Another bluebird day with temperatures in the mid-80's mid day. We get an early start from camp on our bikes and then return for the hot hours to read, write, and otherwise rest until the early evening when we go out once again to scout for photographs. Life is good.
We have spent the past few days here in the high mesa country north of Moab. The landscape is dry and sparse, with each plant taking advantage of the recent late season snow melt to show it's colors and bloom. The trees are all pygmy sized, but these hearty desert survivors are no doubt old - some over a hundred years. We see dwarf pinion pine, juniper and in the shaded, well watered draws of canyon folds, relic Douglas fir - hold outs from a time when there was more water. The prickly pear are all in bloom as well as lupines, and some orange colored leggy flower we have not yet identified. The slick rock protrudes in rolls at the high points and is subverted by muddy sand in the low spots. Today while riding I am startled by a rattle snake moving across the trail.. Now, every stick I see gives me pause, and I slow down on the blind corners while riding. A few varieties of lizard dart back for cover as we peddle by, but some, seem to be more curious, and stay perched, doing push-ups on their sunny perches while we observe one another. Our riding improves and as gain confidence it's as if the bikes themselves are becoming more familiar with the type of terrain we encounter and we roll over sandstone drops, hop up onto small ledges, and let the full-suspension absorb the general unevenness of the single track slick rock and wash near the mesa's edge.
Yesterday we explored "Island in the sky" by foot, walking well over 10 miles along the mesa's rim. This part of Canyonlands National Park is aptly named because it is a high, rounded mesa surrounded on 360 degrees by canyon walls dropping down to both the Colorado and Green river gorges over 2,000 feet. The mesa is connected to the surrounding land mass by a single, 30 yard wide neck of land that has served to provide access to and control over these fertile lands as long they have been occupied by humans. In the early days, the Indians herded big horn sheep towards the neck, where they harvested what they needed before letting the others return to the mesa. Later, cattle men used the neck to collect open range grazers that had been at large and roaring freely for the feeding season. Now, there is a roadway across the neck, and tourists like us it to access the incredible views beyond. There is a hair raising dirt road here, that switchbacks down the canyon wall to the white rim elevation where it joins with the famous white rim trail (really a dirt road) that skirts the park and the canyon of the Colorado river at a fairly constant elevation for over 100 miles.
Hiking on the "island" I am reminded of the floating islands imagined in the movie"Avatar" where there is a self contained eco-system, floating suspended in the air. I practice walking meditation as we pass through this landscape, breathing in the dry and roasted desert air and letting it infuse me with calm and peace. I imagine myself floating over the surface, and somehow, my reptilian brain manages the logistics unconsciously of stepping up, over, around, on top of, and down the red rocks and sand. When I look out, above my immediate surroundings, the closest horizon is easily 20 miles away in the blue hazed snow covered La Sal mountains, and looking down from the crumbling mesa edge, as if on a mountaintop I see the dark brown, gray, red, and tan striations of the tortured and eroded mountainsides that have been shaped by the river's million year land shaping efforts and the sands of time carried by the strong local winds. Once away from the parking areas, it is quiet and peaceful, and very transformative as I mindfully pass through my surroundings. When sitting at the mesa's edge we soon begin to see the large bird community that call this special are home. The ravens seem to glide effortlessly by on the updrafts, with occasional flaps to adjust pitch and direction. When they pass close by, we can hear the wind on their wing tips as a deep whoosh. If they are flapping we can hear the whomp, whomp, whomp of the compressed pillow of air they force downwards with each stroke. The swallows and swifts on the other hand are moving at mach speed, required undoubtedly to catch the insects they subsist on. Their wings are swept back and their tails are sharp and forked, like a fighter jet and they literally seem to rip the air as they accelerate by, always turning, arcing, rolling, or diving - never seeming to fly straight and level. When they choose to come close to inspect us for hitchhiking bugs the sound we hear is more like a high pitched "zing" as they roll away just before impact. Perhaps our older ancestors attracted more of a colony of insects in their hair or clothes so the birds have learned to look at us for a take-out snack when we approached.