sandstone trail


The Devils Garden Primitive Loop in Arches National Park truly is a wonderland of delights. The trail itself sometimes heads right over slickrock, adding to the sense of adventure and remoteness. You can wander here all day, just exploring all the nooks and crannies of this sandstone paradise. The farther out you get, the fewer the crowds.


Edward Abbey surely would be aghast to see the sheer mass of people who stuff themselves into this most famous of national parks, and what by all accounts was his most beloved place. But don’t let the volume of visitors deter you from seeing it for yourself. I strongly suggest an off-season visit, for both fewer humans dotting the views as well as not having to struggle in what can be deadly heat. Yet even if you only can visit during the height of summer, get to this park at least once in your lifetime, and preferably for longer than one day.


It really is worth it.




slick wonderland

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ancient canyon splendor





House on Fire ruin, located in Mule Canyon on Cedar Mesa, an area ridiculously rich in ancient ruins and natural beauty. The people who built directly beneath this overhang certainly must have chosen it for its spectacular beauty each morning when the light hits it just right.


It’s very easy to get there, since it’s accessible just off SR 95. Or you can take the off-route back way, dropping down just behind the Mule Canyon Ruins, which are signed along the highway. However you get there, enjoy it.



stunning natural architecture makes this structure unique



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Gratitude: 27 Reasons Why I Have It



Gratitude is a beautiful concept. It is also a beautiful way to live.


Here are 27 reasons why I am grateful every day.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Remember to let the turkeys live, and eat a healthier meal instead! :)



1. Abundant sunlight slanting through the sky and lighting the path ahead

2. Dazzling, clear night skies that are free of artificial light

3. A farm of furry friends who create joy for me every single moment of every single day

Pip in snow Feb 2011 (2)

4. My mom, for everything

5. Friends who are true no matter how long we have known one another nor how far away they are

6. Wilderness that is free, clean, untrammeled, and plentiful

1980-01-01 00.00.40

7. The pain of experience, for it has always taught me something (even if I seriously disliked the method of delivery)

8. The wild, woolly, wonderful landscape of the Internet, for all the amazing things it has created

9. The purr of a cat curled up beside me

Bella and Pip, Babcia Christmas Eve 005

10. The fingerprints of ancient people pressed into dried mud, still visible centuries after the fingers crumbled into dust, forgotten but still so clearly here, so clearly leaving their mark that they existed, they loved, they lived on this earth, too

11. Mysteries of the world…because we all need a little mystery now and then

12. A cold drift of snow blowing sideways, whipping through my hair and smacking against my cheeks as it shows me in no uncertain terms I am here, I live in a physical body, I am a part of this world and everything it may throw at me

SoPas, cats, Pippin, Arroyo, Torrey, snow 087

13. Water, with its flow and burble and roar and lazy meander

14. The glorious, wide, expansiveness of human imagination, which awes me a little more every day

15. The welcoming nicker-rumble from my horses in the morning, greeting me when I head out to feed them

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16. The elegant swoop and fall and tumble of the canyon lands, which invite exploration and hidden delights waiting around the next bend

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17. Really good coffee. Yes.

18. The written word, with all its elegance and clumsiness and soar of imagination

19. Nourishing food shared with friends and family

20. A small town in a high red desert that has anchored me for many years now

Nov 2011 sunrise Torrey (11)

21. Thundering horse hooves galloping over the earth, which is perhaps one of the most pulse-pounding, smile-inducing noises ever

22. The endless permutations of the color spectrum, because wow. Yeah.

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23. A crackling fire on a chilled night

24. The crunch of snow underfoot as it blankets the world in a soft, vast silence

March 8 2010 Snow Morning 017

25. All concepts and acts of selfless generosity

26. Music! Of course and always, for the way it can carry the soul into a soaring, blissful understanding of how much there is to be and live and experience in this amazing world

27. Love, because it truly is the answer to everything

2014-10-12 16.37.28


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Sussing Out the San Rafael Swell, Part II



Checking out the San Rafael Swell in April was a fabulous thing to do over my birthday. Spending time outside on holidays is a fine idea as far as I’m concerned. And yes, of course my birthday is a holiday. After we spent the night near Crack Canyon, we woke to a sunny day, our last one out, and more exploring to do. We’d decided to check out some well-known, easy to access petroglyphs just north of I-70.


