situated there, and try not to awaken any late sleepers with your attempts to yodel your echo off the closed canyon walls.
After marveling at the Shay Canyon petroglyphs, we drove on to Moab and secured lodgings for the night, then backtracked 30 miles to take in the sunset view from the Needles Overlook.
This vantage had the distinct AD-vantage of not actually being in Canyonlands National Park (closed to visitation thanks to the government shutdown), while nevertheless offering spectacular overviews of the area south and east of Island In The Sky Mesa, known as the Needles District.
Anne and I did a quick walking tour around the point of rock, which stands sky high above the Lockhart Basin far below, and I determined the best place to set up my tripod for purposes of catching the last rays of the sun as they lit up the nearby cliffs. The sun’s rays were already setting the sandstone cliffs aglow, and the effect only deepened as sundown approached.
To make a long story short, I took a lot of photos. These are my favorites.
Utah Scenic Highway 121 strikes off to the west just a few miles north of Monticello. This is the road along Indian Creek that would ordinarily have taken us to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park, but thanks to the idiotic posturing going on in Congress we had turned left at the intersection for an entirely different reason.
Our Blanding hotelier for the evening prior, Craig Simpson, had told us about a little-visited petroglyph site not too far away from the famous Newspaper Rock. The site he described sounded pretty interesting, involving a short hike up a dry wash and then onto a ledge extending several hundred feet up a side canyon. Along the entire way, he told us, a series of petroglyph panels could be seen on the sandstone cliffs above the ledge.
We parked on the side of the road at the spot Craig had mapped out for us (there are no official markers or other indications of the presence of this site), and set off across the perennial stream and up the wash toward the cliffs, only a few hundred yards away.
To find the first panel one must amble a short way along the rough trail at the base of the cliffs to the west, facing Indian Creek. The remainder of the panels are back around the corner of the draw facing Shay Canyon, and are strung out one after another, just as Craig described, for a distance of about 100 yards up the canyon.
The panels show a range of animals (bighorn sheep, deer, dogs – even a burly bear), along with human figures and others that may or may not have been intended to convey spirit presences. Some are quite eerie, as these things tend to be given the fact that we know nothing about their artists or their intended subject matter.
These panels are notable for containing a large number of flute players of the Kokopelli ilk – with one rock face in particular showing no fewer than three flautists in one illustration.