Dark Canyon 2000
You Can't Go Home Anymore
I sat on my pack, listening to the wind whistle through the small juniper that was providing me shade, looking at the remaining half-pint of water in my water bottle. While the wind improved the comfort level, I knew it was also sucking the moisture from my body. There was no water - at all - at the spot we had planned to camp. The pool in the stream bed that provided us sustenance 17 years ago was a dry as the desert - which this was, and the spring which was supposed to be our backup, was gone. The prospect of hiking 6 miles through sand and rock to the next known water supply on the remaining drops was pretty daunting. As George hoisted his pack, and girded himself for the inevitable fun we would all enjoy that afternoon, he looked at me, and in his characteristic low voice, said "Don't worry, it'll be OK. Now, it's just your average desert forced march."
The trip had been billed as an exact replica of the trip that 6 of the 11 of us had done 17 years ago - with a few improvements. Like, for example, not starting down the infamous Sundance Trail at 7 pm. But like everything in the wilderness, things don't often turn out exactly the way you plan them. The first hint that things might be different came late Friday morning, when I got a call from my secretary. While I had stepped away from my desk for a few moments, Delta had called her to say our flight from Knoxville to Atlanta, supposedly leaving at 5:30 pm, had been cancelled. I had not been in my office but a few minutes, when I got a call from a Delta agent, saying he had "been assigned to me" to coordinate all the flight schedules of the 7 of us that had planned to fly together to Albuquerque. My finely honed schedule, which looked more like a commando strike plan than a vacation itinerary, was being tossed to the winds. Ray, one of our retired engineers, had already lifted off, taking advantage of a free ticket. Lance, our working engineer, was now scheduled to leave town earlier on an American flight, transferring in Dallas. Susie and I got the booby prize, sort of. Sure, we would still get to Albuquerque that night, if you call 3 am body time that night. We would be on the same flight as Dolph, the retired mobile home magnate. The rest of the crew would not leave town until the next morning, and arrive about a half hour after our scientist friends from Texas, Sue and Andy. The tough part of the schedule that Susie, Dolph, and I had was the 3+ hour layover in Atlanta. Sure, there is always the Crown Room, but how much can you drink? As it turns out, the pilot scheduled to fly us from Atlanta blew out a head gasket on the freeway driving to the airport, so this delayed our boarding until about midnight, Atlanta time. However, remembering a lesson from our trip to the Escalante last year, I took some Benadryl about a half hour before boarding, and shortly after takeoff, the next thing I knew, the flight attendant announced we were preparing to land in Albuquerque
George had moved his reservation with Hertz for our 12 passenger van to Susie, because she had an AARP card. There were too many hassles with Hertz that night to describe, but suffice it say that we finally put our heads down on a pillow around 2:30 am MDT. A very long day.
Saturday, May 6th
We did not get as much sleep as we would have liked, but it was enough to sustain us. Ray, Lance, and Dolph had risen earlier, and had the fine free breakfast at the LaQuinta. Lance reported that he was luggage-less, having forgotten to check to make sure that his bags were being transferred to their final destination. However, they were supposed to be coming in on the same flight as Andy and Sue, about noon time. So the five of us piled in the mini-van that Ray had rented for the shuttle vehicle, and we headed to Old Town, and the REI Coop. It was not open, so Lance and Susie and I sat outside near the museum in the shade, while Ray and Dolph did up the inside. When the Coop opened, we went in, but Susie and I could not find a thing to buy. A sorry state indeed. I guess there is only so much gear you can carry. After about 45 minutes, we headed back to the motel to check out, and then to the airport to pick up our friends. I went out to meet A&S, who were in a bit early. The remaining four from K-Town were in on time, about 10 minutes past noon. So things were sorta back on track. But in the confusion, I had committed a cardinal sin: violating the itinerary by forgetting to eat lunch in the Garduno's in the ABQ airport. It is always a treat, but with more than half the crew coming in around lunch, it did not seem right for the early five to gorge themselves on fine Mexican food, and insist that the others eat lunch at Taco Bell to keep on schedule. Ah, the sacrifices of friendship.
We did make the obligatory Taco Bell stop on the west side of town, and settled in for the six hour drive to Blanding, Utah. I rode shotgun/navigator for George in the van. When Susie realized that there would be four GPS-types in the van, she just rolled her eyes, got out, and headed for the mini-van. OK, so it was probably true, when you put four guys in the same vehicle, all with fairly new GPS's, and the President having just ordered the removal of the deliberate error on the civilian GPS frequencies, well, you gotta expect so techno-talk. There was a lot of discussion as to whether we could tell, from the satellite reception, whether we were in the front or back of the van, or the accuracy of the van's speedometer, and how far it was to the next town on our waypoint databases. In fact, I am sure it was pretty boring for the non-technophiles in the van. We made pretty good time, heading west to Gallup, then north to Shiprock, and into Colorado a bit, and back nearly to Four Corners, before we headed west and north to Blanding.
We pulled into Blanding to the Four Corners Inn about 6:50 pm. The desk clerk apologized that she could not keep her promise of having all our rooms on the ground floor. It turns out that a petroleum geological survey team was staying at the motel (like about half the rooms or more) and that there had been a helicopter crash and it had killed three of the team, so the team was just hanging out for a few more days for a new helicopter to show up to fly them out to their survey points. Under the circumstances, it seemed pretty petty to complain about the layout of our rooms. We cleaned up quickly and headed out to the Old Tymer restaurant, after stopping at Subway, and ordering sandwiches (for lunch on Sunday) to be picked up after dinner. Anyway, if you are ever in Blanding, and you want a really awful meal, the Old Tymer should definitely be on your short list. I made the mistake of ordering one of the higher priced meals - a steak. It goes down as the worst steak I have ever been served in a restaurant. It was small, overcooked, and tough and full of gristle. Yum, yum! The salad "bar" consisted of lettuce and dressing. Several or our party reported that their meal was equally delightful, and the spaghetti with marinara sauce, was, based on the amount of food left on Diane's plate, basically uneatable. Susie and I decided to opt for dessert in our room: some Easter candy we had brought with us. Seemed pretty high class by comparison. We headed back to the motel after a grocery store break, and did our final packing.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 2000