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Hiking Happenings June 2006

The Look
by Rory Tyler


Mill Creek Canyon

Not long ago, I took two recent arrivals on a walk into Mill Creek Canyon. When we got to the big alcove in Left Hand, I recognized the look in one’s eyes. I’ve taken many people there and seen that look before. I noticed it for the first time years ago on a cold, quiet April morning with huge, downy snowflakes drifting silently through the intricate abstractions of the canyon’s depths. Sitting there with her family, she whispered, “Every vacation you hope there’s one moment you’ll always remember. I think this is it.” She had the look. The memory of my own first impression of Mill Creek is lost now, but I bet I know what it was. Every time I go there, I can feel myself looking that way again.

Our generation, our civilization, our age is not the first or only to revel in the beauty of Mill Creek. Mill Creek has been a place of peace and love, friendship and play, healing and balance for thousands of years. There is a lot of archeology in Mill Creek, including awesome galleries of prehistoric Indian rock art. This art convinces me that Mill Creek serves people today as it has over millennia. It is a vortex of Amity.

To get to Mill Creek, take 400 East to Dave’s Corner Market, turn onto Mill Creek Drive, turn right at the stop sign, take the next left at Powerhouse Lane, and go to the end of the road. (The powerhouse dam is the remnant of a 1950’s dream to create electricity. The dream was buried in the first silt-laden flash flood to fill the reservoir.) Right from the start you find cool, tumbling water, natural Jacuzzis, sandy beaches, shady cottonwoods, and people, of course, taking it all in. And, while this article discusses two sites that might challenge some people’s ability and confidence, don’t let that stop you from going. Mill Creek is good for everyone.

The place that the Left Hand and Right Hand meet, (maps show them as the North and South Forks of Mill Creek), is marked by a shallow, eye-shaped alcove you can see from the parking lot. The corners of the Eye Alcove contain some of the most succinctly compelling rock art in the canyon; images that argue for its prehistoric role as a confluence of cooperation. Sadly, access to these panels is rather difficult, requiring a degree of skill and courage that not everyone possesses. It’s not technical, but it is scary. If you begin to waver, stop and use binoculars.

A scene in the left corner of the Eye shows figures on a sheep hunt sporting distinctly different headdresses. The dominant figure, a man with a single appendage rising from his head, is a Basketmaker Indian icon common to Moab 2,000 years ago. Another fellow, sporting a bird-shaped headdress, was common to the San Juan Basin, a hundred miles to the south. Elsewhere in Moab, these two can be seen throwing spears at each other. At the Eye, they hunt together. Even more telling, in the right corner of the Eye is another hunting scene. Here, Bird-head isn’t throwing a spear. He’s playing a flute while his Moab friend brings home the mutton. (Kokopelli fans take note.)

Just past the Eye, the canyon splits into Left Hand and Right Hand. Go Left. A boulder where the trail goes through a reflecting pool has an impressive array of “rake-head” figures. I suspect that these fellows might have been “Peace Chiefs” as opposed to “War Chiefs,” and that Mill Creek was the center of their activities and authority. Keep going, climb out above the creek on the left, pass the waterfall, and head for the deep alcove set into the cliff on the left. The Waterfall Alcove, as I call it, is where my young friend was dazed by the beauty.

I haven’t nearly the space to discuss the Waterfall Alcove as it deserves, so I’ll only point out one interesting feature among many. The entire inside of this site, over a hundred yards of canyon wall was, at one time, festively polka-dotted with red, purple, and white mud balls as high as you can sling them with a throwing-stick. Party down, Basketmaker.

Some may take me to task for discussing an archeological site in a public forum. I have my reasons. I’ve run looters out of here twice. And the Ignorami, God bless ‘em, still blunder up on occasion, write on the walls, start fires, and leave a dismaying variety of solid waste. I believe that the only practical protection for a place like this is good-hearted, conscientious people visiting on a very regular basis. And if they should encounter the misguided, take time to direct them onto the paths of respect.

While access to the Waterfall Alcove is easier and safer than the Eye Alcove, it can still be intimidating. If it’s too much for you, go directly across the canyon to a smooth, blank wall where you will find that, while the rake-heads might be Peace Chiefs, they’re nobody’s patsies. The perpetuation of Amity, it seems, may require an occasional dose of Discipline.

Rory Tyler is available for cowboy poetry/campfire song gatherings which include lore, science, history and lies of the Moab area. (Suitable for all age groups). Rates are negotiable. Give Rory a call at 435-260-8496.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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