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Teeing up the Devil's Golfball

Just another great day out in the sandstone canyon country surrounding Moab, Utah. Sometimes it feels like the center of the universe, the red center of a holy land. I've felt that way about the canyonlands since I began coming out here in 1970, the year I graduated from high school.

Moab was way different back in the seventies. No people around, except town Mormons and crusty uranium miners and empty canyons haunted by the ghosts of the ancient Fremont people. My old friend Eric Bjornstad, who passed on to the great cliff in the sky a few seasons ago, lived here back then seasonally. That sandy land had already wormed its way under his skin and the noonday sun had fried his brain.

I came to the desert back then to get away from it all. Away from people and civilization, or syphilization as Ed Abbey, desert rat and iconoclast, called it. My climbing buddies, Jimmie Dunn, Billy Westbay, Doug Snively, Ed Webster, and Dennis Jackson, often journeyed with me to the back of beyond. And my ex-wife, Nancy, too.

Now, of course, Moab is part of syphilization. The town's become a crawling disease that spreads across the bottomlands of Spanish Valley, filling it with houses and roads and hotels and tourists. Yes, the tourists. The bane and plague but also the pocketbook of the new Moab. Folks coming to use the land for recreation, for checking off boxes on their bucket list, for gawking at sights without understanding wonder. Then they're moving on to the next great best place. When I go to Moab now, I avoid town and the busy places. Instead contenting myself with certain back roads and hidden spots that are still off the radar. A man's got to be picky when he's still in love.

Moab has become a godforsaken place. Too many tourists and hotels. Too much traffic, pedalheads, and pretenders. The good news? It's easy to get away from the throngs and lines of tourists and find yourself on slickrock, in echoing canyons, under starlit skies, and on unclimbed summits of candle-thin spires.

Here's a photograph from one of those rarefied desert days out in a big hollow beyond Kane Springs Canyon. Yeah, it's a roadside hoodoo, but when you're there, nobody else is. Maybe a few dune buggies or jeeps rumble by on the dirt road 500 feet away. A whisk of dust in the wind and they're gone and you're back in the silence.

Warm sun, clear skies, no wind, and, where we went, no people. The end of the day, as the sun reddened distant Wingate cliffs and painted the sky with a pastel wash, saw Brian Shelton, Doc Bill Springer, and myself at Devil's Golfball, a spectacular mini-tower. We like to climb it because it has such improbable geometry and looks like the day when it topples isn't far hence. Funky aid climbing leads up the east face to a spacious hard-rock summit, the perfect hideaway for cocktails, cheese, and crackers. At sunset, Doctor Bill rappelled off under cirrus-cloud scraped skies, leaving the golfball teed up for another day.

Doc Bill Springer raps off the Devil's Golfball while Brian Shelton does his Captain Morgan jig. Photo @ Stewart M. Green

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