October 2010, Moab, Utah edition

Early morning departures are the sweetest. Eastbound, with the morning sun filling the windshield, eager wings climbing, and my good buddy, Mosley the dog, in the back seat with his head on my shoulder. I’m taking Mo back to Moab, Utah. It’s a place that will never cease to call. There’s a key to my heart that you enter through Moab.

The 600 mile flight leaves CA within 150 miles. The Sierra bumps haven’t woken up yet as we climb to 13.5K’. Above 13K ATC will carry you all the way across the Great Basin. Your compatriots are the bus drivers up at 34K’ and the hot rod military kids strafing the nap of the earth across Nevada. I love to hear speed reports expressed in ‘mach’. Hourly I’ll give pireps: “CAVU, 12kts tailwinds, zero turbulence, 0’C”. Could it be any better?

The vastness of the West can be defined as a desert. At times hostile, at times in massive bloom, it shapes our lives, culture and attitudes in so many ways. The shapes, and contours lead the eye to far horizons. Your gaze does not stop at 10′ or 10 miles; rather 100 miles. There is little between you and the curvature of beyond. Our coastal mind that knows green, that wakes to fog, that resides in humidity balks at the searing light and leanness of life on the desert palate. A lone butte lays stranded on a playa of sand like some beached galleon who’s dreams have gone aground. The wx gods jealously share their moisture with the desert. Long ago a desert god must have run off with the paramour of the rain god. Ever since, when rain comes to the desert, violent winds scour the land kicking up so much sand and dust it will rain mud. Lighting and thunder scorch the skies making one wince at the power. The deluge is usually brief but the hangover remains in rampaging creeks full of debris. Flash floods inundate without discretion. Whole hillsides can slip and wash down slope.

So many moments the desert drops off in sheer descents. Mesas steepen skyward to when the uplift exhausts itself. One is left on hands and knees, crawling to the edge, peering down into a chasm with no way down. The canyons, gullies, ridges and washes only imperative is to move water. Since the opera like upwelling of continental collision, water has taken over as the tailor of the desert. The lines are deep in the stone; like a weathered face whose skin has cracked and hardened. Within these grooves water is to be found.

Local sedimentary layers in the Moab area are Navajo and Entrada sandstone. The rock takes on soft, sinuous shapes reminding one of hoodoos, gargoyles and animal profiles. It’s easy to scamper up and around, bicycling is a thrill amongst the fins and ridges of sandstone. Tracks usually follow water courses, washes that lead deep into the bulk of a ridge. When the canyons get too tight or too full of water the climbing begins. Foot over hand, fingers wedged into cracks and toes clinging to ledges is the general mean of making your way up and out of a slot. There is no signage, it’s for your feet and heart to wander.

Tinajas are depressions in the slope of sandstone where water collects. These water pockets are lovely pools where aquatic life flourishes. The tinaja’s shape is elliptical with the uphill side deep where the water cascades into the pool. It then becomes shallow as it drops off to the next pool below. (This way organic debris can wash out keeping the water clean. Isn’t nature wonderful?) In a land that seems so desiccated the life within the canyons and cracks blooms with a fierceness and diversity. Life that evolves to the desert cycles exists nowhere else. These are species that can wait 10-100 years to hatch, bloom and send out roots or eggs. They then retreat during the dry and hot periods until the next wet season. Bird life thrives along the water thread. Plumage flashes from bush to ledge, curious that you have entered their domain. Like Alice you drop into Wonderland.

Our first visitors to Moab this season were Valerie and Mike Taylor. They have joined the great fall migration and are heading south to Florida. In just two days we hiked up into the spires of Fisher Towers, cooled our toes in the Colorado River, trekked out to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, went flight seeing, explored creek bottoms in search of petroglyphs, and enjoyed local music. My favorite part of their visit was taking them flying to get an eagle eye view of all the canyons and topography I have come to love. We banked into tight circles over slot canyons and dropped down over the cataract canyons of the Colorado where John Wesley Powell first explored and wrote about the west.

There is nothing less than glorious about this part of the world. It takes time to learn, and appreciate the wildness. The desert requires a quiet mind. When you understand the essence and clarity of desert life you can’t help but be seduced and fall in love. I just wish I could share with you all. Great friends, great fun, great flying!

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