Utah cliffhanger

For at least one more week, this space will be totally Swiss; that is, untouched by war.

Last week’s column finished with a bit of a cliffhanger, and rightly so. That’s where the three of us desert wanderers found ourselves on a chilly February afternoon: on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a shallow sandstone canyon on Navajo land in extreme southern Utah. We had stopped to experience the simple bliss of a deluxe whizz, and had then walked over to look down into the canyon. We were completely stunned at the sight below.

This handsome little canyon, maybe 25 feet deep, was completely trashed, filled with old garbage. There were even a couple of cars at the bottom of the gulch, cars that had been rolled over the edge and left to rust for millennia to come. There were tons of old cans and bottles layin’ around, plus assorted piles of cruds and craps. All in all, a scene of most unfortunate blight.

Talk about “expect the unexpected.” There was no way we had ever dreamed we would see this sort of environmental obnoxiousness here on Navajo land. It was a moment so surprising and unanticipated, it was sorta like being in Vegas in July and getting stuck in an ice storm. We stood there for a while, scanning the scene, finding it literally remarkable, in the sense that we were remarking a lot. Being as how the previous six hours had been an utterly stunning treat for our eyes in nearby Monument Valley, this abused canyon before us seemed even more bizarre, considering the spectacular context of it all.

We could soak in this abomination for only so long before we began to show signs of touristic resiliency. That is, we found a way to let the good times roll. Ted, acting upon a sudden inspiration, picked up a rock and heaved it, trying to hit the exposed underbelly of one of the rusted cars, which had come to rest on its roof. He missed, but not by much, the chunk of hurled sandstone clattering off a ledge and banging into the car’s body.

Instantly, Ted, Lynda and I were engaged in an earnest rock-throwing derby, trying to be the first to score a direct hit on the car’s undercarriage. I broke through, nailing the belly of the old heap with a hefty stone that made a most excellent bash of a sound, one that elicited much laughing and whooping. It will stand, I’m sure, as my best rock throw of 2003.

In the next three days, we drove many of the roads of the Navajo and discovered that what we saw in that canyon was not unique. The litter problem alongside many stretches of highway could best be described as intense, which clashed completely with the "Native American Earth reverence" image that is so totally installed into our cranial hard drives. I have no idea what is going on down there, or why.