Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Wedge Overlook Recreation Area in the San Rafael Swell Desert, Utah

        Followers of this blog know of my love for outdoor activities, so it may seem strange to read that I live within an hour's drive of 2000 square miles of public land but don't recreate there often.

        What is it about the San Rafael Swell that keeps me away?  For one thing, most of the time I drive right on by while venturing to the more well-known national parks of southeastern Utah.  And, "Tom's Canyoneering Guide" describes The Swell as: "Rugged, desolate, dry, hot, wild. This is the kind of area that has little appeal to those who are not charmed by the desert. Oases of human-friendly environments are few and far between.  One of those corners of the world lost to civilization…"

The endless canyons of the San Rafael Swell.
The ribbon of white at the bottom of the canyon is the iced-over
San Rafael River.

        It's true that much of the area is either steep-walled canyon or open, inhospitable desert.  And summer can be brutally hot or buggy.  January, however, proved an ideal month to hike this arid environment.
        On an unseasonably warm winter morning Tim, our dog Annie and I arrive at the Wedge Overlook in the San Rafael Swell to hike the rim trail.  The trail is 17 miles long and open only to mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders.  On this cloudless day our view from the canyon's rim stretches from horizon to horizon.  When Annie ventures onto the rocks at rim's edge I call her back from the 1000 foot drop-off.

It may not look like it, but there's a 1000 foot drop-off
several feet behind us!

The rim trail veers away from the river canyon.
Tim and Annie pose along one of the side canyons to the San Rafael River.

        After hiking a couple of miles we turn to retrace our steps on this out-and-back trail.  We've enjoyed solitude on today's trek, but halfway back to the trailhead Annie goes on alert.  Something has her attention.  We hear voices and try to call our dog back but she rushes off and returns, leading fellow hikers who turn out to be friends from our hiking club—The Castle Country Canyoneers.   Pete and Kathryn have also brought their dog—and Annie's best friend—Lucinda, along.  We laugh at the coincidence of this unplanned meeting, literally in the middle of nowhere, and extend our hike another mile or so, giving the dogs plenty of time to frolic in patches of snow dotting the trailside.

        After the hike we drive to a secluded spot on the rim for our picnic lunch.  Fourteen years ago, on our first trip to The Wedge, we camped along the overlook drive.  The rim is now closed to camping due to human-caused damage; a designated campground is situated in the pinions and junipers, about a half mile from the rim.

Many areas of the San Rafael Swell have been abused by illegal use
of off-road vehicles.  This large Pinion Pine—in an area closed to
motorized use—is evidence of a healthy desert environment.

Lunch on the edge.  Tim relaxes with a sandwich on a
blue-sky January day.

      This corner of the world that's been "lost to civilization" is 20 miles from where I now make my home.  And after this successful January trek in the San Rafael Swell, I'll try to remember not to overlook the 1,280,000 acres of public land in my backyard.

      To learn more about Utah's San Rafael Desert, visit this website:
      You may read of four more adventures in The San Rafael Swell by visiting these previous blog posts:
      Llama trekking in the San Rafael Swell
      Annie's First Desert Hike
      Wildflowers of Horsethief Canyon
      Little Wildhorse Canyon
      Little Wildhorse Canyon is located just inside the boundary of the San Rafael Swell Desert,  near Goblin Valley State Park.  For a fantastic experience, combine this hike with a stay at the park.

Map of the San Rafael Swell Desert,
courtesy of Weber State University and Emery Maps.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Rough Air

               "Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away…"
                                                                                      --- from the song "Let's Fly Away"
                                                                                           lyrics by Sammy Cahn
                                                                                           performed by Frank Sinatra, 1957

             The words and melody sound so inviting when Frank sings them, don't they?  But it's 2014, not 1957, and the romance of air travel has gone the way of bobby socks and the Rat Pack.

