A search for self and the potential of humanity
Last November Ted, Oggie, and I drove to Beef Basin hoping to find a petroglyph panel which was an extraordinary collage of ancient images.
Beef Basin is an earthen bowl with Canyonlands to the north, Sweet Alice Hills to the south, Horse Mountain to the east, and the Henry and Boulder Mountains visible to the west. It’s also now part of the Bears Ears National Monument.
As the name suggests, it’s been used as a range for the Dugout and Indian Creek cattle since the 1880s, but long before that the Ancestral Puebloans built their homes in the swirling rock formations and across the bottomland.
On the way to our destination, we visited some of the ruins with their square towers, kivas, granaries, and homes.
One, Farm House Ruin, overlooked the basin where the Ancient Ones grew their crops of corn, beans, and squash, hand watering each plant, according to the information sign, before coming home to rest.
We had no directions or GPS coordinates, just a photograph of the petroglyph panel we sought, but since it showed the adjacent rock formations, my hubby drove until he could see the same distinctive shapes and parked the Jeep.
We hiked up onto the boulders, reviewed the photograph frequently, course corrected, then climbed higher until our view matched the photograph’s.
The petroglyphs lay straight ahead with the extensive panel covering the front of the formation and overlapping onto the sides and back.
It was a massive communication center, but at our distance in time and culture, we could only guess at the meanings of the lizard man, labyrinths, and connected circles though the hunters, bighorn sheep, homes, and even some of the abstract designs seemed clear enough.
After we had examined the panel and viewed the vast Needles district to the north, we hiked back to the Jeep along a wash with the sky a brilliant blue overhead.
Another quest, Bow Hunter Arch, would have to wait until another time.
As winter set in, we traveled to other places and waited, not so patiently, for spring and dry roads. Finally, this week we drove back to Beef Basin with only a trace of snow along the way.
The “splendid” Bow Hunter Arch is briefly described in Steve Allen’s book, Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names, as being located on the east side of House Park Butte where Mel Turner built a home in the 1880s.
So Ted parked the Jeep on the road to the cabin and we began the search.
The desert was fragrant with blooming plants, including fishhook and claret cup cacti, wild flax, blanket flowers, phlox, Utah serviceberry, and petite spreading daisies.
While I inspected the flowers, Ted spotted what he thought was an arch on a bluff next to House Park Butte, so he and Oggie surged ahead.
By the time I caught up with them, we realized the arch was an illusion with a significant gap between the overhanging rocks.
Undeterred, we followed the sandstone shelf around to the south side and climbed down to explore a large cave, hoping to find the Bow Hunter petroglyph.
Although the cave may have once been inhabited, little remained with no rock art in evidence.
Still hopeful, we investigated a massive sandstone table with a stunning vista of the southern basin and then climbed back up until we faced the eastern side of House Park Butte, all the time scanning the rocks for an arch.
Much to my surprise, Oggie was acting like a pup, leaping over chasms, jumping down escarpments, and scrambling up cliffs. I began to think her joint supplements were the mythical fountain of youth, but my hubby said she just loved adventure.
By that time, though, she and I were tired, so we rested and drank some water while Ted explored the butte.
He returned 30 minutes later, saying he hadn’t found the arch. Disappointed, we started down the cliffs toward the spring just above Turner’s homestead.
At the seep, we hooked up with a cattle trail and followed it to the cabin and corral.
Mike Kelsey quoted Turner’s obituary in his book, Hiking, Biking, and Exploring Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity. It explained that before Turner built the cabin, he had lived in a cave for six years while tending his cattle.
His persistence paid off because his herd grew to about 800 head and later he became a very successful stockman and miner near Paradox, CO.
Although we didn’t find the arch, any quest across a landscape of stone and beauty is ultimately a search to find ourselves.
Quests toughen our muscles, hone our skills, and strengthen our companionships, but in a much deeper way the search for self is also a search for our own potential and humanity’s possibilities.
Dr. Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., a developmental biologist famous for the book The Biology of Belief, describes each individual as a cell in a living organism called humankind. We need each other, he says, for the body of humanity to thrive, to progress.
As Ted and I relaxed in the Jeep with Oggie wedged on the console between us waiting for her share of our lunch, I pondered the Ancestral Puebloans’ storyboard of their quests and Turner’s cave and cabin as he sought success in a remote region of the West, and I knew we’d be back. After all, we still needed to find Bow Hunter Arch.