Census in Southern Utah
Updated: Mar 23
It is sixty miles from Loa, Utah, where I live, to my AA in Hanksville. Just east of the Waterpocket Fold I usually pull off and let the dog out to run a mile down the dirt road to the “river ford”. Usually, I drive through the river and go for another half mile and turn around and go back through the river and let the dog swim for a couple minutes before heading east to the desert. I always top off the tank in Hanksville. I also try to talk to as many people as I can, at the trading post, the BLM office, gas station and wherever else I can to ask them all if they know if anybody is living out toward the Henry’s or over along the Dirty Devil or up by Robber’s Roost. The BLM manager said they didn’t have any “topos” for the area up north and then I turn around and see a whole wall of maps and there is one titled Hanksville which includes Robbers Roost Canyon, Horseshoe Canyon and the Dirty Devil. I wonder which syllable in the word map he did not understand. I have discovered, as have other back-country listers, that a map and compass are important adjuncts to the HHC.
Gas, water, beer, plenty of granola bars, camp stove, coffee, sleeping bag, rifle, camera and a can of baked beans just in case: I drive north for twenty miles until I see a small dirt road heading east just beyond a large outcrop of sandstone. The map shows it as “jeep trail.” The sign says Hans Flat sixty-five miles, Robbers Roost 47 miles, Horseshoe Canyon 51 miles and Green river 102 miles. I think how nice it would be to drive this back road all the way to Green River. Ten miles in I come to a makeshift coral with a couple trucks, a trailer and three cowboys talking leaned against the back of one of the 3/4 ton 4wd trucks. I pull up and cut the motor and get out. They’re about to move their stock to summer range and need another man. The previous guy broke his back when his horse bucked at a rattlesnake and threw him onto some rocks. The guy who lives in the trailer only lives there through the winter. His summer range is up in Wyoming. I tag it as a LQ (living quarter) anyway even though it doesn’t have electricity. They confirm that “ain’t nobody out there cept ole Jackson” at Cow Paddy Ranch ten miles up the road and maybe Jeremy at “The Roost” and the ranger at Hans Flat. Other than that there ain’t nothing but rattlesnakes, coyotes and strays out there.
Cow Paddy Ranch is a mile off the road. I drive through the “No Trespassing” sign at the cattle guard with curious élan and park in front of the mobile home where I can see inside the screen door to the living room. I knock and nobody answers. I check behind the barn and down by the windmill which is pumping but nobody is around. I map spot it and drive on to Hans Flat. The road gets rougher. At the ranger station I talk to the superintendent who informs me that he and his wife are the only people living there year around. Happily, the road down to Horseshoe Canyon is not in my AA. I don’t think my 25-year-old F150 would survive its hostile boulders and ruts. I head back to the fork for Robber’s Roost.
No one at The Roost either; just a sheepherder’s wagon, an old Avion trailer which probably belonged to Redford and the original ranch house. I can appreciate the fact that this was a pretty good place to hang out if you were up to mischief in places like Telluride, Laramie and Salt Lake. The place is for sale since AC Ekker died drunk a few years ago rounding up cattle from his plane which he crashed in the canyon nearby. I map-spot the ranch house and give the dog some water from the cattle trough. The sun is casting long shadows as I drive along the top of the rutted road and begin to feel softness in the steering wheel. I stop to check and see my worst nightmare confirmed: a flat tire. With the sun low and a temperature shift comes the wind. I try the “Fix-a-flat” and it doesn’t work. It never does. I get out the jack, wrench, pry-bar and extra pipes and start with the spare which is padlocked under the back of the truck. I try three different keys to no avail. I know I should have the right key someplace because I remember testing the thing last year when I got back from Italy. I find another set of keys in the ashtray but none of them works. I find another key at the bottom of the glove box which looks perfect but no luck. I can’t believe I don’t have the right key for my spare tire and try all of them again. The sand is blowing in my face as I crawl under the truck and start twisting the entire lock and bolt with the pipe. In all the movies they just shoot the lock off but I don’t think my little 22 would have much effect. I keep turning, and turning; a quarter turn each time I put the pipe in the lock’s loop. An hour later the tire drops. I loosen the lug nuts and put the jack on a board to give it some extra height but still it doesn’t get the truck and tire high enough up off the sandy ground. No wonder that guy in Ojinaga, Mexico sold it to me for ten bucks. I shovel the dirt out from under the tire and pull it off and put on the spare just as the sun sets.
The spare only has 16 pounds of pressure and I’m a hundred miles from civilization on roads on which I have not seen a single car all day. I drive slowly to a flat spot off the road and set things up for the night. I give the dog food and water and put the beans on to cook and crack open a Modelo and sit on the tailgate as the firmament begins to reveal itself with the appearance of Venus. A coyote calls and the dog’s ears perk up. The wind has abated and the beans are hot. Life is good.