San Juan County is a special place. Few places in the world offer the variety of mountains and canyons, elevation differentials and the resultant flora and fauna found in our corner of the world.
From mountain peaks soaring about timberline, to the roiling waters of the mighty Colorado River, there are less than 30 miles separating them in parts of the county. In that 10,000-foot elevation differential there is delicious eye candy around every turn for even the most discriminating traveler and explorer.
Having jeeped and hiked and camped in the nether regions of this great county for more than half a century, I have my favorites. In June of l962 I took my first trip to Hite, on the Colorado River. In those days what is now SR 95 was basically two ruts which required four wheel drive vehicles or very brave two wheel wranglers. It took all day to circumnavigate the road from Shirt Tail Junction, south of Blanding, to the river. Today it is an oiled state highway which traverses some of the grandest scenery on earth and can be traversed (one-way) in a couple of hours if one is oblivious to the scenery and adventure available at every turn.
On October 20, my favorite traveling companion and I decided to pass that way. It was a dark foreboding day. We love to ride in the rain and we hoped we would find some H2O action along the way
We had the whole 175 miles (round-trip) to ourselves. We passed maybe three cars all morning going and fewer coming back. The golden leaves on every cottonwood tree in every canyon and alongside every waterway were splendid as they shimmered in their deep gold autumn coats. But the most memorable treat was the rain which transformed the slick rock into glistening monoliths which look more like polished granite than rough sandstone.
Hundreds of small waterfalls cascade off canyon walls. Dry washes become raging torrents. Flash floods turn the quiet desert into a cacophony of thunder. It was a ride to remember.
Having been born and raised in Utah, I haven’t been able to experience a lot of rainy days, relatively speaking, in the desert. Even though I’ve spent much of my life in the East, I still find rainy days to be a very special experience. So, I really enjoy drives in the rain—especially in my favorite season, autumn. When Buckley invited me to go on a day adventure, I was really excited.
Going down Highway 95 that day was magic. The golden color of the cottonwood trees was magnificent. But, the greatest delight was driving through the red rock canyons toward Lake Powell. It reminded me of something a friend once said: “Utah certainly is blessed with a lot of rocks!” I’ve always laughed about that, but the many shades of the wet canyons with the waterfalls streaming down from every direction made me realize that she is right. Utah really is blessed with the most incredible rocks on earth. I was blessed with a new appreciation.
Where else can two people have thousands of square miles of such quintessential beauty all to themselves on a dark rainy day? Feeling like San Juan County is “ours” is one of the ties that bind us to this remarkable jumble of mountains and canyons which we are so blessed to call home.