I smell smoke I say to Ray as we continue our journey across the remote Kaiparowits Plateau and least visited part of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
We are hiking through Reese Canyon and are headed to Last Chance Creek six miles away where we will hike up the creek to it’s junction with Paradise Creek. All morning the rocks smell like smoke and tobacco as we hike down Reese Canyon; we are in the Burning Hills area.
The Burning Hills are a brick red color and formed from ancient fires of the coal seams below. When the coal burns, it oxidizes the iron in the rock turning it a brilliant red. There are still some coal seams burning up on Smoky Mountain to the north of here and there are many guesses on how long the coal has been burning from hundreds to millions of years.
The geology is fascinating in this area and the fight over the coal deposits on the Plateau remain topical and fervid. There are an estimated 5 to 7 billion tons of coal in the Kaiparowits coal-basin area, much of it is remote and inaccessible with 1,000 feet of overburden.
We are hiking through the area that President Trump removed from protection as part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, largely because of these coal deposits.
I think about the the land itself. If you just walk the surface without knowing anything about it, it is like observing someone from a distance without knowing their personality. A stark and barren place; badlands. But, the complexity of the land is so much deeper. It is intelligent enough to heat a home, it speaks of it’s history of dinosaurs and swamps, it smells of smoke, and weeps through creeks that seep out of rocks and deposit iron like blood from wounds. It feels alive to me.
We reach Last Chance Creek and I breath a sigh of relief. We once again have made it to water and we will be walking along this perennial creek the rest of the day. No rationing. I am happy about that.
We hike 23 miles today, partly to make up for the seven miles we had fallen behind on our schedule yesterday. It is windy in the late afternoon as we are blown into camp where Last Chance Canyon and Paradise Canyon join.