Coyote Gulch 1999 - 2000
Adventure in the American Outback
Down the gulch
Friday, December 31, 1999 We awoke and were out of bed for this last day of the 1900's about 7:30 am. It had gotten pretty cool that nite: the inside of the tent was covered in frost, and Andy's thermometer, which he claimed was "reading high" (which really means he doesn't believe it and besides, in head to head tests with other thermometers, his was high), was about 21 F. A not-unexpectedly chilly start to what would be a nice day. 7:30 am is a bit before sunrise, or so it seemed, but there was plenty of light to move around, and we started working on breakfast. For Susie and I, it consisted of apple cinnamon muffins made in the Bakepacker. For those readers unfamiliar with a Bakepacker, it is a device invented by some engineer, who figured out that if you are clever about conducting thermal energy, you can "bake" stuff in a plastic bag perched on a set of aluminum tubes bunched together in a grid arrangement. Anyway, you put a plastic bag full of this mushy stuff, which is really the batter from the mix, on top of the grid which is sitting in about an inch of water, cover the pot, and boil for about 20 minutes. Presto, you have a big giant muffin. Which on a cold morning, tastes pretty good.
We farted about quite a bit, probably because it was cold, and because we had arrived in camp so near sunset last nite. Also, we had moved our kitchen spot over against the wall, so that a very small fire could be built, and the heat reflected back. We were ready to start hiking about 10 am. There was not a trivial amount of water in the Gulch. In May, it would be a refreshing splash. On December, with a low of 15 the previous nite, the water was flowing around and through a lot of ice. Big, crusty sheets of it. Our goal was to get to a pictograph panel which was several miles below our camp, and the ice seemed to be impeding progress. First, it was easy to slip on. Second, it was easy to break through. Thus, crossing the stream every 30 yards involved quite a bit of attention. Even tip-toeing across the stream brought the water precariously close to the tops of Susie's boots. If the water went in, all the Gore-Tex in the world wouldn't keep her feet dry. I had brought along some plastic bags - the kind in which newspapers are delivered. After about 8 - 10 crossings, I decided that even if the water did not flow over the tops, the boots would never keep out all the water on so many crossings, so Susie and I stopped to put on our plastic bags: over our socks but in our boots. Exceptionally tacky, but it seemed to stave off the inevitable wet feet for a few hours.
The first big attraction in the Gulch was Jacob Hamblin Arch. It is a huge arch, right above the floor of the Gulch, with a gigantic alcove exactly opposite of the end of the fin which holds the Arch. I have seen it twice before, but it never ceases to impress. We gingerly made our way over more icy shelves. The next attraction was a set of lovely rock shelves which the stream courses through. John Thomas had stopped there to take a bath on the ‘80 trip. It looked much less lovely this time, mainly because of all the mud around the rock (probably left from a major flow thru here a few days previously) and because it was covered with muddy ice. The water in the Gulch was not clear, and the sediment had frozen around the rocks to make a less-than-photogenic scene.
We worked for a while to get around a big boulder jam, which formed a deep pool, and a rincon, and got to a spot where we could sit in the sun for a few moments and eat. Hiking in a steep walled canyon so near to the winter solstice guarantees that you will experience very little sun, so what we had, if but for a few moments, was appreciated. We decided that we could afford to push on until 1:30 pm or so, because we suspected we could get back to camp more quickly that we had gotten downstream. The ice seemed to be melting a bit, which would speed up the return. We got to Coyote Natural Bridge, the spot where Ray Payne sunk to his crotch in quicksand in 1980. There was not a lot of quicksand today, so after a bit of trepidation, we moved through the overhang with care. Based on the comments in the hiking guide, I had put a GPS waypoint near where I thought the pictograph panel would be. As Sue and I topped out on a small bench about 1:15 pm, I looked up, and there about 150 feet above the stream bed, was the panel. I don't know how we missed it on previous trips, but I guess we had not been looking for it. To access the panel, you have to climb a fairly steep sand slope. The slope was in the sun, and it was a different world. It was actually so warm (the slope is south facing) that we all stripped off as much gear and clothing as practical, to avoid sweating on our way up. The panel was pretty good size, and since none of us had seen pictographs in Coyote on previous trips, it seemed worth the effort. We all took photos, but it was clear that Sue and Andy were going to spend a tad more time there than I felt comfortable doing. Sue is really enamored with Anasazi ruins and artifacts and rock decorations. I had not expected her to break away particularly quickly.
Susie and I hauled ass back up the canyon, and we made it back in 2 hours and 5 minutes. We did stop for a few moments at a nice spring right downstream of the Arch. The water flow was definitely down from the morning, which made the hike back simpler. Also, some, but not all of the ice had gone from the water. The temperature felt like it was in the low 40's, but I never did take a thermometer reading. I went down to the creek edge to take a bath, and it seemed cold as hell. Pouring near-freezing water over your head certainly wakes you up, if you were in the mood to go to sleep, which I was not. I ached, but it felt good to be clean, and get some of the day's grime off me. I was not dirty like a spring trip, but my pants were muddy, and my back was sweaty. Susie cleaned off in tentia, by warming some water on the stove. Warm water and no wind is a bit more luxurious. However, you lose the opportunity to experience what I refer to as the piece de resistance, which is, after you have rinsed all the soap off, you stand out in the creek and pour fresh water all over your body. Some folks think I am nuts, but that is why they make chocolate and vanilla ice cream. I think I have said that a few times before.
We deliberately held off starting dinner, so that we could draw the evening out. We started cooking after dark. Susie had fixed up some freeze-dried couscous, and served it to everyone with crackers. We opened one of our "community" bottles of champagne and served it with the pesto pasta and smoked turkey that we were having for dinner. The backpacking lantern was a real savior for such a long evening. We had it on for quite some time, to augment the light from the fire. It did not seem to be as cold this evening, I guess because the clouds had arrived. We also baked brownies, half for the chocolate, and half for the time consumption that it brought. We waxed philosophically to pass the time. The evening's topic of discussion, in thinking about the Anasazis that inhabited this country at the Y1K rollover, was time travel. Supposed we had gone thru a time warp, and had been dropped out in what was to become Southern Utah during Y1K with just the stuff we had with us right now. What would we do? We all seemed to agree that even though, because of our size and knowledge, we would have been like gods to the Anasazi, we would not have hung around here. Probably, while we still had some boots left, we would set out for either Baja California, or the Pacific Northwest, where there was plenty of fresh water, and food, and where the climate was a bit milder. Maybe even the LA basin, or in the mountains that ring the LA basin.
The evening didn't drag, but it did seem to take a while to get to 11:59 pm. We noted that the stars were coming out a bit, with the tantalizing prospect of a sunny day tomorrow. Andy and Sue brought tiny explosive streamers, and noisemakers, and Susie and I wore our stupid looking Y2K hats, on top of our PolarTec hats. Sue opened up some smoked salmon and brie, while Andy did the honors on the second bottle of champagne. I got the GPS, and we counted down the last seconds of the 1900's. We all blew our noisemakers, which seemed pretty incongruous with the wilderness setting that we were inhabiting. I am sure that any animal which was awake within miles wondered what in hell was going on. Not the typical New Year's Eve, and certainly the one with the greatest contrast with the one I spent in 1966 with 300,000 of my closest friends in Times Square. I have spent some adult NYE's with only one other person, but never so far from other humans. It was both eerie and exciting. And what a spot to start the 2000's. The party broke up pretty quickly at about 12:05 am. We had said everything we had needed to say.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 2000