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Sandstone adventure makes worthy read

Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

I couldnt help both cheering and cursing a book about the desert I read just as winter finally started yielding to spring.Sandstone Spine chronicles an interesting backpacking traverse of the rugged Comb Ridge in southeastern Utah by writer David Roberts, photographer Greg Child and their adventure-guru friend. The three covered the 100-mile hard-rock spine in 18 days, taking time to seek and explore Anasazi ruins, rock art and natural wonders. Roberts, an accomplished adventure writer, reports that they probably made the first continuous traverse of the trail-less ridge.I fancy myself a desert rat lite, someone who spends as much time as I can spare in the canyon country of the Four Corners region, but not truly knowledgeable of the vast, intriguing area. I panic that time will run out before I can visit all the narrow canyons, oddly formed sandstone hoodoos and mysterious ancient Indian ruins on my list.I have hiked the most accessible portion of Comb Ridge numerous times, initially attracted by one of the most spectacular rock art panels in the Southwest. Roberts account of his traverse along the entire length of the hulking ridge helped me focus on what else to explore before I cross the Comb off my list.Roberts adeptly mixes tales of the adventure with tidbits of history and a smattering of anthropology. He writes about experiencing emotions that most macho adventure writers wouldnt touch. You know his feelings are hurt during inevitable clashes the three comrades experience during two and a half weeks on the trail. And Roberts is at his best when he shares insecurities about traveling from middle to old age.The Comb Ridge seemed an answer of sorts to the fear that I was getting too old for the kinds of adventure that had anchored my life for the past four decades, he writes.So what part of the book did I curse? Roberts touches on the topic that always bums me out about my own desert ramblings. He laments he didnt see the Anasazi ruins when there was truly something to see before the pothunters and some slipshod archaeologists ransacked many of the sites between the 1870s and 1920s. As cool as places like Chaco Canyon and Grand Gulch are, I always carry the burden that I visited them a century too late.Roberts makes no mention in his book of another topic that gnaws at me. Anyone who ventures into the desert and explores off the beaten path inevitably causes environmental destruction, despite their best care and intentions. I have followed long stretches of hard slick rock, only to have it vanish, leaving no choice but to plant a foot in the fragile crypto that forms a crust over desert soil and keeps it in place. Although I think I take more care than the vast majority of explorers, I know Ive left a few footprints in places I wish I hadnt.It is apparent Roberts and his companions took their toll at times on crypto soil. The topology of Comb Ridge at times leaves no choice.Roberts book, with an alluring cover photo of a ruin, will inevitably draw more people to Comb Ridge. Some visitors have already developed a good desert ethic; some never will. Roberts had an obligation to write about how we all take a toll on the canyon country we love, and how we can ease it. Instead he sidestepped that issue.scondon@aspentimes.com


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