As we headed back to hwy. 24, we examined the Barrier Canyon-style pictographs located right beside the Temple Mountain Road about a mile in from the Goblin Valley turnoff. The pictographs have been willfully damaged by natural-selection-candidate dumbasses over the years, but they’re still pretty cool to look at.


visible from the pullout just off the road

visible from the pullout just off the road


graffiti & bullet hole marks left by the imbecilic, the drunk, the narcissistic, in irreplaceable ancient art

graffiti & bullet hole marks left by the imbecilic, the drunk, the narcissistic, in irreplaceable ancient art


Then we headed north on Hwy 24 toward the famed Black Dragon Panel. It can be tricky to find the dirt road exit off I-70, but once you do it’s quite easy to get to the wash itself.

obvious signage. flagged so apparently the confused won't miss it?

obvious signage. flagged so apparently the confused won’t miss it?


You can drive all the way into the canyon and beyond, but a good high clearance 4wd vehicle is recommended. We had other plans for exploring, so we parked just before the canyon entrance and walked the short distance to the panel. Bright color bursts flared beneath the tan cliffs and called to us to get a better look. We had to (carefully) scramble up some loose scree to get close up shots, but of course it was worth it.

claret cup cactus in spring bloom

claret cup cactus in spring bloom


Once in the high-walled, fairly wide canyon, you’ll see other artwork first.

wonder what it said

wonder what the pictographs meant


After this, you reach the main Black Dragon panel fairly quickly. A misnomer, since the “dragon” is actually red, not to mention it looks more like some bizarre cross between a pterodactyl, hunched over kokopelli, and rising phoenix. To my imagination, at any rate.

the Black Dragon...or so I'm told

the Black Dragon…or so I’m told


what was going on here?

what was going on here?


Back at the truck, the slickrock that slopes up to create the east and north side of the canyon invited exploration. We made the ascent grateful for the clear day and stellar views.

picking our way up the slickrock slope to the right of the main canyon entrance

picking our way up the slickrock slope to the right of the main canyon entrance


Getting closer to the top…

one step at a time

one step at a time


Once you crest the highest curve of the sandstone, it flattens out. The views in every direction are impressive, from the top of Black Dragon Wash…

above Black Dragon Wash

high above Black Dragon Wash


…right by the edge above the wash…

we're about 30 feet from the edge of a huge dropoff. The Black Dragon Panel is just below that desert varnished wall you see coming up to the left of us

we’re about 10 feet from the edge of a huge dropoff. The Black Dragon Panel is just below that desert varnished wall you see coming up to the left of us


…out to the La Sals, snowcapped in the distance.

a view from a spot few ever hike up to

a fantastic view from a spot few ever hike up to


As usual, the Swell flips my heart and soul with its breathless wildness, its seemingly endless expanse of forbidding, inviting beauty. I could have stayed there for a week. Lucy for me, I live close enough to visit often. Desert time is coming up again soon….


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Sussing out the San Rafael Swell


In April, I headed out to the crumpled, tumbled, geologically rollicking San Rafael Swell for some adventure time with a friend. It was also a birthday trip for me, making it all the sweeter. What better place to celebrate my birth than in the rugged canyons and colorful yet sere desertscapes of the southern Utah landscape? Spring and fall are the best times of year to head out to the Swell, as far as temperatures are concerned. We had cool nights, chilly mornings, and shirt-sleeve weather during the days.

We met near Goblin Valley, that land of hoodoos and fanciful flights of the imagination. Heading for Ding and Dang canyons, we passed the parking lots for Little Wild Horse and Bell canyons. Being a lovely spring Saturday, the lots were crazy crowded in the way that induces a horrified shudder from desert rats like us who prefer their explorations to be of the more solitary kind, thank you very much. I’m glad people want to be out enjoying the canyons. I  just don’t want to be there at the exact same time.

Luckily for us, since we got a late start to the day, we were almost entirely alone as we made our way up Ding Canyon.


heading through colorful formations toward Ding & Dang

heading through colorful formations toward Ding & Dang


Hordes of people passed us as they headed out of the canyons; mostly young, feet clad in Chacos, and apparently adventurous, they reminded me of a younger me. Having just worn a pair of my own Chacos for an entire day hike, the first one of the spring, my feet were highly annoyed, so I wore enclosed lightweight hiking shoes instead. Happy feet equal a happy hiker.


All set to enter Ding

all set to enter Ding


Ding Canyon and its neighbor, Dang Canyon, are not as well known as other area canyons. Filled with bigger drops and more technical challenges than merely walking, they tend to attract fewer families and casual explorers. My dog, Pippin, was along for the journey. He had a great time except for certain drops and climbs, about which he informed us in frantic whines and howls we were not to attempt ourselves, and certainly not to force him up or over either. Let’s just say there were some moments of fear and irritation on both human and canine sides. I haven’t done as much canyoneering as other outdoor activities, and when I have it’s mostly been not with him along, so he doesn’t have a ton of experience being a rock climbing dog. Since I’m primarily a horse or hiking guide, Pip has by necessity been more into far less technical horse trails, and horses make poor canyoneers. Regardless, we made it up Ding Canyon and partway down Dang Canyon in about two and a half hours–it took that long because of a few instances of needing to coax Pip down from his “alternate” routes around obstacles he deemed too intimidating to tackle. The moral of the story is, take your dog if s/he is athletic, not too large, and not too deeply concerned about heights. Also, consider bringing a dog harness for one good drop in Dang. Otherwise, leave the pooch at camp or at home.


Fun parts for canine canyoneers

fun parts for canine canyoneers


Partway down Dang Canyon is a 30-foot drop (I’m guessing a bit here, it’s not like I measured it). There is a rope that most people can use to either up- or downclimb. We were out of luck at that point, though, since there was no safe way to get Pippin down (I had no harness for him). There’s a ledge to the right (west) side we could have made it over, but not with my terrified dog since there’s a good amount of exposure there.


Drop in Dang Canyon

drop in Dang Canyon

This was our turnaround point, which probably made our total mileage that day about 8 or 9 miles rather than the anticipated 7. On the bright side, it only took us an hour and half to return to the parking lot from the dryfall that marked the terminus of our journey down Dang.


late afternoon light on the way out


Sweet spots to camp can be found all over the Swell. We headed down the Muddy Creek Road and found an excellent site with views out to the Henrys.  Despite being right by the side of the road, it’s a great campsite for the scenery as well as the fact you can anticipate very little traffic passing by.


Camp with a view

camp with a view


It also sported an architecturally ambitious fire ring as well as artistic stone pile. High winds in the middle of the night knocked down part of the fire ring. We set up a great dinner space and enjoyed the hell out of our evening out in the middle of a beautiful nowhere.


most excellent campsite, far away from everyone else even though it was right off the road

most excellent campsite, far away from everyone else even though it was right off the road


Curiosity pushed us southwest down the road, as neither one of us had ever traveled that way before. I’d recommend a high clearance 4wd, although a 2wd passenger car probably could make it at least part of the way under optimal (read: dry) conditions. We each have extensive experience driving crazy two-track roads in the backcountry; this road was about par for the course. If you don’t have experience with that kind of driving, I wouldn’t recommend it. Be prepared, as always, to self-rescue. The joys of backcountry travel!


Bentonite hills along the Muddy Creek Road

bentonite hills along the Muddy Creek Road


We stopped where the Muddy crosses the road. An old, long-abandoned homestead sits nearby. With clear views of the Henrys and the impressive bulk of Factory Butte, the settlers clearly knew what the heck they were doing when it came to picking a spot to live.


Abandoned homestead nar Muddy Creek with a sweet view

abandoned homestead near Muddy Creek with a sweet view


Next we headed north, then west again on the north side of the Swell, making our way to Crack Canyon.


Crack Canyon is easily accessed by a maintained dirt road

Crack Canyon is easily accessed by a maintained dirt road


This canyon begins with rolling waves of slickrock that are easily navigable. The plenitude of “cracks” (aka solution cavities, or the prettier-sounding “taffoni,” which are merely holes carved out of the sandstone via millennia of wind whipping around sand particles) lend the canyon its name, as well lending photographers much fodder for images.


The cracks in Crack Canyon

the cracks in Crack Canyon


Crack Canyon slips, slides, meanders, drops, and narrows as it carves its way through the Swell. Early on, a semi-subway section beckons with its almost cavernous overhang.


Crack Canyon getting deep and mysterious

Crack Canyon getting deep and mysterious


With the lowering light and the brisk wind that had chased us all day, every way we looked presented those breathtaking natural images one commits to memory and tries to commit to the camera lens.


