Out there (sort of), in the Maze
Put mildly, the Maze is out there. So remote and inaccessible is this corner of Canyonlands National Park that it takes nearly 8 hours to drive to some of its namesake camps from the closest gas stations in Green River– leaving you with barely enough fuel to return. As a testament to it’s remoteness and accessibility, along the way you pass Robbers Roost, the infamous locale old west bank robbers and gunslingers frequented as a hideout from authorities. So brutal is this section of Utah desert that temps can be in the 110-120 degree range certain times of year with no available water which together can result in true survival epics.
After all I had read about the Maze was later confirmed by some friends who had actually ‘epic-ed’ out there, I put it on my must-do list of desert trips. (Click here for the National Park Service Info Site)
It took ten years before I could actually get out there, and in that time, one minor thing has changed the Maze in a big way. All the aforementioned hard stats on access, water, etc. still held true but now different was the small fact that I had cell phone coverage. And not just in one isolated spot, but almost everywhere apart from deep in the canyons.
My desire to head out into the remoteness, the unforgiving terrain that had been so brutal to others in the past, well it didn’t seem quite so desperate after receiving a few Facebook messages about Billy Z’s birthday or as I checked weather.com while organizing for an overnight backpack. The experience I sought for so long had been stripped of one of it’s trademark qualities, I didn’t really feel too far out there. The Monkey Wrench Gang’s Seldom Seen and Hayduke were rolling in their fictional graves. Out of respect to them I didn’t tweet.
I joked to myself that I should have been thankful I hadn’t opted for the GPS function so common on smart phones these days or even fewer challenges might have remained. Or because nobody, at least as of yet, has developed a phone application that will find a source of water for you. Any bets on that one?
Truthfully, it wasn’t a big deal, it just made me think. If I demanded more of an ‘out there’ feeling and knew the phone would interfere, I could have left it at home but my gut feeling said that in the event of an actual emergency, that wouldn’t be too smart. And that kind of summed it up for me, the realization, or rather reaffirmation of the changed times. The cell phone is part of the first aid kit today, and that’s not likely to change. GPS and newer related technologies like SPOT messengers are here to stay as well. They keep some people from getting lost, help others to be found and ultimately contribute to overall safety, which is truly a good thing.
Sure, the old-timer could declare that ‘back in the day’ people could navigate without GPS and survived without needing to be in constant range of rescue, that none of this expensive gadgetry is needed– but is that old fashioned style better in some way? Or are the multiple handhelds commonly relied on by backcountry travelers today and actual improvement on the map and compass? Well, so long as the batteries don’t die and everyone makes it home then the answer is to do whatever you like, but if something goes wrong with the gadgets along the way, well then the ability to fix the position of the boat, navigate through the whiteout or reach the only water for miles without a GPS could be the difference between a good trip and an epic. Furthermore, the ability to fix yourself or your partner without a phone to call for help could be the difference between making it home or making the news.
Now I’m not an old curmudgeon averse to new things. I’m all about the new stuff and I love playing with the gadgets. My relatively short tenure has spanned both the older era and the newer tech assisted one. A few times now GPS has rescued me from from potential trouble, but I’ve also learned how to triangulate my position with a map and compass. I still look back and recall how I used to love getting into it with the map and compass and go up against the sensation of being lost. I regularly text in my status to Christy, yet I’ve always appreciated how much I’ve learned from going out on solo days before cellphones, loving the self awareness, sufficiency and reliance of being alone and on my own– making decisions with real consequences without being able to phone for help. So since I consider myself to be just barely old enough to drop a ‘back in the day’ of my own, I’ll say it– I think it was a little different when you were out there and couldn’t simply call someone, consult the handheld or tell SPOT everything was OK. I have to wonder if some of the self reliance factor might be lost nowadays.
Maybe I’m wrong. Now onto the trip.
Despite my technology gripes, my Maze experience was really cool. In the five days we had there, Sean, Fletcher and I covered a lot of ground, the most fun stretch being that of backpacking the Maze proper, an overnight trip that took us from the Maze Overlook into the canyon and then up onto Pete’s Mesa trail and to the Land of Standing Rocks. Along the way we could peer down into Jasper Canyon, a closed area where as the story goes, cattle and sheep were never allowed to graze. It’s one of the few canyons that still exist today as they did before the arrival of the white men and the damaging effects of herding in the 1800’s. It looked pretty ordinary to us.
After a cool camp in the Standing Rocks neighborhood, the second day brought us back into the Maze by a different route, down to what’s known as Pictograph Fork. From there we headed north back towards the Overlook. Short on water we found a rather dirty sandstone pothole filled with the valuable commodity (as well as all sorts of other floating stuff)and filled up a few bottles. It smelled bad and looked even worse and thankfully we made it back to the truck before we needed to test out the effectiveness of our filtering/sterilizing strategy. Along the way we found ourselves passing under the famed Harvest Scene Pictograph, estimated to be about 2,000 years old. We stopped to admire to ancient Indian art panel for an whole two minutes which was all we could afford because we had Ray’s Tavern on the brain, which was still a long way away. Five hours of jeep roads later we were there, in Green River, wrapping up our trip in standard fashion, with a couple of Ray’s cheeseburgers.
And did I call in to Christy that everything was good? Well of course, but it wasn’t necessary. Not only did she already know, but after texting earlier from pretty close to the Harvest Scene we had already made plans to meet up with her and friends when back in Aspen later that night for a beer.
Now if only someone could invent some Star Trek-like transporter to get us out of there and remove the nine hour drive this whole Maze thing would be even easier.
Be careful what you wish for, right?