"Geologic Time Includes Now"
This is the most beautiful place on earth.
There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, known or unknown, actual or visionary....There's no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment. Theologians, sky pilots, astronauts have even felt the appeal of home calling to them from up above, in the cold black outback of interstellar space.
For myself I'll take Moab, Utah. I don't mean the town itself, of course, but the country which surrounds it -- the canyonlands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs and the lonely sky -- all that which lies beyond the end of the roads.
Fraying contrails streak another bluebird sky above the red desert plateau,
and I wonder how many sunburnt days these badlands have seen since their
creation. It's Saturday morning, April 26, 2003, and I am mountain biking by
myself on a scraped dirt road in the far southeastern corner of Emery County, in
central-eastern Utah. An hour ago, I left my truck at the dirt trailhead parking
area for Horseshoe Canyon, the isolated geographic window of Canyonlands
National Park that sits fifteen air miles northwest of the legendary Maze District, forty miles southeast of the great razorback uplift
of the San Rafael Swell, twenty miles west of the Green River, and some forty
miles south of I-70, that corridor of commerce and last chances (next services:
110 miles). With open tablelands to cover for a hundred miles between the
snowcapped ranges of the Henrys to the southwest -- the last range in the U.S.
to be named, explored, and mapped -- and the La Sals to the east, a strong wind
is blowing hard from the south, the direction I'm heading. Besides slowing my
progress to a crawl -- I'm in my lowest gear and pumping hard on a flat grade
just to move forward -- the wind has blown shallow drifts of maroon sand onto
the washboarded road. I try to avoid the drifts, but occasionally, they blanket
the entire road, and my bike founders. Three times already I've had to walk
through particularly long sand bogs.
The going would be much easier if I didn't have this heavy pack on my back. I wouldn't normally carry twenty-five pounds of supplies and equipment on a bike ride, but I'm journeying out on a thirty-mile-long circuit of biking and canyoneering -- traversing the bottom of a deep and narrow canyon system -- and it will take me most of the day. Besides a gallon of water stored in an insulated three-liter CamelBak hydration pouch and a one-liter Lexan bottle, I have five chocolate bars, two burritos, and a chocolate muffin in a plastic grocery sack in my pack. I'll be hungry by the time I get back to my truck, for certain, but I have enough for the day.
The truly burdensome weight comes from my full stock of rappelling gear: three locking carabiners, two regular carabiners, a lightweight combination belay and rappel device, two tied slings of half-inch webbing, a longer length of half-inch webbing with ten prestitched loops called a daisy chain, my climbing harness, a sixty-meter-long and ten-and-a-half-millimeter-thick dynamic climbing rope, twenty-five feet of one-inch tubular webbing, and my rarely used Leatherman-knockoff multi-tool (with two pocketknife blades and a pair of pliers) that I carry in case I need to cut the webbing to build anchors. Also in my backpack are my headlamp, headphones, CD player and several Phish CDs, extra AA batteries, digital camera and mini digital video camcorder, and their batteries and protective cloth sacks.
It adds up, but I deem it all necessary, even the camera gear. I enjoy photographing the otherworldly colors and shapes presented in the convoluted depths of slot canyons and the prehistoric artwork preserved in their alcoves. This trip will have the added bonus of taking me past four archaeological sites in Horseshoe Canyon that are home to hundreds of petroglyphs and pictographs. The U.S. Congress added the isolated canyon to the otherwise contiguous Canyonlands National Park specifically to protect the five-thousand-year-old etchings and paintings found along the Barrier Creek watercourse at the bottom of Horseshoe, a silent record of an ancient people's presence. At the Great Gallery, dozens of eight-to-ten-foot-high superhumans hover en echelon over groups of indistinct animals, dominating beasts and onlookers alike with their long, dark bodies, broad shoulders, and haunting eyes. The superbly massive apparitions are the oldest and best examples of their design type in the world, such preeminent specimens that anthropologists have named the heavy and somewhat sinister artistic mode of their creators the "Barrier Creek style." Though there is no written record to help us decipher the artists' meaning, a few of the figures appear to be hunters with spears and clubs; most of them, legless, armless, and horned, seem to float like nightmarish demons. Whatever their intended significance, the mysterious forms are remarkable for their ability to carry a declaration of ego across the millennia and confront the modern observer with the fact that the panels have survived longer and are in better condition than all but the oldest golden artifacts of Western civilization. This provokes the question: What will remain of today's ostensibly advanced societies five thousand years hence? Probably not our artwork. Nor any evidence of our record amounts of leisure time (if for no other reason than most of us fritter away this luxury in front of our television sets).
From Between A Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, pages 1-30. Copyright © 2004 by Aron Ralston. All rights reserved, no part of this excerpt maybe reproduced without specific permission from the publisher.
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