Jake Seigel: The Science of the Spot

jake1Deep within Horseshoe Canyon, as the Navajo sandstone gave way to the older rock of the Kayenta formation, our small group began to look for the Spot.

Each day the Spot is different. In the beginning, a week or so earlier and many miles back up the canyon, the Spot revolved around water. Water is not always the easiest commodity to be found in the deserts and canyons of Utah, so statements like, “Look! There are only a few creatures in this stagnant pool” were often good indicators that The Spot was near.

On this day, however, we began following a stream deep in the canyon. No longer dependent on individual water sources, we could begin customizing The Spot. We stopped on a sandy beach under a few cottonwood trees to evaluate. This Spot had the essentials: shade, space, water. But then someone mentioned the lack of proper kitchen counters for our pots and stoves. There were nods among the group, thoughts of, “Yes, of course, counters.” We continued.

If there was ever the day to find the Ideal Spot it was today. We would arrive at the Ideal Spot in the vain of Brigham Young, the Mormon leader who had lead his people away from prejudice to the Salt Lake Valley. Ascending a mountain top overlooking the coolest campspot ever we would gape in awe and proclaim, “This is the Spot!” There would be water in the form of cascading falls, ample space for tents and sleeping bags, flat rocks chest high for cooking counters and some private space for when nature calls. Tall beautiful canyon walls to the west would shade us during the hot afternoons but nothing would hinder the sun’s rays from warming our cold bones when it rose in the east.

Unfortunately, on this day like others before, we had to settle for a mixed bag of real estate. The Spot had a first floor of sand and trees with cool overhanging cliffs. Still no counters, but the views from the numerous nearby bathroom locations were gorgeous. But the canyons walls were steep here on both sides and the sun touched the Spot only from 10AM to 3PM, which gave the rocks little time to soak in the heat. This was the Spot’s biggest flaw and a lesson about the desert I had learned early: the sun is hot, and the night is cold, but the rocks retain heat.

One other night we had stayed in a partial alcove that the sun shone on for most of the day. I had prepared myself for another cold night in the backcountry but was pleasantly surprised to find that the area within the alcove stayed consistent in temperature, that in fact the sandstone was emitting heat into the vicinity! If only the water source hadn’t been a dark pool polluted with cow and burrow dung then “Ideal Status” would have been achieved.

It wasn’t until our last night in Horseshoe Canyon, as the canyon splits in two creating the horseshoe of its namesake, that the Ideal Spot revealed itself. Through dense brush and tumbleweeds we searched a Spot, any Spot. Finally, as we crested a sandy hilltop above the fray we saw it – A flat plateau with smooth rocks from some ancient river stretching out before us. We couldn’t believe our luck. The sun beat down as we crossed the plateau but we found giant rocks at interesting angles, which provided more than enough shade. The list of amenities didn’t end there. The stream was not far off, kitchen counters were abundant, and the chance for morning sunshine was very real. But the best was the views we had. We were situated right on the edge of the “horseshoe” and had mile long views of gorgeous canyon walls in both directions.

As the sun set over Horseshoe Canyon we sang and played songs on small stringed instruments (I had the whistle solo) and once it got dark we stared a small fire and watched the full moon rise above the canyon walls. If anyone had any doubts before they knew it then – The Ideal Spot had been found.

 

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