Following the travel paths

Ever since I moved to Moab over a year ago, I quickly realized a name for my various interests. Meaning my interests in history, different cultural groups, looking at maps, and fitting it all together is an existing discipline I never heard of until relatively recently: Cultural Geography.

Metate grinding areas with petroglyphs

And living on the Colorado Plateau, this type of discipline seems so apparent: integrating many different fields into a cohesive whole.  Frankly, an academic discipline that fits my “Jack of all trades” (and master of none) skill set.

I love looking at maps and seeing where people might have traveled before as I explore this area. Corn cobs, rock arts, or ancestral dwellings often confirm hunches that yes, people came this way previously.

As outdoors people or even those with academic inclinations, we often find it easy to view areas as isolated pockets rather than a connected whole. Looking at the maps and seeing how the canyons flow together, realizing that the rivers and even our current roads formed an intricate network of travel in ages past, adds an increased dimension to our outdoor pursuits.

We don’t see areas in isolation; we are seeing areas where people traded, worshipped, raised families, in short, a community.

During the past few weeks, Joan and I have been exploring our local wilderness area.

I’ve hiked the beginning part of this canyon system and found rock art, corn cobs, and other signs of people from the past.

The canyon forms an obvious travel path from the Moab Valley to the La Sal Mountains in the summer and then back again in the fall.

And Joan and I connected out steps in this canyon over various trips.

Sometimes overnight or even a day at a time.

Sometimes via scrambling exploration, un-official single track, or the occasional jeep road walk.

And on a recent trip. we connected our steps and found what appears to be an obvious travel path to the La Sal Mountains. Something kiddingly referred to as our “Northwest Passage.”

Fantastic cover.

And how did we know? Before we went off-trail, we saw petroglyphs; a sign others came to this same way generations before. Some faint footprints only confirmed we followed a path done by others.


We followed this path, not on any topo map, but certainly known to many people over the generations.

We made it to the jeep track that (more or less) goes behind our house, the same jeep track that leads to other local explorations over the past year.

Yes, a connection to the mountains and back. And confirmed!

We finished the trip and made a loop back to the car. And we are already planning what other places we can explore in our backyard wilderness and follow in the footsteps of those who came before us.

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Mina Loomis
8 months ago

In The Secret Knowledge of Water, Craig Childs says something about being able to see the ancient footpaths, leading across the desert to water sources, only in moonlight but not in the light of day. Not something I’ve ever seen but that passage really caught my imagination.