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[TR] High Plains Drifters - The Great American Road Trip is Alive and Well 8/19/2011

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Trip: High Plains Drifters - The Great American Road Trip is Alive and Well


Date: 8/19/2011


Trip Report:

High Plains Drifters


August 19 – 30, 2011


11 days, 2,800 miles, 5 states, 5 gallons of McDonald’s coffee. Whitewater, rock climbing, canyons, ghost towns. Even at four bucks a gallon, the Great American Road Trip is alive and well.



South Bound



Dam Hardware Model, Wanapum, WA



Space Cowboys




International Flavuh, Lime OR




Payette River ID



The Pastor's Ipod, Payette ID



City of Rocks ID




Magic Moment, City of Rocks ID



Intruding Dike, City of Rocks ID



Intruding Dike deux



Keep Right (near Naf, ID)



New Economy Fixer, Naf ID



Pulled Down Town (near Naf, ID)





3:57 pm:





We left the car at noon with 20 lbs of water between us. We had 5 left. We resumed our languid trudge through Zion’s thick summer heat, bound for a few brackish puddles called the Pothole seeps. What if they were dry? I tried not the think about it. On the way we found something better: a naturally air conditioned slot canyon with a pool of its own. After two luxuriant hours lounging on cool, shaded slickrock, we ascended in mere high 80 degree temperatures to a spectacular camp on clean, flat sandstone at the crest of the Left/Right Fork divide.



Pothole seeps oasis


The Right Fork of North Creek, AKA the Black Pool, is one of the most difficult and remote canyons in Zion. Its 17.5 miles of Manzanita, boulders, pools, waterfalls, cliffs, and slickrock starts in the middle Jurassic and drops back 150 million years to the Permian, a time when eight foot millipedes and eight pound spiders crept through fern forests devoid of flowers, mammals, or birds. With 50% more oxygen in the air, the bugs grew to gargantuan proportions. Come to think of it, the bugs are still pretty big in these parts.


Colleen had never been down a canyon. The Right Fork would be the perfect short course on the topic for a woman who prefers to get right into it. Sure enough, we got right into it. Not five minutes into the hike a large Western Rattler lay across the trail. They’re not aggressive…and that’s the problem. Their nonchalance makes for a venomous tripping hazard. Their robust population density and excellent camouflage adds an interesting dimension to bushwhacking.


On a previous Zion trip a large Western Rattler struck a friend’s Teva (or so he thought) after he’d stepped over the log it was coiled under. The snake couldn’t dislodge its fangs; it took one hell of an interpretive dance routine to finally send it flying. As he recounted his story at a BBQ several days later, I noticed two faint dots on his foot.

“It got more than your Teva”.


Rattlers rarely bite, and when they do, they envenomate only a third of the time. My friend had unknowingly played these odds and won.



Great Basin Rattlesnake (Crotanus oreganus lutosus)



Few parties do the Right Fork. Most opt instead for the shorter, more well-known Left Fork, AKA the Subway. In fact, no one had “officially” done the Right Fork since June (there were recent “unofficial” tracks however). The Park Service had no current information on the route, save a vague report of a new landslide, which had formed a dam and lake somewhere down canyon. We did have Brereton’s guidebook description from the 70’s, so we weren’t flying completely blind. It proved to be pretty accurate…with some notable exceptions.


We left Lava Point at noon and, after less than an hour of trail, began the scratchy descent into Wildcat Canyon, which was still running near its head. By 7:00 we were camped at the Right/Left Fork Divide. Colleen had turned her ankle earlier in the day, so we decided to stop there and reassess in the morning.



Right Fork, from the Divide


The following morning I woke up way too early, mistaking the moon for the sun or some such, cooked us breakfast, checked my watch, felt stupid, and went back to sleep. At first light, Colleen gave me the green light on her ankle. We descended easy slickrock before crossing the drainage to the West to gain brushy, dead end ridge. After running the ridge we then dropped right and down the Giant Stairway, which had several pools of water. When the Giant Stairway steepened, we did not descend the slot as recommended, but traversed left then down a brushy slope to a lower slot above a pool. The rap anchor is just beyond that. There were little frogs everywhere. One leapt off a 20 foot high rock when I startled him. We rapped to the floor of the Right Fork. The infamous Black Pool lay just around the corner.



Giant Staircase


A couple of delicate fifth class friction moves gains access to the bypass ledges left of the Black Pool. From there a party must rap back into the pool at about the halfway point. Brereton recommends this bypass, but after checking it out, we decided to just swim it.


We donned out wetsuits for a short lap through what looked and smelled like a sewer. It seemed like every dead thing in Zion had wound up in the Black Pool. I puffed up the drybags in my pack, tossed it in, and jumped on, propelling myself forward with an ungainly breast stroke of sorts. When the water smells that bad, one learns how to high center balance on a tippy little pack pretty quickly. The swim was relatively short, 25 yards or so, followed by an equally long waist deep wade. The water was in the high 50s. Wetsuits were overkill, but we had ‘em, and damn it, we were gonna use ‘em.



