Solitude

January 16 – 22

We awoke Saturday morning in St George rather sluggishly. The motel room’s heater was on the fritz, having only two modes: off and full heat blast.

We took our time getting out the door, recouping after the long traverse across Nevada the day before. That afternoon, we took a nice 10 mile off-road drive from the corner of town into the Dixie National Forest and set out on a short hike to Yant flats and the Candy Cliffs. Pale orange and red striations cut through the sandstone around us, as we leisurely climbed a few hundred feet over a couple miles through the sagebrush and juniper trees. Ground-hugging cacti spotted the trail along the way, and we were sure to be mindful of Charley wandering about so as to avoid any needle sticks. 

Arriving at the Flats, we stopped briefly to take in the enormity of the landscape in front of us. An ongoing difficulty in the West is conceptualizing the scale of the cliffs, peaks and formations strewn about in the vast wilderness. The Candy Cliffs, farther along the same trail, offered a stillness that was lacking at the Flats, as most folks don’t continue on after that.

Lonny’s BBQ in Hurricane, Utah, was for dinner that evening, as we made our way to Fredonia, AZ and our next lodging. It seems the mask mandate in Utah is taken as more of a suggestion unfortunately. But the food filled us up and we finished the last hour and a half drive in the dark that evening.

Our Airbnb in Fredonia took us out in the remote hills far beyond the small town. 12 miles down a forest road, and a left on a dirt road, another 1.5 miles down that road, and a couple small turns through the sagebrush got us to our destination: White Sage Solitude. Set way back beneath a shimmering bath of stars that evening was our off-the-grid cabin that we’d call home for the next three nights. The place was quirky and really neat.

I guess I didn’t realize, when booking the place, that it’d entail small solar powered lights, a wood stove for heat, a hand crank to pull water from the catchment system (no running water), and an outhouse. But the experience was one-of-a-kind, and by the time we left, we were glad we’d stayed there.

Another difficulty in our off-the-grid stay was planning hikes and activities for the next day. We had hairy cell service, described by Jamie as service that “comes and goes with the wind.”

We awoke Sunday morning to find the fire in the wood stove had gone out overnight. It was obvious to us without checking the stove, as we’d shiver if we left the warmth of the massive thick comforter. Charley was in her crate down by the fire, so hopefully it stayed a bit warmer longer for her.

Up out of bed at sunrise, Jamie boiled water on the propane stove to prepare our showers. We’d heat a large pot of water and mix it with a bucket of cold water from the catchment to the proper shower temperature, and a battery powered motor placed in the bucket would pull the water up through a tube to the shower head. All in all, the showers were better than expected, save for the shower being in the uninsulated sun room, where it was 20 degrees in the morning.

After quick showers, we percolated some coffee and gathered our items needed for the day: daypacks, coats, water, snacks, dog. We grabbed breakfast at Kanab Creek Bakery (a spot in Kanab we’d frequented in past trips through the area) and hit the trail. The out and back hike we picked (Mansard Great Diverse Trail) was close to Kanab, and featured some thousand-year-old petroglyphs at its terminus.

It’s a love-hate relationship with the sun, and this is a notion that would constantly float into my head during our time in canyon country. Overnight, it’s as low as the teens, and we were thrilled to be warmed by the sun’s arrival. During the hike, though, we found ourselves praying for clouds, as 50F is made to feel like 80F with unrelenting sun.

We reached the petroglyphs, and stayed only briefly, as shade was a more prominent thought in our heads. We passed etchings of countless wiseasses carving their initials in the soft sandstone on the way out from the petroglyph site. Always a downer to see that.

It often felt like we’re in a western film when we hiked. The backdrop is a painting, our landscape frozen in time as we wander through it. Everything is still.

Back at the cabin, I got the fire ripping in the wood stove while Jamie fixed up dinner: Spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread. She’d make enough for two nights, so we’d save a bit on buying food and not have to worry about hunting down dinner the next night. “I’ll keep you warm, if you keep me full.” 

After dinner, we walked through the garden that meandered through the white sage on the east side of the cabin. I picked some sage and crushed it between my fingers. A sweet and pungent scent, perhaps mildly nauseating but only for its aromatic strength.

We settled on the couch afterward, listening to logs crack in the stove, and the solar-supported fridge hum ever so quietly. Sitting for the sake of sitting, paralyzed by comfort and contentment. No rush, no tv. Cell phones yes (when service allowed), but only to plan our next activities.

The lack of power outlets had us doing the battery charging dance between the camera, phones, and my gps watch to make sure we had what we needed in terms of info, navigation, and communication for our remote hikes and excursions. With a couple battery banks and charging in the car en route, we were able to make due. 

