Kathy and I had wonderful days in Zion and Monument Valley, and though we were headed obliquely in that direction we weren’t hurrying home. A few threatening clouds came around, but sunshine and fair skies dominated our afternoons. After Monument Valley disappeared from view we skirted Mexican Hat and stayed the night in Bluff, interesting for its Victorian houses and the Bluff Fort Historic Site.
After breakfast the following morning we drove north towards Blanding, turning west just before town onto Highway 95. After twenty roller coaster miles we angled onto a bumpy BLM road, and shortly thereafter came to a stop at the trailhead into Mule Canyon. The final location on Kathy’s short Most Wanted list, the ruins known as House On Fire, were approximately two miles down canyon.
We were happily alone in the vibrant early light as we walked to them, except for an occasional bird and a small herd of browsing mule deer. As the deer moved uphill away from us the sounds of antlers scraping against juniper trees, and loose stones clattering beneath hooves, were sharp in the still air. At the ruins Kathy imitated a marmot enjoying the warm sunshine relaxed on a large rock as I began shooting photos; in the end I did better work than I had the other time I’d set my tripod there. We spent an hour enjoying ourselves before two brothers from Utah arrived to break our solitary spell, and then we returned to the truck.
Our last stop before Hanksville was another fascinating place we’d never visited—Natural Bridges National Monument. We arrived in the late afternoon, and settled for the nine-mile-long auto loop. Some of the trails that descend into the canyons utilize ladders, so I was more than satisfied to see the landscape from a distance.
After we’d made the short scenic drive we both felt it—there weren’t any attractions waiting down the road, anything we had to see. “You’re cleared for takeoff on Highway 95.” Yeah, something like that. Fortunately, we decided to stop at the Visitor Center first, where we
met adopted Thornton.
I do seem to enjoy stuffed creatures (of the non-taxidermy variety)—Folkmanis creations in particular—so you’ll understand why I didn’t leave the pack rat languishing on a shelf for the winter. (If you don’t, click on his picture and then tell me you could have resisted that smile.) I try to be picky in my choices—personality in puppets, you might say. Tammy Tarantula was already in the truck (she came aboard in Moab, where it all started) but I’d been overruled on the rattlesnake (don’t give up hope, little fella). When Kathy picked the pack rat up and said “I’m surprised you don’t have one of these,” she
immediately realized her mistake clinched the deal, and the unnamed rodent jumped onto my right hand. He was quite excited (see photo, again) and a conversation ensued with the two rangers at the counter, Gordon and Jennifer. While I paid the adoption fee with my Visa card, Gordon picked up our new character, said “I can do this,” and with a flourish produced a shiny badge from a drawer behind the counter, which he fastened to the pack rat’s pack while intoning “With the power invested in me, I declare you to be a Junior Ranger.”
Well, there’s some excitement! And it wasn’t over—we couldn’t leave without naming the new honorary Ranger. Owing to his sophisticated expression (no Bobs or Eds here), and with the aid of a name tag (thanks, Jennifer!) we departed, leaving two smiling (and no doubt relieved) rangers in our wake. Thornton sat up front so he could look for more shiny stuff.
And then…we put our heads down and simply drove. To Hanksville that evening, through the stunning scenery along Highway 95. On to Winnemucca, Nevada, the next day, and the longest at 600 miles. Honking the truck’s horn when we crossed into Oregon sage- brush, dinner and a room at the Frenchglen Hotel. And finally, surprised by a beautiful parade of autumn’s colors along Highway 126, on the western side of the Cascades, gliding through light rain into the valley. Home.