Black Pool Fun


With the crux behind us, it was all downhill, right?



Downstream of the Black Pool


We spelunked under a couple of huge chockstones, followed by hiking and bouldering interspersed with a few short raps. We had to retrieve one long runner around a chockstone with a stick. It could use a backup (10 to 12 feet of webbing would do the trick) but I didn’t enough.






Right Fork of North Creek


The Grand Alcove is the real jewel of this trip. It’s emerald pool is arguably the most wonderful swimming hole in Zion. Two short raps got us in from the ledges on the left. It’s floor receives only a couple of hours of sunlight a day, so it’s more of a warm weather destination.



Grand Alcove



Apostrophe, Grand Alcove



Pool, Grand Alcove



Ferns, Grand Alcove


Barrier Falls, according to the guide, was supposed to be our last rap. It’s a long, wet one into a large, chest deep pool. Colleen went first. She descended slowly and, about 10 feet from the pool, suddenly pitched sideways and out of sight, as if pulled by a stage hook.


After a few tense moments, she emerged smiling.



Barrier Falls


I followed, determined not to repeat her maneuver…and repeated it. Once at the final vertical section just above the pool, I slipped and pendulumed into the opposite wall of a dihedral, nearly smashing my skull in the process. This grand finale can probably be avoided by rapping over the ferns further to the right (left when on rappel). It’s not as natural a line visually, but gravity is king. The guide recommends diagonaling way left, presumably to avoid the pool. Don’t try it.



Barrier Falls


Here the creek leaves Navajo Sandstone (a fossilized dune desert) and begins to cut through the stepped, rust and crème sandstone of the Kayenta Formation. The Kayenta is apparently where most of the dinosaur tracks are. We were more focused on spotting live reptiles than dead ones, however. Wet Kayenta can be slick. Expect some ass time. 103°F erodes the appeal of the brushy bypasses, though. We mixed it up.

We then bypassed Double Falls via a “trail” above and to the left, as recommended by the guide.


Don’t do it. I nearly killed myself and Colleen by knocking several large blocks off of this idiot’s work-around, then had to tiptoe through bushels of poison ivy to escape it. I’m still scratching. At one point I barely held a large block in place while yelling “Back up!” to Colleen, who was immediately below me. She stepped back, I let fly. We both agreed that this was by far the worst section of the entire trip. It’s entirely avoidable slinging one of many available trees and simply rapping straight down the falls.



Robin Caruso


We encountered one more falls below and this time we did rap it...right into a bramble of dead cottonwood. 7 mm ropes really have an affinity for the stuff. By the time I got the ropes unsnarled I was ready to rip my own face off.



Kayenta Waterfall



Lightning Victim


The canyon is teeming: mountain sheep, snakes (like the second Western Rattler I damn near stepped on in a heat induced stupor), a plague of frogs, fish seemingly capable of exceeding the speed of light, and ridiculously oversized wasps and dragonflies in colors that would put any reef fish to shame.



CanyonTree Frog (Hyla arenicolor)



Damselfly (Enallagma cyanthigerum)



Leaf Footed Bug (Acanthocephala Terminalis)



Striped Whipsnake (Masticophis taeniatus)


From here the drainage widens, passing one major side canyon on each, constricts, then widens again into a broad valley well over a mile in diameter. A landslide has dammed the creek at the end of this valley (where the canyon constricts once again) at 4275 ft. This spot is also right where the Cougar Mountain Fault perpendicularly crosses the Right Fork, which may have something to do with the slide’s location. The bypasses looked horrific, so we swam across the lake (twice, as it turns out). 10-15 yards across each time; the water temperature was pleasant. Once out, we scurried quickly over the slide, which continues to bowl for hikers, and got the hell out of there.



Slide Lake



Slide Lake Lap Swim


We passed the slide just before sunset and began looking for a bivvy. Colleen was spent. I wasn’t all that fresh myself. What I really wanted to see was a large, flat boulder. One appeared not 15 minutes later. Had I conjured it? Thunder rumbled down from the upper canyon (a flash flood warning had been issued for the Black Pool for that evening, as we found out later). This boulder would keep us high and dry should the stream come up. Perfect.



Bowling for Hikers


We still had a bit of salami and a couple of Kind bars left, so we didn’t go to bed hungry. We spread out wetsuits, shoes, and socks on the coyote willow and went to quickly to sleep.

We harvested some tuna for breakfast. They were plentiful. It’s best to use a knife to defang them. We didn’t. A pair of tweezers would have come in handy.