             Sunday, December 19, 2010
             After an idyllic vacation on the Oregon coast Tim and I are in the Eugene airport, waiting to board our flight to Salt Lake City, UT.  The gate agent announced a minor delay due to maintenance problems.  But within half an hour we boarded the plane.  Shortly after takeoff the captain assured us of a quick, smooth flight to Salt Lake City and a near on-time arrival of 3:50 p.m.  We looked forward to seeing our cats, turning on the holiday lights, listening to Christmas CDs and relaxing—a quiet Sunday evening at home.
             Two minutes after the captain's message the commuter jet slowed, turned and began a descent.  I tugged on Tim's sleeve and said:
           "This should never happen on take-off."
             Another minute and another message from the captain.
            "Folks—from the flight deck—you may have noticed that we're descending.  A warning light has alerted the crew to a mechanical failure in the plane's deicing system."
              Back to Eugene we go.  With the airport in sight the wheels rumbled down into their locked, landing position.
              "Mommy!  We're crashing!", said a six-year-old seated behind us.  Reassuring.
               We landed (without incident), then off-loaded and waited.  A short while later another announcement from the gate:
              "Due to the de-icing system failure our jet is not safe to fly.  Please get in line to be reassigned to another flight."
               Tim entered the long line while I phoned Delta.  I reached an agent who told me there was a single seat on a Horizon flight leaving in an hour for Portland; from Portland a flight leaves for Salt Lake at 6:15 and will arrive at 9:00 p.m.  Tim must be on that flight; he has a full day of surgeries scheduled for tomorrow.  The agent gave me a confirmation number for Tim, then put me on a flight leaving Eugene in the morning.  Tim left for the Horizon gate and I got back in line to get my ticket and make arrangements for our luggage and for my overnight stay in Eugene.  Almost an hour later I approached the counter as Tim rushed to my side.  Horizon Airlines won't take his confirmation number, they need an actual ticket from the Delta agent.
               "Oh," the Delta agent said to me, "As it happens there are many empty seats on that flight to Portland.  Would you like to be assigned to that flight?"
                Yes, I would.  I grabbed my ticket, hurried to the Horizon gate with Tim, was the last person to board the flight and... the plane was only half-full of passengers.  Shouldn't the Delta agent I spoke with on the phone an hour ago have known that?  Well, anyway, we had a smooth 20 minute flight to Portland and were a couple hours early for our 6:15 flight to Salt Lake.  We checked the departure board and, what's this?  Our flight to Salt Lake has been delayed until 9:15.  Now we had time for a sit-down dinner where we could at least use the measly $6.00 voucher issued to us by a Delta representative.

Catching some shut eye while waiting—and waiting—for the
flight home.
                Back at the gate we read that the flight was now delayed until 10:00 p.m.
               "What's the problem?"  I asked the gate agent.
               "Well," she said. "The plane is still in Salt Lake and hasn't taken off due to a mechanical problem with refueling."  Delta had used the same excuse for our delayed flight from Salt Lake City to Eugene earlier in the week.
                 Oh really?  Here's the thing:  I just read that Delta raked in almost 1 billion dollars in revenue from baggage fees last year.  Shouldn't Delta take some of that one billion in cash and maintain their planes?  Or maybe they could hand out meal vouchers worth more than six dollars.

                 Finally, at 10:15 p.m., we took off for Salt Lake.  The flight was smooth until the descent into the Salt Lake Valley.  A mighty wind took hold of our small jet, tossing us up and down and side to side.  With queasy stomachs we stumbled to baggage claim, only to find our luggage hadn't made the trip.  Time to stand in line again.  We handed our claim checks to the clerk.
               "Your luggage is still on the plane in Eugene and I have no idea when it will arrive.  Fill out your name and address and we'll put it on a FedEx truck for delivery when it gets to Salt Lake."
                We were home by 3:45 a.m., a full 12 hours after we had expected to arrive in Salt Lake City.

                Wednesday, December 22, 2010
                Steady rain all day and still no sign of my luggage.  But when I opened the side door this morning Tim's bag was on the side porch, soaking wet.  FedEx must have dropped it off last night and forgot to ring the doorbell.  I emptied the bag of its sopping contents and hung the clothing to dry.  This afternoon my bag showed up on our doorstep as well, with a San Francisco baggage tag.  I hope my bag had a nice layover in the city by the bay.

                 Our Oregon coast vacation was delightful.  The return trip, not so much.  Oh, I'll continue to fly; it's still the best way to get quickly from here to there.  But the skies are many times less-than-friendly, and jet-setting is not what was in Frank Sinatra's day.
                 Readers, do you have a nightmare flight story?
                Wishing everyone safe, happy, and on-time arrivals in 2014!