That night, we made plans for the next day to head for White Pocket, an otherworldly geological feature. We rented a jeep in advance for the trip, as getting there required as much off-road driving as it did on-road.

Rising before the sun the following morning, we weren’t surprised to see the fire had died overnight again. It was cold. We got ready quick, doing the pump, heat, and shower cycle with the water a bit more efficiently on our second try. 

Out the door around 7:30, we made our way back into Kanab, grabbing a coffee at the permanent roadside truck and heading over to the rental shop for our wheels.

A sharp red ’99 Jeep Cherokee with 240k miles would be our “stallion,” as Jamie put it. Equipped with knobby tires (with an extra), and a shovel and air compressor in the trunk (in case things got a little too interesting), the 4×4 beast was just what we needed.

We took 89 South out of Kanab for 45 minutes, splitting off onto the dirt and gravel House Rock Rd for another 23 miles or so. Charley wasn’t keen on the bucking and rumbling of the jeep and climbed up on her momma’s lap for much of the off-road venture.

Another 11 miles down unmaintained paths, we got our first experience of driving in several inches of sand, and the slightly euphoric/slightly concerning soft drift of the vehicle as it briefly lost traction. The 40 miles of gravel and sand road driving took over 2.5 hours each way, but being far more interesting of a route, it never felt like it. And when we arrived to White Pocket, well over 3 hours after setting out from Kanab, it was quickly decided that the ends justified the means.

One of two cars at the parking area when we arrived, I thought to myself, “I hope this place never gets to be more accessible.” The beauty of places like White Pocket come not only from their awe-inspiring natural features, but also their remoteness, and lack of human footprint.

A “pocket,” in ranchers terms, is an area where waters collect and sit for some time, available to their cattle while grazing. White Pocket clearly had many of these natural tub-like areas. 

Cloud cover was our savior that day, protecting us from the heat during our afternoon exploration. It had the added benefit of providing some excellent light for photography. This place was one of the most bizarre and intriguing areas either of us had ever seen. No description will adequately describe the layout strewn out before us. So here are some photos.

We loaded up the Stallion after three or so hours of perusing the area, being awe-struck around every corner. Driving the 2.5 hours back from the deep wilderness to pavement, and another 45 minutes of highway driving, we arrived back in Kanab shortly after dusk. Good timing, too, because those unmaintained roads are full of surprise rocks and holes, and a ’99 Cherokee has grossly inadequate headlights.

When we finally got back to our off-grid cabin, it was well past 8pm, and I was late procuring the fire in the stove. I learned a lot about how irreplaceable patience and process are in making a durable fire. There was a bit of added stress on the matter, as temperatures would again dip below 20F overnight, and the stove was our only source of heat. Eventually, after much persistence, the fire crossed that definite threshold of “difficult to maintain” and entered the best phase, the “toss a log” phase.

Tuesday was funky. Could’ve done without Tuesday evening. That morning, we packed up our stuff from the cabin, cleaned the dishes, refilled the water filter, and left White Sage Solitude and Fredonia and drove the hour or so to the Bryce Canyon area. Only a handful of miles up the road from the start of UT-12, a scenic highway carving through many national and state parks, we decided to stop at Red Canyon, a dog-friendly area of the Dixie National Forest. The visitors center was closed, but we parked there anyway, and, being the only car in the lot, and with temps only slightly above freezing, we were sure to have the trail to ourselves. After Charley spent a few minutes barking incessantly at a Smokey the Bear statue, we set out on some nearby trails that would give us a lay of the land. It was a good introduction hike, as we did the Pink Cliffs, BirdsEye view, and Golden Wall trails that had us out in the wilderness for 4 miles or so. Utter silence accompanied us, and we had unlimited time to breathe in the crisp winter air and marvel at the hoodoos and natural bridges, too many to count.

Our night was spent in Panguitch, at my suggestion, as it seemed a good jumping off point at a highway junction and they had a nice little town website I had checked out the week before. Well, that was a poor decision. In the summertime, things likely are different in Pangtuich. But in the grips of winter, all eateries were closed for the season, and the entire town gave us an eery feel. We had some of the worst pizza and pasta either of us had experienced, and essentially isolated ourselves in our motel room for the night. Our initial plan was to stay in Pangutich for three nights, while we explored the parks and wilderness surrounding it. We quickly canceled nights two and three, and instead booked the nights in the slightly more lively, and less frightening, city of Bryce, near the national park. Our only solace that evening was Schitt’s Creek to distract us from our discomfort of our time in Panguitch.

Wednesday we woke up relieved, knowing we’d be leaving the town and hoping our next lodging wasn’t as dismal of an experience. But we wouldn’t check in until later that evening. We drove out about 65 miles on UT-12 heading east, past the town of Escalante and entering the massive federal area of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Along the way, with one shaky bar of cell service, Jamie pulled up the Biden Inauguration and we watched from the side of the highway for a bit.

