Walking was monotonous, especially alone with no one else to chat with, so I let my mind wander to past experiences and tried to recreate them in my mind. It helped to pass the time, sort of like listening to a book on tape. For this section of the desert hike, I chose to think about water, which as a professional whitewater tour operator, I had plenty of options to choose from.
Cliff Dwelling, Uranium Mine and Black Powder
In the mid-1960s, in my late twenties, I was often the lead guide for youth groups on the Colorado River outside of Moab, Utah. The stretch of river was simply known as the Daily section and started approximately thirty miles upriver from Moab. In those days we would run multiple day trips on this section, which meant we had a lot of time to kill before getting into camp in the early afternoon.
A favorite stop for swimming, cliff diving and cliff jumping was just below Dewey Bridge, a wooden bridge constructed in 1916 to provide a link between Moab, Utah, and Grand Junction, Colorado. At the time of its construction, it was the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, it met its demise in 2008 when a brush fire, started by a young boy playing with matches, burned it to the ground, in this case, into the river.
On one trip, after playing in the water for a while, I proposed to the group that we explore a side canyon that channeled flood waters into the river where we were stopped. They were game, so off we went. I had never been in this canyon before and had no idea where it went or what we would find.
Small cottonwood trees and willows lined the dry streambed, and it was obvious from rusted barbed wire fences that we passed over and under that the canyon had, at one time in the past, been open to cattle grazing. The farther we hiked, the steeper became the grade, until we were climbing small ledges above water pour-offs that formed shallow pools of stagnant water in the sand.
A mile up the canyon, the terrain opened up, and we found several primitive roads that were suitable only for four-wheel Jeep travel. Off to the right were several expansive cliff overhangs that we thought might contain Indian cliff dwellings, so we went to explore. At the base of the cliff, perhaps a hundred feet above us, was a substantial ledge accessible only by scrambling over rock debris that had once formed the face of the ledge. A path up to the ledge wasn’t obvious, but we persisted and finally obtained the rim of the ledge and clamored over the last obstacle to stand upright on the sandy floor of the ledge. It was, indeed, a cliff dwelling.