Mom and I had been to Mule Canyon before, but some adventures you just need to have more than once. If you’re coming to Mule Canyon to see mules, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re coming for mystery and adventure, then you’re going to love it. Mom and I fought the white dirt to visit Mule Canyon during our Christmas trip, but after following some enchanted footprints to a magical spot, the footprints disappeared, we lost the trail, and we couldn’t explore the rest of the canyon. So Mom promised me that we would come back and explore the rest of the canyon on a day when we could see the trail on our own.
After more than 3 months of waiting, the canyon had swallowed all of its white dirt, and Mom and I had no problem following the trail through the shining silver leaves, whipping branches, and rustling sticker grass that had been hiding under the white dirt before. About a mile up the canyon, we came back to the magical spot that had brought us back: the Tiny Home on Fire, where ancient people had built itty bitty homes into the rock barely big enough to hold a dog bed. Like most people who are into Tiny Homes, these ancient minimalists really knew how to use and appreciate what they had, because they built their tiny home so that the roof rock looked like it was blazing wildly with uncontrollable flames. Even though we’d taken pictures here before, Mom made me pose for about a gajillion more photos before we continued our treasure hunt down the canyon.
Even though the trail was pretty flat and smooth, we weren’t running this time. There were more ruins to be found further down the canyon, but you had to look closely at the canyon walls to spot them. “Look up!” was all one review said. So I kept my nose on the trail, while Mom kept her nose high in the air so that she could see the canyon walls from under her hair-hiding-hat. They were hard to spot because the rocks on the canyon wall were steep and layered like a Kong, and the old houses were squeezed up high between the rolls of rock where it was hard to see them from the canyon floor. Sometimes I would find a faint trail that jumped out of the riverbed and up onto the slickrock, and Mom just led me along the rocks until we found something interesting. “These people sure did like hiking,” I said as we both scrambled up another lobe of slickrock on all fours. “But wasn’t it a pain for them to leave the house when they had to go to the store for more cheese or peanut butter?” “I don’t think these people went to the store much,” Mom said. “It was a very long time ago…” “You mean they had coronavirus back then too?” I said, surprised. “No, I mean they hunted for their own food, and being high like this kept them safe from their enemies.” “Aah,” I said knowingly. “They had social distancing back then too.” As we tiptoed along steep slopes, and harumphed up onto high rocks, I realized Mom was right. Up above on the main road, you could see straight to the horizon in every direction, but here in the canyon it would be really easy to spot a Mormon hiking up the canyon to knock on your tiny door.
The next house we found really needed some maintenance. It was barely more than a pile of stones with a hole in it for a window, and half of the wall missing for another window. “They weren’t much into home improvement, were they?” I asked, shaking my head. “People never think of the labor when they build their houses in such inaccessible places.” “They built these houses about 800 years ago, Oscar. Maybe the BLM doesn’t want to deal with restoring them, but I think it’s impressive that they built something that could last so long in such a precarious place.” Then she pulled out The Witch for another picture. “Now sit. SIT! Face me. Oscar! Oscar!” I chillaxed and looked around as Mom did that silly dance she does when she’s taking pictures. Now that I was here, there was something peaceful about being high with the unclimbable rock to my back and the whole canyon spread out behind. I thought it would be a nice place to sit with friends and roast hot dogs over the fire.
The next house was the biggest of all, and from far away it looked like it was in better shape than the others. We had to walk sideways along the canyon a long way to find places where we could climb from one layer to the next. It took forever, but finally we were standing right under it. The rock stood two Moms tall all around the house, and either went straight up and down with nothing to hold on to, or stuck out over our heads. “Did people 800 years ago know how to fly?” I asked. “No, I think they used ladders,” Mom said. “Oh. Well they must not have had dogs,” I concluded, but something still seemed fishy. “I can see why they needed to be so suspicious of neighbors. I don’t know how you can trust someone who doesn’t have a dog. But all that security, and it didn’t occur to them to adopt someone to bark when the mail man came up the canyon?”
The further we went into the canyon, the harder it was to find the trail, but Mom didn’t want to give up in case we missed something incredible. When the trees in the riverbed blocked our view, she led me up the slickrock so that we could look for more. Maybe if The Witch had been talking to us, we could have found a treasure map to all of the houses, but instead all we had an easter egg hunt. With only our eyeballs to spot the hidden ruins, we surely missed some. Finally, we lost the trail completely, and Mom said it was okay to turn around.
From the riverbed it took no time to hike the same 3 miles that it had taken us 5 miles to cover on the way in. With only a few minutes left to the Covered Wagon, we met a family walking up the canyon toward us. The dog’s name was Buster, and he smelled nice enough but didn’t know how to play. The people puppy wore a packpack and smelled excited. The lady had big hair and walking chopsticks. And the man carried a great, big camera. “How far is it to the House on Fire?” the Man asked Mom, like she had pulled a nasty trick on him and he wanted her to cut it out. “It’s about half a mile further,” Mom said, like that was not very far at all. The people puppy brightened, the Woman crumpled a little against her walking chopsticks, and the Man looked even more impatient. “There’s a post at the bottom pointing the way,” Mom said helpfully. “Thanks,” the Man said briskly, and the family stomped up the canyon. “What was all that about,” I asked. “I swear, I will never understand people…” Mom said. “For some people this might be a challenging hike, but he was wearing thos tear-away pants that only serious outdoors people wear, and she was wearing hiking boots. They looked fit and prepared enough… But you can never really understand someone who blowdries their hair before putting on hiking boots.”
Oscar the Archeologist