Journal of Michael Baum / Travels of an Artist

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Exploring Utah
Day Four: Running South

We awake to another morning of cloudy skies and cool temperatures. It's time to head south. We drive through Capitol Reef under gray skies and turn south at Notom Road. We pull off again on the eastern edge of the park. Paul is determined to get photos of the domes of Capitol Reef spotlighted in the sun. Sunlight is getting through in meager shafts spotlighting the dull landscape. Paul assumes a position on a hilltop. We wait. Patrice and I explore the nearly barren vicinity. It is beautiful in its starkness. There are long spines of tiny, flat crystals poking up through the sand, creating a fractal reproduction of the huge formations of Capitol Reef running in parallel ridges just to the west. We wait. The sun just won't go where Paul wants it to go. Finally, we have to move on without the shot. We have many miles to go. To the south along the Waterpocket Fold, we can see the clouds thinning to distant blue skies, beckoning.
Desert bloom
We are driving in a trough between two sets of ocean breakers. That's the drive down the Waterpocket Fold. To our left, the sheer rise of cliffs runs almost unbroken to the south, the front edge of a wave about to break. To our right, the  incline of white Navaho sandstone gleams as it rises to the west, the foamy backside of a wave as it breaks. The road surfs between the two for miles as we travel south. The clouds thin. The sun comes through, bright and strong.

Waterpocket Fold on the left...

...and on the right.



The ferry across Lake Powell: end of the road



The Waterpocket Fold ends at Lake Powell. So does the road. It runs down a ramp and disappears into the lake. This is the ferry boat crossing at Bullfrog. We drive on board and shove off, pondering  the strangeness of this part of the journey. Less than an hour before, we were bumping down a dusty, two-track road in the desert. Now we are floating across this large body of water, a cool breeze, the sound and scent of water. Below us, the drowned reaches of Glenn Canyon.


Through the porthole
(photo by Patrice Rhoades-Baum, copyright © 2010)


Once across the lake, we're back in the desert. No towns. No houses, just desert. No one lives here except a few cattle ranchers. But people did live here a thousand years ago, and they left evidence of their lives. In the Red House Cliffs, we explore two habitation sites with ruins and associated rock art panels.

Ancestral Puebloan ruins
At Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch hides many more ancient secrets in its shady alcoves. We can see its rims just visible among the junipers and pinons that blanket the mesa. We pass the turnoff to Collins Spring, the departure point for a backpacking trip into the depths of the canyon two years ago  (see "Creative Quicksand"). We drive past more scenes of previous adventures, Kane Canyon, Bullet Canyon, Government Trail, Muley Point. My mind flies back in time at every turnoff. Then we fly off the edge of the world.

Hanging on

The road suddenly disappears over the edge of the mesa and falls more than 1000 feet straight down the sheer cliff face, a narrow and tortuous gravel road called the Moki Dugway. The view is astounding. Far below is the Valley of the Gods, and in the distance, Monument Valley cuts the horizon. If you are ever in southeast Utah, this is a must see. We slowly make our way down, hoping we don't encounter a large livestock truck or RV coming the other way. Looking back from the bottom, it seems impossible that a road could climb those cliff walls.
Moki Dugway

The Valley of the Gods is a familiar landscape. I grew up seeing it every week in Roadrunner cartoons. I first saw it for real a few years ago and have wanted to return to see the sunset on the soaring buttes, spires and pinnacles spread out across this monument to time and erosion. We turn off for the 17 mile drive through  It's very late in the afternoon now, and we hope for some dramatic lighting as evening progresses. But clouds are crowding the sky once again, dulling the light. We race to get photos before it disappears completely and make plans to return tomorrow evening.

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods      

Valley of the Gods
(photo by Patrice Rhoades-Baum, copyright © 2010)

Valley of the Gods

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