The Desecrated Panel. Note how some figures are chiseled away.
We emerged into a beautiful cold morning. A layer of ice had formed in our water bottles. My regular cup of coffee made in a plastic press was especially delicious this morning. I cooked cornmeal pancakes. This was an experiment for future trips. They cooked easily. Mixing the batter in a plastic bag is the secret to keeping hands clean. I was full and had enough for one more. Norm said he was interested; but Colin was still buried in his sleeping bag. I called out,
"Colin, I'm cooking one more pancake for you and Norm to split."
Norm added, "I'm going to eat it all if you don't get up."
"I've got real maple syrup to go with it."
Wild rustling started in the tent and Colin launched himself out of the tent. He and Norm split the pancake and syrup.
We shoved off for Lower Butler Wash panel. It held an incredible number of petroglyphs from various periods. While we were soaking in the panel, two motorized rafts pulled up. They were a guided Elder Hostel group that were doing the Sand Island-Mexican Hat trip in one day. One of the guides gave us exact directions to the Desecrated Panel, which was just down the river. As we left two women who had gotten out of their raft but had not walked up to see the panel, asked
"Why can't we leave our initials here?"
We muttered something and continued down river.
The Desecrated Panel contained rock art that had existed mostly undisturbed for hundreds of years until the 1950's when a Chinese flu epidemic swept the local Navajo population. A shaman said the flu came from the figures on the panel and recommended cutting the arms and legs so that they would lose their power. This was done and unfortunately much was lost.
River House, the biggest and best preserved ruin we saw. It contains several rooms on many levels. Pottery sherds litter the ground in front. Much of the stucco is still intact.
Next stop River House, the largest and best-preserved ruin along the river. Since it was almost impossible to see from the river, we had been told to look for a path that led to it. We couldn't find it and realized that, if we passed the point where Comb Ridge came down to the river, we would miss it. So we tied up just on the upstream edge of the slickrock ridge and climbed up on the bank. Norm went up on a higher ledge and eventually spotted it. Colin and I followed a road. It was an amazing placeseveral rooms on several levels. A good deal of the round Kiva was still intact. We ate lunch there and also found some more rock art.
Norm had put his daypack down while we explored; a strong gust of wind suddenly came up and blew it off the ledge. This turned out to be a foretelling of future difficulties.
Looking out of the River House Kiva. Some of the wall has been destroyed; but its round shape and bench and air intake can still be seen.
We went back to the raft using the old Mormon Trading Post ruins as a landmark and started down the river. We had begun the trip just drifting with the current but realized that we needed to row some to gain a little time for ruin exploration. The wind began to increase and we realized that we had to row in order to make any headway at all. Norm was the strongest rower and his maximum effort barely moved us downstream. I got out and towed the raft a few times. Colin worked to keep the raft from hitting the shore. When the water got too deep along the bank, Norm resumed rowing. I also tried using our extra oar as a rudder, paddle or pole but nothing was really successful.
We had a campsite marked on our map above Chinle Wash on the south bank. But as we made our way down using these various techniques, we couldn't spot it. Cattle had made trails down to the river and we couldn't tell which one led to the campsite. We decided that the campsite on the north bank was our best bet. We didn't want to go downstream of Chinle Wash because we wanted to hike up into it the next day. We were calling the wind a Sirocco at this point. Sand was clogging up our nostrils and reducing the visibility. The bottoms of sandstone butts were disappearing in a fog of sand. The sand was drifting and forming wind shadows around tress and rocks. It reminded me of blizzards I had experienced in Maine.
We found a slight rise of sand topped by a dead log and some bushes and pitched the tents on the lee side with the narrow end pointing upwind. We retreated into our tents and collapsed onto our bags. The wind continued to build in intensity and sand would rush into any opening. Even with all windows and doors zippered tightly shut a dusting of sand formed on everything. I had experienced a sand storm in Rajasthan, India and knew that it was impossible to escape from the sand and just tried to accept it.