Vagneur: Heading for areas less known |

Vagneur: Heading for areas less known

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

The names are intriguing, sometimes even more than the places they represent. A careful glance over the purple sage reveals so much and so little all at once. Monikers like Rattlesnake Ranch, Furnace Creek Inn, Angel’s Landing, The Devil’s Cornfield, Hell’s Backbone, The Eye of Sinbad, and on and on it goes, some places recognizable to those who have traveled those environs, some to never be seen again.

My partner Margaret spent a week camped out in Death Valley, a photographic expedition only she could accurately detail, but through fortuitous aforethought, we managed to meet up within an hour of each other in Cedar City, Utah, visions of desert hikes spilling forth with enthusiasm from our road-weary countenances.

Zion National Park, a true gem of our Western heritage, might be Utah’s second-largest population center behind Salt Lake City, judging from the crowds battling for breathing room and whatever rites of passage people hope to find there.

Margaret and I headed toward our goal — Angel’s Landing, a rock promontory perched 1,000 vertical feet or more above the winding valley floor. In some places, the trail going to the top is only a few feet wide, perpendicular drop-offs on either side offering no chance of redemption should a misstep occur. And there have been occasional missteps.

There is an intermittent safety chain to hold onto just in case, and the beauty is that the trail to the top is a one-way path forced to accommodate two-way traffic. If you have a fear of heights, it soon dissipates into the throng of people going the other way, literally scooting by you on their knees, asses, or hands and knees, either going to or coming from the great humanistic prize, the spectacular summit.

Burned-out on crowds, we headed for areas less known or more difficult to negotiate with astounding success. Margaret is an excellent navigator. Being near the head of the Escalante River was a rush, my memories of swimming and water skiing in Escalante Canyon further downstream in Lake Powell still strong. Our hike was mellow, almost totally alone, probably because the four or five required river crossings stunted crowds. We broke out our water shoes and smiled our way across the ancient, cold waterway and along the track of dust-sized grains of sand. The red, sandstone natural bridge near the top of the canyon was an extra.

If you haven’t eaten at Hell’s Backbone Grill, you might want to try it during your next Utah visit. There’s a lodge there, too, a little oasis in the middle of a lot of desert, and it’s been speculated that Hell’s Backbone is the polite version of what the ridge should be called. From the mighty spine, you can get a bird’s-eye view of the Box-Death Hollow wilderness area.

All that aside, you haven’t lived until you’ve taken a drive down the road paralleling the Blue Hills of Caineville, Utah, founded by the Mormon Church in 1882. Visions of the movie “Deliverance” crossed our minds as we stopped here and there, cameras clicking with the changing light, although the two people we did see appeared to be very shy. Located in the fertile Fremont River Valley, there were several large, irrigated alfalfa fields and at the head of the agrarian plain, a simple sign announcing, Rattlesnake Ranch. Keep your hands out of the mailbox. On the way out, stop at Giles, a sad relic of the capricious march of history.

“Margaret, there’s a lock on the post office door — it wasn’t there last time,” said yours truly as we made our way through the abandoned buildings of one of our favorite Colorado ghost towns. With that, the reason behind the lock came striding across the road, coffee cup in one hand and her other a split-second away from the holstered .45 that dangled between her legs. If you want a quick draw, that’s the place to carry your pistol.

Engaging, polite, full of unrealized visions following tremendous enthusiasm, she was marvelous in a world in which we are becoming increasingly cloistered from one another, our eyes glued to the manufactured, unnatural light of computer screens.

“Come over here, I want to show you something,” she said, subconsciously rubbing the protruding hog leg grip between her legs. “I won’t hurt you.” We believed her.

A young woman alone in a desolate tribute to the fragility of life, the fickleness of monetary blessings and the brutality of independent thinking blowing across her tender face along with the incessant flatland wind. She’s fought off men with bad intentions, made deals with scoundrels, enchanted others on their death beds and is set on an artistic revitalization plan that seems impossible. She made us want to be part of her dream.

For now, spring break is over.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at