Spectacular late afternoon light

spectacular late afternoon light


Again, we were stymied at a drop by Pippin’s insistence that  going over it was pretty much the worst thing we could ever hope to do. At any rate, it was only getting later in the day, and after our longer-than-planned jaunt the previous day, we were perfectly happy to turn around so we could make camp.


Fascinating shadow play on the rocks inside the canyon

fascinating shadow play on the rocks inside the canyon


Our campsite that night was in a small wash framed by short, narrow walls, right along the road to Crack Canyon. (Note: don’t camp in a wash or anywhere it seems water might rush through if you suspect significant rainfall.) Not another human soul was around, despite several cars and four-wheelers having been scattered around the parking areas when we’d started out. It was a peaceful evening, although quite chillier than the night before. The Swell is an amazing place for camping, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, but I do suggest you get a little off the beaten path if you want more solitude. Venture a little farther down the roads, explore around the next bend, and you might just find the perfect spot to pitch your tent, tackle your hike, and enjoy the immense beauty and huge landscape of this remote, enchanting area.


 “Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view." -Edward Abbey

“Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” -Edward Abbey


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Ahnu Sugarpine Boots: Gear Review


Ahnu makes some cool shoes. I’ve worn plenty of hiking boots in my time. Some I liked, some not so much. Some lasted for years, some lasted for maybe a month. When I had the chance to check out a pair of the new, waterproof Sugarpine boots, I jumped at it. You never know when you’ll find a new shoe to love. Would this be the one to grab my heart? Or at least, hug my feet in close but not stifling embrace, carrying me for miles without nary a complaint?

Fellow outdoorswomen, the Ahnu Sugarpine waterproof boot is a sweet little package of all that and more. I haven’t worn the heck out of them yet, but so far, so very good. Let us count the ways.



I Ahnu. Do you Ahnu?

I Ahnu. Do you Ahnu?


The Stats

Firstly, I give you the official word on these boots, straight from the horse’s (ah, the company’s) mouth:

  • Ahnu’s waterproof, breathable technology
  • Vibram® non-marking outsole and slip-resistant lugs provide grip and traction on varied surfaces
  • Numentum™ Hike technology with a lateral to medial TPU heel clip for neutral positioning and stability
  • Waterproof mesh, leather and suede upper
  • Gusseted tongue helps keep debris and dirt out
  • Moisture wicking mesh lining
  • Rubber toe protector
  • Duel-density EVA, removable footbed provides extra shock absorption with heel and arch support
  • Integrated nylon shank and arch support provide torsional rigidity and mid foot support
  • Shock dispersal plate in forefoot for stone bruising protection
  • Self-cleaning lugs
  • Weight: 11.6 oz.


How does all this translate to the real world? Waterproof: check. I stood in a running stream for five minutes, boots on. Result after leaving the foot bath was dry feet, dry socks, clean boots. Slip-resistant lugs: traction is lovely thus far. I leap from sandstone boulder to sandstone boulder, not quite like a mountain goat anymore, but enough to give these a good test. Grippy soles mean upright hiker, which also means happy hiker.

grippy soles

grippy soles


Torsional rigidity and mid-foot support: lots of words to say your foot won’t just fall apart like mush in these boots, support-wise that is. My feet feel gripped, although not stranglingly so, and making quick turns or bends doesn’t wrench my ankle alignment. Weight: hell yeah, these are lightweight! Yet they still feel sturdy and protective. All in all, I’d say the company marketing is spot on.


The Test

These are warm boots, so they aren’t best-suited to hot summer hiking conditions. Living in southern Utah means it can be pretty hot in the summer (excepting the rainy monsoon season), so these were sometimes tucked away during the past few months. But springtime hikes, hikes in the higher elevation mountains, or wet days demanded I pull them on and trot outside for some testing.

I ambled over slickrock…

slickrock strolling

slickrock strolling


stomped through streams…

yes, they are waterproof

yes, they are waterproof


messed around in the mud.

Sugarpine boots are not afraid of getting dirty

Sugarpine boots are not afraid of getting dirty


The elements spared no mercy on these boots, and they held up fine. My feet remained dry, pain-free, and happy.

