Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Mules of San Juan, Deer!

SouthEast Utah is likely the most remote area you will ever find in the lower 48 states. This rugged heart of the Colorado Plateau is far away from everything--even the things that are close to it. The tangled geography of throne and slot-canyon disturbs the hope of linear travel for all without wings. From St George, a good round trip through San Juan County can cost about 1,000 miles, yet never will the traveler be more than 229 Crow-air miles from home. It reminds me of the famous expression born in the state of Maine, "you just can't get they-uh from he-uh." Often, a few hundred yards in San Juan country might as well be hundreds of miles away, if at all.

Traveling through San Juan's labyrinth of beauty stuns the senses. There just isn't enough time to recover from the last beauty before the next one assaults your visual cortex. For example, near the front end of Lake Powell, you can stand in one place, turn around in a circle, and see nearly every fascinating type of scenery that Utah offers: from Zion style formations, to Escalante type slot canyons, Lake Powell waters, high desert meadows, Poplar Grove pastures, Monument Valley monuments, Robbers Roost hideouts, and Alpine peaks. If that litany of geographical treats isn't enough... imagine what lies hidden from view beyond the highway's ribbon. Nobody gets a lifetime long enough to see it all.

It was a lark. Other plans for this weekend suddenly lost their importance when life's stressors mounted and we decided to take a retreat. "Vegas for a show, a California theme park, or a drive out through Monument Valley and the Bad Lands?" I asked. She chose unscripted adventure.

Without itinerary, we left Friday afternoon headed for San Juan County and a thousand miles of highway without a boring horizon. We stopped whenever it tickled our fancy, and ate only local food along the way. At night, we got as far off the already deserted highway as the 4-wheel drive would take us, camping among the star-lit ledges of the lower elevations.

Let us not forget the mules or we'll be off blogtopic. Not ours, though. We left the trailer home. But we saw dozens of Muleys--trophy Muleys! They were all over the place--on and off the highway. I was lucky enough to be ready with the camera before this one got away, after I nearly ran over it. And there were a few half-mules here and there--from a band of wild asses to the sorry Jack we saw on the reservation.