Wednesday, April 20, 2011


There is in Utah a stretch of highway that crosses over one of the most desolate and visually unimaginative section of the state. The road is highway 6 from Price down to Green River, a small forgotten town left over from the uranium boom back in the forties on a lonely stretch of Interstate 70. This two lane stretch is built upon a muddy semi flat layer of rock called Mancos shale. Sometime during the Cretaceous period, around some 130 million years or so, give or take a few million; there was a giant inland swamp with mud layer after mud layer being deposited. The result now a days is a gray landscape that resembles the moon, dotted with a few scraggly sagebrush. It’s called the endless road by many.

Looking off to the west along this flat topography you can see the distant faded blue mountains of central Utah; no one would be the wiser that over the course of time a small river had eroded away the landscape as it rose up around it and revealed a chasm such as this.

One thousand feet below from the flat muddy Mancos layer this water carved its way through the bright colored sandstone. It is within these towering walls we spent several days camping for spring break.

We were prepared with wine and plenty of food. That first night we drove down Buckhorn Wash, at camp it was chicken fajitas and a 2006 Cabernet of Geyser Peak. We had a fire, but still the night was cold. Mentally you make a note in the back of your head to put the damn long underwear on before climbing in the sleeping bag for the next night. Instead of forgetting about it in your pack, waking up at three in the morning and thinking it’s just too cold to go out to find it in the dark.

The next morning we woke up in the frigid shadows of the cliff walls, the sunlight was fifty yards to our west and slowly inching its way up to our camp. Until then our only warmth was holding a cup of coffee, or in the case of the kids, hot chocolate and letting the heat warm us from the inside. At ten in the morning the sun finally basked our faces and soon we were shedding cloths as the temperature soared up. Such is the fluctuation in high desert country; you can freeze at night and develop heat stroke during the day.

We set out for a short bike ride and soon found a smaller side drainage off to the east call Calf Canyon. With water actually flowing in the wash, we figured this must be a popular spot. Then again maybe the collection of cars at the bottom might have also given us that clue. We tried to bike up a little ways but found it next to impossible on the loose sand. As any biker will tell you, sand will trap you like wet cement and soon we found it easier just to leave the bikes and walk.

Later in the afternoon it was on to the Buckhorn Pictographs, a sixty foot long section of smooth sandstone where the ancient ones put their marks upon the wall. Here we found definitive proof that space aliens visited our planet. We celebrated the evening with a Dutch dinner of pork loin and more red wine; oddly enough this seemed to cement the idea of extraterrestrials painting pictures of themselves on the wall some two thousand years ago.

On day three we continued our drive south along the gravel road and a few stretches of payment until we came to Goblin Valley. This isolated state park along route 24 only convinced us more that the aliens were here, perhaps fossilized in the sand stone. The topography resembles more that of Mars than anything on our planet, with a harder sandstone formation on top of a looser rock on the bottom. The resulting undercutting action of water and wind has left the strange imaginative shapes to marvel at.

We ended up with the last campsite and soon found out way? With all the odd shapes to climb on, it has become a haven for small children to spend weeks on end. Our camp was surrounded by screaming preschoolers as they scampered up every little dirt hill around us. At eight in the evening they were all sound in bed, at six thirty in the morning they were back up on the same dirt piles: it was time for us to leave.

The last day we ventured off on some dirt roads back into the rugged landscape of the swell and after a few hours were once again looking at some more pictographs from several millennium back. With storm clouds approaching it was back to the town of Green River for a warm hotel bed. The next morning we woke up the see the left rear tire flat on the car, looks like we call it right. Trying to jack up 2000 pounds on loose, wet sand and struggling to get the wheel off would have been a nightmare.

Richard Boyer

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