Backpacking on a plateau

It is now late April.

What should be a busy main street in Moab is devoid of traffic, and the hotel parking lots are almost entirely empty.

For obvious reasons, it is not a typical spring.

Those of us who call Moab home get to experience something rather rare in the Colorado Plateau spring: a high desert mainly devoid of people.

A rare occurrence and a memorable one.

But before we took off to the high desert, we took off to the La Sal mountain foothills eight miles up the road and 3500′ feet higher. A refreshing oasis from the desert floor and a place typically not explored by non-Moabites.  And if the summer sees similar restrictions in place, perhaps where we’ll often recreate when the desert is too hot, and with the San Juans of Colorado closed to us.

We looked over Moab Valley below from our camp at 8000′ feet or so, and, at least for an evening, everything seemed normal.

The following day we did a quick hike to our vehicle, drove home, and did an expedient gear swap for a high desert backpacking trip.

Overnight camping is not available to non-locals per county health orders. However, the out of state plates indicated that a significant minority in the outdoors do not believe in a social contract, which means a belief that their actions will not affect themselves and therefore, will not affect others. Concepts I do not share.  But that’s another set of thoughts for another time.

Instead, we enjoyed our desert home mainly to ourselves by walking a mix of washes, cattle paths, and empty jeep roads.

And the few springs tucked away in canyons, and listed on our map,  provided some quiet high desert oases during the day.

Wildflowers were adding splashes of spring color along our walk.

And though we don’t seek scenic campsites as our trip goal, setting up camp overlooking a canyon rim never disappoints.

Our travel path, as always in this area, took us to where generations of people traveled throughout the centuries.

A rewarding trip.

But a troubling one as well.

I’ve resigned myself to the idea that people in the outdoor community don’t reflect on what their actions might mean in the longer term.

But some acts we can’t ignore.

One group, we saw on in the way in left behind a campsite full of trash, cut down juniper trees in the non-official fire ring, and a still-flaming fire in the ring itself.

Since our vehicle awaited us not too far away from this site, we could spare the water to douse the fire.

But it leads me to think about how easy it is to believe our actions in the outdoors do not impact others when our actions do not impact ourselves directly.   Illegal fires and garbage left behind at a campsite as an immediate example. But it is also ignoring alcohol stove restrictions not applying to your style of backpacking. Or it is isolating in communities hours away from home so you can pursue outdoor activities.

Perhaps a bit too much to ruminate on in a trip report.

In the mean-time, we’ll enjoy the comparative quiet of the high desert in spring.

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