The Maze, a district of Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah, is known (to those who know of it) for its austere beauty and forbidding, inhospitable terrain. A desolate, harsh expanse of orange-red canyons, craggy sandstone formations and barren rock, it seems perfectly named if you imagine its bewildering array of ravines and gulches as being like those things that the English make with hedges. It’s a confounding and enigmatic labyrinth where every corner you turn could lead to a way out or be just the dead end that verifies how entirely lost you actually are. Not for nothing has the Maze been described as a “30-square mile puzzle in sandstone”.
It’s not really a surprise that the Maze enjoys sparse visitation compared with the rest of Canyonlands. No way can it be described as welcoming. Yet, despite its remoteness and danger, the Maze is catnip to the kind of daring hikers (Backpacker Magazine called it the riskiest hike in the country), hardy mountain bikers and bold overland adventurers who thrill to defy the odds in off-the-beaten-track places that require high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicles, the only kind that will gain you access. “Four-wheel-drive roads in the Maze are extremely difficult,” says the National Park Service, “present considerable risk of vehicle damage, and should not be attempted by inexperienced drivers.” They don’t want anyone going in unprepared.
Just a bit west of the Maze, Aron Ralston got trapped when a huge boulder fell on his arm in an isolated slot canyon. Distant from even the hope of rescue, he would have died had he not cut off half of his arm to get himself free. Now the Park Services makes it clear that if you go into the Maze, you must be prepared to rescue yourself. There’s no way to call for help, it’s unlikely an emergency vehicle would get to you if you could and only a slim chance exists that you will find someone around to assist you.
You’ve got to be pretty robust to not be intimidated.
And I am not robust, so the Maze intimidates me, yet it captivates me, too. I am eager and curious to get there. To me, it’s just like forbidden fruit, the kind that is most tempting, the kind you want to gorge on and the kind that will make you climb to pick it even if its on a branch way up near the top of the tree.
That’s really not me. Usually, words like safety, caution and hazard resonate too much for me. I’m more risk-averse and wary, the kind of person who colors within the lines and plays it safe by nature and habit. I only leave my comfort zones when I’m talked into it or cajoled by something more enticing than the lure of security.
But there I was the other day, with a topographical map of the Maze laid out before me and a guidebook to Jeep driving its back roads in my hand, suddenly aware that I had already decided to go for it when I’m in Utah later this year. Mind you, I’m not saying that I was wondering if I should do it, without even being aware I had already decided that I definitely would.
How did that happen? Come back later in the week and I’ll let you know.