Today our main goal is to find water. We are hiking across Tarantula Mesa which is an open sagebrush and juniper/pinyon-covered plateau.
We checked the map and our data sources last night. We should go by four water tanks developed for wildlife and cows on the plateau in five to eleven miles from camp. If those are all dry, there is a spring in Muley Canyon about 16 miles from our camp referred to as 37.1 Spring. If that spring is still dry, four miles further is Swap Canyon spring. So that gives us six chances for water. But much of it is off trail hiking which is slower and we are starting off dehydrated. We will see how it goes.
Maybe we will get to the first tank and tank up so to speak.
The Waterpocket Fold is a warp in the earth’s crust that extends for nearly 100 miles in a north-south direction. It is a classic monocline: a steep fold on one side that is a wrinkle created along a fault. I have a masters degree in geology because I love understanding the landscape and how it formed. It helps me feel more connected. I am excited to see the great Waterpocket Fold but it is a long ways away still and we are focused on one thing: water.
As we get closer to the first tank, I look for fresh cow sign but it is all at least two weeks old. Not a good sign. The tank is a cement box approximately 3 1/2 feet by 8 feet.
It looks like it is attached to a well. I peer into the box and the weight of my fear gets a little heavier. There is wet muddy sand about 1/4-inch deep with a skim of water on the top. Not really drinkable. Ray checks to see if there is a way to turn on the well but the valve is fully open. Conditions are really dry up here.
So we head for Tarantula Mesa Tank #2, two miles further. It has an elaborate setup with new plastic storage tanks, a solar panel, and well. But it is not completed as the tanks are empty and there is not a pump in the well.
Strike two today on water.
And again at tank number 4. By now it is mid day and we have to cut cross country to drop into Muley Canyon.
We are both getting concerned. We are tired, dehydrated and have to travel five miles off trail, drop into a canyon and get to a spring that we hope is not dry like several we went by yesterday. The 37.1 Mile Spring is reported to have a small flow and be fairly dependable. But, with how dry everything else has been who knows?
And it is once again one of those Hayduke routes that has one way down through a cliff wall. We are now both down to a 1/2 liter of water. At this moment, it becomes as much a mental game as physical strain. We have not seen water since yesterday morning and had to dry camp last night. We have gone by four potential water sources this morning and found nothing. Now we have to drop through a cliff and hike down another dry canyon for at least four miles before maybe getting to water. I think about the saying “nothing left in the tank”. I feel that we are closer to having nothing left in the tank than we ever have been on our hikes.
It is dry and windy in the afternoon as we climb and wind our way on through Muley Canyon. We push until we make 37.1 Mile Spring and I gorge myself on water until I feel bloated. This is even better than a grasshopper milkshake from Stan’s Burger Shak in Hanksville.
I ignore the trained hydrogeologist in me that says, there are orange and white mineral deposits from the spring water, probably iron and gypsum. Maybe there are other less desirable metals that are being leached out along with the iron. I rationalize to myself, maybe I need metals right now. I am just really glad to have water. We pushed ourselves hard to get here. Champions leave nothing in the tank. Right now I feel like a champion.