Twig Adventures

HayDay 3: Tom and the Tortoise

Monday, April 3rd, 2023, 0840-1730
Moab to S2 mm 5 BLM camp near Colorado River
16.5 miles, elevation 3950′

I heard the wind beating at the door all night and didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. The forecast called for 50 kt gusts through the day, and some rain then snow overnight. Tuesday might have some more snow and then temps in the 20s overnight. Boo. The problem was, if we waited around town another day or two, we’d miss our permit for Canyonlands NP. It cost us $46 for the privilege of pitching our tents on bare earth, with not even a pit toilet at the site. It was the same situation we got every night, the difference being that we got to pick our free sites based on wind direction and such. Forfeiting the money was one thing but also we wouldn’t be able to get a campsite any other night. Everything was booked. So we kind of had to go. I hate dealing with campsite reservations!

I headed to the main hostel area for breakfast and immediately met a guy with lots of questions about the hike. He looked familiar and was with a woman who also looked familiar. We exchanged names and the woman was Why Not (Nancy Hubner), whose TA blog I read years before. She’d also been a key player in Wired’s hikes. The man was Cache22 (Jim), named so because he maintains the popular and important water cache on Hat Creek Rim along the PCT. He was also at Billy Goat Days this past February, where I’d seen him before. I’m even in a picture with him (featuring all the Triple Crowners that were at the event). Unfortunately I didn’t officially make his acquaintance at Bill Goat Days but at least I got to meet him again here in Utah. Such a small world.

I was very awestruck getting to meet these notorious hikers, especially Why Not, who I greatly admired. She told me her true age but she looked like she’s in her 40s or 50s and probably still goes my pace. What an awesome lady. They were in Moab to start the Hayduke but were only hiking for a few weeks that they had off, picking the best sections given the conditions. We shared info for awhile. I’d wanted to get an early start this day, trying to make miles before the bad weather hit, but the trail dictated otherwise. Stickers and Adrian joined in, and we had a bubble of 6 hanging out in the hostel. Everyone but us decided to wait out the weather in town. So quickly we were back to 2.

We walked about 5 miles on roads to depart town, thankful for the pavement so we didn’t get dusted by all the jeeps. The caravans of 20 to 30 vehicles were another reason we should have gotten an early start. Just as the dirt began, we took the Jackson Hole alternate. Not only was it miles shorter, it got us off the blasted road and away from the jeeps…a no-brainer! It started as a phenomenal single track trail high above the Colorado river. We spotted an arch and the views all around were gorgeous. We climbed to a saddle and came to yet another cliff, by which the only option once again seemed to be to throw ourselves off it. The wind was so strong at the top, I was afraid to stand on a viewpoint, for fear of taking flight. But what a viewpoint it was. It took in the entirety of an old oxbow of the CO river, long ago cut off by the present day river course. The wide valley cut a curved swath around the center bluff, as high as the bluff on which we were standing.

The way down was through a steep and jumbled gully. A spiral staircase of rocks. A mad genius designed the trail, that’s for sure. We canyon-wrened our way down to the valley floor, regularly turning back to gawk at what we’d just come down. Just another HayDay. We joined a series of jeep roads in the valley, which we’d be on for the rest of the day. Miraculously, only 4 jeeps came by in 4 miles, praise be. The road was otherwise pleasant, despite the wind. But oh man the wind. It was blasting us for miles, in our faces and fighting ever step. I felt like I walked a lot longer than I did all day. It was almost double the effort going into it.

We reached a middle of nowhere feature by 2 pm, the BaseCamp Adventure Lodge. Tom and his family ran an Airbnb and adventure business. They’d also constructed the 3rd hardest frisbee golf course in the world…18 holes running throughout the property. They kindly welcomed parched and sandblasted hikers, offering water and chairs to escape the sun and wind. The day had been pretty awesome thus far and then it became one of my most interesting trail days ever, thanks to Tom and Kobea, one 250 lb African spiked tortoise. As Tom explained, he’s a Shepard of tortoises. He goes on 1 mph walks with Kobea and keeps him upright when Kobea bumbles off ledges and tumbles down gullies. A tortoise can’t turn itself upright and will die without assistance. Kobea was only 22 y\o and could live to 80, though Tom said he’ll die just after he does, as Tom won’t be around to turn him over anymore. They both seemed to enjoy roaming the desert together…slowly.

A new one for the record book…my most unusual petting on a trail ever!

Holes were aplenty this day! The first was Kobea’s hole, then Tom’s Mud Hut and his neighbor’s Hogan. Lastly we explored the Catacomb caves. Holes are necessary in the desert to escape the sun, wind and cold!

I could go on about all the funny crazy stories Tom told us but I think I’ll come back to stay for awhile later on, turning such treasures into a children’s book. I was so inspired and intrigued by Team Tortoise. Might we also have been dragging our feet and purposely delaying our return to the insanity of the wind? Yes. Seeing as how there wasn’t water for a long time coming up, we cooked our dinners there and cameled up. The radio station warned of 80 mph gusts over the next 4 hours and indeed the wind picked up even more. Suddenly we couldn’t see the surrounding canyons through all the dust. It was like one of those dust storms in the movies, though maybe not as dramatic and with a giant tortoise roaming around, mowing the grass nonchalantly. Very surreal.

Around 4 pm, the wind abated just enough for us to work up the guts to venture along. Tom offered for us to stay in his mud hut up the hill, which was very kind. He also told us to check out his neighbor’s hogan, which he hinted at probably being unoccupied for the night. We checked out both and they were neat, especially the hogan, which was furnished and so cozy inside. It was very tempting to take up residency in one, being so completely sheltered from the wind and possibly rain on the way. But something compelled us on…the need to get more miles I guess. We followed Tom’s suggested alternate, which kept is off the main jeep road for a few more miles and had great views of the river.

We reached a large rock outcrop called the catacombs, which had a series of caves to explore. Tom told us about these too, as a possible shelter from the elements. They were fun to wonder through but the powdery red dust inside turned me off from the idea of sleeping inside one. I just didn’t want to wake up painted red. But our only alternative might be to get sandblasted all night. We pressed on, feeling like there might be something better around the next bend. Miraculously, there was.

We came to a sunken draw with cottonwoods and willows. It led down to the river and was probably the lowest point we’d come to since Moab. On the south edge of the wash we found an oasis of flat ground covered by grass, right up against a small canyon wall. It was almost perfectly still in that area, while looking all around we could see the wind just thrashing the trees and bare earth, dust flying through the air. We lucked out to found the most protected spot for many miles (aside from the caves and private dwellings). We hastily set up our tents and dove in. It didn’t start raining until after dark and it was a pretty light rain, thank goodness. It was perfect for falling asleep to, even with the wind howling overhead. What a crazy place this desert is!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.