Sunday, December 5, 2010

Return to Hidden Valley

Scout posing in front of the petroglyph wall in Hidden Valley, Moab, UtahOn Friday afternoon, Nan, our dog Scout and I drove down to Moab for an overnight trip. Nan was signed up to run in the Winter Sun 10K race on Saturday morning, so Scout and I went for a hike.

In thinking about where Scout and I should take our hike in the days leading up to the trip, it occurred to me that I have not hiked the Hidden Valley trail in almost three years, not since our dog Charlie and I hiked it together a few weeks before he died of cancer. The cover of Raising Charlie, the book I wrote about him, shows a photo of Charlie standing in front of the trail's petroglyphs wall, which was our usual turn-around point. I knew it would make me sad to return to that spot, but I wanted to share it with our new dog, Scout.

The Hidden Valley trailhead is a few miles south of downtown Moab, just off of Highway 191. It is reached by turning right on to Angel Rock Road and then following the trail signs. The weather was cold and cloudy when Scout and I started hiking at 9:30, but we warmed up quickly while climbing the steep switchbacks leading up to the hidden valley that gives the trail its name.

When Charlie and I had hiked the trail together in March 2008, spring had already arrived in the high desert and it had been a warm day. We had stopped to rest and drink some water in the shade of a large juniper tree located where the trail starts to flatten out. The details of that hike are included in Raising Charlie, in a chapter titled "The Last Good Days." Scout and I stopped at that same tree, and I stood there for several moments, remembering Charlie sitting under it and smiling at me the way he did that day. Scout broke the spell by moaning as he rolled in a patch of snow that the tree was shading.

Scout on the Hidden Valley trail, with the petroglyph wall in the distanceWe set off again and soon emerged into the first of the sagebrush fields. Surprisingly, the trail through it was snow covered but the field itself was not. A few hundred yards further on, we crossed over a rocky section and entered the second sagebrush field. In the distance, I could see the petroglyph wall. In the photo to the right, if you click on it to see the full-size version and then draw a line from Scout's nose through the center of the dark bush behind him and extend it to the rock face in the distance, it will pass through the petroglyph wall right below the skyline.

The wall is a little ways off the right side of the trail, and there is not an established path to it, so Scout and I bushwhacked over to it through the rocks and scrub. As with the juniper tree, I stood for several moments and remembered Charlie standing on the ledge below the wall as I took photos, some of the last photos of his life. Scout sat patiently watching me. I called him over and had him sit on the ledge while I took photos. I wanted to include the petroglyphs in the photos, so the angle is a little different from the Raising Charlie cover photo, but the details are the same.

The Hidden Valley trail, with the La Sal Mountains in the distanceThat day with Charlie, it had suddenly occurred to me that the petroglyph that looks like three circles joined by lines depicts a primitive map of Hidden Valley. With Scout, I noticed a petroglyph I had never noticed before. It depicted the figure of a man, and at his side was an incomplete figure that I imagined to be the man's dog. It is gratifying to know that the primitive people who pecked these figures into this wall valued their relationships with their dogs enough to include them in their artwork.

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