The trip was about a month in the prep stage, but prep might not be the best word. The plan was to head out to Ward Terrace to see crazy shit - dinosaur tracks, wild arches, and ruins. The thing was that I'd never done much exploration in the southern section, which was our goal. I'd hiked around a fair bit further north, though, so I wanted to see some more. I explained to the crew the situation, and brought in an old Arizona Highways that highlighted the area. Good enough - we were on for the 30th.
If you have ever hiked with me, you know that planning can be awesome and terrible at the same time. I scouted the road, at least in places, a few weeks ahead of time. I looked at overhead imagery to generally plot out a route. It wasn't until the night before, however, that I figured I should print out a topo map. Since I don't own the apparently awesome National Geographic TOPO program, I resorted to printing out several small TrailDEX maps and taping them together. Not the most field-worthy of maps, but I was primarily concerned with driving navigation. I could use my ancient GPS to get back to the truck if needed. Why I didn't think of maps before, I have no idea, but I stayed up far to late doing laundry and printing maps (no maps and no socks?). I finally sacked out around 11:30-11:45.
So the crew showed up at my place at 4am; my coworker Curtis and our friend Marques's friend Matt, whom I hadn't met before. He was dating another one of my friends though, and seemed cool. No Marques though. A call came in on Curtis's phone - Marques is stuck up in LeChee. no worries. We hop in my rig and head over to LeChee and Marques loads his gear up. It is then down to Maverik for gas and on the highway, heading south by 4:30.
The drive to the Wupatki turnoff was generally long and uneventful. Curtis slept while Marques, Matt, and myself joked around in general. Turning off the Wukoki road on to the Black Falls Crossing road, however, is when everyone started to get into the mood. We crossed the bone-dry LCR; everyone seemed to be pretty amazed that there was no water at all in the riverbed. I was happy. The trip would have been a bit more difficult otherwise.
We made good time to the top of Goat Hill, where we released the soda and took in the incredible view up and down the Red Rock Cliffs, out to the Hopi Buttes, and the San Francisco Volcanic Field. After stretching the legs and consulting the maps we began our first serious navigation on the reservation backroads - a place known only as Pottery Hill.
It became obvious very quickly that Matt had no idea how to read a topo map. He had us going north over ridges while we continued east into wash bottoms. I had marked useful items on my map, such as "house" and "houses" (who's position I had transferred from the overheads) which we constantly were referring to. We found the wash we wanted to, but didn't recognize it. We had to turn around and find the road that led north towards "house", "houses", and eventually a lake. A lake? Yeah, a lake. More on this later.
Rolling down the right road, finally, we were struck by the comparison that Marques pointed out: "Have you ever seen The Hills Have Eyes?" Passing "house", and especially after passing "houses" the comment seemed especially apt.
We found a parking spot off the road and out of the sand. Pottery Hill house have been just to the east, so after we loaded our gear onto our backs we hit the "trail" - sand dunes, shale slopes, and limestone ridges. We crested a low mesa and saw, to our surprise, that there was no pottery. None. Nada. All that we could see was a ruined camp trailer - like someone had driven it off the edge of the cliff. Matt took a seat on a chair that somehow survived the carnage. We were somewhat stumped until Marques came up with the idea of using his Blackberry to get on GoogleMaps. I felt like we were cheating, but since my GPS doesn't have any decent maps on it, and we'd left my homemade topo in the truck (too fragile to put in a pack) we decide to use it. Once we finally get signal, we see a distinctive bend in the wash I recalled from looking at the overheads. We need to head further east.
Despite the feeling of cheating, I am glad we were able to figure it out. Pottery Hill was pretty dang interesting. There was a mound where a prehistoric building had once stood. It had probably been 2 or three stories tall during its heyday, because even now it was a good 20 feet tall. There were other, isolated, structures in the immediate vicinity - probably part of the same complex. Pottery was everywhere. Curtis found parts of about 7 or 8 broken metates and a couple of manos. We dropped into a "slot" formed by arroyo downcutting, then made our way back to the truck.
