Monday, 8 November 2010

Anderson-Hale Expedition to Southeast Utah/Southwestern Colorado Part II

As mentioned in the last post, blogspot got upset with me about the quantity of photos that I was posting from our trip so I had to split this into two parts.  Then I got distracted by various things and so the second half of that story hasn't been written until now.

Upon turning off down the road towards the Henry Mountains, we drove up a narrow dirt road through various ecozones.  Ascending in elevation, we passed through the desert floor, up into a more vegetated but still sandstone and red-dirt based level, and then gradually up into the pine trees and aspen groves of the mountains.  It was mid-autumn and the aspens were incredible.  The road was covered in a thick carpet of yellow aspen leaves and as we watched, the wind rattled the branches and the falling leaves gave the impression that it was snowing fat, yellow flakes.  The road continued to narrow and N took us up it expertly until we broke through the trees.  We stopped in a high meadow and turned to look out across the landscape.  There was a freezing wind, and above us, the peaks of the mountains were snowcapped, but below us there was the red of the desert floor, and the dry canyons we'd just come from, and far in the distance, the snow-capped La Sals (which we initially thought might have been the higher San Juans, in Colorado, but in retrospect they were much too far away).

From there, we turned and drove out of the mountains and back into the desert, to see Lake Powell.  Lake Powell is part of the enormous Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and it was a very strange sight to see.  I had never been there, had only read about the flooding of the natural sandstone canyons when the Colorado was dammed in the 1960s to create reservoirs to feed water-hungry cities in Arizona, Nevada, and California, and to see a lake in the middle of the desert was very strange.  Moreover, the lake is ENORMOUS!  I can't even express how big it was -- and how strange it looked. Unlike it's downstream partner, Lake Mead, Lake Powell does not seem to have gone down very much in the past few years of drought, but there are still areas where it is clear that the lake has shrunk from a previous high level.  The strangest part of it was the presence of green water reeds clustered down along the shoreline -- these do not look right in the red sandstone canyons.  Edward Abbey mourned the loss of the unexplored canyons that were flooded to create this thing in Desert Solitaire, which I read several years ago, but I didn't fully understand what was lost until I saw it.  Just the thought of all the archaeology submerged below its surface...

We stared out at the lake from clifftops for a while, and then had a look at where the river flows into it, and talked about all these things, and then started to drive back towards Denver in earnest.  We were many hours away and had a lot of ground to cover.  We skirted around Canyonlands National Park and then turned towards the La Sal Mountains and on towards the Colorado border.  N chose a route for us that would take us on a road we'd never taken before -- hard to do between the two of us in Colorado, but he managed it.

We drove along the path of the Dolores River.  I once camped for a week along this river on the Colorado/Utah border, but had never followed it closer to its source in the San Miguel Mountains (near Mt Wilson).  This took us through Paradox Valley, so named due to the fact that, paradoxically, the Dolores flows across it rather than down its length.  The area is sparsely populated but beautiful.  Following that we moved back into the red sandstone of the Dolores River Valley, and travelled through a very wild, uninhabited region.  We passed the "Hanging Flume", a relic of an engineering feat from the age of mining, whose signpost proclaimed that it was just as endangered as the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal (complete with pictures comparing the three) (here's a picture of the Hanging Flume from flickr, for your comparison purposes: 

From there we carried on, away from the desert and up into the snowy Rockies, then down again to Denver.  The most notable happening of our final portion of the trip was when we turned on the radio as we neared Grand Junction with the hopes of hearing the score of the Broncos game... and heard that the score was 38-0 in the first half... before hearing that the Broncos were the 0 side of that equation.  N's jaw was literally hanging open for a few minutes after that.  Luckily he managed to pull it together and we made it back home without further incident. 

And thus endeth the account of the Third Anderson-Hale Expedition to Southeast Utah/Southwestern Colorado in the year of Our Lord 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment