Dispatches
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North Mule Canyon

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011: Southeast Utah, Trips.

Day 2: Cedar Mesa and Blanding

Highlights: Prehistoric ruins, water everywhere from yesterday’s rains, disturbing encounter

Looking for a good afternoon hike, I had pulled off of Utah 95 at the upper end of Cedar Mesa onto a well-maintained Forest Service gravel road that snaked up and down and around the maze-like mesa top. The road almost immediately dipped to cross Mule Canyon, where there were already two late-model SUVs parked at a trailhead. I kept going, passing the North Mule Canyon trailhead and climbing higher. After a few more miles I decided to return and hike North Mule Canyon. As I parked at a beautiful campsite under a golden cottonwood, a pickup truck sped past up the road. Apparently a popular road.

An intimate canyon with modest ruins, the red sandstone floor of the canyon sparkling with rainwater pools, this was the perfect hike to start my backcountry experience.

I returned from my hike a few hours later. I thought about camping, and realized it was going to freeze at night. Wood gathering is prohibited here, and I had no firewood and nothing interesting in the way of food for dinner. This trip had been largely unplanned. So I would drive the half hour to Blanding, check into a cheap motel, and go shopping the next morning so I could be prepared for future camping.

On the way out to the highway, I came to the winding descent into Mule Canyon proper. Rounding a curve, I glimpsed a hiker on the road ahead. I slowed and approached him from behind. A tall, skinny guy dressed in the latest expensive gear, striding in the middle of the road. I slowly approached him, expecting him to step to the side, but he kept walking directly in the middle of the narrow gravel road, either oblivious or defiant. So I pulled as far to the left as I could and crept narrowly past him in my truck. As we came abreast, he suddenly turned and looked at me, wide-eyed. I drove on past, checking my side mirror, and noticed that he had a big, expensive-looking camera and was photographing my license plate from behind. So I stopped, and he walked up to my door, aimed the camera directly at my face, and clicked.

He appeared to be about my age, with wild dirty-blonde hair, and his face was tanned and weathered as if he’d been living outdoors for a long time. After taking a picture of me, he held his left arm out to the side, making the “phone call” sign with thumb and little finger. “DO THE RIGHT THING!” he commanded excitedly.

“Is there a problem?” I asked, completely mystified.

He kept making the phone sign, waving his arm up and down, and exclaimed “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?”

“No, what’s up, man?”

“HOW OLD ARE YOU?”

“59…”

Still waving his phone sign excitedly, he exclaimed “IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS BY NOW, THERE’S NO HOPE FOR YOU!”

Now I noticed he was wearing earphones, or earbuds. Hence he was listening to music while hiking down the middle of a heavily-used road.

“DO THE RIGHT THING!” he commanded again.

“What are you listening to?” I asked, trying to engage him in a conversation.

But it was as if we were in different worlds. “DO THE RIGHT THING!” he shouted.

We were approaching the two SUVs parked at the side of the road. I assumed one of them was his. “Whatever,” I said, waving goodbye, and accelerated up the road to the highway.

I thought about this encounter for a long time. What was he talking about? What was he planning to do with the photos of me and my license plate? First I thought maybe the phone sign was actually supposed to be the “devil” sign, and he was accusing me of being evil. I thought maybe he was a solitary, reclusive wilderness freak, slightly mentally disturbed. Finally I realized he was probably tripping on psychedelics, not so prudently in a not-so-private location, and had worked me into his hallucination. Let that be a lesson!

  1. Christy says:

    Enjoying your adventures. Thanks for sharing. I dream through your writing.

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