Snow in the Desert & a Fiery Furnace

We packed up our tent on the Colorado River and headed for a day in Canyonlands and a night at Horse Thief campground.

I would not miss this bathroom (pit toilet around the corner).

With blue skies all around, we took in the views at the Shafer Canyon Overlook…

…and mentally prepared ourselves for the 14-mile Murphy’s Loop.

But first we needed to warm up, so we did a little two mile out-and-back at Grand View Point.

Looking down at the formations reminded me of staring into the ruins of the Coliseum in Rome so many years ago.

Once we were warmed up, we packed some snacks and headed to Murphy’s Loop, a Ranger favorite.

This hike starts at the top of a canyon. It was very reminiscent of our hike at Bright Angel into the Grand Canyon. If you zoom in on the picture below, you can see the trail we would follow.

Before long we were standing at the bottom of the canyon. “What goes down, must come up” echoed in the back of my mind, but we had a lot of miles to do before climbing out. Or so we thought.

As we began walking the wash, the weather suddenly turned. We took a snack break and watched the window between mesas to see if the storm was coming closer.

The storm was coming closer.

We are adventurous, but do not have death wishes, so we decided to turn around. Mother Nature should always be respected. We ascended the canyon with snow blasting our faces, knowing we made the right decision.

This is a good time to mention how much I hate the cold. Every tiny ice ball falling from the sky was a slap in the face and a knife to the heart. It was the first time on this trip that I felt truly unhappy.

Once we were in the car and defrosted, we drove 10 miles northwest to Upheaval Dome hoping to be able to catch a glimpse before leaving the park. We were met with blue skies but a ferocious wind. People don’t agree on how the dome was formed, but the going theory is giant meteor, which I think it pretty cool.

The night began to turn cold, so we made a fire and warmed our limbs. My hand is giving a thumbs up in the picture below, but I knew a painful evening was in store. It dropped below freezing, and a restless and terribly cold night ensued.

I woke up exhausted and frustrated. My joints don’t do very well in the cold, so I was stiff and wasn’t looking forward to hiking the Fiery Furnace. Which is a shame because I had been so looking forward to hiking this area since we were able to snag a permit a few days before. Thankfully, the sun soon came out, and after a cup of coffee and a pep talk, we were on our way.

The park only lets in a certain number of people per day to dissuade erosion. This makes the Furnace, which already feels like a labyrinth, seem completely desolate.

The Furnace doesn’t really have a route, per say. There are arrows that will point you to the parking lot, but the idea is to not follow them. Which is a funny thing to be told by a park Ranger.

The visitor is encouraged to explore. This means that each turn or offshoot, cavern or mound will likely end in a dead end. We spent four hours in the Furnace and can tell you that you will find amazing things past the dead end signs.

You might scramble up a huge wall of rocks seemingly scattered from the hand of a giant…

…or burrow through a hole and get a little stuck.

You may have to use your body weight to shimmy through a large crevasse…

…or make a few more turns than you had previously thought.

You will see beautiful things if you don’t follow the signs. Maybe you’ll stumble upon a tinaja and see your tired and happy reflection smiling back at you.

Perhaps you’ll come upon a dried up waterfall, simply waiting for a drink to start flowing again.

Or maybe you’ll see a formation that looks like the Flatiron and reminds you of home.

If you follow the rules, you can see some nice things. But you won’t get lost. Getting lost is when you see the best things.

Perhaps this sat with me in my subconscious. Because the next day I would decide that I couldn’t spend another day in the cold. I couldn’t handle another freezing night. Maybe we would have to go in the opposite direction of the arrow. It would rattle us a bit. But we would find our way, and we would see beautiful things.

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