The plan then was to head north, past Lake To Kla Da Aakee and gain access to the upper section of the Adeii Eechii Cliffs and do some awesome badlands hiking. We found the lake/pond, which none of the Anglos in the car could pronounce correctly, but were disappointed that it was bone dry. We joked around about it - two water tanks gave their name to Two Barrel Beach, and a broad sand dune we dubbed "the launch ramp". We also found a corn field out there! Remarkable. Past the lake, I had marked on my makeshift topo a section of road with the words "possibly bad" - this was the last mile or so that would take us up to the cliffs. Well we quickly found out that the possibility was a reality - sand filled the road. We gave it a good go for another quarter mile, but when we reached a section of hardpan with no tracks, and a sand dune in front of us where the road should have been we got out and scouted. Marques ran along the roadway, while I climbed the dune to the east to see if I could get a better vantage point. The outlook was disappointing. The dune field stretched out to the north, and the road trace was being covered by vegetation. Damn! we turned the rig around and started heading south again. Passing the lake, Marques remarked that it was kind of embarrassing to be relying on his Blackberry, to which I replied that he could just tell his friends that the dumb white guys needed an Indian guide, and he could leave out the Blackberry part. Curtis did one better and said, "Maybe his Indian name should be Blackberry." This would be a constant source of amusement for the rest of the trip - Chief Blackberry.
We got back on the ridge by "houses" and Marques/Chief Blackberry was able to get a signal and download a map. A new plan came up. Head back for Route 7830, drive east, and then take Route 7820 north, towards the badlands. It should be doable, we all agreed, and twenty minutes later we were rolling north along our new route - which also happened to be much better maintained than 7830. Marques and Curtis told us about how this route is a major drug smuggling route on the Rez. I commented that I would not like to be a cop on this beat; too easy to get shot without anyone knowing what ever happened. Approaching Dinnebito Wash, the Red Rock Cliffs began to rise on either side of the road, more distant to the west, only a quarter mile away to the east. They looked like melting red spires, or dripping mud. Someone remarked that it would be neat to go explore them. "What's stopping us?" I asked, and the crew agreed - time to explore some canyons. I found a decent place to pull over and we shouldered our gear again.
The way towards the cliffs was over a series of dunes, but the going was not difficult, and as we approached the mouth of our chosen canyon it became more and more interesting to us. A slot canyon opened up to the north, and we vowed to check it out - but our objective first. We paused at the mouth to observe some striped boulders and some of the insane rock formations. Then we entered the mouth of the beast.
A change of just a couple yards made such a huge impression. The walls towered above, almost (but not quite) slotty. Sculpted spires and hoodoos dominated the skyline. We saw a hanging canyon, which I wanted to get into. We thought that the canyon would end as it made a left, but to our surprise there was a chockstone and then another bend to the right. I made up the north wall for a bit to shoot some pics ands the other three nimbly went up over or around the massive stone. I too bypassed the stone, but we were somewhat saddened to see that the right hand turn housed a pourover that likely went nowhere - we could see the cliffs towering behind it. Curtis remarked that it was always sad to have to turn around, that there was a sense of paradise almost achieved, just waiting for us - perfect springs with lush vegetation. To this image Marques added the Jagermeister girls.
We decided to try for the hanging canyon. Marques and Matt tried to follow a ledge over to its mouth, but almost got cliffed out instead. If they weren't bold, it would have been difficult for them to get back down. I, meanwhile, followed a sand slide up to a low pourover beneath the hanging canyon. As Marques and Matt ascended to my level, I began climbing. I got to the lip of the hanging canyon, standing on slippery slickrock, and peered in. Another basically dead end. It was possible the canyon continued around a bend, but certainly not very far. I was facing a low lip with a fragile foothold, so I decided to back off.
Getting down was slightly more tricky than I had imagined. The slickrock lived up to its name, and in places was covered with fine sand. I almost got cliffed out. If Marques hadn't begun following my footsteps up, it would have been very difficult to get back down. He provided a spot/step, and once over a little ridge I was home free. We all skied down the sand slope and found ourselves in one piece at the bottom of the canyon.
Our next destination was the slot canyon we'd seen on the hike in. We crossed a couple of dry washes and came to a ridge, which we thought would carry us into the slot's mouth. Wrong. A narrow canyon yawned in front of us. Matt was already at the bottom, so he began ascending the sheer cliff opposite us - fortunately made of shale and not sandstone. Marques skidded down an overly steep slope on our side, and then began mimicking Matt's climb. Curtis and myself descended through a short slot section to the bottom. Curtis took another way up, while I followed Matt's route. We soon found that the slot had an overhanging mouth, about 8 feet above our level. Marques began scouting out a route on the east side, while I went up to the west side. It looked promising until I reached an overhanging band that prevented further progress. Meanwhile Marques had worked his way just to the side of the canyon, but a small ridge stopped him. Instead of giving up, he pulled a bold (foolish?) maneuver where he swung around on one foot and leaped. he grabbed the ledge and basically hauled himself forward into the canyon. He was in! Considering our remote location, the short length of the canyon, and the lack of a casually easy way into the canyon, we were all pretty sure that no other person had been in the slot before. I was ready to try to get in myself, but Marques said that the canyon didn't continue beyond what we could see. I was satisfied with my perch then. After some more fancy footwork Marques was back out of the canyon. I scrambled back down as well. Matt and Marques headed back down the way they'd come up, while I wanted to see the canyon Curtis had ascended. I'm glad I did!
