Wild America, Bears Ears, and Ghostly howls in the Night

Well I’ve washed the dust out of my hair, shaved my legs, touched up my nails, and I’m wearing cosmetics again. Less than a week ago, I was sporting cover-alls, wearing clear goggles, and I had hat-hair. After I had my first non-solar shower, I thought to myself, “I’m actually feeling human again,” but than there was a part of me that was thinking, “Do I want to?”

Now…the solar shower thing was something new to me. After my husband let this solar bag with a nozzle sit out on a dirt trail for awhile, my husband said, “Your shower is ready.”

I was like, “Where’s the shower curtain?”

He said, “You don’t need a shower curtain out here. We’re in the woods.”

“Alrighty…then.”

I’ll tell you. My shower was a little non-conventional. My husband said you let the nozzle run, turn off the nozzle, than soap your body, turn the nozzle back on, and than rinse.  Easy enough, but I made the whole thing complicated.

I lied face down with my head leaning over the tailgate of the truck, my husband washed and rinsed my hair, and then “I went into the woods” to take a shower. The whole time I was thinking, “this is so much less glamorous than Robert Redford washing Meryl Streep’s hair in Out of Africa.” 

Okay, so if  you’ve been following along, I took a trip down to Bears Ears with my husband to look for bucks. This is the second time I have blogged about Bears Ears and I am sure there will be more. This is because my husband is absolutely smitten with the area and has dubbed it, “Wild America.” No joke. My husband would go here over and over and over again. He has flat out told me he does not need feel the need to travel anywhere else, because everything he wants to see is right there in Wild America.

I have had a few places I have wanted to go see on my bucket list. Stanley, Idaho was on the list, as well as Sandpoint, Idaho. I had dreams of staying in a teepee in Flathead, Montana or finally getting out to see Boulder, Colorado or maybe even Crested Butte or Telluride. Every fall my family gathers in Wyoming, and of course, my daughter lives in Hawaii, so there is always that.

My husband hunts and apparently he drew a limited entry bow permit to hunt  bucks in Wild America. He said he has been trying for twenty years to get this permit. I should have known I was in trouble when our wedding photographer was a guy who runs his own outdoor and hunting show on channel 5. So, this is my husband’s plan:  He has alotted three weeks for hunting purposes in September, Wyoming is off, and he plans on taking a few scouting trips to Wild America before September.

So my  friends, I have a feeling I am going to become well acquainted with the Bears Ears area in the months ahead. This was my second trip to Bears Ears. On my first trip, my husband showed me all around the Abajos, otherwise known as “the blues.” On this trip, my husband and I explored North and South Elk Ridge. From the Abajos, you can see two rising buttes standing side by side, which comprise the “Bears Ears.” This time, I stood at the base of these buttes and got up close and personal with them.

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This is what I can tell you about the Bears Ears. For starters, I knew when I was standing at the base of the buttes, that I was standing near something sacred and meaningful for some people. This would obviously be the Indigenous people  who have a deep, historical and spiritual connection to the area. There is a quiet buzzing sound once I turned off the engine to the four wheeler. The insects were harmonizing something profoundly synchronic . The wind blew in my ears like the sound of someone blowing into a microphone.

It is not as if the wind is blowing at you, it gets into you. The smell of the juniper and sage gets into your olfactory system and goes beyond burning sage over an abalone shell. On the hillside, crimson bells, lavender larkspur, and dainty yellow flowers shaped like velveteen balls on fringe bow down to the whims of the breeze. I also felt as if I was getting reacquainted with the bees.

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As far as the eye can see there is an expanse of wilderness that is marked by a dusty road that will eventually take one to a visitor center near the highway. I was seeing a lower elevation, which meant a higher concentration of heat. I preferred the quakies and the Ponderosa Pine trees. Many of which looked like skeletal remains protruding in the sky, as if they had been struck by lightening, but showed no signs of charring. I saw a circle of scrub oak with one bleach boned tree towering in the center. It felt like the Stonehenge of the desert.

One thing I did not see a lot of was people. I swear there was only a handful of us on the mountain on a fourth of July weekend, and we would only run into each other sporadically. When my husband and I made the 37 mile trip into Elk Ridge, we crossed an Indian Reservation and did not see a soul.

On the way up, I noticed  a lot of Indian paint brush, Banana Yucca plants, clusters of sego lillies and blooming prickly pear. At higher elevations, I noticed a lot of columbines, wild roses, and cliff rose, but it was the larkspur (or the lavender pentstemon) that dominated among the grasses, sage, and forest floors. The yellow woolybases of the sunflower family also had a wide precedence. How I wish I could Shazam wildflowers!

