Saturday 20th May – Another Astro Chick

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I spent the morning blogging and trying to block out the early sun that woke me. It was windy outside so I waited until it died down before making breakfast. By 10am, I figured I’d dawdled enough so I left the serenity of my camp to head north on Cottonwood road. I planned to do a couple of hikes on my way out of the National Monument, as recommended to me by the lady at the south visitor’s centre.

This road was even smoother than the one on the west side so it was easy driving. Being a Saturday, I was surprised I didn’t see more people at the Hackberry Canyon trailhead. As soon as I opened my door, I was surrounded by the sounds of cows in distress. They didn’t stop, it was constant mooing and loud too!

It was only a short hike, but I still took my backpack with some water and snacks and my SPOT, because you never know. I was glad to be in shorts and a t-shirt again, wearing my Tevas as I walked off on the sandy trail. I had my feet wet straightaway crossing a very wide shallow creek and this trend would continue throughout the rest of the canyon. I walked across a sandy wash, right by the herd of cows that were making all the noise and happened upon the Hackberry Creek. There was a lady sitting in a deck chair under the shade of a tree just chilling out and wished me a happy hike, saying what lay ahead was beautiful.

My feet splashed in the water which was warmer than I’d expected and only a couple of inches deep, but the sand of the creek bed was soft. The canyon wasn’t too narrow but it was properly green and had beautiful coloured rocks.

I plodded along, looking up at the cliff walls, but honestly, it didn’t excite me too much. I think I’d been expecting something more like Willis Creek, the hike I’d done on the other side of the park. I came upon a man and his dog and walked with them for a while before trudging on.

The canyon stretched on for twenty miles, but opened up after a couple as the visitor’s centre lady had advised me so I turned around. I met man and his dog again and told them where I’d turned around. Since the canyon wasn’t exciting me, I sang to myself to keep myself entertained as I tripped over my sandals in the sand. I surprised myself when “I Am Australian” came into my head and I sung it out loud. Getting homesick maybe?

As I neared the exit of the canyon, there was a couple on horseback just coming in. That lifted my spirits a bit since they completely looked the part with the high canyon walls behind them. A few more minutes of water trudging and I was back to my car where a guy was anxiously waiting for someone to move so he could take their parking spot. Obviously people around here are late starters because the carpark was full now. I gave him my spot and carried on driving north.

The scenery was impressive, with sets of incredibly similar rocks and mounds jutting out from the cliffs. The sandstone was all different colours too, everything from black to white with every shade of red and pink in between.

My next stop was the Cottonwood Narrows where I hoped to experience another slot canyon. I drove past the south trailhead and parked at the north where the dirt was bright red. I grabbed my bag and dropped down some rocks into the canyon. This one was completely dry and sandy so made for tough walking. The walls were steep as before, but the canyon wasn’t very narrow. Again, I was a little unimpressed after Willis Creek. I’d brought my iPod this time so I just focused on the tunes as I walked through looking up at the cliffs.

I met a few people coming the other way and helped show them the easiest way to get over some stacked rocks and after forty-five minutes or so, I was out of the canyon and back at the south trailhead. Instead of walking back through the canyon, I walked along the road since it was not sandy. Walking along the road with such a light pack on, listening to music and munching on an apple, gave me a nomadic feeling. Imagine travelling in this way, just plodding along, one foot in front of the other, on a path that is meant for much faster means of travel. An interesting concept, one which I was happy to stop entertaining when I got back to the car.

The scenery kept improving as I continued driving, right up until I turned off to have a look at Grosvenor Arch. Here I went full lazy and didn’t even get out of the car to take a photo, let alone walk the short path that lead to its base. I think I’d had enough of hiking in the Grand Staircase. I had planned to take a dirt road east to get back to the highway, but a sign told me no, so I went back to the main drag and drove on until I hit tarmac.

When I reached the town of Cannonville, just outside the park, I saw the familiar visitor’s centre I’d stopped at when heading south a few days ago and stopped for a late lunch. I made myself a salad and sat on the grass in the shade of a tree to eat. For the first time in months, I started reading an F1 magazine and remembered how much I like it. I was soon interrupted by Jim and his dog Denver Boon. He had a seriously kitted out 4WD camper that he’d converted himself and he was interested in my van. It soon became very obvious that he was only interested in talking about him and getting content for his articles which he hoped to publish in magazines one day. He couldn’t wait to show off his set up. At least his dog had character, with one ear folded down and one pointing straight up to the sky. Once my lunch was done, I bid Jim and Denver adoo and carried on.

I took the highway east, dipping in and out of National Forest and the Grand Staircase. The scenery remained pretty stunning around every corner. I got back into listening to Elon’s biography, starting the chapter on Tesla which piqued my interest. When I got into cell service, it was around 4pm and I was keen for a camp, feeling a bit tired again. I found myself a free camp on the outskirts of the Grand Staircase and head for it. When I turned onto Hole-In-The-Rock Road, I was disappointed to find a network of campers spread out around a grassy field. I was hoping for more isolation. I didn’t give up, driving around until I found a sweet spot where I had plenty of seclusion and a sweet view into the valley.

I got right on to having a shower, taking advantage of the last bit of warmth of the day. Having finished that, I got myself setup outside in the shade of the van when I saw a lady drive past in an Astro van. Could it be? She soon came back, having done a recon of the campsite like I had and not finding anything suitable for her friends that were coming with a trailer. When she said hi, I replied with “nice van!” and we got straight into comparing each other’s setups. I think I won that competition, Janet was suitably impressed with everything I had inside. Not fair game though because she doesn’t live in hers full time. Once we were done comparing interiors, we swapped mechanical stories, most of which were pretty similar except for the money aspect because she’d had her work done at a shop.

We chatted a long while before I invited her and her friends to stay at my site since it was perfect for what she needed. She went off to do another round of recon and said she’d return if she couldn’t find anything. Sure enough, an hour or so later, she was back and a while after that, her friends followed. While all that was happening I finished editing the video of Jon’s visit, then made dinner and ate it while enjoying the view into the valley.

I briefly met the friends and helped Janet clean out the fire pit which had a burnt/melted tent in it (thanks rednecks) before retreating into my van out of the cold wind. They did invite me to share their fire, but I was tired for no real reason and declined.

After feeling a bit off all day, I contemplated the cause and came to the conclusion that:

  1. This is the first time I’ve been alone in just over two months (shit, I didn’t realise it had been that long until I looked it up) and so of course I need to readjust to being in my own company again and having my own agenda.
  2. I just hiked the bloody Grand Canyon so of course everything else is going to seem lame in comparison for a while.
  3. I’m still sick. Grrr.

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