Words by Barefoot Jake
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I am used to hiking in the plush green forest and to having a relatively endless water supply. The desert has always been an unknown place for me so when Grant emailed me an invitation to join him and his family for an adventure into the southwest I excitedly agreed.
The Plan – A party of 5 travelled from various States and met at the airport in Albuquerque, NM. I am a minimalist and choose to not own or drive a car so this trip would take two days of travel time just to get me to Albuquerque. A total of 7 buses were needed to get me from Port Angeles to Seatac, Wa to catch my flight. After spending the night in the airport we all met early the next morning in baggage claim and got rolling. We picked up our rental mini van and after stopping by several markets to supply we made the long drive to the Grand Gulch Primitive Area. We had decided to spend 4 days backpacking in Grand Gulch and then several more day hiking in various locations on the way out.
Weather – The forecast ended up being a lot better than what was predicted. Not listening to the weather man paid off this time. We encountered 12 hours of bad weather during the first 4 days. This was in the form of wind and cold rain. The first night was a bit of a howler and after that we encountered snow flakes on the canyon floor randomly throughout the day, none of which ended up sticking on the ground. The remainder of the trips reached the lows of 20 F and highs barely above freezing, if at all. The highlight of our mornings was the sun creeping over the canyon wall and warming our backs while we enjoyed breakfast.
Camp – Our main concern for our desert hike, especially this late in the season, was water. I was unsure how much water would be available and what quality it would be. After talking with a local ranger we decided to “base” camp near the only sure water in the area which was a “flowing” but minimal spring. The spring is located at a canyon intersection with close access to a network of various canyons. We would then day hike out of that location up and down the various canyons exploring for ruins.
Exploration – Our days were spent exploring the various canyons; hunting for old ruins left by the people that once lived in this area. I felt that looking for ruins and hieroglyphics was like taking part in a treasure hunt. It had the feel of ‘hide and seek’, but for big kids. A highlight was climbing up, down, thru and around the diverse terrain. What better way to connect with your primal side than monkeying around on rock all day.
Primitive Hiking – Connecting with your environment is what being outdoors is all about. Anything you can do to safely enhance that experience bridges the gap from nature to human. This is why I am an ultralight backpacker and choose to wear minimal footwear. I only bring things along in my pack that I feel are needed to keep my experience enjoyable. I am also a believer in choosing my footwear to match the terrain, with the caveat that my choices are all minimal. For the dessert I chose to wear near a traditional Huarache design. By wearing sandals I could greatly appreciate what it was to be an original native to this harsh landscape. Every step I took brought me that much closer to these people. Similarly sleeping under a open Tarp design dramatically increases my connection to the critters in this area. Honestly I wasn’t sure what was going to climb into bed with me at times. The truth is that I slept better outside on this trip than I do in a house, averaging nearly 12 hours of undisturbed sleep every night due to the cold temps and short days.