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I believe the best adjectives to describe Bears Ears would be vast and grandiose.  I believe the Hewlet foundation pegged it just right when they proclaimed Bears Ears to be “a land of culture and mystery.” I did not sense this too much on my first trip to the Abajos, but felt it very strongly on my second night sleeping near a canyon on the North side of Elk Ridge. Let’s just say that my husband and I were awoken in the night by sounds that seemed well…a little supernatural. This was the first time that it really did sink in that we were in the four corners area after all.

The South end of Elk Ridge seemed more lush. The North end not as impressionable in the daytime and the scorching heat seemed far more odious. My husband and I took on the habits of the wildlife. We explored the region in the early hours of the morning and in the dusk of the evening, than we would shade up in the hottest hours of daylight.

It felt as if we were going on evening and morning safari. In the mornings, we would virtually see no one and I could not help but think, “these people do not know what they are missing.” The wildlife were far more active in the earliest hours of the morning. There was something serendipitous about placing my time clock in unison with the animals.

This is what I learned about North Elk Ridge. DON’T BE DECIEVED. Nothing is as it seems. There is far more to the area than first impression, and it’s mysteries will reveal themselves to you in time. First of all, the splendor of North Elk Ridge exceeded the lush canopies of South Elk Ridge. Towards sunset, the landscape really changes and puts on a show.

Also, the blissful peace felt in morning time stands in complete opposition to the eery and somewhat terrifying sounds you will hear at night. Good luck, trying to identify them, they will be unlike any sounds ever heard before, even for seasoned outdoorsmen who are familiar with animal calls. I emphasize that sound(s) is plural.

My husband and I heard three distinct sounds. One sound was a cross between a bugel and a high pitched whistle. The other sound was like a slow grunt that felt alarmingly closer to us. It was rhythmic and steady like snoring. The other sound is the one that woke us up. It seemed logical that this could only be a cow but at other times it almost sounded human, It seemed further away but it’s distress call went on for nearly an hour. It’s panicked, bellowing, screeching yowls echoed across the canyon but then felt closer to us on the road, which was down the hill from where we were staying.

My only thoughts were something is in agony, terrified, or being stalked, and needed to be put out of its misery. Another thought I had a few days later was that some type of animal was birthing something, because the sound pattern was consistent with that of the peaks and valleys of contractions during labor. My husband took a spotlight with him and walked a short distance from our sleeping quarters. He almost looked like a pale ghost walking back towards me accentuated by the radiant spotlight under a blanket of black sky and pin point constellations.

I wanted to go from our truck’s sleeper to the front cab of the truck, but did not want to give the noises the satisfaction. I felt like I needed to hear a sound that was not that, a song on the radio, or even a voice on talk radio to disrupt what I was hearing. I even said a prayer…make it go away…make it stop. My husband crawled into his sleeping bag and I crawled back into my canvas covered bed roll (specially made by a guy in Cedar Fort, for outdoorsman wanting to sleep on the ground) and my husband said, “Let’s just go back to sleep.”

I was like…”yeah… right.”

Surprisingly enough, I immediately went back to sleep and so did my husband. We even woke up feeling extra refreshed and somewhat befuddled. We were like…”Did that just really happen last night?” The air felt still, peaceful, and dew like. Very calm. I had no qualms about taking my morning coffee and going back out there. It almost felt like the glories of the canyon were ours for the partaking, but we had to prove ourselves worthy first.

We had seen many deer in the days before, and we watched one wild turkey disappear into the grass with a small brood. The upheavals of the grass as it seemed to move on its own, revealed that they were still unsuccessfully hiding. We saw a small animal that was stalkier than a deer without the prancing physique that darted across the road on all fours. Mostly the deer perked their ears and were not nearly as skittish. We thought it could only be a coyote.

One observation I made was that female deer were generally seen alone or with their fawns. Bucks traveled in pairs or in groups. The Elk traveled in herds and were seen in distances, nowhere near the road. You could see their large bodies moving through the backdrop of trees, their antlers and shadow forms contrasting against the powder-white lines of the towering quaking aspen.

The trails and roads were unpredictable. You could go in a few miles, only to be halted by a falling tree, or to have rivets so deep in the mud your four wheeler carried on at a full tilt. There were signs everywhere of the formerly stuck or their methods for getting themselves out. The tracks told stories. Cows had to be chased out of the road. The night after my husband and I’s “ghostly encounter” the tracks told us nothing. Some of the roads within Bears Ears monument were nicely graded, most of them are not.

My husband and I came across some trails where we knew it was not wise to explore them without a second rider, and other times we did not care. We knew if we got stuck we could be walking back 13 miles. Thoughts of Bears were always in the back of my mind. My husband kept saying, “you won’t see one, you would count yourself lucky to see one,” and than I got lucky…I saw three.

