DISPATCHES | Notes From the Underground
by Rob Schultheis
Jan 31, 2013 | 2062 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Like many Telluriders, I have spent a lot of time west-southwest of here, in the canyonlands of Utah.  Back in the day, when it seemed like there was more time to do important things like imagine and explore, it wasn’t uncommon to spend a month or two each spring in places like Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch and Behind the Rocks,

backpacking into the remote cracks and niches of the underworld.  When some of us bought rafts, kayaks and canoes, we expanded our travels into the gorges of the Colorado, San Juan, Green, Dirty Devil and the other rivers that ran deep beneath the surface of the landscape.  There were cul-de-sacs and hollows down there that made you think of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. 

I found the ruins left by the Anasazis, the abandoned towns and temples stuck like swallows’ nests high in the cliffs or hidden away in shadowy recesses where the sun never shone, especially haunting.  In the floor of their kivas were vertical shafts called sipapus that according to the Anasazis and their modern Pueblo Indian

descendants led straight down to the Last World; even if you knew intellectually that the holes ended a few inches below, it wasn’t hard to envisage the were-creatures, shape-shifters and dark-lings of ancient dreams clambering up out of the blackness to drag you back down into Deadland. 

The pictographs and petroglyphs the Anasazis left behind on the cliffs only added to the feeling one was trespassing on alien territory.

Those looming blank-faced gods were unmistakably hostile, and there were images even more overtly menacing: a horned wolf standing triumphantly on the head of a human being, a column of figures bearing weapons, torches and scalps, a green mask with long red hair that regarded you with eyeless malice, like the aliens in the film of the same name.   

Some images you didn’t even want to speculate about: the two-headed human figure scratched in the cliff face, with one head pulverized, nearly annihilated, by repeated blows with a stone adze.

Strangely, I always felt at home in the canyons, even when I was camping alone in the Absolute Nowhere.  There was nothing like dropping out, literally, and leaving behind the idiotic hassles, noise and nonsense of the modern world. 

Sometimes I felt an ice-cold something waiting for me up a side draw, and I kept on walking, and there were certain spots where I felt it was unwise to make camp. I wasn’t the only one; on one trip, my friend K. and I met an archeological crew from NAU who’d been spooked several times while excavating an ancient graveyard, and on the same trip he and I were beset by phantoms who tried to lure us up an evil-feeling side canyon at dusk.  And then there were the tales of hikers who inexplicably vanished for several days…but that’s another story, an American version of Picnic at Hanging Rock.  There’s no magic without mystery, and no mystery without a dark side. 

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