Wind, Sand, and Beautiful Land

Posted by Micah Berman on 23rd Oct 2017

Leg 2 of the expedition marked our first true self-support. Following a regroup at Taylor’s house in Durango to meet up with Courtney (our fourth team member), download footage and send-off Isabelle for some foot TLC, we headed back to the lake stocked full with homemade cookies and green chile enchiladas.

The first day didn’t hesitate to put us to the test. Toting extra bags with all of our food and gear stored both in and on top of the boats, getting our balance back on the water proved to be a little challenging. It wasn’t anything we weren’t prepared for though. Being the first real windy day of the trip made the paddle that much more interesting. Needless to say we survived - a little wetter than we’d hoped to be, but content. The sun was out, the air warm and not a cloud could be seen for miles.

We found a nice spot at the mouth of a canyon amidst shards of petrified wood and set up camp. The setting evening falling over towering sandstone walls without a hint of inclement weather in the sky was just a taste of what would last the duration of the trip. After consuming arguably too many sardines next to the fire, we fell asleep on the ground watching meteors streak parts of the Milky Way I didn’t even know existed. There’s something to be said for the vastness of a western sky.

A calm breeze welcomed us for the second day water-bound. We took our time enjoying the lake and surrounding land’s natural, emerging aesthetics. We filmed when we needed to, but made sure to also take in our surroundings fully - not just from a viewfinder. It’s s funny thing, making a film project, when you have to remind yourself to honestly use your senses - to feel out a shot and a story rather than just capture it. It really helps when you’re there in present, experiencing a scene and not just creating it; something I strive hard to balance and assume will come more naturally overtime (and with practice.) Always more to learn and improve on.

Over the course of the next few days we paddled into beautiful side canyons and worked our way further down the lake. This segment was roughly 50 miles as the crow flies spread over a week, so we had the privilege of exploring perpendicularly to our route of travel. What we found hiking up forgotten canyons and old dried creek beds can only be understood by being there, but I’ll do my best to elaborate.

In the desert, if you have the tenacity to slash your way through endless tamarisk and methane-saturated mud, you’ll be rewarded. Have you ever wondered what Eden may have looked like? We found a version of it. Hidden away from the casual passerby, deep in the canyons’ heart lay pools of clear water bubbling up from sandstone springs. Ancient cottonwoods cover the sand and rock, pressing their roots deep into a seemingly inanimate earth and creating life from nothing. You can drink the water without filtering and feel leaves as luscious as a jungle tree’s. It’s truly breathtaking.

This type of discovery marked multiple sites we found venturing up slot canyons as wide as your shoulders and old stream basins reemerging from Glen Canyon. This is what we’re here for, rediscovering a place that was. When Glen Canyon dam was put in, blocking off a section of the Colorado and creating Lake Powell, places like this that were only spoken of in literature and photographs were lost, falling victim to the carelessness of humankind. As the water level receeds from drought, evaporation and usage, it’s humbling to watch nature restore itself in place. Even in the most desolate-seeming moonscapes, the natural world prevails. If we can learn to better respect these areas, we can learn to heal and conserve. Reading about places like this may motivate you to save them, but experiencing the in their true form will require you to.

The rest of our time on the lake brought wonderful experiences and new challenges. We camped high on sandstone bluffs seeing 180 degrees of the Milky Way, always appearing more glorious than the night before. We battled ravens for the last of our tortillas and compressible water bottles (don’t ask me what they saw in those - I guess everyone wants water in the desert.) We struggled with the steady, building accumulation of sand in our camera gear and any other crevices it could find. We fought the most difficult winds and sea on our last paddle out, filling our boats to the brim with water and almost flipping multiple times with all of our gear. I kid you not when I say it was one of the more challenging battles I’ve had with Mother Nature. After surfing waves multiple feet high, we were able to get to shore before tipping to bail our cockpits and wait out the worst of the wind for an evening paddle to our take-out point. Regardless of our struggles, the mood was always cheery, our fires warm and the sky never gave way from its deep blue.

Getting to shore around 21:00, Taylor blindly searched for our truck and finally found it after running half a mile the wrong way down the highway. As luck has it, all of our stuff was still there, so we loaded up and searched for a temporary home amongst the cacti and sage brush - complete with LTE. That night brought our first freeze of the trip - a welcome sign of my favorite intermittent season of the year, but also a warning for the need of heightened caution during times of water travel.

Lighting a fire, we made a home in the sand, just as the cottonwoods had far away in the depths of of Glen Canyon’s wild. Unlike the cottonwood, however, our sustenance came from more sardines; not quite as impressive as desert tree food, but arguably better tasting.