Duke and the Boys

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LIME CANYON Jay, John and Duke have enjoyed many great adventures together exploring southern Utah’s canyon country. While they can backpack for extended trips, their expertise is escaping down a desert road for quality solitude with a few luxuries from the truck. Short of an unscheduled beer run or other dire emergency, the trio becomes immersed in the natural environment while exploring sacred places. Ancient ruins, petroglyph panels, pottery shards, and red rock become sanctuaries.

Duke, knowing that in late November the sun sets early, paced around the campsite waiting for the boys to finish their late breakfast. Finely the group of three was ready to search for a route into Lime Canyon with hopes of reaching the Little Citadel ruins. Duke let the boys lead through a laborious process of scramble down ten to fifteen feet then hike up or down canyon a hundred yards and repeat and repeat as they worked around nearly intact vertical cliff bands. Though he re-framed for quite awhile, the slow pace was finally too much,“Don’t you know what you are doing?” Not wanting a negative tone to spoil a great day Jay calmly stated that, “Because of the way this canyon evolved over geological time, we are being careful not to get hung-up. With your approach to navigation getting to the canyon floor would be a roll of the dice; who knows in what direction you would go off chasing what. Let the men deliver us into Lime Canyon for our fun.” Duke felt obliged to set the record straight, “Do you remember just two days ago how well your skills worked on starting this hike from the Valley of the Gods? Your collective lack of knowledge about the area along with John’s funny comments about details delivered us to the bottom of a 100-foot pour-off that necessitated this approach.” For good measure a second recent experience was then offered as reinforcement, “Do you remember how well your skills worked on starting our hike into Fish Creek? You had a GPS waypoint but thought that following pottery shards was a secret shortcut.”

Finally in late afternoon they made it to the canyon floor, actually into a side canyon that still required a short hike to the intended destination. For the moment the glow of the late afternoon sun was enough. For the moment just being on the canyon floor enjoying the ambiance of the Cedar Mesa Sandstone, walking among boulders in a dry stream bed was enough. However, precious minutes of remaining daylight were consumed as Jay scanned alcoves for ruins while John processed geology from the perspective of sand dunes 250 million years ago. Duke on the other hand, relaxed a bit allowing the boys’ accomplishment to be honored. Multiple past failures of getting to this point now seamed a distant part of the greater journey.

Hiking up Lime Canyon the boys watched the sun starting to set. They knew time was getting short but the unspoken truth was they didn’t know what to do. The only certainty at this late hour was the time consuming route used on the way in was out of the question. Pondering their options as they hiked, the boys were looking for an answer to emerge up-canyon that would save them from a cold night. “Do you think just any approach up this three hundred foot canyon wall will work? The ability to reach the rim will be dictated by the random events of deposition and erosion. Most of the individual sandstone layers are still intact as insurmountable cliff bands,” shouted Duke trying to speed-up the process of getting back to camp. He knew he would weather the night fine with the fur coat he always carried but the boys on the other hand would have a rough time with the cold. Again scolding the boys, “Just the fact that you won’t be able to carry-on around a blazing campfire will be a major set-back.” Remembering another Thanksgiving week several years earlier camped at Comb Ridge when the boys whined because of the cold temperatures, Duke reminded them that they drove to Bluff one morning for breakfast with some flimsy excuse justifying the trip. “Even with a morning fire that day, you weren’t happy. You won’t have breakfast burritos and hot coffee tomorrow morning if we don’t focus now!”

At last Duke was called to find a way up an unexplored part of the canyon as the final rays of the sun had all but disappeared. It was almost as if the boys wanted to enjoy a beautiful sunset before addressing the reality of finding a route to the security of camp. Duke was more than ready. Though the darkness dictated caution with every step, Duke felt the evening pace was a continuation of the morning ramblings as the boys constantly lagged behind. At one point in an effort to engage the boys as well as to reinforce teamwork, he allowed Jay and John to assist him up a small vertical wall. But in reality, Duke step by step TUCKED THEM UP IN CLEFTS IN THE CLIFFS. Overcoming a final obstacle or two, the three explorers arrived on the canyon rim to a beautiful clear night sky. Crisp evening air along with the beams of light from headlamps scouring the landscape added to a sense of accomplishment felt by all. The dark moonlit profiles of juniper trees among the slickrock’s contours added to the good karma as the outline of a tent and truck soon became visible.

