New Year’s on the Colorado Plateau

This past Christmas, Joan and I went to see my Mom and her husband in Florida (orFlah-ra-dah,” as I still say, 20+ years after leaving RhoDyeluhn).

We overate, I got reminded I needed to hit the weights again after a holiday break, and my youngest brother did what all “little” brothers do – Make fun of the big brother to his wife in a way that left me laughing quite hard.

After this visit, Joan went to see her folks in Pensacola while I went back to Moab. Though I had to work for a couple of days, my time off lined up, and I received another “gift of time” and realized I had four days off to enjoy the outdoors.

I modified a loop Joan and I did nearly four years ago with a side trip to a place I have not seen in a few years, too.

It’s a place that’s remote and requires 1.5+ hrs of dirt road travel to see. And this lonely place would have even fewer people in December.


I reached the ‘trailhead” and hiked down into a canyon with the usual Colorado Plateau scenery of red rocks and sandy washes.

And with a panel that reminded me a bit of a more famous panel, I’d see later in the trip.

I suspect even fewer people see this particular panel in this sparsely visited area.

I descended into another canyon and saw an arch I had not noticed during our previous trip.

Perhaps the winter light brought out the almost pink rock more, but I found it among the more intriguing arches I’ve seen on my backcountry travels.

Walking along the canyon, I came where I planned to camp for the evening. I was pleased to find plenty of water for the evening and the hike the following day.

A quick check of the available daylight made seeing a panel I have not seen in nearly four years possible—and not one I wanted to pass on seeing.

I went down the canyon and soon came to the panel I had not seen in quite some time.

The images’ impression on me did not diminish with a second viewing.

These images, some quite possibly over 2000 years old, leave an impression long after you walk away and make it home.

The colors still seem vivid, but the details reveal themselves more and more with each viewing, and I cannot help but think of the legacy these ancient creators made that resonates generations later.

I headed back, grabbed my stowed pack, and went to a campsite I had scoped out just before my climb out of the canyon in the morning.

I could do a short scramble from my shelter and look to the canyon bottom.

My shelter location also gave me prime viewing for the last rays of the winter sun lighting up the rock formations above me.

In the morning, I fueled myself with hot coffee on the cold morning, packed up, and made my way to the canyon rim.

A climb I’ve done before, it’s somewhat more challenging solo without my (taller) wife to hand me a pack during some more exposed sections. Ha!

A rare selfie gives a perspective of the canyon below. My usual model was strolling a beach in Florida.

I made it up the top, enjoyed the view, and continued my journey.

I decided for my last night to cam out the rim and wake up in the morning to catch a New Year’s sunrise rather than race daylight on day four, drive out in the dark on a dirt road, and sort gear after a three-hour drive back to Moab.

A sunrise over the canyon rim with the formations I saw the past days? I can not think of a better way to bring in the new year.

I saw no one for nearly four days on a trip of amazing canyons and images.

The timing worked well as I gave a young couple whose car broke down on the long drive out a lift to the “metropolis” of Green River and the comforts of Love’s Truck stop (and cell reception where they got a hold of a friend.)

There is some karma in my bank as well to start 2024.

Perhaps a sign of good things to come this year.


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Nick Gatel
5 months ago