More things in heaven and earth - Day Two

SA Guide: Mile 84 to Ten Mile Canyon, Tenmile Canyon to Launch Marguerite, Launch Marguerite to mile 70

Now and again one is lucky enough to experience a near-perfect day. The morning arrives with a sense of expectation, but little pressure; the temperature feels, well, like there's no temperature at all; clouds obscure the blue sky enough to offer some shade (just when it's needed, of course); the scenery continually surpasses itself; and the evening is capped off by a flawless, star-studded firmament. I say "near-perfect" for two reasons: one, I don't want to tempt the Hopi gods (we were once informed that Hopi Indians leave an imperfection in their arts and crafts so as not to induce jealousy in their - apparently rather volatile - deities), and two, special days often include some moment of agitation or distress - just enough to enable an easy triumph over the problem, and perhaps a smile and some laughter when it's remembered.

Day two of our paddling trip down Labyrinth Canyon in Utah was unforgettable in all of the above ways, and more. Truth to tell, if I hadn't nearly lost a sandal and coated myself in waste-deep mud, I might have had to drop the "near" qualifier - Hopi gods notwithstanding.


(Previous - Day One)

We pushed off from our campsite at a somewhat lazy 10AM. Having slept away the previous evening's tiredness, and tucked away our usual pop-tarts (actual Pop-Tarts this time, as I couldn't find the Nature's Path toaster pastries - my verdict: the eponymous variety loses on all counts), we were looking forward to seeing more of the river. It took us less than an hour to reach our first stop - another recommended hike in Tenmile Canyon. This time Laura was smart enough to avoid confrontation with the muddy canyon bottom and went searching through the brush for a trail. I, on the other hand, decided that I wasn't going to be defeated by a little colloidal sediment, and proceeded to gingerly test the creek. After my first couple of steps resulted in little more than a bit of goo around the edges of my sandals I moved along more confidently. Soon, though, it became apparent that my confidence was misplaced, as the ensuing steps produced mud up to my ankles. At this point I opted for the better part of valor and turned around. Apparently I was too vigorous, though, and the attempted retreat stalled when my left leg sank into the sludge up to my knee.

Realizing that forcefulness was only going to result in little more than my hat being visible above the muddy surface, I dropped to my knees (of course my left one was already there) and slid my leg gently out of its hole. Unfortunately it was unaccompanied by my left sandal, and I had to very carefully reach back down to retrieve it. From here on I gave up all pretense to dignity and crawled out of the mess, in the process generously coating my shirt and shorts in the sticky stuff. I am happy to say that Laura was elsewhere at the time, and so has no photographic record of this episode.

After I cleaned myself up in the river, we paddled on without a care, but wondering if we'd ever manage to get in a hike. There was one spot to which I'd always wanted to climb - the Saddle at Bowknot Bend, a somewhat famous spot - and from which I wanted to bring back my own photos and memories. We'd find out more about that possibility later in the day.

We bladed another three miles or so downriver; the cliffs and formations getting more impressive with each turn, until we came to a sandbar in the middle of the flow. On a whim inspired by the amazing views at this unnamed bend in the canyon, we pulled up onto the sand for a break and a drink. Laura could barely stop taking pictures as I floated in the river to cool myself and finish rinsing the mud off my clothes. This was one of our favorite spots of the trip. The moment was brilliant: cool water, clear blue, sunny skies, some Gatorade, and red-rock cliffs and monoliths grand enough to take your breath away.

Our next stop was five or so miles along at another sandbar, for another break. Not because we needed a break, just because we wanted one. Across from this location, high on the cliff face in large, carved letters was the inscription, "Launch Marguerite 1909." There is a story that explains this rather inscrutable legend, and as it was related to us it involves a somewhat eccentric entrepreneur, a stranded stern-wheeler riverboat, and a mysterious disappearance leaving behind loads of unpaid accounts. I can't vouch for any of this, and have found scant confirmation on the web, but it certainly makes for a colorful yarn.

From Launch Marguerite we lazily floated a few miles to our first view of the beginning of Bowknot Bend. As we passed another middle-river sandbar we decided, based on our enjoyable experiences earlier in the day, to make camp at this spot, and dropped off a few pieces of gear before continuing down the river a bit to check for trailheads to the Saddle - a low spot which separates (by a mere few hundred meters) the river after it bends around and eventually passes itself 7 miles later on the other side. As I said, this is a well-known spot, and its access was noted for us in our pre-trip orientation. We wanted to scout out the landing and trail since there was still time left in the day for a short hike. Unfortunately we scanned the bank for the length of the Saddle and could find no evidence of a landing, or footprints, or even breaks in the brush. Laura pointed out a rocky spot some distance downriver past the Saddle, and we agreed that we'd check it out the next morning.

After a bit of a workout paddling back upriver, we returned to our campsite with several hours of light left. We took our time setting up camp, and then relaxed on the sand. Laura opened up her art supplies and drew as I alternately floated in the river, cleaned the boats, and took pictures. After eating, we enjoyed the changing views up and downriver as the light dimmed, and discussed (as we often do in these situations) where this spot would fit in our lexicon of best campsites. With the sinking sun setting the eastern cliffs aglow we were hard pressed to deny it at least a place in the top three.

With not a hint of foul weather to come we took a chance and left the fly off our tent. After we extinguished the glimmer of our devices (okay, I admit it, we both enjoy a bit of tablet time even in the wilderness) and our eyes adjusted, we could see the milky river of stars above mirroring the waterway next to which we lay.

Many of my nights in camp are spent fidgeting and fussing as I try to get to sleep - it's a combination of things: a higher alert level, the atypical accommodations, etc. This night I watched Orion gracefully ascend the eastern sky for hours before I finally slipped away, and was never anything but comfortably contented. It's in moments like these that the feeling of a deep connection with the natural world is so compelling...

“Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.”

(Next - Day Three)



  • Mile 84 to Tenmile Canyon: Distance - 3.1 miles, Portages - none , Rating - Easy
  • Tenmile Canyon to Launch Marguerite: Distance - 7.9 miles, Portages - none, Rating - Easy
  • Launch Marguerite to mile 70: Distance - 4.2 miles, Portages - none , Rating - Easy

More photos:

  • 01 Morning paddle
  • 02 Amazing geology
  • 03 Nooks and crannies all along the river
  • 04 Laura and big walls
  • 05 River panorama
  • 06 Canyon reflections
  • 07 Roomy campsite
  • 08 Another panorama
  • 09 Neverending views
  • 10 Helpful clouds
  • 11 Brushy bank
  • 12 Dimming light and clearing clouds
Even more photos: Flickr

Video: Youtube 


All photos and video by Laura or Bob Camp unless otherwise indicated. Use without permission is not cool.