Landscape from a Working Woman’s Perspective; My Favorite Commute

My favorite work commute is Cottonwood Canyon. Ostensibly I came to Page, Arizona to work as a buyer and retail manager, but my underlying motive was to move a bit further down the Colorado River – to see ever more of the great outdoors and sandstone terrain. I knew the job would require a healthy amount of travel, calling on and merchandising seven small non-profit bookstores spread across southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The imperative inherent in the job description was to get to know the landscape of the public lands within my jurisdiction of Glen Canyon Natural History Association. Once I understood the area, I would design and order merchandise that interpreted the landscape; a mug here, a T-shirt there, all merchandise to help educate, tangible trinkets to take home as talismans, memory triggers of time spent in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area or Grand Staircase Escalante.

My business route takes me on a sweeping grand circle of sorts. Down past Navajo Bridge, Lee’s Ferry, Lonely Dell Ranch; Up Highway 89A to Kanab; passing turnoffs to North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Pipe Spring; Highway 89 past the turnoffs to Zion and Cedar Breaks; Across Highway 12 past Bryce Canyon; several stops within Grand Staircase Escalante and through Capitol Reef, a detour to Bullfrog and Hall’s Crossing; Highway 90 with Natural Bridges in view as well as the buttes that are the Bears Ears; possibly 261 through Cedar Mesa and down the Moki Dugway to 191; continuing on Highway 191 to join Highways 163 and 160; and back to Page. It takes several days to drive this loop, more than a week if I called on all the stores in one trip.  I prefer smaller loops. Along this route there are numerous opportunities to choose other back roads and lessor known shortcuts.

My favorite work commute is Cottonwood Canyon. When you take Cottonwood Canyon you experience a variety of colors and geological features. You get out and away from the paved road and any traffic. You can usually go there in a regular car (not so if it is raining or has recently been raining).

All the colors of a commute up Cottonwood Canyon
All the colors of a commute up Cottonwood Canyon

There is no early morning drive I like better than that dirt and gravel road. It gets me to Cannonville 40 minutes quicker than taking the paved route through Kanab and it gives me a panorama of beauty, a kaleidoscope of ever-changing light and colors of sandstone.

IMGGrovesner Arch in early morning_20171228_083342472_HDR
Grovesner Arch soon after sunrise

If you have the luxury of a day off rather than a business commute, several beautiful trailheads are accessed along the way and there is even a written guide to the Geology of Cottonwood Canyon to interpret the rock layers you see. Cottonwood Narrows is a spectacular little hike that can be done in minutes short of an hour if you have a car waiting at the opposite trailhead. If not, double your time and hike back the way you came in, or walk back to your car on the dirt road. On your hike you will enjoy both shadow and sunshine, a little bit of narrow slot canyon, and you might even see a few small arches in the rock walls towering to either side.

Hiking in The Narrows of Cottonwood Canyon
Hiking in The Narrows of Cottonwood Canyon



Two headlamps is always a good idea

4:48 pm

Without slacking my pace I turned and headed back up the wash the way I had come. I was at least an hour out from the car and the sun would set before six. Twenty-five minutes later I arrived at the spot where I first said, “Just one more bend, I’ll just go around one more bend and see what’s up ahead. We wouldn’t want to turn back now, Self, when there might be a lake inlet just around the bend.”

It was Super Hike Sunday and I started my hike late, very late, after lunching with friends. Once I circumvented the white pothole pour-off via the mini-talus slopes, I set off at a good clip down the level wash that is Wire Grass Trail. I wanted to hike until I saw something beautiful, until I felt good, until I was winded, until I no longer felt fat from lunch and the many desserts I have comforted myself with this week.

I did see something beautiful. An arch. I interrupted my momentum only long enough to take a picture. More beauty. I wanted more. I began to feel good again. I never did get winded so I kept on, chasing the sunlight and then chasing the shadow, always, always aware of where the sun was on the horizon.

