“Nobody comes here”, she says. “Besides the crows, we haven’t seen a living soul for 2 days”. But we have been here before, on a previous adventure down a desolate river trip in the Utah wilderness. We stroll through the grass and refresh ourselves in a small spring. After jumaring up fixed ropes, we approach the rim of Labyringh Canyon just as twilight blankets the sky.
#TravelTuesday with Guest Photographer Bob Wick through Southeastern Utah’s Red-Rock Riches!
Moab, Utah is synonymous with slickrock canyons and public land adventure sports. One could fill a novel with nearby public land recreation opportunities within a stone’s through of town. But for this trip, we’ll use Moab as a jumping off point to head further south into more remote canyons and mesas of Southeast Utah.
Between Moab and Montecello is the immense Canyon Rims Recreation Area. It offers top-of-the-world vistas of vast the labyrinth of Colorado River Canyons including several BLM wilderness study areas and the east side of Canyonlands National Park. The BLM maintains two primitive campgrounds on the rim, which are open from May to October and can serve as a base for exploration – although the views from the campgrounds themselves are so spectacular that there is no need to go far for stunning photo opportunities. More adventurous explorers can search the canyon rims for that perfect photo angle in the ever-changing light on the multi-hued red rocks.
Next, continue south to Cedar Mesa to visit one of the most significant cultural history locales in North America. This area was occupied by Ancestral Puebloan Native Americans, often called the “Anasazi”, between 800 and 2,000 years ago. Remains from their civilization are located throughout the canyons that dissect the mesa, and it is very moving and humbling to stand among them. Cliff dwellings, graineries and other structures are extremely well preserved and perched under overhangs in the cliffs. Amazing pictographs and petroglyphs can also be found here. All of the sites require moderate to arduous hikes into the canyons and even multi-day backpacks are popular in Grand Gulch. Due to the significance and fragility of the sites, you must obtain a permit for use of the area and numbers are limited during peak seasons. Plan ahead and also stop by the Kane Gulch Visitor Center for the latest information.
Driving further south along Cedar Mesa, Highway 261 eventually reaches a lip that seems like the end of the earth – the mesa drops 1100 feet straight down to the desert below with the buttes and spires of Monument Valley visible in the distance. The curiously named “Moki Dugway”, a bit of a white-knuckle route carved into the escarpment, allows you to drive down the cliff face to the valley below. A short drive further takes you to the Valley of the Gods, a hidden gem with scenery similar to that of nearby Monument Valley. Valley of the God’s isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and tall cliffs offer endless photo angles. A 17 mile drive circles the valley and more adventurous explorers can go into the Road Canyon Wilderness Study Area for backcountry hikes.
Photo Tips: Often the best and most unique photo angles in Utah’s canyon country and other western landscapes require traveling far off the pavement on remote back roads, then hiking away from your vehicle. I often use web-based aerial image programs (like Google Earth) to scout areas before trips for the best potential photo spots. Safety should always be front in these remote places. Even renowned western author and explorer Edward Abbey spoke of some close calls in the desert in his book Desert Solitare. I always tell someone where I am going with as many specifics as I can. Most importantly I tell them when I plan to be out and when I will contact them. I always carry a GPS emergency locator unit, and I can use that to check in with family each night while on extended trips when I am out of cell range. I also carry enough clothing and water to be able to be on my own without help for several days. Finally, I mark my vehicle location with a GPS waypoint so that I can find it when I am hiking back in the dark after an evening photo shoot!
“The inventor of the modern metaphor, Arthur Rimbaud, regarded himself as a seer. He saw that the secret ambition of a radical metaphor is metaphysical. It could open new worlds. It could touch the absolute.”
Charles Simic, from chapter “III,” The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)
A trip through Labyrinth Canyon on the lower Green River can be enjoyed almost any time of the year, except in winter when there may be ice on the river. Managed jointly by the BLM and State of Utah, it is an easy, flat-water stretch suitable for canoes, kayaks, and rafts of all types. The stretch offers calm water (no rapids) in beautiful wilderness canyons and is ideal for multi-day trips. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to explore the many sites along the way. Enjoy your public lands!
We name one thing and then another. That’s how time enters poetry. Space, on the other hand, comes into being through the attention we pay to each word. The more intense our attention, the more space, and there’s a lot of space inside words.
Charles Simic, The Monster Loves His Labyrinth (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)