Now, as exciting as our canyon sleep was the night before, my husband and I’s nightly bed quarters changed sporadically. We were like gypsies, only a little less flamboyant in camo. We’d load up our feastware and pack up our stoves. A bottle of whiskey broke in our cooler cutting a hole in our milk which also tasted peculiarly of whiskey. My husband tried unsuccessfully to uncork raspberry lambic with a leatherman and I had to filter out pieces of cork with my teeth while taking a drink. It paired nicely with deviled meat on crackers or bean dip on Fritos.

We knew on our last day, there were four ways out with the truck and trailer. We could go back the way we came over “the Notch,” we could take the Causeway, we could head North on an unfamilar, washed out ardorous road that would eventually get us to Newspaper Rock, or we could go through the dark Canyon Wilderness which would eventually hook up with another road which would take us into Blanding. That would be a 37 mile trip which SEEMED like the easiest route.

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Now, let me tell you about the Notch and the Causeway which have been deemed “not for the faint of heart.” Also, SPOILER ALERT  my husband and I did end up going over the Causeway. The “easy route” through the DARK canyon wilderness was just that, in the beginning, dark towering pines billowed overhead and before you knew it, the landscape changed to narrow switchbacks, washes, and cottonwood trees. One could easily see the flash flood potential. A slow trickle of a stream meandered its way through the craggy banks that were far too massive for a humble meandering stream.

We reached a sign in the desert region informing us that we were on Indian Land and that there was no trespassing beyond the road. We drove through a few washes that had water in them, but they were manageable. My husband kept saying, “Hmm…I don’t know if this is going to be the best way to come back and hunt in my sheep shack.” It had been the way he had been counting on because he can testify that when some of those roads get saturated with rain, there’s no getting back out with a trailer.

Than we hit a massive puddle of water in the road that was equivalent to a small pond. My first thought was vast, but not deep. As my husband and I got out to investigate, we simultaneously came to the same conclusion, “No way.” There was no getting around it no matter which angle we tried, or how we chose to spin it. The water was well passed the waist.

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Now, had we not been so far from town, with scorching heat, on desolate Indian land we might have tried it. Had we got stuck, and had to be pulled out, that may not have been worth the time and effort of just turning back around. Sadly, we were almost to the road that was going to hook us back up to Blanding. We had traveled so far. Also, we were on a narrow road, that made it oh so difficult to turn back around. We nearly jack-knifed our trailer trying to back it up a small hill.

We were feeling somewhat deflated to have to go back up the mountain, but also relieved that we had the fuel to do so.  My husband’s former memory of a previous trip on that route entailed trying to out maneuver a forest fire so he could not have been paying too close attention to the road conditions at the time.

Such is life. We submitted to the whims of Nature. Than we saw something black dart across the road. It was far too stealthy and disproportionate to be a cow. It kicked up dust in a scamper and stopped for a moment to look at us while two smaller and oh so cute scrawny little cubs trailed behind it. They took cover, ultra-fast which was unfortunate for us because they were beyond endearing to behold.

The mother did not waste anytime, I caught a glimpse of her face, and her light brown nose, than she was gone. I could scarcely believe it. I also thought, “all that time at higher elevation in the back country and I see a bear in the desert on designated Indian land?”  Something about it just struck me as very powerful because I was heading down a path that was not my intention. The laws of nature had been set in motion before I even had the encounter.

I have had one other Bear encounter in my life, and soon after, my life unraveled. I NEEDED the solitude of Bears Ears. I found myself to be braver than I imagined, and I felt cleansed. I went into the woods feeling wounded, as if I could NEVER escape from my past and that was my load to carry.

I had a thought that came to me that I could not place into words. I only know that it gave me peace. After being home a few days I found my thoughts materialize in a passage. The thought started with a question: “Who hurt you?”

Answer: ” My expectations.”

This is what the wilderness is for. Clarity. I fight for it but realize impactful change comes more through example more than opinion. Go out into the wilderness my friends! That’s all I can say. Until next post!

Rachelle Whiting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Wild America, Bears Ears, and Ghostly howls in the Night

Add yours

  1. Great post, Rachelle. You painted a picture of all those vistas beautifully, and particularly the wildflowers. I don’t paint but I think I’de be taking an easel next trip and giving it ago.
    I cracked up with your reference to Out of Africa. Thankyou for the laugh 🙂

    Like

  2. Thank you. Yes! The area would be a painters dream. I am glad you got the Out of Africa reference. One of my favorite movies. Although I doubt you would see Robert Redford walking around carrying elephant tusks for any movie today. I so loved the flight scenes.

    Like

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