“What does hiking out of a canyon in the dark mean?” Duke asked with a stern look in his eyes as the boys relaxed by a roaring campfire. Jay, with a huge grin gave an unexpected answer, “Night hiking out of a canyon now symbolizes our personal mantra of pushing the limits.” John quickly added, “Of course this is with the unspoken assumption that you will rescue us whenever necessary.” Laughter quickly ensued as the jovial atmosphere continued well into the night. Later, as the fire’s embers were fading, Duke reminded the boys that Lime Canyon and the other adjacent canyons that terminate into the Valley of the Gods were home to the Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi for several hundred years. During their time here the Anasazi lived in harmony with Mother Nature in this extraordinary canyon system. To inspire the boys on how special the day had been connecting to this ancient culture, Duke recited from a Gary Snyder poem:

tucked up in clefts in the cliffs
growing strict fields of corn and beans
sinking deeper and deeper in earth
up to your hips in Gods

What is Duke’s wisdom? After a short pause he tells of a metaphorical journey into a canyon of solitude and beauty, “One irony of a red rock canyon is that so little is visible in looking down from the rim. You spot interesting stuff, but is it special? Maybe that’s not too different when instead of mindlessly scrolling through a phone for an email to occupy a fleeting moment, you start to acknowledge the primitive DNA embedded in all of us since the beginning. Like ancient DNA, the canyon’s interesting stuff becomes special as you notice details you didn’t initially see. These details might prompt questions such as how did water create the canyon and where was the it’s source? Or, what beliefs and values did this ancient culture posses? Because this is more than a hike in a pretty landscape, these questions will lead to others as you observe a high water mark from a recent flash flood or discover a petroglyph. These observational skills will serve you well in all aspects of life but be aware that you are on a slippery slope as more and more is revealed. Now, as a member of an ancient clan, primitive but healthy needs emerge.”

Finally the boys seemed to be getting it. John, exhibiting a rare bit of insight added, “As your mind’s acuity increases, your senses will make you aware of a silence that offsets the contemporary noise that becomes so pervasive we are not even aware of its presence. Recently I experienced this with a group of friends floating Muddy Creek where the mesa top was hundreds of feet above the canyon narrows. A dozen of us drifted mostly in quiet. It was a day of solitude and natural beauty broken only with a bit of social interaction when we sporadically regrouped.” Jay nodded his head in agreement, UP TO HIS HIPS IN GODS.

NO MANS CANYON In contrast to the success of rescuing the boys from a night on a canyon ledge without food and shelter, Duke gets set-up with impossible circumstances fighting their denial. This happened on the Dirty Devil River hike the following spring. While searching for the trailhead on the east side of the river Duke reminded the boys that once again they were not adequately prepared. John’s rebuttal to Duke’s indictment was, “Many of the roads we come across are not marked on the map. You insisted on using Kelsey’s directions with the BLM 1:1000 scale map. So now, what are we to do but hope to get lucky?” The truck continued to meander almost aimlessly chasing down one random two-track road after another. As defeat seamed to be closing in, somewhere near Dutchjohn Canyon and the middle of nowhere, Duke pleaded with the boys for more time to sniff out the trailhead, “Look at the land’s topography, we are very close and simply need to focus.” His confident tone was ignored by the boys. The truck turned for Angel’s Point on the west side of the river.

Despite starting from the wrong side of the river, day one of the backpacking trip was wonderful for everyone. A nice shaded campsite in Beaver Canyon at its confluence with the Dirty Devil represented a perfect location. An afternoon jaunt along the river was cool and refreshing with plenty of time to relax in the sun. But John’s lack of planning again surfaced during the river stroll that was among other things structured to help the explorers stumble into the next day’s destination, No Mans Canyon. It was a pleasant afternoon that could have been so much more.

