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Hiking Happenings March 2004

Walkabout with Rory Tyler

According to Webster, March is “the month of Mars”; a very disciplined if not always subtle fellow. Or, as Webster also advises, March can mean “a regular, steady pace or step.” My advice this month: renew the discipline, eschew the subtlety, go forth on a regular and steady pace, kill two definitions with one trope, and March! There’s something to be said for a good, hard march. Need to clear your mind? Catalyze your creativity? Burn some calories and grease some miles? March!
A march is not like a hike. You don’t poke and peek and ponder. You glue your eyes on to ground (figuratively), take a deep breath and go. Where? Nowhere…Somewhere…What’s the difference? Marching is it’s own reward (particularly after holiday hedonism, too much TV, and those lazy weekends with a novel and a nosh). So crack the guilty whip, say hasta la vista to the ephedra, and march, march, march!

The Courthouse Divide
( A good march for the novice. A light, panoramic patrol for the veteran.)

This plateau separates Highway 191 and Courthouse Wash as it wends through the center of Arches National Park. To get there drive north on Hwy 191 about 6 miles to the turn-off for the Bar M Chuckwagon. Take that turn, bypass the Bar M (for now), and backtrack 1 ½ miles on the old highway. At the top of the hill a road takes off to the east. Park here if you have low clearance, but if you’ve got 4x4 you can drive almost two miles to the park boundary, but why bother? Pretty flat and very pretty. Lot’s of acreage and varied walking opportunities. Immediate rewards that multiply as you…Left! Right! Left! Right!

A series of side canyons drops from the ridgeline into Courthouse Wash to the east. These are phenomenal gorges replete with soaring Entrada sandstone towers and undulating slickrock and you need go no further to become ecstatic. But, for the disciplined marcher, the ridge ends about two miles south of the park boundary or 3 ½ miles from the turnoff. This point overlooks the beautiful Park Place, one of the most-visited places in the park, but you will be alone with the raven’s view. If you need a destination, try for this. It’s all good.

Amasa Back
The Amasa Back Trail is heavily used by bicycles and has moderate four-wheel and motorcycle use. It’s still a good place to go marching. What I particularly like about this area are the phenomenal views. The trailhead is on Cane Creek Road about a mile after it turns to gravel. The trail takes a short drop into the canyon, then climbs about a mile up onto Amasa Back, a long peninsula that creates a gooseneck in the Colorado River. Once you reach the top of the hill the two-track road is fairly level for miles and miles. The panoramas here constitute a fabulous layering of river, canyon, precipitous Wingate cliffs, undulating slickrock domes, and soaring snow-capped peaks.

Once you come around the corner at the top of the hill, the first prominent features you’ll see are three sandstone buttes. The second of these, on your right, has some nice rock art paintings, probably Basketmaker-style about 1,300 years old. The third and highest butte, on your left, has a boulder on the far side that contains a nice dinosaur track-way.

An interesting option for hiking Amasa Back is to start at the parking lot where Cane Creek meets the Colorado River, right where the road turns to gravel. You can cross the creek just below the parking lot and access an old caterpillar track that ascends the north side of the peninsula for a couple miles before you come close to the 4x4 road. This route affords even better views, opportunities to chuck rocks hundreds of feet down into the river (it’s a guy-thing), and almost guarantees that you won’t be meeting other people.

Cryptos (krip’ tose): The surface of Moab’s desert is held together by a thin skin of living organisms known as cryptobiotic soil or cryptos. It has a lumpy black appearance, is very fragile, and takes decades to heal when it has been damaged. This soil is a critical part of the survival of the desert. The cryptobiotic organisms help to stabilize the soil, hold moisture, and provide protection for germination of the seeds of other plants.

Without it the dry areas of the west would be much different. Although some disturbance is normal and helps the soil to capture moisture, excessive disturbance by hooves, bicycle tires and hiking boots has been shown to destroy the cryptobiotic organisms and their contribution to the soil. When you walk around Moab avoid crushing the cryptos. Stay on trails, walk in washes, hop from stone to stone.

Whatever it takes, don’t crunch the cryptos unless you absolutely have to!

The Most Boring Hike in Moab
It’s hard to imagine but, yes, there is a boring hike in the Moab area. Take Hwy 191 north about 25 miles then head off to the left, or west. This area is part of the Cisco Desert and it’s nothing but a relentlessly flat, desolate, dusty wasteland of hard pan clay and drab expanses of black brush. One day, feeling desolate, depressed, and forlorn I sought a landscape to commiserate with my deranged mood. This place did the trick. Luckily, after marching aimlessly for hours through this swale of sensory deprivation, I managed to feel better. It must have been the endorphins. And now I have a valuable, visceral recollection that I can use as a metaphysical baseline for rating my other walks. I don’t actually recommend that you take the same hike unless, perhaps, you too find yourself under the baleful influence of an existential ennui similar to that cited above.

Rory Tyler leads custom rock art tours and backcountry hikes for people of all skill levels for Canyon Voyages Adventure Company.

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