Feeding an addiction to Fable Valley

A few months ago, I told Ted I was addicted to Fable Valley, which we’ve returned to three times this fall. Since my confession, I’ve discovered that an addiction to nature is healthy for us.

In the book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Florence Williams documents the science that proves immersing ourselves in the natural world, even briefly, benefits us on many levels.

In 1982, for example, the Japanese government instituted a practice called forest bathing as part of their preventative medicine regime.

A short visit to a forest where people, fully dressed, use all five of their senses qualifies as forest bathing, and miles of paths are designated as “forest therapy” trails.

My own addiction stems not only from the beauty and solitude of Fable Valley, but also from evidence of the ancient inhabitants who made it their home.

On our first return in September, we drove down the road leading to the southern trailhead until the track grew rough and rocky, parked the Jeep, and walked two miles to a dugway which descended a quarter of a mile to the valley’s floor, 600 feet below.

In his book, Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names, Steve Allen says, “This spectacular constructed stock trail, probably built by Cooper and Martin in the mid-1800s, was one of the main routes into Fable Valley.”

I admired Cooper and Martin, but I didn’t appreciate the trail’s stony, steep slope.

The view of the valley, however, was spectacular, and we could see ruins in the bluffs on the way down, around a ten-story sandstone island, and across the valley in the northern cliffs.

When we reached the valley floor, we strode through big sagebrush, purple asters, prickly pears, and rabbitbrush until we reached a gully brilliant with sedges and grass.

We found the crossing, slipped and slid to the bottom, jumped the stream, and trudged up the other bank. On the north side, we finally located Aesop’s Arch, which is a magnificent span of red rock.

About a quarter of a mile from the arch we spotted the Fortress Ruin and not far from it, a spring greening up the entire hillside.

We climbed to the spring where the Ancestral Puebloans obtained some of their water with elk, deer, cow, and bird droppings evidencing the modern users.

Since I’m not famous for fast hiking, we headed home after a late lunch, but I was loath to leave with so much yet to explore.

When we returned in early October, we investigated the towering sandstone island. That sounds easy, but the reality, at least for me, proved nerve-wracking as I stumbled after my husband and dog down the hill and onto the ledge leading to the island which, indeed, had ruins all around it.

One dwelling featured a tiny, ground-level door which we guessed must have been used for turkeys or dogs since anything stored in it would have been inaccessible to adults.

On the island’s north side, another ruin had the juniper ceiling still intact and steps carved into the rock above it, leading to a loft.

As we explored, I pictured the women who once lived there, working together to cook, laughing as they tended the children and made sure the toddlers didn’t fall off their island home, and expressing their creativity as they painted nature’s designs on their pots.

They didn’t need “forest therapy” trails because they were immersed in the natural world, including the vast cosmos above.

After we finished our explorations and threaded our way to the canyon floor, we regretfully started the hike out.

On our next visit, I needed Ted’s help to climb into the alcove sheltering the Fortress Ruin with its T-shaped entrance and large roof beams.

After we inspected the back of the cave which had a spring dripping pure, rock-filtered water and a reverse handprint guarding the spot, we looked through the observation holes.

I thought about the people who peered through those same openings at their corn, beans, and squash growing in the valley below.

Many of them, according to scholars, aligned their sacred sites to the constellations and tracked the progress of the sun and moon across the seasons.

In their very dwellings, they melded heaven, earth, and human until, perhaps, during chaotic times, they forgot the divine influence in their lives.

In our own chaotic times, circumscribed by masks, social distancing, and political unrest, we’re blessed in San Juan County to enjoy the benefits of nature even if all we do is unplug and look out our windows at the trees or sagebrush or Milky Way Galaxy with its 400 billion stars, reminding us of the sacred in our own lives.

In the San Juan Record story about the Native American prayer run from Bears Ears to Salt Lake City, Jordan Daniel said, “A prayer run for me is about surrendering yourself for a higher purpose and meaning . . . . It’s about your connection to the land and your connection to those that you want to be praying for.”

On the way back to the Jeep, Ted snapped pictures of tiny birds chirping in the rabbitbrush while I inhaled the intoxicating scent of sage.

We hadn’t seen another person, and all we’d heard was the melody of song sparrows and the crunching of our boots in the dried grass.

Remembering Jordan Daniel’s words, my prayers rose in rhythm with my feet.

San Juan Record

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