A near brush with death…and the amazing desert environment

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A near brush with death … and a lesson learned

Yesterday morning I set out on a very short hike in Canyonlands National Park. The hike was to an overlook – the Upheaval Dome Overlook. The overlook is just 0.3miles from the start point of the hike – that’s just about 5 football fields of very light hiking! Since the distance was so minimal, and I do have extensive experience hiking, I set out in sandals and saw no need for water – certainly a round trip of just over ½ mile would not be even the slightest stretch for me! The climb to the overlook, while mildly strenuous was easily completed in a few minutes.

I remained at the overlook to enjoy the view for a few minutes, and even though it was only about 9am, the desert sun was already getting quite hot. I decided to continue my exploration of Canyonlands – a phenomenal national park by returning to my car.

That is when things got interesting… you see, the trail was a mix of “slick rock” (sandstone rock outcrop) and loose “dirt” – more like sand. Near the top of the climb, as I approached the overlook, the surface converted to just rock. This made it difficult to find the actual trail leading back down to the parking lot.

I started down what I thought was the trail and when the rock yielded to sand, initially there were footprints, then more rock, and when sand re-appeared, no foot prints were visible…I had somehow lost the trail.

I searched around a bit and just over a slight berm, there was the trail – complete with footprints! I was back on track…or so I thought. I proceeded down the trail for another 15 – 20 minutes or so (at my pace that is nearly a mile) and by then I knew I was most certainly on the wrong trail…and the problem I then had was, I was unsure as to whether proceeding forward was going to get me to my vehicle or turning back would. The trail I was on, was an 8 mile loop around the geologic feature I had just seen. I knew if I completed the loop, at some point I would get back to my car…unfortunately (for me), in sandals and without water, I was unlikely to successfully complete an 8 mile hike!

So… as I evaluated the situation, I decided I had probably diverged off the overlook trail, and landed on the loop trail and had “overshot” the parking area. I doubled back, hoping to eventually see the T-intersection I had started from. That T-intersection is where the loop trail goes left and right and the overlook goes straight up the slickrock and sand to my originally brief destination.

As I was doubling back, minutes seemed like hours – especially as the sun was growing increasingly higher in the desert sky. Then, my phone “kicked in” as I heard the internet radio station (it was Glenn Beck) I had been listening to earlier in the day. This was good news as I knew IF I was truly lost, I could (even though the connection to a cell tower was sporadic), call 911 and they could use GPS to locate me.

Naturally, I held back on doing that as I did not want to feel like a complete idiot if I was within ½ mile of the parking lot. A few more minutes of travel, and YES, I saw the road and then the parking lot… assured that I was now safe, I stopped worrying, the sun didn’t feel as hot as it did before, and I knew…that especially out here, any venture out into the wilderness, no matter how small a hike, I would take at least 1 bottle of water! And…I’m thinking of investing in a compass!


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