Tuna: It's What's for Breakfast


We hit the Right/Left Fork confluence about a mile downstream. From there, we ascended to the lava escarpment to our right, found the trail through it, and headed for the parking lot. About 2 miles total. Three young, tattooed framers from Salina passed me on the road, screeched to a halt, backed up at maximum warp, and power slid to a stop right in front of me. Pretty decent roadsmanship, actually. I hopped in and spent bulk of the ride up listening to how many vehicles they’d flipped. Our driver, who’d lost his license long ago, had hit a guardrail at 90 mph and endoed his truck, which landed back on all four wheels, although somewhat worse for wear. They were a three-man wrecking yard.



Exfoliation by Manzanita


They dropped me at the Lava Point turnoff. I walked 100 yards of the 1.8 mile dirt road and damn, a jovial woman named Jane picked me up in an Outback. There are a few turnoffs on the way; in her confusion she backed into a large ponderosa pine and damn near gave me a case of whiplash. Fortunately, there was a physician in the car; her. As it turns out, she had done the Right Fork in June. Her party had discovered the landslide and its attendant lake.


As I was busy slamming into trees, Johnny Law was grilling Colleen about our permit, which, of course, I had with me. He called it in, though.


“So, you decided to spend an extra night out, eh?”


More acceptance than decision, really.


I picked up Colleen and we shifted focus to our next major problem: Where to have a gigantic, greasy breakfast? We hit the Highway and, right in front of us, there it was: the Red Coyote Café. Had we arrived a day later they would have been closed…for good. Great place. What a shame.


That’s how it goes in Zion. It chills, roasts, scratches, bites, frightens, then rewards you…if you pay attention. If not, well, best of luck.






Unless you need cosmetic surgery or a sister wife, there really isn’t any reason to drive to or from Zion through Salt Lake City. Highway 93 through Nevada is about the same distance, has little or slowdowns for construction, and is emptier…and that makes it a lot more interesting.


What happens in Nevada, stays in Nevada. You can still see the Pony Express Trail, the mines, the ghosts towns, the broken dreams. Then, there’s the people, or desert rats, as they like to call themselves. They’re…different.


We tried to drive through the ghost town of Modena, UT (on the Nevada route, so it counts as a Nevada town), and wound up spending the morning with Vincent Price and his menagerie of strays, including one Sterling Harkner, the first polygamists either of us had ever met. Price recounted this story about his friend Harkner.


At one time, Harkner was the CEO of a multi-million dollar dairy farm. Nearly all of his two wives and 21 children worked the business, and that made it very profitable. Harkner looks every bit the dairyman: meaty hands, a severe underbite (dentists are a luxury), thick soled Velcro shoes, worn check shirt. During our visit, Colleen looked at a dead cicada and asked “What’s that?” “A bug” Harkner answered, as if she was from Mars. And that’s the polygamist culture: unsentimental, practical, and profit oriented. Anything else is simply not worth your time.


One day, Warren Jeffs appeared on Harkner’s doorstep with two of his “bishops” to inform the latter that he planned to marry off the dairyman’s 15 year old daughter to a 45 year old polygamist near Salt Lake City. Harkner slowly put his arm around his daughter and replied “No, I think I’ll keep her around for a while”.


Jeff’s had Harkner excommunicated from the church, and, within 2 years, the dairyman had lost both wives (“Jeffs had them reassigned”), his dairy, and his children, all of whom feared being cut off from their faith and community. He now helps Vincent Price around his place in exchange for room and board.

Price explained “You’ve seen those big houses with multiple dormers in the middle of nowhere? Polygamists. They treat women as chattel – they’re for breeding. The idea of animals as pets is a nonstarter. Animals are for profit, period. “

Price owns about half of Modena, which has been a ghost town since the train stopped stopping there. Oh, plenty of trains still go through town– as many as 20 a day, each with a hundred cars or more. He even owns the beautiful sandstone WPA building below, which he recently reroofed. As strange as it is, this junky little town is now practically a wildlife sanctuary; there were birds everywhere. And Price is still fit as a fiddle at nearly 80, due in no small part to his efforts the fix the place up.



Vincent Rice and the Mayor of Modena



Modena UT: Population 11 + 2


We then drove through Pioche. Take the route though town. Pioche is a classic western mining town with an ignoble history. Once boasting a population in the thousands, 84 people died there before the first died of natural causes.



Ruby & E Humboldt Mts, from Sprucemont, NV




Middle Fork of the Boise River ID



Back Seat Driver, M Fk Boise R



MF Fk Boise R



Balance, Arrowrock Rsvr ID



Bossi De Vaca, North America's Greatest Explorer (Arrowrock Rsvr, ID)



Finches in the Fire - Rosy-Finches (Leucosticte)



Greenscaping, Lucky Peak Lake ID


Edited by tvashtarkatena
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