In June of 1994 we headed out to Utah to hike and ride the ATV in some of our favorite canyon country. We were tent camping at the time and set up camp on Bears Ears, elevation 8,200 feet. The Ears are two peaks sticking up from a flat mesa. The landscape is easy to identify from as far away as Monument Valley. Natural Bridges National Park is located to the southwest of Bears Ears. Further to the west is the Glenn Canyon Recreation area and south of the recreation area is Lake Powell.
We really love the red rock country in this part of Utah and we rode every day. Late in the afternoon of the fourth day we were riding along the edge of Dark Canyon and we had a surprising turn of events. The ATV started sputtering and it didn’t take long to figure out we were out of gas. To this day we can’t figure out how it happened. Monty is so careful about everything and we would both swear he filled the ATV that morning – what exactly happened remains a mystery to us.
After we sputtered to a stop, Monty checked the odometer and knew we were about twenty-eight miles from our camp at a much higher elevation or about the same distance down to Hite Marina on Lake Powell. This is a good time to remind the reader that we often camped out here and never saw anyone after our last gas stop until we saw the same gas station on the way out of the outback country. No doubt about it, being stranded out here in the desert is not a good thing.
The first decision was which way to go, back to camp meant walking uphill for twenty-eight miles, the elevation gain would drop the temperature quickly when the sun went down and it was after 4:00 p.m. already. Heading to the marina was going to be more level and the temperature should be OK for our shorts and t-shirts. We took stock of our supplies, two granola bars, two water bottles plus an emergency canteen, and a towel. A new addition to our emergency gear was a CB radio, surely we could raise someone to get some help.
When we started walking and the strangest thing happened. A little bird started flying along in front of us. He would fly for about fifty feet and land on the road, wait for us and then hop up and fly another short distance, always staying in the road. He continued to do that until it was almost dark. We took that as a good sign that we made the correct decision to head south.
As we walked I was trying to get my bearing on how far we needed to walk. Monty pointed out a mountain range and indicated where we might be able to turn south. I could barely see the little pimple on the horizon that he was calling a mountain. I have absolute faith in Monty and his ability to read the terrain and know exactly where we are, and where we need to go. He has never let me down and I am amazed that he can look at a topo map and know where a canyon or wash leads and the best way to get anywhere. He was confident he could identify a cutoff road that we had never used, that would save us some miles, and sure enough it was right where he said it would be. We had a long walk but we were OK, it was an unfortunate situation but we could do this. We knew we could because there was no other option.
As we walked along it was pretty obvious we were not going to meet anyone on this dirt road but we remembered seeing two cars next to the trail head that entered Dark Canyon Wilderness area. If worse came to worse Monty thought we could look for a hide a key on one of the cars and ‘borrow’ it to get to marina, get a gas can, and then return the car. Since this was a Thursday the backpackers leaving the cars wouldn’t walk out of the canyon for a couple days so we wouldn’t strand anyone. That was in the back of our minds as we walked and walked and walked.
Now is a good time to mention the dark night. I’ve never seen it so dark, I’ve used the expression, ‘dark as the inside of a cow’, but this was for real. There was absolutely no moon and not only was it difficult to see in front of us it was difficult to keep our footing on the terrain. It is disconcerting to walk when one step is down and the next is up and you can’t see either one. Remember the two cars at the trail head? We never saw them!
We knew we had a long way to go and we were hesitant to stop and rest for fear we would be too tired to get up and continue the trek. So we soldiered on, one foot in front of another. Monty had on dark clothes and hiking boots but his white socks were a band around the top of the boots. I followed those socks for miles and miles. When we finally saw some lights on a highway we stopped and sat back to back on the towel and ate a dinner of the granola bars. Even if we couldn’t get up now we could walk to the highway in the morning so it was going to be OK. I unwrapped one of the granola bars and asked Monty if he wanted one. His reply was, ‘What kind is it?’. I’m like, you’re kidding! This isn’t Burger King you can have peanut butter or peanut butter. We did manage to stand up again and walked to the highway. The cut off he remembered from the map was indeed right where he said it should be and that helped a lot. I can’t figure out how he does that!
We were walking down the road to the marina and everything was going to be fine. Just make it a little further and we could sit down and rest and wait for the sun to come up. While walking down that road in mild euphoria, suddenly Monty grabbed me and hollered, ‘wait, look out’. I stopped and looked down and he was studying one of those asphalt squiggle lines that seal cracks in asphalt. He studied it for a few minutes before he was sure it was a crack and not an abyss. We walked all night trying to conserve water and I think he was dehydrated.
In the most surreal event yet we got down to the marina and there was a big Pepsi vending machine. It looked like some sort of strange commercial. It was dark as a dungeon out there with only the Pepsi machine lit up. We dug in our pockets and came up with enough change for one Pepsi, we shared that and then laid down on the picnic table and covered up with the towel until the sun came up.
When the district ranger came in we got a ride as far as Fry’s Canyon and we had to wait for a ranger from the Natural Bridges district to come down and give us a lift up to our camp. We arrived at our tent and climbed into our truck to go back and retrieve the ATV. When we finally got back to camp and ready to take off our boots it was 24 hours from the time we started our walk. We took down the tent and packed up the truck and headed to Blanding to spend the night.
We remember our night at the Prospector’s Motel like it was yesterday. We were so tired it didn’t matter that the bed was harder than the dirt under our tent, or that the gold shag carpet clashed with the bright orange formica counter in the bathroom. All that mattered was we were there together, we were going to be fine and the bathtub had lots of hot water. In the morning we stopped at a little cafe for breakfast before heading home. The motel is still there in Blanding but the cafe is closed.
You might think back about what we had with us for this trek and wonder what happened to the CB radio. Well, Monty carried that thing the whole way and we were never able to raise anyone on it. We heard a trucker from Jacksonville talking clear as a bell but he never heard us and we never made contact with anyone in Utah. You might also notice the one thing conspicuously missing from our emergency kit was a flashlight. You better believe it was the first thing in the kit when we got home and we never went anywhere without one again. Monty also rigged an additional gasoline pack on the ATV.
One of the more curious things about this night walk was the absence of animals or critters. Here in Tucson we are always alert for snakes, especially at night. We see traces of the javelina and hear the coyotes all the time here and we know there are coyotes out in Utah, but we never heard or saw anything other than that little bird at the beginning. Very curious.
We have counted our blessings a million times. Everything could have taken a turn for the worse at any time but it didn’t. To this day we view it as a truly bonding experience and we learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We are a good team, we met adversity and we persevered. But what an experience!