Although I have yet to log a really significant daily mileage in these boots (nine miles is about the daily max so far), when I have worn them out hiking all day, they did me just fine. I’m fairly certain they will hold up over many more months of hiking, but I will report in at a later date as to how they really last.

out & about on a rainy monsoon day in the canyons

out & about on a rainy monsoon day in the canyons


Fit: I usually wear a 10-11 depending on the manufacturer (sigh), and the Sugarpines fit me perfectly at 10.5. I have a wider fit just behind the toes (in western boots, I almost always go for the square toe so as to avoid super squishiness) and high arches, so take from that what you will in comparison to how these will fit you.


The Verdict:

The bottom line, as if it wasn’t already apparent, is that I really love these boots! I am a convert to the Ahnu line and plan to wear many more of their shoes in all different styles. At last week’s Outdoor Retailer show I was also lucky enough to pick up a pair of their Hanaa sandals in a size 11 (perfect fit for me), which is a casual and cute flip that was just right for wandering the epically large Salt Palace floor. Very, very comfortable, which means so far my Ahnu experience has been fabulous.

So I say, give the Ahnu Sugarpine boots a go, for sure. These boots are so well-made, attractive (available in 6 colors), lightweight, sturdy, and just plain good. I fearlessly recommend them. Now, off to do some more hiking….

new favorite hiking boot

new favorite hiking boot



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5 Tips for Surviving Monsoon Season in Southern Utah

I write about monsoon season periodically. It happens every year where I live, and it can cause dramatic scenery shifts, not to mention significantly alter plans to enjoy the wilderness. Early July through mid-September, surprising amounts of rain slick the landscape and add challenges to outdoor exploring. Here are 5 things to consider about this most fascinating, unexpected season in the deserts and canyonlands of southern Utah.

desert monsoons are gorgeous to watch

desert monsoons are gorgeous to watch

1) Be weather aware. Know the weather prediction for the day in your area. Even if it is crystal clear and dry in the morning, monsoon storms can build quickly and arrive in the afternoon with a drenching downpour that turns the landscape into an almost underwater scene. Bring the correct gear, or reschedule your trip if the weather seems like it will be too extreme for your comfort. Find out about safer alternate or completely different routes so you can still get out and enjoy. Or, head to any local shops if possible and stay dry during the worst parts of the storm.

do not enter a place like this if a storm threatens

do not enter a place like this if a storm threatens

2) Know where you’re going. If you are at all uncertain, are unfamiliar with the local topography, or just can’t or won’t believe in the ferocious power of sudden enormous amounts of water in the desert, be extremely cautious about your route of travel for the day. Whether on foot or by car, understand what lies ahead—are there canyon narrows, does the road dip through washes?—and make sure you can either get out safely or have high ground to retreat to in the event of a storm.

watch the roads during monsoons

watch the roads during monsoons

3) Be cautious about where you take shelter. Underneath a big slab of sandstone might seem like a logical place to hide out from booming thunder, lightning strikes, and avalanches of rain. However, try to take a good look at how the rock is balanced, what’s above it, and where the water is running around it. Sandstone (the most common type of rock you’ll see in southern Utah) is porous and relatively weak in the world of geology. Water is a big factor in rock collapses. A more solid alcove might be a better choice, if possible, than individual sandstone slabs that perhaps have been weakened by millennia of natural processes.

taking shelter from a storm can sometimes require good sense

taking shelter from a storm can sometimes require good sense

4) Hire a local guide. If you really are unsure of the area’s weather patterns, hire a reputable local guide who will understand far more about monsoon season than you and is more likely to keep you safe. I’ve been guiding in southern Utah since 1999 and have plenty of experience with the monsoon season here. What I’ve learned over the years is that rain happens, floods happen, we can still get out and enjoy an adventure, but I’m very cautious about where, when, and how during monsoon season. Being flexible about routes is essential, up to and including cancellation if there’s just no safe way to enjoy the day. My motto is, let’s all get back in one piece so we can have another fun adventure again someday.

local guides to help you route find and weather watch are a good option to consider. Photo by Lori.

5) Enjoy the show from somewhere safe. Monsoonal storms can be amazing to behold! The crazy rush of water, the sepia-chocolate-henna-rust colors of flash floods, and the powerful music in the sky all synthesize to create a natural symphony of shock and awe. Don’t be so afraid of monsoons you don’t get out to experience the dramatic changes during them. Just do it safely, snap some jaw-dropping photos or video, and go home with incredible stories to share.


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