Coyote howls to start the day. The first of the trip. For all the tracks and sign we’ve seen along the way, I’ve been surprised we haven’t heard more howls or seen a coyote loping along the horizon. At least we have this morning’s song. A beautiful way to start what is a unique day along the Hayduke.
It’s common for many Haydukers to walk across the Arizona Strip and then take the alternate route that goes through Colorado City into the BLM lands of Canaan Mountain via Short Canyon. While the guidebook route avoids the highway miles, it also means forgoing town food and water.
It’s been eight days since we resupplied at the South Rim. We are ready for fresh veggies and the possibility of washing our hands with soap. Practically speaking, these are reasons to take the alternate route. Another reason: mild curiosity.
Colorado City, AZ and Hildale, UT – also known as Short Creek (that’s Short Crick) are infamous for a long history of polygamy, purple prairie dresses, pompadours and braids, high-walled compounds, stand offs with governors, and FLDS leadership with an affinity for marrying 12 year-olds and making up convoluted rules for its members.
However, ever since FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was convicted of child sexual assault and began serving a life sentence plus 20 years, the community has been in flux. Exiled members are moving their families back to town and as High Country News aptly noted last month, Change comes to Short Creek.
So mild curiosity, a desire for clean hands, fresh foods, and wanting to glean our own impressions about Colorado City, we opted for the town alternate. But first, we had to get there.
Fourteen miles of gravel road walking to Arizona Highway 389. Scenic road walking. The Vermillion Cliffs picturesque rising above the grasslands of the Arizona Strip. Windmills and ranch buildings. Cattle jump through breaks in the barbed wire fences. And comfortable walking temps for the time being. Overall, a fine morning walk.
But there was the oddity of seeing women driving trucks to town with large water tanks in tow. Trucks on the road are not an odd sight. Nor women driving. But not getting a wave or a nod is… even here in Utah. That’s odd. These women with their pompadour hair and stern faces, they drove straight on giving no indication that they saw us walking on the same road. What was that special something, je ne sais quoi about Colorado City?
Once we go to Highway 389, it was six miles more of road walking… paved road walking. Now, the late morning was beginning to feel warm. The asphalt painful to footsore feet, tired after yesterday’s big day and tender with new blisters under old calluses. For me, those six road miles felt like a slog, perhaps because we didn’t take a proper breakfast stop. Back on the gravel road, sitting along a barbed wire fence with little shade and next to cow pies, well that wasn’t the most inviting spot for a proper rest break; but it was the best we could manage. So we didn’t take a proper break and that left me feeling tired the last miles into town. The saving grace for the asphalt hoofing it was that construction on the highway meant we had long stretches of travel with no cars on the road. Then a steady stream of 50-60 cars, trucks, and semis still getting up to speed. Spraying us with exhaust, draft winds, and gravel.
Even though I was tired, hot, and limping a little into town, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful setting. Towering red walls, slickrock formations, and canyons rise behind Colorado City. The Vermillion Cliffs – with Maxwell, Squirrel, and Water Canyons – are on the back porch of Colorado City, AZ and Hildale, UT. This is the most stunning backdrop for any community we’ve been to along the Hayduke.
At last we made it to the local grocery store. Bee’s Marketplace is in an industrial complex just outside of town. It’s an air conditioned oasis with fresh produce, kombucha, coffee, beer, make up, and bulk containers of sour cream. This may be a store run by FLDS, but it’s not following the fabled rules of Colorado City. And many of its customers are not FLDS or are rebelling against the rules of modest clothing, skirts, and going without make up. We picked up our supplies (so many healthy options at very reasonable prices!!!) for the hike into Zion. For the stroll across town, we picked up a tub of watermelon, a bottle of kombucha, and some extra greens.
Onward into Colorado City, we hoped to find some portable battery chargers (our electronics approaching empty batteries), check out the bakery, and pack up our resupply at the local park. Now early in the afternoon the day was feeling hot, low 90s sort of heat. A reminder that we best wrap up this desert walking business with the temps climbing into the upper 90s and beyond in the coming week.
While the heat was distracting, I still noticed that most of the homes are in unfinished states, high walls encircle compounds, the streets are unswept and littered with gravel and flood debris, a few kids play in yards, and many an under aged or barely 16 year-old drives a truck. In a lot of ways the community reminded me of neighborhoods we walked through in Moshi and Musoma, Tanzania.
After finding chargers, we stepped into the Berry Knoll, the local bakery. It is a bustling place. A man at the table by the door noted that we looked like we were fresh off the trail. Well. We are on a trail of sorts. And fresh isn’t a word I’d use to describe Gabriel or me after eight days without a shower. Wanting to be polite to anyone in Colorado City, I thought I best answer his questions. But what I really wanted to do was go order some food and sit down. I was feeling bonky. The gentleman continued to ask questions, in some disbelief that two people walked into Colorado City on a route across the desert from Moab, all on public lands.
Eventually I was able to drop my pack and go join Gabriel in line for some food. Back at our table, trying to charge electronics (we had asked permission), check email, and figure out stuff for the next leg (later I’d realize I missed a key task for planning the route out of the East Virgin River, oh well it worked out anyways). Well, it was hard to take care of all the town chores while feeling tired, wanting calories, and having this guy keep asking us questions. It turns out, he’s a reporter with the Salt Lake Tribune, in town to cover a number of events happening in Short Creek. The photographer accompanying the reporter was a nice guy who seemed to be apologetic for his colleague’s inherit nature of needing to ask questions and get the story. By that point, I was a bit tongue-tied, to the extent that Gabriel had to help spell out Marmot and marmotsadventures.com to the reporter. Oh my.
Eventually we ate our salads, ice cream, cookies and cinnamon roll, and finished our coffee. We headed to the nearby park for some shade, a picnic table and to repack our food. Gabriel called his mom. We found some water. And we were on our way.
Crossing back into Utah and into Hildale, I shared with Gabriel my observation about the community having an East African village sort of feel. Just then a truck went by with a goat riding in back and the goat made some nice goaty bleat sounds. There you have it. We are back in Moshi where goats and chickens are common vehicle passengers. Only there was a twist. Here the houses have many no trespassing signs on the high fences and walls, there’s the United Effort Plan buildings, Gabriel noted that many a house had a Zion sign above its front door, trucks are driving around town loaded with furniture and appliances, and then there’s the large compounds with brick work that says, “Pray and obey”. Not a Tanzanian village after all, but there are still some similarities that seem unique compared to communities around the Pacific Northwest.
On the outskirts of town we walked by a sign for a HipCamp site. Now someone in Short Creek is an entrepreneur who recognizes the community’s backyard is stunning canyon country and another way to access the sandstone formations and trails on the flanks of Zion National Park. Less than a mile later we were back on BLM land. Walking up Short Creek amid vehicle tracks and old tires in the creeks (oh my this is BLM land) and soda cans a strew. We made our way toward Squirrel Canyon. Despite the abuse, the little wash was pretty with snowy cottonwoods, sagebrush, globemallow, and larkspur.
We cowboy camped a little ways up Squirrel Canyon amid a grove of box elder and cottonwood. Enjoying a dinner of kale and whole wheat tortillas with cream cheese. A darkling beetle was curious about our ground cloth and needed to be coaxed away from our sleeping bags.
A long, but interesting day.
Day 56: 26.2 miles; 849.9 miles total. Cache northwest of Yellowstone Spring to mouth of Squirrel Canyon.
GPS: not needed; people sighted: many; roads: almost all road walking, including Hwy 389, except walking up Short Creek.