Boyinton Overlook, Escalante

October 2013
I must have veered off the main trail. I am terrible with directions, but this time I am not lost. I can see Highway 12 and I can hear people talking below. Unfortunately, my trail ends at the edge of a short cliff. Is someone down there pointing me out? What are they saying?  I navigate across three states to explore Escalante National Monument and get myself stranded within sight of my car. How embarrassing.

Escalante National Monument occupies 1.9 million acres in south-central Utah. Ancient dunes hardened to stone, then eroded, leaving slickrock canyons, arches and spires. The Escalante River creates a startling contrast of lush waterfalls in the middle of an stark desert. In 1996, three months before leaving office, President Clinton declared these 1.9 million acres a national monument to effectively thwart a Dutch mining consortium from establishing coal mines.

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Hoping to pick up the main trail again, I traverse across the hillside, scramble through some brush, and surprising no one more than myself, I pop onto the main trail. I gratefully follow it down to the trailhead parking lot and my trusty Subaru.

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This hike started out as a short diversion on my last day in Escalante. I wanted to visit the Anasazi Museum before heading back to Salt Lake where I would stay with friends, enjoy sleeping in a real bed and eat real food. I also wanted to see the Anasazi Hundred Hands Pictograph in situ.

I first learned of the Anasazi or Ancient Pueblo people on a fourth grade field trip. We visited Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico, where the Anasazi carved homes in the sides of steep canyon walls, using ladders to access them. As a 9 year old, the only thing cooler than having my own apartment would have been to have my own cave apartment. The Ancient Pueblo people attained their golden age between about 900 and 1150 AD. Settlements included apartment-like complexes and structures with planned community spaces. For unknown reasons, the puebloans abandoned their homes in the 12th and 13th centuries. Hypotheses include climate change, environmental degradation, hostility with new arrivals or cultural change.  I still feel sadness and mystery over these ancient people abandoning their homes and disappearing.

My guide book said you can see the pictograph from the Boyington Overlook, where UT-12 crosses the Escalante River if you have binoculars, which I did not.  The field of view contained at least a dozen potential pictograph sites. There is no official trail, but the unofficial trail head was easy to find.  The round trip to Hundred Hands generally takes half an hour, so I gave myself 30 minutes of wandering around just to find it.  There were a lot of false trails that looked well-used and I tried several of them to no avail.  I retraced a particularly inviting trail to the same dead end that overlooked a nice canyon, but no pictograph.  Half an hour came and went. How could I have missed it?

Ludicrous as it sounds, people remove rock art for their own use or to sell on the black market. In 2011, a Nevada man cut and moved a 300-pound petroglyph from the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area to his front yard. He was sentenced to six months in federal prison for his efforts. In 2012, thieves, apparently armed with ladders, power saws, and generators, gouged out six sacred Paiute petroglyph panels from Volcanic Tablelands north of Bishop, California. Online photographs record at least one similar attempt in Escalante.

I finally turned back pretty disappointed.  As my feet plodded along, I kept looking for the hands, mostly to say I did not give up. And then…  sure enough.  There they were, but much higher than I expected.  Rows and rows of white handprints on a sandstone wall. Sometime between 750 and 1300 AD, these ancient people sent us a message.

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