Canyonlands' Call

Part II
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The great explorer John Wesley Powell and his crew were the first to map the river. On a July day in 1869 he noted in his diary "There is an exquisite charm in our ride down the beautiful canyon. We are in fine spirits. Now and then we whistle or shout or discharge a pistol, to listen to the reverberations among the cliffs."

Powell wrote those words while navigating a section of Green River his men dubbed Bowknot Bend. It's aptly named since the river makes a sharp and sudden U-turn, doubling back on itself before rolling the last 60 miles to its appointed rendezvous with the mighty Colorado River. The customarily high canyon walls make a dramatic dip as they approach the tip of Bowknot Bend. It's a 25-minute scramble from the riverbank to the narrow, depressed saddle of the ridge, but hikers are rewarded with two wide-screen views of the drunken river, both coming and going. A black plastic cylinder is tucked under a large rock that sits in the middle of the Bowknot saddle. Inside is a spiral notebook that passersby can use to record their fleeting thoughts for posterity. I flip through the pages, trying to picture the kindred spirits who have preceded us.

Ray, perhaps recently jilted by the love of his life, tersely scribbled,"You missed a great view, Nancy."

Some spaced-out chowderhead named "Sticky Fingers" proclaimed "I like the alluvial fan created by sheer willpower and psychedelia." (Huh?)

Jan, from Washington state, waxed poetic despite a November chill: "Water supply semi-frozen. . . Feet perpetually numb, but who cares; 'cause it's magic down in here. There's not a soul around. The depth of solitude gives me vertigo."

Bill and I feel that magic. We linger for several hours; snapping pictures, gobbling granola bars, admiring the graffiti carvings on a smooth outcrop of sandstone."E. Shores" etched his or her name on July 4, 1910. "N.E.W." passed this way in 1905; "Con Rodin" in 1927. We don't stoop to adding our names or initials to the clutter. After all, we are grown men. Instead we carry on like moronic summer campers, bellowing "Hell-o-o-o!" and "Qui-i-i-iet!" at the top of our lungs, listening as the echoes boomerang through the surrounding canyons.

The Bowknot's beauty earns a vocal salute. In contrast, the majesty of Two-Mile Canyon leaves us nearly speechless. Bill Schroeder highly recommended it as a side hike. At the tippy-top of the canyon wall, he said, is an open-faced cave called Five-Hole Arch.

"It's like a huge version of Yoda's house," he crowed, referring to the benevolent character from the"Star Wars" movie, The Empire Strikes Back. "It's like a condo!"

When he hit Two-Mile Canyon, we secure the canoe, walk about a mile in from the river, and find ourselves standing at a veritable Times Square intersection of mini-canyons. We sample the far left canyon, free climbing for more than an hour until the boulder-strewn incline becomes too steep and too precarious for a couple of middle-aged adventurers.

We descend that troublesome canyon and try another. And another. And another. Sunset arrives. The desert glows. We decide to stay overnight. The next morning we return for another look and find a tell-tale string of small cairns in one canyon. There's no sweeter sight in the middle of nowhere than a conical pile of stones, the hiking equivalent of Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs. Who knows who left them, but God bless 'em for taking the time. We follow the markers, lose the markers, find them again, and march onward and upward, eventually slipping through a tiny cut in the upper canyon wall. After five hours of paying dues - knees bashed, fingers pricked by cacti - we "rim out."

Ohmigod.

I feel like a daredevil ant who has miraculously arrived on the summit of the kitchen table. Behind me is an endless expanse of high-desert plateau. Below me, more than 1,000 feet down, courses that familiar ribbon of khaki-colored water. Our river. In the far distance, clinging to the edges of the Earth in the east and south, are the snowcapped La Sal and Henry mountains.We scurry around the rim for an hour, searching for more bread crumbs. Bill spots a lonesome cairn hidden amid the riffles and undulations. It leads us over a curled wave of rock and onto an exposed shelf. The lip extends perhaps 50 yards. The back wall is honeycombed from eons of wind and rain, forming an open-face cave. Yoda's penthouse condominium. My older brother and I trade high-fives in the living room. Best hike of our lives we say, fumbling to put the panorama in proper perspective.

"I can't believe we made it. Unbelievable!," I stammer. "GREAT hike," declares Bill. "Not just for the view, but for the challenge of finding everything. You'll sleep well tonight."

That I do. Under a star-splattered sky, I sleep like a baby. Like a man who has forgotten that he has a round-trip plane ticket back to civilization.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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