Abbey’s Land. Sinbad Country. Canyon country.
These are all endearing nicknames we’ve given to the complex and wild desert landscape of southern Utah. The seemingly static landscape will do anything to remind you that it is anything but. Day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, conditions can change from serene and still to violent and perilous. So what draws so many of us to this stunningly beautiful yet starkly uncaring and harsh landscape?
When it comes to the desert, my go-to plan is generally to pick an area on a map and go. We often drive late into the night to set up a base camp in order to wake up already immersed in the element—in the desert. From there, the plan is fairly basic—just go. Go see, go hear, go feel—go exist. What’s at the top of this slope? What about deep in that slot canyon? What interesting geological features are out there? (the answer is many)
Our most recent trip to the desert led us deep into a slot canyon new to all of us. Everyone was eager to disappear into an obscure crack in the dauntingly wild ‘Sinbad Country’—the wonder of exploration and the promise of solitude had been calling to us for weeks. This time we couldn’t simply ‘go,’ though. This time the desert presented challenges that required more than just our own two feet. Ropes, harnesses, food, water, first aid kid—the bare necessities. Beer—some would call it a necessity. A ready to (explore the) rock attitude—absolutely a necessity!
Down we went—starting from camp high atop a plateau. The deceivingly flat plateau gave way to steep slopes and then a broad wash. The open and spacious slopes lining the wash steadily gave way to steep and narrow cliffs. The hammering desert sun gave way to the ambient warm glow of reflections off the honey-colored rock. Often times, the warm glow gave way to cavernous darkness and frigid water. Our first rappel signified the point of no return—fully committing to the adventure below.
Below and around the bend was a mysterious and knotted system of slots—obstacles and challenges we needed to overcome to emerge safe, stoked, and victorious. Perhaps we would be renewed and more confident in our collective abilities and experiences, perhaps we would simply look back with a smile and eagerly look forward to the next adventure on the horizon. Either way, we emerged better for this intimate exploration of the desert’s depths.
Words: Mitch Warnick
Photos: Mitch Warnick (@wildernessmitch)
Location: San Rafael Swell, UT