My guide, Mike Henrie of Kanab Western Adventures, pauses at the base of a long sandy hill while he shifts his side-by-side ATV into four-wheel drive.
“Hold on a little bit,” he says, then we charge up a steep, sandy hill.
As we crest yet another “Oh wow, mesa” we find ourselves on the edge of a high, south-facing cliff. Here we pause for a few minutes to take in the beautiful, tranquil view that has opened up before us. In the middle distance we see the Kanab Valley’s red sand hills interspersed with flat, green fields, and beyond that the red butte cliffs at the southern end of the Grand Staircase-Escalante – and the Vermilion Cliffs beyond that – stretching away and away.
It’s a beautiful day. Slightly overcast. The morning air is still chilly. It rained here yesterday and the air now carries a faint top note of diminishing petrichor, a nectary middle note of globemallows that started blooming a couple weeks ago and a strong bottom note of minerals, from ATV-churned sand.
After we’ve taken in the view to our satisfaction, Henrie drops our ride back into first gear and proceeds forward. Everything here is twisted, and crooked. The trunks of the juniper trees are twisted like wrung towels. And the horizon – which expands to a disk more than 100 miles in diameter anytime the ATV scrambles to the top of a butte – is made crooked from the many towers, tilted mesas and pinnacles that project into it. The most crooked of all is the Jeep trail which slithers around the junipers and rock outcroppings like a dizzy snake. The only straight thing out here is the ranchers’ barbwire fences, still tangled with last autumn’s tumbleweeds.
Juniper trees grow abundantly, as do narrow-leafed yucca. This country is also home to both silver and purple sagebrush, hundreds of which chamois the sides of the ATV as we pass by, and last year’s millet grass, tall as the ATV’s headlights, which tickle the ATV’s fenders and chassis and we drive over them. Dotted among the sagebrush and juniper are orange globemallows, prickly pear cactus blooming with violet-pink flowers, and barrel cactus blooming with mauve flowers.
Henrie drives the ATV over yet another steeply-pitched rock outcropping and then we pitch down the other side, steep as a black-diamond ski run.
In the two hours that Henrie and I have been exploring in his ATV we have transected half a dozen canyons, crossed as many mesa tops, plunged in and out of scores of ravines. Our destination today is a large grouping of Anasazi petroglyphs known as the Mansard Panel. But this is definitely
Few things are as mysterious as an Anasazi petroglyph panel, and this one – the Mansard Panel – located a few miles east of Kanab, is even more enigmatic than most.
one of those it’s-the-journey-not-the-destination type of trips.
Henrie drops his ATV back into first gear at the base of another steep, sand hill, and lays on the gas and the ATV charges up the hill like a spurred gelding. At the top of the hill we drive only another 500 feet before we reach our destination.
Henrie parks the ATV and we walk over to examine the petroglyph panel, which is tucked safely inside a south-facing alcove. The panel was created by the Ancestral Puebloans 1,000 to 1,800 years ago. Because of its remote location very few people visit this site, as evidenced by the fact that there is no trail leading to the petroglyph panel.
Few things are as mysterious as an Anasazi petroglyph panel, and this one – the Mansard Panel – located a few miles east of Kanab, is even more enigmatic than most. Henrie points out a petroglyph that’s an obvious representation of a bear track, and another of an American bison. But the rest are abstract and cryptic. One looks like a flying saucer, another looks like a strong man flexing his muscles on top of a conquered alien. One looks like it might be some kind of calendar, or counting mechanism, or chart. It has a hole chipped in the stone and surrounding it are 30 dots arranged in a circle. What makes everyone who sees it think it’s some kind of marker or chart is that one of the dots has been circled with a line that runs from it back to the center dot. Hmm. Very curious.
We spend half an hour examining the petroglyph panel – it’s about the size of a city billboard – then exit the shallow grotto and return to the ATV we’ve left parked near the edge of a cliff. Here on the edge of the overlook Henrie pauses, before climbing back into his ATV, to take in the wondrous view.
“I think it would take someone two or three lifetimes to explore all this,” he says.
I think Henrie is right. Kanab is an island of civilization surrounded by wild BLM land. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument borders its north side, and the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is just an hour east. A lot of its most amazing discoveries and destinations are kind of hard to get to. An ATV helps a lot.
Henrie starts up his ATV and releases the brake.
“I think we’ll take the scenic way back.”
“Didn’t we take the scenic way to get here?” I ask.
“Sure did,” he said. “That’s the great thing about this place: every way is the scenic way.”