The next morning Duke paced around the campsite, again dissatisfied with the day’s slow start. The explorers crossed the Dirty Devil as the sun was starting to heat the red rock; soon just a bit of shade would become a luxury. Feeling the mid-morning heat, it was enough to wish for a blast of cold air from the distant Henry Mountains that were still covered with significant snow. After lunch with plenty of what’s the best way to get into No Mans Canyon discussion the trio arrived where they should have started, the trailhead on the east side of the river. It was damn hot with no shade anywhere for anyone. At this point the only navigational aid across the red rock was a vague description from a guide book with the helpful tip: route-find south to the cattle trail. There was no GPS waypoint or even a few pottery shards to serve as beacons. In studying the predicament, Duke pointed out faint footprints in a stretch of sand confidently stating “I can deliver us to a sandy campsite on par with last night.” Despite the memories of the recent Lime Canyon rescue the boys, lacking the courage to fully trust Duke, ignored his confident tone just as they had done at the trip’s beginning. Instead they made excuses as subconscious thoughts of retreat surfaced. John said, “If it wasn’t so hot” and Jay added, “If we only thought there would be a few scattered trees for shade.” Duke took the rejection like a man after Jay reminded him of the heat going into Dark Canyon’s Sundance Trailhead from a prior trip. “With a perennial stream and shady cottonwood trees waiting for us in the canyon, we weren’t concerned about the heat until it was too late.” John added, “Actually it was the only time that you refused to hike with your share of the gear. You just stood on a large rock refusing to budge until we emptied the pack. Jay even strapped your empty pack on his.” The current view in all directions was a rock world dominated with eroded Navajo Sandstone domes. Against a dark blue sky with a few white puffy clouds this would have been a beautiful panorama except for the present circumstances.

Evaluating the dilemma high above the Dirty Devil River, Jay came upon a plan to address the quandary: actually a fabricated win-win scheme for the boys. Out of a legitimate concern for the heat the trio would hike back at least to the prior night’s Beaver Canyon campsite. Then, if everyone had the endurance, the stretch goal was cold beer at the truck. Steak and eggs at Blondies the following morning would then be a expedient way to reorganize. The boys marveled with the plans execution as they arrived at the truck just as the sun was starting to set. Duke objected strenuously to the idea that this was anything but a terrible defeat, “The two of you passed up an opportunity that had been years in the making. Our prior trips into Robbers Roost and Happy Canyon set the stage for a means to further explore additional canyons along the Dirty Devil that until now had been inaccessible. Instead this became a rim to rim to beer forced march. You have violated your mantra of pushing the limits with my assistance.” John’s rebuttal, though sounding good on the surface was quite a stretch. “Now Mr. Duke its you turn to listen. During my academic renaissance, not that many years ago, you recommended a research paper from Brewing (2004) involving the four steps of critical thinking: identify and challenge assumptions, challenge the importance of content, imagine and explore alternatives, and reflective skepticism. We followed much of that process on the other side of the river. You were part of that decision. That minor detail aside, your comments neglect the magic of simply being in nature.” Duke recognizing that standing at the truck rather than being immersed in No Mans Canyon meant this was a meaningless debate. He turned away from the boys while jumping into the truck, “Lets get out of here.” The following morning a spring storm with 50 mph winds drove down the temperatures to desirable levels. Duke was quite aware they were not tucked in at a beautiful campsite in No Mans Canyon sitting out the storm. Yet as always, Duke does not long hold a grudge, thank goodness.

AT HOME Duke found me a number of years ago at a party. Prior to this he was known as Tieko but I took the liberty of a searching out a different name. When Hayduke was suggested as a tribute to the Monkey Wrench Gang’s George Washington Hayduke, Mary’s first reaction was, “It’s a crazy name.” She likely had valid concerns of the Dukes of Hazard reinforced with fear I would then refer to my truck as the General Lee. Prior to Duke’s arrival Mary’s voice was always honored in naming family pets, but not this time as both Hayduke and Duke stuck. For years I have explored the Red Rock Canyon Country of southeast Utah with Hayduke and my good friend Jay as well as with my wife, Mary.


by John H.