When we’d made it to our destination that day, we were again pleased to find the trailhead nearly empty, with only two cars in the lot. Lower Calf Creek Falls is a well known and heavily trafficked route, so having it nearly all to ourselves was a lovely treat.

It’s always neat to see nature the way it was thousands of years ago. No signs of modernization, save for a dirt trail a few feet wide. Natives to the area walked similar paths, I’m sure, and I always find that so cool.

The sun played hero and villain once again during the hike, baking us when the canyon walls permitted, and leaving us shivering when we hit shade. This on-off game would persist for the entirety of the 7 mile hike. The waterfall itself was quite majestic, tumbling from hundreds of feet above through a low point in the canyon wall. But I think Jamie and I agree that the best part was the solitude. The canyon was ours, it seemed, for as long as we wanted to enjoy it. True silence is hard to come by in our day-to-day lives, so these moments of calm were a treat.

We got back to Bryce Canyon City after dark, enjoying a dazzling sunset on the 60 mile drive back home. We enjoyed dinner at the sleepy hotel restaurant before turning in for the night, and were escorted back to our room by a few friendly feral cats looking for food and water. Jamie left Charley’s bowl filled with water outside our room for the cats, which only made them more friendly and hang around outside our door for the rest of the evening. Charley would NOT be pleased to know her bowl was given to a bunch of kitties.

After a good night’s sleep, we awoke Thursday and took our time getting going, as we’d need to wait for the sun to warm the high desert a bit before we set out. Heading east on UT-12 again, we made our way toward Kodachrome Basin State Park, but drove right on past it to check out Cottonwood canyon along a stretch of leveled dirt road, easily passable when dry.

Below are some stops on Cottonwood Canyon Road including the towering and majestic Grosvenor Arch and the Cockscomb, an incredible geologic site in Grand Staircase-Escalante, featuring rock formations jutting out of the earth.

Cottonwood narrows is just off the dirt road and weaves through a tight canyon, though not quite a slot. At its skinniest, probably 15-20 feet wide, the narrows gave us an even deeper sense of stillness. The innumerable footprints scattered in the sandy trail let us know it had been quite some time since rain had graced this canyon.

There is a discomfort in the ear-ringing silence that is the desolate desert wilderness, but with it comes a soothing calmness. We drank it in, rarely uttering a word to each other, as sometimes words only serve to disrupt the experience. No wind. No trees rustling. No birds singing. Just complete and total silence. Again, we felt as if we were dynamic features in a still frame, our landscape suspended in time, as it had been for all its years. 

As we drove back off the dirt road, Kodachrome Basin was there waiting for us. We went to pay the park entrance fee of $10, but could only muster up a $5 bill and $2 in lost car seat change. With no park employee in site, we reluctantly drove back 10 miles down the road to Henrieville and stopped at a gas station. Closed. A gentleman pulled up beside us in his car, and, seeing our MA license plate, proceeded to tell us he’d gone to middle school back in the 60’s in Sharon Mass, and graduated high school in Attleboro. Small world. We told him our predicament, and without another word he offered us a $5 bill to help us pay the entrance fee (he actually tried to give me a twenty at first, bless his soul).  We thanked him for his generosity and kindness and did a 180 back to the park.

After receiving the go-ahead from the Kodak corporation, the State Park’s name was changed to Kodachrome from Chimney Rock to reflect the remarkable colors in the spires, hoodoos, and basin walls. We toured a trail, Angel’s Garden, that circled atop a butte overlooking the lowlands of the park. Soft rock composing the basin walls seemed delicate enough to crumble at the thought of a breath of wind. We lingered a bit, having lunch and gazing at the unending earth in every direction.

That evening, we again had dinner at the hotel restaurant (only place open for miles), and turned in early, as we planned to get an early jump on our final day: the push to Phoenix.

On the road a touch after 7 the following morning, we had about 7 hours and 400-something miles to go to our destination and new home for the next three months. Battling some snow at over 7000 ft, and then cold rain at the lower altitudes, we made good time to Flagstaff. We passed Glen Canyon and Lake Powell, followed the Colorado River for a bit, then split away from it, continuing down highway 89 until we made Flagstaff around 1pm. 

After a quick lunch at Jitter’s Lunchbox in Flag, we had 160 miles or so left to the Valley. It was a wet 160 miles, as rain clouds stalked us for its entirety. But we made it, alas, to Phoenix. Our time on the road had ended. A couple days of getting situated and its back to work Monday at Chandler Regional Medical Center.

Stay tuned.

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