Valley of the Gods
A Literary Interlude: Ed Abbey's 'The Monkey Wrench Gang'
'Escape of the Depredator'
Hayduke, lagging far behind, saw the bishop's choice and took the right fork. Directly into the waiting arms of the 'authorities'? Maybe, and then again, maybe not. Though not intimately familiar with this area, as Seldom Seen was and the bishop surely was, Hayduke had studied the maps often enough to remember that several miles ahead there was a dirt road leading off the highway to the left into something with the county Chamber of Commerce had named the Valley of the Gods. Does the road dead-end? Loop back to the highway? Hayduke didn't know and he didn't have the time to make local inquiries. In a few minutes the bishop was going to realize that his quarry had somehow doubled back and was behind and not ahead of him.
Grinding up the highway on the shoulder of an utterly treeless monocline, Hayduke watched for the dirt road, found it and veered left, gearing down. He bounced through a rocky gully and splashed across a sheet of water spread six inches on a slab of bedrock. He followed the road up the other side, which was bad but not bad enough. Sometime in the recent past someone had worked the road with a grader, trying to make it accessible to tourist traffic. Hayduke kept going, raising a cloud of dust across the wide-open desert plain. If the bishop didn't see that he was indeed blind with rage.
The road proceeded generally northward, following the contour of the landscape. Ahead a group of monoliths loomed against the sky, eroded remnants of naked rock with the profiles of Egyptian deities. Beyond stood the red wall of the plateau, rising fifteen hundred feet above the desert in straight, unscaled, perhaps unscalale cliffs. Hayduke had to find his way to the top of that plateau if he was to join his friends at the assembly point.
The jeep was stirring up too much dust. Hayduke stopped to look around, relax for a few minutes. He was beginning to think he might have already escaped. He hung his field glasses around his neck and climbed to the high point on a nearby stub of hill.
All around, nothing but the wilds. Mexican Hat, the only humanly inhabited place within a radius of twenty miles, lay out of view below the swell of the monocline. In all directions he saw only the rolling desert, red rock dotted by scrubby vegetation, with a few cottonwoods down in the washes. Mountains and plateaus, floating on heat waves, walled the far horizon.
Dust clouds approached from the south and west. He raised the glasses to his eyes. On the road to the west, beyond the buttes and pinnacles in the foreground, he saw a shiny object made of metal coming fast - right: one yellow Chevy Blazer jouncing over ruts and rocks, scarlet pennant flying from the tip of the whiptail antenna. Rolling up from the south on the road Hayduke himself was taking came another Blazer, and another, both advancing at a fast clip, aerials gleaming hardware sparkling under the glance of the sun. Hayduke followed the two roads with the glasses and found where they connected a few miles farther, westward among the Chamber of Commerce gods. The Searchers and Rescuers had him cut off and they were closing in. No more than ten, maybe fifteen minutes away.
'But I ain't lost,' Hayduke said, 'I don't wanta be rescued.' For a moment panic struck him: Throw down your pack and run. Crawl in a hole and weep. Lay down, shut your eyes, give up.
But he suppressed the panic-the sphincter held-and turning away from his pursuers he studied the lay of the land to the north and northeast. North he found nothing but the wall of the plateau; northeast, however, a trace of a trail wound among the gods, dipped into a ravine and disappeared, reappearing on a narrow juniper-studded ridge toward a drop-off point. A dead end? From here he could not tell.
'I think that one should be called The African Women,' said Staci, half leaning out the window on this priceless gem of a September morning. 'That's just what they look like, African women. You can even see the headdresses they are wearing.'
'And that one is Captain Napoleon,' she continued. 'He is standing off on his own, shorter than the rest and obviously put off about it.'
The African Women was an obvious one. Napoleon - that one took me while to figure out what she was talking about. I guess the urge to name landmarks is inevitable. After all, if we don't do it, someone might come along later with a much worse name, and then we are be stuck with it.
It's a much cooler morning than the one Hayduke encountered roughly a quarter-century ago, and Staci and I drive a rented Dodge Neon, not a sandblasted-blue CJ6 with roll bar, wide tires, Warn winch, Warn hubs, and auxiliary gas tank. And we aren't running from Dudley Love, either.
Valley of the Gods can be thought of as the little sister of Monument Valley, that great park to the south along the Utah-Arizona border in the Navajo Nation. Valley of the Gods is a seldom-visited backcountry area north of Mexican Hat and west and north of Bluff. Below the rim of Cedar Mesa, it is miles and miles of exposed red rock, shallow dry river channels, and soaring buttes and pinnacles not readily visible from the side of the road.
The 17 mile dirt road (not good for low-clearance cars such as a rented Dodge Neon, or for anything other than small motorhomes) makes a pleasant backcountry drive or bike ride and has plenty of good though dry campsites.
I'll tell you this much: Hayduke made it out of Valley of the Gods and away from Dudley Love. I only say that because The Monkey Wrench Gang has a sequel, and well, it's in the name: Hayduke Lives. He nearly ruined his Jeep trying to get out. Happily, we returned the rental car with nary a scratch, though plenty dusty.
The nearest town to Valley of the Gods is Bluff, and in Bluff a real good place to stay is Recapture Lodge. Recapture Lodge is a real throwback. There is a serve-yourself breakfast each morning full of interesting people making interesting conversation. Though rooms do have televisions, there is a slide show each night and a study full of books and maps.
People still send me letters. Click to read what people say (we screened out all the bad ones).
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