Tuesday, July 21, 2009

i am a desert creature (part 1)

Edward Abbey…sigh…
Love him or hate him, he just gets under your skin.
I remember thoroughly enjoying my first experience of reading his work when I was given a copy of The Monkey Wrench Gang back in the late nineties, way before my days out here in canyon country. I’m definitely needing to reread it having come to know the many locations which occur in the book.

I recently read “Down the River”, a collection of his essays, and loved it.
Yes, there were points he would make here and there that made me cringe, but I find myself increasingly in tune with his thoughts.

Having roamed a bit of this landscape, however small in ratio to its entirety, I’ve come to understand the type of possessiveness that comes along with finding special spots, living in harmony with this landscape, and having to deal with outsiders and weekend adventurers coming in and treating it as nothing more than a vacation spot.

Heck, I’ve even had some thoughts of my own of particular ‘rules’ that I think should somehow abstractly be enforced out here. One being that if a person does not know what cryptobiotic soil is, they should not be allowed into the canyons or onto the benches.

In between those reads, I also read his classic work “Desert Solitaire” as part of my Arches National Park Interpretation information package when I volunteered at the park for a winter season a couple of years ago. While I was lucky enough to be working there during off-season and did not have to deal with gargantuan amounts of visitors, I came to understand the impact that has occurred due to the improved roads, etc. within the park.

I also came to an understanding of the fact that if those roads and trails had not been created, the impact could very possibly be much greater as visitors would not have been funneled into particular areas, but would have been seeing the park in a more scattered, higher impact way, crushing everything underfoot.
I got to spend many a day exploring the park off trail and practicing treading lightly.
It led to some amazing moments. One in particular was a moment when I crossed over a drainage between petrified dunes above courthouse wash only to come upon a group of bighorn sheep napping in the sun, truly a moment that is meant to be earned and not gleamed through a car window.

I don’t think I really had the depth of understanding of the wildness of canyon country until I moved to Boulder, UT and started to explore the wilderness of the Escalante Canyons. Few marked trails here. Memory and landmarks serve as guides as one creates a mental map of the landscape. Anthropomorphic rocks here….pictographs or petroglyphs there, or maybe a majestic tree, such as a ponderosa pine unexpectedly appearing far downstream from Boulder Mountain somewhere along a creek bed.
Being able to go merely a few miles from home and be immersed in wilderness is an experience that cannot truly be translated into words. Instead, one must truly get out there and experience it for oneself. Even experiencing the drive into Boulder over Boulder Mountain from Torrey or over the Hogsback from Escalante is an experience that one must have directly in order to really understand. Pictures do not due justice.

There have been moments when I have thought of attempting landscape art out here, but every time I do it, I almost immediately have to stop. My hands cannot translate that immense granduer.

I’ll leave that to some of the local artists already doing it, such as Scotty Mitchell. Her work is amazing. I’ll stick to the abstract, to collectiing and grinding sandstone in order to somehow express this place and what it is doing to me.

That process in itself grounds me, creating an ever more intimate relationship with this landscape. I discover where Wadis existed in the original Navajo Sandstone Erg, when the now petrified dunes flowed across this landscape in a desert larger than the Sahara. In those special spots, varying colors and textures show themselves exposed after millions of years. Special places where water and mud were gathered and trapped creating punctuation within the landscape. Then there are the layers of iron concretion where once again water was trapped in the sand and created a gathering place for iron bleached out of the surrounding sand by water percolating through the pressurized sand for untold years.

I am always awestruck by the magnificent organic forms that this process creates. Some are focused on the Moki Marbles – those infamous marble like round iron concretion pieces that the dunes release to gather in low spots. To me, those do not compare to some of the other forms I have seen – lingams and yonis, miniature versions of the landscape, small dish-like and fin-like forms, you name it….
Sometimes I will arrange them in artistic ways on top of the basalt boulders which remain from the days when the Aquarius Plateau/Boulder Mountain top flowed with lava.

I recently attended a geology talk at the Escalante InterAgency Center given by wayne Ranney, co-author of the wonderful book Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau.
I had a short discussion with him after the presentation in which I asked his opinion of how the Aquarius Plateau was formed and why there is so little information available about it. I was told that there really have been very few studies and that he only had one paper on Boulder Mountain.

In his opinion, which I think sounds rather sound – especially alongside his theory of headward erosion of the Colorado River Basin (see his work in order to read more about this)- what we may be looking at with the top of the Aquarius Plateau may possibly be what is left of the original Colorado Plateau before the canyons were cut. The estimation he stated to me of the age of the top is 8 million years old. Boulder Mountain and the Aquarius Plateau are not included in the Laccolith formations such as the Henry, Abajo, Navajo, and LaSal Mountains. It was a completely separate occurance, as far as I can tell from my studies thus far. Of course, I am no geologist, just a desert rat with an obsession with the stories of how the lands I roam were formed, someone seeking an intimate relationship with the land I live on.

There is so much exploring out here that it will take a lifetime, or two, or three, or maybe more. I don’t think that this land will let go of my soul. If anything, I will one day be a part of it left for others to discover during their own wanderings.