There is a place, near Moab, but not Moab. A place that is nestled between the mighty Porcupine Rim, and the looming Adobe Mesa. A place watched over carefully by The Priest and The Nuns, with Sister Superior keeping a watchful distant eye. It is a wide open valley, sitting quietly at the base of the mighty La Sals, but acts as a gateway to the hoodoo deserts of Arches and beyond.
Castle Valley, Utah
I once explored the valley in 1995. A friend and I climbed to the base of Castle Rock, its red stone splitting the blue sky with stark and startling contrast. From a distance the tower looks small and tame. But up close it is massive, rugged and demanding.
We reached as high as anyone could go without climbing gear. We etched our girlfriends names into the soft stone. Certainly they were feeling the effects of our undying devotion some 200 miles northwest. Their names etched in stone. To last forever. Or at least until the next rainstorm washed the shallow scrapings into the red dirt below.
When we broke the news to them we expected laughter and gratitude. Girls impressed at the manly ascent, and the equation of that desert beauty with their own. Instead our heroism and romanticism was greeted with indifference. Neither relationship lasted.
While I was living in Canada I had a roommate from Castle Valley. We were living in Vancouver and he was awestruck at the steel skyscrapers, the massive grocery stores, the buses, trains, cars and the people. Oh my, all those people!
He ate bird food. We’d go shopping and he’d buy wheat and nuts and seeds. He’d pour them into a bowl and drip honey over them. That was his favorite meal. I wonder at times if he is back in Castle Valley today. If he explores the La Sals and the hidden canyons and the black muddy river. That hidden oasis among a sea of natural wonder. Does he still eat bird seed and honey?
The valley from high on La Sal Loop road is breathtaking. A scenic masterpiece of the Kokopelli Trail. The rock formations dominate the landscape, but the green fields, the long dirt driveways, the conical and comical round mountain, the mesas in the distance and the river flowing far below are like a painted backdrop in some spaghetti western. Beautiful yet artificial. Surreal. Technicolor meets color country.
After we climbed Castle Rock we returned to Moab. We had greasy hamburgers at Milt’s, restocked on some poisonous red drink (99 cents a gallon) at the City Market, filled our packs with pastries, candy and salty snacks. The sun was sinking low. We pointed the van toward home.
The sun disappeared, and the stars above began to twinkle in the black desert sky. The La Sals sunk out of view, the snow capped peaks reflecting the last light of day. Ahead the lights of Green River twinkled in the distance.
Castle Rock dwarfs me as I work my way toward the base.