Hanksville, Utah, on a frosty November morning. I stop in at the Silver Eagle convenience store — effectively the heart of town since it’s open all winter. Especially since it contains Stan’s Burger Shak, home of the Hanksburger. Also buffalo burgers, veggie burgers, and lots else. And it will be open all winter this time, unlike last year.
I am close to home this morning — a mere 100 miles — and have all day to get there. Still, I am out of the chute this early, wanting to both enjoy whatever I might see, and get home early and unpack and relax.
South on Highway 95. The snow shrouded Henry Mountains — the very last mountain range in the continental United States to be explored and mapped, you know — glisten to the west above the high sagebrush plain.
In geologic terms, the Henrys are a laccolith. Whether you care about “rocks” or not, imagine the forces within the Earth’s crust bulging up magma (it’s only called lava once it flows onto the surface) but not erupting. The overlying rock layers are tilted by the pressure, of course, forced to assume steep angles. Then the force eases, subsides. And the surface layers that have been roused from their peaceful sleep are now exposed to the weathering forces of the Earth’s atmosphere. Erosion.
And now we are here at this stage of their erosion. Tall mountain peaks seemingly jutting up out of nowhere.
But also jutting into the foreground was that abandoned Winnebago RV. As always it made me wonder how it had gotten there. I couldn’t see a road out onto that spot in the sagebrush. I’d asked a cashier in Hanksville if she knew its story. “I’ve only been here three years, I don’t know”. I would’ve found a local who knew the first week I was there. Maybe I should move there.
Setting aside thoughts of relocation to a dusty but friendly high desert town in southern Utah, I started down the North Wash section of Highway 95. An interpretive sign told of how the highway was pioneered. It seems that a local citizen grew impatient with there being no road from Hanksville down to Glen Canyon and the Colorado River, so he exercised some initiative. He “borrowed” one of the county’s bulldozers and pushed the dirt and boulders aside with it until there was one. Apparently law enforcement was a bit more lenient about such things then than it is today.
But the route to the river eventually became a modern paved highway. Not heavily used, mind you. If you drive it you can often count the number of other vehicles on one hand. I like that.
Anyway, it was still a bit frosty down North Wash. But there were still cottonwood trees on the floodplain in full fall color glory. So of course I had to stop and photograph.
The air was so still, not a leaf moved. Silence. Morning light, growing brighter as the sun approached the canyon’s rim, out of sight for now. But not for long. I should have waited until it came over the top to really light up the cottonwood colors. But I felt impatient, I don’t know why.
Down to the Colorado River. I pulled over at the bridge to take some photos. I liked what I saw. Maybe this was why I’d felt too impatient to linger longer up the North Wash. I liked them both a lot, but you can’t be everywhere at once. And in this area of the country I’ve found that you can’t make a bad choice most of the time. Just pick one, you can’t lose.
I drove the mile back into the Hite Ranger Station. I always like going there, despite it being almost a ghost town. Because Lake Powell is down to less than half its capacity. The marina that once throbbed with powerboat tourists is gone. The Colorado river there is back to being a free flowing river. The still water of the reservoir now lie just south.
So I notice the park housing for the employees, now vacant except for one, a recently filled Law Enforcement National Park Ranger. I’ve met him, he seems great, and I hope he can stay for a while. He seems to appreciate the austere land, the canyons and rivers.
I stopped at the gas pump and convenience store. I peered in the windows of the store to see what was in there, in season. “It’s closed”, a grizzled man told me as he came around the outside corner of the building. He wasn’t a Park Service employee, but an employee of the concessionaire, Aramark. He had been sent up from Bullfrog, on the west side of Lake Powell, to work on the generators in the off season. Or whenever things needed working on. I explained that I worked at the Visitor Center at Natural Bridges, and that visitors were often inquiring what services were available at Hite, so far from where they were going to where they were going. He understood. He let me into the store to look around. I noticed the racks of t-shirts and sweatshirts shrouded with bedsheets for the winter. I noticed some of the books for sale, books being a keen interest of mine.
Then I thanked him and bid my farewell.
It’s a fascinating place. Named for the smart, tough, legendary pioneer Cass Hite. I’d read his biography. I will read it again.
Photo locations: Hanksville, North Wash, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, southern Utah.
© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg