Disraeli Gears Under Island In The Sky
Rock-in At Murphy Hogback:
Bicycling The White Rim of Canyonlands National Park:
September 11-15, 1999
by Rob Jones
(Text and Photos © copyright by Rob Jones)

Bob and Craig along the Green River, and below the Horsethief Trail 
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Sunset at Hardscrabble Bottom 
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Please see: Disraeli Gears, Part 2 at:
Disraeli Gears Under Island In The Sky, Part 2
(The Undiscovered Country)
June 3 - 7, 2000

The Canyonlands N.P. home page is: http://www.nps.gov/cany/

And - SUWA has something to say about the area surrounding the park, and the active neglect it is receiving from the Bureau of Leasing and Mining (BLM). See SUWA at: http://www.suwa.org

An excellent guide to the White Rim is: Williams, David B., & Fagan, Damian (1998). A Naturalist's Guide to the White Rim Trail: Canyonlands National Park, third edition. Wingate Ink, Moab, Utah.

As has become more typical, I will start each day's report with a word picture of some momentous episode of the day, then return to the daily report.

Day 1: Lazy Lathrop: The rusty red oxide swirls complement the oyster shell white of the cross-bedded Navajo Sandstone. Alongside this Neapolitan delight bloom the fluffy lambs' tail-like Winterfat, and pungent Peppergrass and showy Rabbit Brush display their Fall yellows. Hogging the SW quadrant of the sky is a blooming, extending anvil cloud with a black core.

I am hiking the Lathrop Trail, out to where it drops off the rim of the Island in the Sky (ISKY) of Canyonlands NP. It's warm, bordering on hot. The view from the edge is grand, and 1000' below we can see the lower portion of Lathrop Trail below the White Rim trail, and a few turns of the river. Sheer dark chocolate Wingate Sandstone (SS) walls frame the upper, ISKY, layer from the White Rim layer.

The day had started fairly early at Craig "Chainring" McCarthy's, where part of the group rendezvoused before the trip to the ISKY station to get the permit for bicycling the White Rim. So far, there were three of us, Craig Chainring, Harry, and me. Three others would join us tonight, Bob, Felecia, and Randy.

We camped at Dead Horse Point State Park, where we porked on fajitas while the Canyonlands Electric Company boomed background music from the still-building anvil cloud.

Sunset at Hardscrabble Bottom 
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Day 2: Disraeli Gears: (Trailhead to Hardscrabble Bottom, 23 bike miles.) Dusty silt squirts from under Harry's fat tires, engulfing the tire and the rim, as the bikes bog down near the foot of the Upheaval Dome Trail and the cliff-forming Wingate SS looms above. Abutted by the cyan blue sky, which sweeps rim to rim in the land of the White Rim, I think "It's a lovely place to get stuck." Leisurely puffing along, we are approaching the Hardscrabble Camp. Squadrons of mosquitoes assault us as we dismount and push the bikes through the deep sands.

Today, we began riding at 5000' on the Mineral Bottom/Horsethief Trail, with surround scenery, including the LaSal Mountains to the East and the last named mountain range in the U.S., the Henry Mountains, to the West. Nude domes of Navajo SS stud the panorama as we gradually descend toward the Mineral Canyon switchbacks. After regrouping, and allowing the early drivers, Craig and Harry, to ride, we plummet down the switchbacks. Soon, we are riding along the silt-laden Green River, easily riding below many millions of years of stratigraphic history, the Navajo, Kayenta, Wingate, Chinle, and Moencopi formations, to where we are riding on the White Rim SS.

Nearing Hardscrabble, a rare vehicle stops to tell us the road is blocked by a large boulder loosened flash flood last night, perpetrated by the anvil cloud we had admired last night. Later, a bicycle group told us the road is blocked just beyond Murphy Hogback.

At camp, we hide from the sun under a tarp stretched between the two support vehicles and swap stories, enjoy snacks, and irrigate ourselves with copious amounts of fluids. A dip in the river sort of cleans us, and deposits a 220 grit layer to help deter the murderous mosquitoes. The tiny mosquitoes ambush us, and Craig and Randy dress like moon men in their rain gear as soon as the sun sets behind the towering far canyon rim. I interrupt my bathing to get my camera to try to capture the evening sunset red glistening across the surface of the river. To top the day, we lounge in our portable chairs, watching stars, planets, satellites, and such.

We slurp the last of the Israeli melon that Craig had bought in Green River, and we dub this a day for "Disraeli Gears." Disraeli Gears was one of the best productions in rock history, from the amazing group "Cream." Recorded in 1967, it includes work by Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton.

Day 3: Rock-in at Murphys Hogback: (Hardscrabble to Murphy, 25 miles.) The refreshing, but slightly chilly, rain turned horizontal as Harry, Craig, Randy, and I regained the physiological hozros (a Navajo term for balance and harmony). Ensconced under an overhanging sandstone slab, we look down from our midway point on Murphys Hogback and somewhat anxiously await sighting of the two support vehicles inching their way up the rock steps somewhere below and out there. It's a landscape broad and expansive enough to cause one to wax Edward Abbey-ish. One believes they can see a toad blink out there, but we can't see any trace of the two large vehicles in this Zane Grey portrait. Naked White Rim SS glistens with desert tears, forming an elegant border to the multitude of wandering canyons of the Green River. The rain was brief, and it quit as soon as everyone was on the Hogback.

Craig views the route back from Murphy Hogback 
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One of the Murphy campsites was washed out. We camped in Murphy A, which provided the best views of the Land of Standing Rocks. We threw part of camp together and went to investigate the rock that is reportedly blocking the trail. It was a small rock by local standards, but easily measured 12 by 6 feet and three feet thick, which we estimated to be somewhere between the weight of a Ford Pinto and a Ford F150. There was a group of cyclists working on moving the rock, and we discussed cooperating to get it off the trail. We worked and worked, jacking the rock up, nanometer by nanometer, placing rocks under the rock, hoping to get it high enough to flip over with massive brute strength (which we vastly overestimated given the size of the rock), then switching strategies and trying to jack it toward the edge of the road. This initially went well, but it grew increasingly more unproductive the farther we inched the rock from the wall. Eventually we gave up, returned to camp and a delightful flank steak and salad meal a la' Harry and Craig. We had just enough strength to lift the forks to our mouths. An Ord's Kangaroo Rat ignored our lantern light and popped across my feet.
White Rim View 
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Day 4: Roundless Return: (31 miles, Murphy to Boundary Road.) We enjoyed a scenic return, partly because the rock had effectively closed the trail to traffic. Windy at times, we labored back through the deep sands and bumps to the foot of the Horsethief Canyon switchbacks. Then, we drove back up to near the park to camp, enjoy a shower from our sunshower bags and a late campfire.

Day 5: Mud Dragon: We lounged late, then we packed and left the land of the White Rime. Four of us stopped in the San Rafael Reef area on our way home...

Spinning into the deep silt-topped muds, I was forced to put my foot down in the ickk of things, the clay-based muds of the San Rafael Reef. Craig came next, and powered into the muck. Harry was more informed, and stopped before dirtying their shoes, etc. We're on our way to the Black Dragon picto panel and the Black Dragon Canyon. The overhanging walls, alcoves, and rock art made the mud riding worthwhile. After a mild workout, we returned to I-70 and continued our journey home. Rusty red, valve-grinding compound type sand would linger in our chains and other bike parts for many a month...., reminding us of our glorious days of Disraeli Gears.

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