Map Miles: Today: 16.7/ Total: 82.3
GPS Miles: Today: 18.9/ Total: 95.6
Today’s Miles Sponsored by: Anonymous, Erin, Lois, Chandra
Last night I finally got a good night sleep. No wind. No hacking cough ( at least not while trying to sleep). No rain. Just me, the open sky, the sliver moon and stars, and the tiny Scorpion that took up residence under my clothes pile during the night.
Water situation in mind, I got up and out just about dawn again. I found the spot to start the descent and started making my way down. It was slow going, but I was basically down by the time the sun came out. I pulled out my umbrella for shade, and hiked out to rejoin the official trail. I’m really glad I decided to save that descent for this morning. I very easily might have been caught in the middle of it at dark last night if I had attempted. It was totally the right decision. ( after today I need to reaffirm for myself that I do make good decisions sometimes)
The hiking was super flat and easy along a wide dirt 4×4 road and then a short cross country section to drop down into Rustler Canyon. It amazes me how the Mesa has the appearance from the top that it will go on forever…then you drop down just slightly and the next thing you know that flat unbroken Mesa is scarred by a quarter mile wide depression. The topography is so neat! Rustler Canyon wasn’t deep, but it was wide and the dirt was compact and easy to walk on.
The miles went by quickly. I paired slowly sipping my third of a quart with letting two gummie bears dissolve on my tongue. At the half way point I squeezed down an applesauce packet I discovered in my pack. As I approached the spot where the water source was marked on my map, I felt both lucky and proud of myself. Lucky because The terrain was easy- all flat basically “road” walking, and also because the weather wasn’t too hot. There was even a nice breeze! Proud because I had been resourceful and turned what could have been a bad situation around.
When I turned into Indian Creek I didn’t see anything. No perennial flowing silty creek. Ok, I thought, that’s not unusual, the water is probably just further up canyon. the route follows the Creek bed for a little over a mile, there will be some… and there was- a large pothole under a boulder. The water was yellowy and filled with decomposing leaves.
I was thirsty though so I filled up a quart and filtered and treated it, and then filled another of untreated water to carry with me. I still figured I’d eventually be hitting the Creek and get the rest of my water there. I mean, there’s a waypoint marked for a waterfall in the drainage for Petes sake! I moved on and up Canyon and slowly got more and more disheartened.
Turns out that pothole was the only water source. Whatever it has looked like in years past, all that remains is the pothole this season…bad news for lots of reasons. 1) If a Creek has been turned into a pothole, many of the potholes that we have listed on our water source list may well be dry. Apparently Southern Utah did not get the bounty of rain or snow that everywhere else in the country did this winter. 2) this meant that I again was left with only a quart of water for the 12 mile hike out to Needles Outpost.
I began beating myself up. I literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I could have easily filtered that two or three more quarts I would have wanted. The water was there and available, but I didn’t do it….I didn’t learn the lesson from yesterday- if you have an abundance of water in front of you, take it- no matter how bad or cow polluted it looks. Don’t rely on water reports from others either- they’re helpful guides, but not grounded in the reality of the current season. If you come across better water later, great! Dump the bad and refill with the good, but never pass up the bad because the good may not be there. I think that’s solidly ingrained in my skull now.
I had to think. I had 1 quart and 12 miles to go. It was the heat of the day. As I was climbing out of the Indian (dry) Creek Canyon I noticed a nice shady spot- perfect for a siesta. I plopped down, napped and wrote postcards and let it cool down a bit. I actually got lucky again! Clouds started rolling in and the already pleasant temperature dropped a little more. By 4pm I felt that I’d be ok to keep moving.
The afternoon was harder though- by this point I was pretty dehydrated. I started getting cottonmouth quickly between sips, something that hadn’t happened at all in the morning. My pace slowed, and I ended up not paying the best attention to my maps and added an extra half mile or so of wrong direction travel because of it. I was now in Canyonlands National Park and the terrain was gorgeous, on the top layers of the Mesa, but I struggled to enjoy it.
I hoped to go as far as I could while really getting worried about what to do. I had enough sips for today, but I would be completely dry tomorrow morning. Then right about 6:30, as the route began to descend into a canyon on slickrock, I saw it! I couldn’t believe it! A pothole about an inch deep with cold fresh water. And another one about the same size 100 yard ahead.
I dropped my pack and painstakingly scooped a quart of water out of those holes. As I was doing it, suddenly the wind burst forth blowing sand everywhere and little bits of rain too. The sand was getting in my eyes and my teeth. The wind was even blowing the water straight at me as I would try to transfer it from the scoop to the bladder. Now for those of you who know me- I consider myself a religious person, but I’m fairly quiet about it. This is one of those moments where I felt God’s presence with me. Would those potholes have been there even if I had a full tank of water? Of course! They didn’t just suddenly appear for me. But there’s something about the wind and sand and rain that starts just as I arrive and ends just as I finish filling the bottle that spoke to me. Call it God, or coincidence or whatever you want. For me, what I heard was – You are human. You make mistakes. Be still and know. You are not alone. (speaking of which- this is the first time ever in all my trips when I have not seen another person for the entire day!)
Moving on from those small potholes the route started up a sandy wash and about 30 minutes later came across a huge hidden pond!
I couldn’t believe it. My whole attitude quickly turned around. I immediately downed the entire quart I had just collected and then picked up two more one for tonight and one for tomorrow.
I moved on a bit further and then found a nice overhung bench to set up camp on. It’s flat and will hopefully stay dry if it rains so I can cowboy tonight! I still can’t believe how fortunate I’ve been today (I’m still so in awe that I wasn’t paying attention as I made my dinner tonight and poured my bag of granola for tomorrow’s breakfast into the hot water instead of the soup mix I planned on having!…oops) I put myself in a really bad situation, and while it all turned out ok in the end, it’s still a really good reminder about how different hiking here is than hiking other places. Good lessons come from learning the hard way sometimes and this was definitely one of those.
Night has fallen and the bats are flying around, and I am so grateful for everything today. For water, for good weather, for beautiful landscapes, for my friends and family and coworkers. Sometimes I feel like things happened so quickly getting ready and leaving that I don’t quite feel this is real yet. I think today it’s finally started setting in.