When I got into the slot and began chimneying down, I noticed Curtis was hunched over something. "Dude, its that bird we were hearing earlier!" I came down as fast as practicable, and squatted in the sand beside Curtis. Sure enough, there was a fledgling Kestrel (I misidentified it as a Peregrine Falcon on the trip - it wasn't until posting pics here on HAZ I found out what it was), laying belly up in the bright sun. Bummer! He didn't appear to be doing good (considering he was on his back) but nothing appeared broken. We could hear his mom every once in a while, so we rolled him over with a stick to the shade of a rock where he wouldn't be baking. An immediate difference! As soon as he touched that cool ground, he began screaming for his mom and trying to claw us with his feet! Awesome! And a few moments later he got to his feet and walked a little further under the rock, away from our prying eyes. I think that we helped him out, by getting him to shade, and he'll (she'll?) do fine in the future.
Back at the truck we again headed north, crossing Dinnebito Wash. The road rose up the Adeii Eechii Cliffs, and we spotted Rock Head with its attendant badlands. Unfortunately the storm that had been brewing over the peaks all day was moving in our direction and we still had a long way to go to get to pavement. We sadly had to bypass a hike to Rock Head. Next time! Crossing over the Sand Spring Hills, though, we did have time to stop at one lonely windmill with a giant dead Cottonwood and about a dozen ravens. I climbed the windmill tower, but all I could see in every direction was more sand hills. Curtis and Marques both remarked that this was the middle of nowhere, even for the Rez. I was inclined to agree - but then again, they'd never been to Pueblo Pintado. Being from the Rez, however, they did speak with an air of authority.
We passed Gold Springs, which I remarked seemed neither golden nor had any growth to suggest a spring. Matt suggested that the entire area was like gold to the residents. We found the idea laughable. We hit the highway at Coalmine Canyon, and we talked about going to Coalmine Canyon itself to hike and take in the view. Again we decided against it - instead we headed off towards Tuba City.
Tuba City was just as bleak and depressing as always. The Hopi side, however, had opened a brand new, shiny, hotel. Marques wanted to stop there, but not that day, so we headed down towards Moenkopi Wash and 89. As we headed down the slope I said, "Hey, you all want to go get lied to at the dinosaur track site?"
"Hell yeah!" came the response from Marques, who thought it was a great idea. Matt had never been, so the plan was sealed. We pulled off and as soon as the "guide" saw another sucker heading in, he waved us all in. I think he was a bit surprised to see two Navajos get out of the truck, because he didn't quote us a price as others have done in the past. He started out strong, showing us a trackway and saying it had been made in a mudflat probably by Dilophosaurus, a meat eater with two crests on its head. It went downhill from there though. He identified Dilophosaurus as a raptor, and then showed us a collection of random marks that someone had scratched around, calling it a "T. rex". Someone had also scratched T-REX into the rock nearby. He took us to another even larger but equally fake "track", part being raised, part being sunken. He showed us a "triceratops" which he outlined with water. I could not believe he was really doing so - drawing in parts because the random lumps looked vaguely like a skeleton. It was terrible! There was the usual "Dilophosaurus skeleton" and "raptor claw", and another new wrinkle - a "skull" - made of a lump of rock with a hole in it.
We got back to the truck and both Marques and Curtis expressed their displeasure at the site being ran that way. The land belongs to the Navajo Nation, not the people living at Moenave. The locals are making money off of land they do not have a right to (unless they have the grazing leases there), and the tribe is not only not getting anything for it, but it is casting them in a bad light. We tried to shake off the feeling, but couldn't. Instead we headed for Cameron for Navajo Tacos, then back to Page. 300 miles of driving, mostly before noon, to see sights few others have. An awesome trip - I need to get back out there, and especially hit the badlands around Rock Head. I think I'll wait until the weather cools off some though!