Smokey Mountain Road
There is a road behind the town I am staying in called Smokey Mountain Road. I have a funny relationship with this road, as it calls for me when I seem to need it most, when the challenges and stresses of the “real world” distract me from my purpose and why it is that I am staying out in the middle of nowhere. I cringe at the fact that I associate the “real world” with work and a schedule, because the true world is out there – in the wilderness. But that is a topic for another time.
The first time I had noticed Smokey Mountain Road was when I arrived in Big Water. Surrounded by towering chalk-grey cliffs, the town looks like an ant colony being engulfed. These cliffs remind me of those in Hanksville, which form the famous Factory Butte. Except that these are omnipresent, larger, and never-ending. They are beautiful, but not in a conventional way. Their aesthetic stems from their harshness, their desolation, their true illustration of the desert. Anyways, I am getting ahead of myself…
When I arrived in Big Water, I marveled at these dichromatic canyon walls. I could see a tiny vehicle driving through the valley, so this told me that there must be dirt roads that wind through the area; roads that I must make the time to drive. As a reminder, I ended up in Big Water by accident. I was supposed to be staying in the South-Central Utah valley of Monroe, but I had to vacate the Airbnb due to a rodent infestation. It was a chaotic time, and I really lucked out with finding this Airbnb in Big water.
During those first few days in Big Water, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of outdoor recreation. Page, AZ is twenty minutes East. Vermillion Cliffs, directly South. And Grand Staircase, just North of here. With the sun setting soon, I frantically searched for hikes on AllTrails that would be suitable for a sunset hike. I can’t remember which one I settled on, but it would require a 20-30 minute drive. I happened to be cooking that evening (black bean burgers by the way; so yummy), which consumed more time than I had planned. The day was fast approaching dusk, and I would not have time to drive out to whichever hike I had settled on. So instead, I decided to take that dirt road out behind Big Water.
Pretty quickly, I descended down the flanks of the hill upon which the community of Big Water stands. Immediately I was in a new world – shielded from society. Well, almost. There were a few van-lifers set up by this trickling creek, which I now assume is Wahweap Creek. I passed a sign that said “Glen Canyon Recreation Area”, so I knew I was headed in the right direction. Where am I headed again? Nowhere. I have no aim, but just to be. As the sun began to set, it shone upon the grey canyon cliffs, bathing them in beautiful gold color. I was overwhelmed with emotion, as I had spent so much time planning a hike elsewhere, only to realize how much beauty was right behind town, waiting to be discovered and appreciated. I might have even wept, in this manic fashion (don’t judge; the music playing in my car was a big factor in this).
I wish there was a name for this, as it has been a theme in the desert; possibly my whole life. The hikes I go on always exceed my expectations. Especially the ones with lower ratings on apps like AllTrails (how weird is it that we rank hikes?)
Yesterday, I was called back to Smokey Mountain Road. I noticed online that there is actually a trail right off this road within a canyon called Resurrection Canyon. Looking at my map, it was about a ten minute drive from my place, or less. Due to its proximity, I would have plenty of time to explore before dark. I headed out, and was surprised to find the trailhead precisely where I had stopped to watch the sunset that evening back in April, when I first arrived in Big Water. Things coming full-circle is another theme of my travels…
As I was hiking, I found myself having the same thoughts as that fateful evening back in April. “I can’t believe I haven’t hiked this earlier,” I said to myself. “I can’t believe all of this is right here, within reach.” The canyon, while difficult to navigate, was remarkable. Most of the trail follows a wash, which passes through high, eroded walls of that same chalk-grey color. The rock formations become stranger and more alien the deeper into the canyon one walks. This area is known for its hoodoos, and the formations in this canyon live up to the hype. A pleasant surprise, I even passed through flora which I did not expect to find in this desolate wasteland. Prickly pear, some sort yucca, and a legume-like plant whose “beans” even smelled edible. I didn’t pass any trees, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t hidden somewhere, deeper into the canyon.
The light I had been watching high on the chalk walls was starting to fade a bit, so I took this as a cue to start heading back up the canyon, to my car. It was approaching 8PM, and I still had not eaten (this time, leftover Minestrone I had made over the weekend). I was pleased to find that the light had returned for a bit, giving me something to gaze at as I climbed out of the canyon. A word of caution: it is very easy to lose the trail in Resurrection Canyon, especially when climbing out of it. There is a key flank upon which the trail leads back to the trailhead. If you mistakenly miss this (as I did), you will confusingly head the wrong way. A good practice I do when hiking as try to remember landmarks, so it was not long before I had noticed my misstep, and corrected my course. Eventually I made it back to my car with time to spare, and got to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the short drive back to Big Water.
Before ending my journey and heading up the hill to my Airbnb, I stopped at the trickling Wahweap Creek. Leaving my car on (in park, obviously), I got out to take a few photos down low – level with the water. The result is the essence of this area – which mystifies me more with each visit. Water is precious and limited, yet it exists. The landscape is seemingly cruel and unforgiving, yet ironically provides comfort and wonder. I needed this evening hike, as I had been getting too wrapped up in work and distracted from the natural world. I hope to return to this hike before I leave Big Water, possibly during sunrise. Until next time!