At 5:58 pm  on my return trip I reached the slope where I first clocked the sun at 3:45 pm to gauge if I really had time to do the hike. That was the moment I realized I needed two headlamps. I know, I know, one should be enough, but I have been using my headlamp for early morning walks and I left it setting on the table when I shouldered my daypack; that daypack where the headlamp should -and usually does-reside. Knowing that it is still too early in the year to get much daylight after 4:00 pm, I thought to turn back near the beginning of the trailhead when I first realized my headlamp was home in the kitchen. But I also knew I carried a small flashlight tucked into the first aid kit.

6:03 pm said my cell phone when I arrived at the car. The sun was down, yet still remained the daylight. Whew! It’s not that I am afraid of the dark, I’m just afraid of feeling helpless, afraid of causing someone the bother of coming to find me. I am feeling fine. My toes are sore. My biceps ache from swinging my hiking poles, but I am not winded. It’s going to be a great spring for hiking! For putting one foot in front of the other; for not slackening my pace. How about you?


I have some explaining to do…

I walked over to the liquor store today to post some letters and when I came out the door and headed toward home, the lake water was so blue it called to me. So I took a big sip from my bottle, and seeing there were no cows on the other side today; crawled through the fence onto National Park System property. Actually, I am not quite sure if I was hiking on NPS managed land or ranchland as I made my way toward the lake, but I have a park pass so I figure I am legal.  I am only about a mile from Lake Powell as the crow flies. As often happens in Page, the lines are a little blurred.

Only one paragraph in and if you know me at all, I bet I have some explaining to do.

Page Arizona has no residential door-to-door mail delivery, nor rural routes. Everyone has a PO box. I live in an upscale community about 9 miles north of Page. The two communities share the same zip code. We are each assigned a post office box. The Greenehaven boxes are housed in the last convenience store before the highway enters Utah. And it so happens; being this convenience store is in close proximity to Lake Powell and Lone Rock, and Lone Rock is a location famous for spring breaks and arrests; the most convenient item the store-turned-post office panders is liquor.

I had planned to return straight home and write but the weather was delightful. A light spring breeze was blowing. Birds were chirping. I was prepared with my water bottle and cell-phone because I had walked to the mart. The lake was beckoning me. The water was blue, Air Force blue. And so I crawled through the fence.

Crawled through the fence? Yes. Without ripping my shirt or my pants on the barbed wire. When I first got to Page I was afraid to do this so I spent my time hiking on roads; paved, gravel, dirt; seeing nothing but dust and hearing nothing but off-road vehicles. Over the months I found that National Recreation Areas are managed differently than National Parks. Cattle still graze here. I have met the grazing ranger for the Park Service. Plus, BLM rangers basically say, “This land is your land. Go make your own trail. Be sure and take a map.”

Today, I hiked about a mile cross-desert toward the lake. I meandered along the rim of an arroyo turned slot canyon. I saw no cattle, but bovine hoof-prints were fresh – as were coyote, rabbit, and assorted rodent prints. I saw two tiny lizards scurrying to re-provision on the opportune sunny day.

On the way back, it was warm and I rolled up my pant legs, wishing I had worn zip-offs and sandals rather than skinny leg levis and smart wool socks. Then it was hot and I removed my shirt, tied it around my waist and hiked on in my short-sleeve T-shirt. Imagine that, so warm on February 3 that I am sweaty and will need another shower when I get home.

Arriving at the fence once again, I turned around and looked at the lake. The water now appeared shimmering pearl gray. You can almost tell what time of day it is – or what season – by the shade of blue reflected in the water.

It took less than two hours, and I have benefitted greatly by crawling through a fence and putting one foot in front of the other. Did you remember to get outside today?

The Lone Rock / Wahweep area of Lake Powell looking up lake and toward Navajo Mountain in the distance
The Lone Rock / Wahweap area of Lake Powell looking uplake and toward Navajo Mountain in the distance