You reach a certain age and each revisiting of a favorite place becomes precious -- because it might be your last.
We are in such a place. The red rock and canyon-pocked splendor of southeastern Utah deserves better than the state government that would enable its desecration. But then, all the special places in these United States deserve better than the political whores who allow them to be raped and pillaged.
Enjoy them while you can.
Green River. We overnighted there last night, in the same campground that was base camp for our first trip through Twenty-Nine-Mile canyon, whose collection of native American rock art has been called the world's finest outdoor art gallery. We ritually partook of the locally-grown melons without which no visit to Green River is complete. We remembered setting out from here for our first visit to the then-newly created Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument. Far out on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, Saxon, our canine companion then, turned Dance Hall Rock into his personal playground. Green River. S'long, old friend;if we never meet again, thanks for the memories.
Moab. My older brother Bob said, "If you are permitted only one national park in your lifetime, make sure it's Arches." Amen. We pitched a tent in a park in Moab and rose before sunrise to photograph the wonders of Arches. How proudly we introduced others -- Dave, Gene, Vicky, Joyce -- to the place that inspired Ed Abbey's finest work, "Desert Solitaire." Oh, the hikes we had in younger years in the LaSals and the desert surrounding Arches! What vicarious joy we took from David's conquest of the toughest slick rock mountain bike trail in this Lycra hard-body Mecca! Early on the loop he hooked up with three college kids from Texas. Already in his 50s, he led them to the crest of every climb. "You've been doing this for a while, haven't you?" one of the youngsters said. "How old are you?" Dave replied. Twice the size of the town where we first camped for Arches, Moab today has added sky diving and hot air ballooning and ATV adventures, zip lining, Hummer touring, paragliding; luxury resorts and glitz and zesty nightlife. We forgive you, you old tart. And thanks for the memories.
From Monticello, just down Highway 191, we discovered Windwhistle campground, where we staged the west's greatest slumgullion breakfast for a hungry gaggle of fellow adventurers, then walked like Spiderman up the steep wall of a slickrock butte. We consumed our first Utah red trout in a cafe there, and shared tall tales of discovery with drivers in a Jeep rally. We read Newspaper Rock and ventured to the very edge of a wilderness high in the Canyon Rims overlooking Canyonlands National Park, merely the second-best one of all. This was The Last Adventure for Sandy, the cocker spaniel who allowed us to share fine trails with him East and West, North and South.
Blanding. At Edge of the Cedars museum we met the artist who was attempting to reproduce every piece of native art destroyed by the flooding of Glen Canyon to create Lake Powell. A noble spirit, he. From our tent in a meadow high up in the nearby Abajos, Sandy ventured out to make friends with a trio of cowboys, rounding up cattle to be taken down to their winter pasturage in the valley. A local cafe on another visit introduced us to Utah-brewed Polygamy Porter ("Why settle for just one?"). Farewell, Blanding, good-bye Monticello. If we never pass your way again, thanks for the memories.
Ah, Bluff. All three of our beloved dogs have camped with us in Butler Wash in the shadow of the great southwestern landmark called Comb Ridge. Aided by a newfangled gadget called GPS we traversed back-country slickrock to find our very own Anasazi ruin. Others, of course, had found it before us, and one had taken a flat rock and made a kind of altar on which subsequent visitors placed found treasures -- potsherds and arrow tips: veneration to the spirits of the old ones who allowed us to visit their dwellings. We climbed to Cedar Mesa; we hiked around Natural Bridges; we explored the banks of the San Juan and its Gooseneck meanders. Mexican Hat. Valley of the Gods. Monument Valley. The Sand Island petroglyphs. The old Mormon Trail. How reluctantly we leave you this time, Bluff. Thanks for the memories.
Remember the sunrise concert by the native American flute player on the remote trail in the Canyon Rims? The guitar -pickin' singer at Cowboy Blues? I wonder what became of the fine cook who tried to make a go of it serving continental cuisine on the corner of the back road to Cortez? Did we really lose a trailer hitch on the impassable last three miles of Hole-in-the-Rock road? How many times have we set up in the great high campsite overlooking the river valley to the east, the Straight Cliffs to the west? So sorry we couldn't revisit the nearly life-sized shamans etched in the cliff side at Sego Canyon. How regally the pronghorn brushed past Saxon and me as if we were just another sagebrush on the high prairie! A pox on the asshole from California who (untruthfully) boasted of killing half a dozen rattlesnakes on Sunrise Rock trail. Was Rooster Rock the best campsite ever?
Brandi, the Rhodesian ridgeback who is the incumbent Trail Dog, welcomed the return to a desert environment after enduring the rainy mountain forests and strange critter-smells of the north. On the way down to Bluff through the red rock cliffs, he became agitated. Perhaps he remembered guiding us (me with a brand new metal hip) across the vast slickrock slope to the very foot of Comb Ridge. More likely, he caught the scent of a nearby deer-crossing. "Turn me loose," he seemed to say, "and I'll hunt down our supper."
Never mind, mate. The Navajo Twins restaurant on the edge of town still serves a right good chile relleno. You can eat on the patio in good weather. But it's the rainy season here and they were predicting flash floods in some parts of the San Juan Valley.
Remember the time it rained all the way from Green River to Chinle?
Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but memories.