The Third Semi-annual Painted Painted Desert Rendezvous
What a trip! I joined the group late at the southern Visitor's Center - I had gotten away from Page about 15 minutes late, and took a shortcut through Hopi that added 30 minutes to my drive time. Ugh. But I pulled up into the parking lot and everyone was there - Randal ready to shake my hand, Ambika and Jason gearing up and Eric nearby. Good to see everyone there and not too pissed about my delay. Without further delay it's into the VC to get our permit and then we're on the road to the trailhead. Unloading and reloading gear in the parking area under the wary gaze of passing tourists in rental RVs and Uhauls towing boats, and then we're on our way towards our dayhike destination - Mountain Lion Mesa.
Following some vague directions and slightly better map information, we headed towards MLM via possibly the most convoluted route possible. No matter, the name of the game is exploration. Down caliche slopes, across sandy badlands, past eroding fossil logs and dessicated dung, onward over hills and wash bottoms. Detour at a prominent butte to scout for 'glyphs; success. Eric's first glyphs, and they're not half-bad either - snake, lizards, and a woman on a nicely varnished south-facing slope. A little bit of a scramble to get up to them, but that's the Painted Desert for you. Scrounging around on top yields more clues about the ancients; scraper, more 'glyphs, and a commanding view.
Back down the steepest possible route. No broken ankles/tibiae/fibulae/femora. I'll call that good enough. Back to the wash bottom, back to the trek. Past the Gateway to Mordor, and up yet another nameless caliche draw onto the sandy mesa. Randal spots a "fossilized" mushroom. Mushrooms? Out here? Soon others are located - apparently not as uncommon as I thought. We cross a drainage basin where all different colors of pebbles have collected, the water leaching through the sand, leaving the rocks it carried behind. No two alike, save in size. Almost uniformly the size of your thumbnail.
The sandy mesa top stretches on forever until we reach the End of the World, sandstone caprock giving way to thin air. Another maze of dry stream courses, and in the distance a low boulder-studded ridge. "My gut tells me that's the place," I announce, pointing to the line of rock across the basin. "And what does your head say?" Randall asks. I shrug and reply, "I can only say that it looks similar to pictures I've seen. But my gut says this is the place."
Indeed it is. The low outcropping is covered with rock art, and the southern edge is also speckled with potsherds. The designs increase in numbers and complexity as we continue along the escarpment, each causing a cry of excitement from our party members. "Wow! Look at that!" "Wild!" "Intense!" The walkabout reaches a peak at the Starvation Man boulder. Overseen by the Megaface perched on the cliff, the room-sized boulder at the base of the cliff is entirely covered with all kinds of 'glyphs, from abstract lines to detailed figures like the skeletal Ogre Kachina, Rabbit Kokopelli, and the Hand Stick. Amazing designs and so much packed into one small space. Lots of time spent poking around this area, especially as the light gets "nice" as the afternoon progresses. Then its back along the opposite face of the mesa, spotting a mountain lion 'glyph. Very appropriate. Then its back down to the vehicles by a different route, intersecting the road just before our vehicles. Drinks and snacks, and we bid adieu to Randal and Eric. Ambika, Jason, and myself make a quick bathroom break at the Visitor's Center, and we're back on the trail, this time with our overnight gear on our backs, just as the sun begins setting. More of the same up-and-down from the morning, except this time with decreasing light. Down around the point, skirting mesas, buttes, and arroyos alike, we arrive in the idylic basin that the 2nd SAPDR first located last fall. With light from the 3/4 moon we set up camp and sat down to dinner; lasagna all around. The temperature began to drop rapidly, and not long after dinner is finished we retire to our tents under a cloudless, starry sky.
We wake to a cloudy sky with building winds. From a nearby pass I can see clouds to the southwest moving in rapidly, some trailing rain. And the Chinle is no fun to hike in if it's raining. After a brief breakfast we pack up our gear. The plan - head to Pottery Hill, do a little scouting, and loop back to the road.
The drainage on the side of Pottery Hill whets whistles, sherds of corrugated, black-on-white, black-on-red, and even polychromes laying about. And the size and frequency increases the closer we get to the hill. Huge sherds, larger than my palm, bits of mano. Then we come to crowning piece - Mike's Ladle, the ladle that Mike found the previous year is still there, still in the same spot.
We take the hillside up and poke around the other side of Pottery Hill - more sherds, more flakes, more manos, more 'glyphs. Amazing. We head along the side of the mesa and drop into another drainage. More 'glyphs, including a life-sized man, possibly relieving himself. Unique. Then it's back to the road, then Holbrook for lunch at the excellent Maestra's. Nix the Chavez Pass Pueblo plan for today, and we go our separate ways. I'm already looking forward to the spring and the 4th Semi-Annual Painted Desert Rendezvous!