Letters from the Desert
from Steve Allen

Dear ones all,

Another year has passed and so little seems to have changed but so much has happened. For the second year I find myself happily residing in the canyon country of Utah; hiking, biking, climbing, and exploring this incredible wilderness. Again, I am calling my van home. Tonight, as I write this, I am parked along a deserted road north of Lake Powell near the Dirty Devil River. Though my little home is small, the views from my balcony, a vast expanse of slickrock down–sloping towards the river, are stupendous. As the sun sets into a cloudy sky, a symphony of reds—sky, cliffs, pinnacles—an endless vista—threaten to overwhelm my encampment. All is well.

So many adventures. The first snowfall of the year found me in Bodie Canyon, near Dark Canyon. A breeze, the rustle of yellowing cottonwood leaves, and the muffling of the freshly fallen snow underfoot, allow me to accidentally encounter three mountain lion cubs as they frolic in a maze of brushes and cottonwoods. I watch mesmerized for 20 minutes, afraid to move. Glorious.

In Hideout Canyon, a small canyon draining into White Canyon, I sit contentedly under a huge overhand as the rain pours down. A barely perceptible rumble quickly turns ear shattering as a 6–foot wall of water comes storming by my cave. I have to wait for 12 hours until the flow subsides before I can move on. Awesome.

December. I have just finished a 10–day hike and am parked on a jutting peninsula of rock 200 feet above Lake Powell. A day just to clean up, sort out, and relax. It’s just dark and I wander to the edge of the precipice for a goodnight look. As I turn back to the van my wallet—my life—zooms out of my pocket, tumbles down a short slope, and drops 200 feet into the lake. I can barely see it floating down there—credit cards, travelers checks, important notes, and phone numbers. What to do! What to do! It’s now dark and 25 degrees out. I race back to the van, pull out the inner tube I use for floating my pack, madly pump it up, slap on a headlamp, race a quarter of a mile along the cliff, clamber down an oppressively dark and loose chimney, pop in the unfathomably cold water, paddle like a bat out of - - - -, and retrieve my still floating wallet. Gruesome.

Fiddler Butte, an isolated tower in the Red Ledges area near Canyonlands National Park, captures my fancy. A steep, loose slope leads to the summit headwall. A route is found up a narrow slot, just to be confronted by a 50–foot–tall obelisk of vertical sandstone. I circle this last slender obstacle, looking for a route and, after several false starts, climb an awkward chimney to the top, kicking off loose rock the whole way. That everyone could enjoy the view! Adventure.

Future plans? I used to think about it. Now I don’t. Another year—two—three in the canyons? Every new canyon, every summit, every day down here is just too valuable.

Letters and visitors are always welcome.
I think of ya’ll often.


© 1990–2007 Steve Allen