Saturday, November 14, 2015

Ghosts Of The Cowboys: Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona Strip

Highway 89A on the Arizona Strip.

Early November, and back to the Arizona Strip. That lonely, austere, beautiful high desert land between Grand Canyon and the Utah state line.

Welcome to the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
The Marble Platform, the flat shelf above the Marble Canyon portion of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Sagebrush and saltbush and bare soil in between. Soil and stones and bedrock. 

The Vermilion Cliffs and approaching early winter storm.

And lots of blue sky, normally. But not today. Winter was approaching, and I wanted to be there.

I might be that rare person that, when the weather forecast indicates a snow storm coming into an area, I head for it instead of away. Well, at least in late fall I do. I love the changing of the seasons. And not being sweaty just by sitting outside doing nothing at the time, relaxing. And not having to clean the bug guts off the windshield yet again that day.

Simple things.

The clouds were very low, enveloping the Kaibab Plateau just to the west. Snowing up there. But not down here on the Platform. Not yet. If the weather forecaster man in Flagstaff was right, it would be snowing right about this elevation -- 5,000 feet -- before the day was done. So I was hopeful.

Vermilion Cliffs cowboy cabin ruin.
From Highway 89A I drove onto a sandy BLM (Bureau of Land Management) road that headed straight north toward the Cliffs. It was a spot I'd visited before, and it had an historic red rock cowboy cabin ruin.

Cowboy cabin light and shadows. The roof is gone, but not the rafters.
I walked out back of the cabin to take in more of the scenery, of the brilliant light. The corrals are still there. It was clear that this had been no quick, thrown-together deal. A lot of work had gone into it. A cement truck had been driven back here, for the poured concrete foundation of the cabin, and the cement watering or feeding troughs out back, I don't know which.

Corrals and winter storm light, Vermilion Cliffs.
Stock pens and approaching storm clouds, Vermilion Cliffs.
Cowboy cabin ruin and Vermilion Cliffs.
Approaching winter storm, Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona Strip.
Corral, Cliffs, and storm clouds.

Storm clouds, red sand, and sagebrush.
I imagined living there. I'm no cowboy. Just a naturalist, a lover of nature, the land. But just like back then, you have to have a livable income. Otherwise you will have to leave, and your house will start aging back into the landscape.

Photo location: Marble Platform and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Coconino County, Arizona.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lonesomest Award: Utah Highway 72

Fishlake National Forest, from Highway 72

Autumn is the greatest season of all. That's a given. Unless you love summer or spring more. In that case I can't help you.

Because nothing can touch autumn. Fall. Harvest time. Time to hibernate, even though we really don't. Though we should.

Fishlake National Forest, from Highway 72.
Thus I've been finding myself driving through southeast Utah in mid November, in a year of early snowfalls.  Snow in the red rock high desert canyon country, followed by blue skies. Why would I want to hibernate?

I drove west into the San Rafael Swell. I stopped to admire its eastern flanks. An interpretive sign called it the "Eastern Edge Of Nowhere". I like that. The wild west outlaw Butch Cassidy and his I Wild Bunch once roamed these parts. Now we cruise up over them at a speed limit of 80 Miles Per Hour. 

If you stick to the Interstate highway, that is.

The Henry Mountains, from Highway 72
I enjoyed it for a while. Then I exited. I wanted to head south, toward Capitol Reef National Park. I took Highway 72 for the first time. Conditions were good, and I had lots of time. How could I lose?

Highway 72 turned out to be a delight. It would never make the category of world class, which in a way only comforted me more. It was high and lonesome. I did not pass a single vehicle either way, though there were some hunters' rigs camped at the pass. I had the urge to camp myself. I would be back.

Looking down onto the high desert around Capitol Reef National Park.

Down the north side, down to lovely Fremont, and Loa. Irrigated cattle and sheep country below the snowy high country. Pasture and high country. Rural life. 

Forest and high prairie, Fishlake National Forest.
I stopped at the grocery store in Loa. Stocked up on some food, then drove on. Highway 72 across part of the Fishlake National Forest was still on my mind.

Fremont, Utah, just north of Loa.

Thus I give my Lonesomest Award for November 2015 to Utah Highway 72. Long may it be so beautifully lonesome.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg