Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Circumnavigation of the La Sal Mountains, Pt 2


So... when we last left the story, I had been basically screwed by this Hostellian who said he'd pick me up or have someone else pick me up at the boat ramp at 5 and at least have his phone on during the day. The guy flaked. I got to walk all the way across town carrying a bag of stuff I'd need for the hitch and a 7 gal water jug that I put a few gallons in.

The fact that this guy flaked out meant I got a later start than I would have a liked and as a result the hitch hike went all through the night, from about 7pm to 10 am when I finally reached the car.

Though he did flake out, at least this hostellian, when he finally arrived back at the hostel from his hike, gave me a ride to the edge of town where the Shell station is. He was even nice enough to then drive me BACK to the hostel, and then BACK to the edge of town, when I tried to get out of the car and realized my cell phone had fallen out of my pocket and into Jsun's trailer while I was hanging out there for a minute enjoying the air conditioning.

After about 15 minutes I get picked up by a single mom in her late 20s who is Traveling back to La Sal with her three kids and a dog. I didn't expect a car with a single mom and three kids in it to be the kind to pick up hitch hikers but apparently the kids took a vote and decided I didn't look too scary. Allright! It is also pretty sweet she was going to La Sal because no one really lives there. So I got to downtown La Sal which is really just a post office and a general store and a ranch or two. I started walking East.

Not a lot of cars drive along this road. It's getting late.

A pickup comes by and stops and there's an old timer in it. He and his brother used to work in the Uranium mines back in the day and now he lives by himself in a small house off the state highway just before HWY 90 starts to go down hill into the Paradox Basin. I helped him keep a look out for deer on the road. I think we must have seen about 6.

I get dropped off and it is getting dark. I do some walking. I realize it is dark and no cars are coming so I get some leafy branches together to sleep on and open the bag for layers. Probably should have brought a sleeping bag but didn't count on the hitch being so nocturnal back in Moab when I was unloading the duckie while it was 100 degrees outside. Crap. I'm missing a sock. BUT- I have a plastic bag with bagels in it. I take the bag and fill it with that wheat grass that grows wild and make it into a sock and put my sandal back on over it. The thing works and keeps my foot pretty warm.

After about 2 hours of sleeping I wake up cause it is cold. The road here is cutting through the Southern rise of the La Sal Laccolith and it's pretty high eleveation on a cold desert night. Damn. Eat a bagel and some peanut butter and start walking to keep warm. Walked for about 4 or 5 miles. Walked into Colorado. Started to see a bunch of irrelevant signs, like the sign that says to dial 511 for travel information on a stretch of country road that has no cell phone coverage. I've lost at least a thousand feet of elevation and I lie down to sleep some more.

It's about 3 am.

One totally random pickup goes by. I hear it, and stick my thumb out. It passes.


Lie back down.

After a while hear a sound kinda like an engine, but it's going the wrong way.

It's a truck driving in reverse.

Why the hell is a truck driving in reverse here?

Passes me pretty far.

Minutes later a familiar looking pickup drives by. I stick the thumb out and load the stuff in the back and get a ride.

This ride comes to me courtesy of two late shift Uranium miners from Naturita. These guys, like a lot of uranium miners, live in Naturita rather than Moab. These guys have about a 55 mile commute EACH WAY from Naturita to Uranium mines just south of La Sal. That is a hell of a commute. But you got to understand, unless you are buying heavily taxed and expensive beer at the state liqour store that has bad hours, all the beer you are going to get in Moab is only 3.2% alcohol. If you live in Colorado and commute 55 miles each way to your job, you can buy real, full strength beer anywhere and any time you like. This is especially important if you and your coworker live together and require at least a 12 pack of beer each night for your drive home.

Of course I'm a little nervous to be riding in this big gas guzzling truck with two drivers drinking beer on a tiny road in the middle of nowhere where it is really easy to accidently hit deer at night. And I can assure you than when you drive home from work at 3 AM for 55 miles on a country road no cops are ever on you are going to drive a lot faster than the speed limit. But, it is pretty cold outside and no other cars are coming. I have a beer.

Like a lot of manly men who have male roommates it seemed to be necessary from time to time for these guys to make known their dis-approval of the homosexual lifestyle. Interestingly enough, I had lost my water bottle at the house of the guy whose duckie I borrowed. He politely let me borrow his instead, which just happened to have one of those "equality" stickers from the Human Rights Campaign on it.

Well it was dark so they didn't notice and thus I didn't have to find myself walking.

We got to the intersection with 141 around 4 AM. Happy to be there, as that was the most remote leg of the journey.

Not a lot of cars going northbound from Naturita at 4am though.

Around 5:30 cars started coming. Quite a few. Obnoxiously though every single one seemed to be turning left onto HWY 90. Every single one was a pickup truck with guys in it wearing safety clothing. More Uranium Miners.

When you haven't really slept the night before and you had to hike in 100 degree weather the day before because your ride screwed you over you're probably really tired. So you're going to lay down by the road and rest. And its cold so you're wearing all your clothing including your PFD which helps to insulate your core more. Then you're going to hear a car come and really quickly you're going to get up, take your PFD off so you look a little less weird, stick your thumb out, and look really friendly. Do that like 10 times in a row when you are really really tired and you're going to get sick of it.

So I said to heck with this intersection and hiked a few hundred years North on 141 up the hill.

Now if I heard a car it would definitely be going North on 141. I was pretty tired at this point as was dosing off. So I'd hear the car and then have to really quickly scramble to get up and stick my thumb out. Finally at least the sun had come out and was warming up the earth. That made it nice.

I get this ride finally in a little back sedan.

Hard to hear this guy talk because his voice is messed up from being exposed to Agent Orange during his 3 tours in Vietnam. That's also why he's got cancer in most of his organs and his kids have birth defects and he hates the government and just wants to be left alone to smoke pot. At least he was courteous enough to let me know before hand that the car wasn't registered and his driving license was expired. But hell, he's going the right direction, and probably could make the turns without going off the cliff.

It's a beautiful ride through Wingate Sandstone and Mining Country along the Dolores River. The river carves a deep canyon along the road.

Countless old uranium mines in the Morrison Formation line the hill sides above the road. I do some geology and history interpretation along the way.

We pass Uravan. Uravan is a word made out of the words Uranium and Vanadium. There's this stuff in the Chinle and Morrison sandstone called Carnotite Ore.

It is yellow and has radium and vanadium and uranium minerals in it. About 15% of the uranium in the first three atomic bombs came from the Colorado Plateau (most came from Canada and the Belgian Congo). A small mine and mill where Uravan would later be produced some of it. After the War the AEC was formed and did a lot to help create a domestic uranium industry. The company that would later become Union Carbide built a company town and called it Uravan. The had many houses, a swimming pool, a doctor's office, and library, a post office, and of course a big mill and several mines in the area.

Uravan used to look like this:

When the bottom fell out of the Uranium market in the 70s and 80s, they noticed that the years of processing Carnotite in Uravan left the city pretty radioactive. By then most had moved out, and they decided to disassemble every structure in the entire town. Today Uravan looks like this:

There is a bit of an interpretive display talking about how after the mining now the area is being returned to nature that sounds pretty cool huh?

Yeah... Totally.

Finally. It is 10 am and I am back at the car at the resort in Gateway. The Circumnavigation of the La Sal mountains is complete. The people at the resort were very nice and had let me park there. I bought expensive gasoline and some coffee from them and then went back to

Utah the way I had come. This time was more leisurely and fast and I stopped here and there to take pictures.

The paradox valley was nice and there was a storm brewing

The La Sals near La Sal.

There you go. I was able to circumnavigate the la sal mountains. But I couldn't have done it without a river runner who has an equality sticker on his water bottle, a flakey hippe, a single mom, an old guy, two homophobic uranium miners, and a cancerous veteran. Once again Teamwork gets the job done. How I do appreciate these little hitches here and there and the cross sections of Americana I get to meet. Takes all kinds to make a world, I reckon.

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