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May 10, 2021 3 min read

Words & Images: Whitton Feer

There is something about the Colorado Plateau. Maybe it’s that magical desert light, or vast expanse of land, probably a combination of all that and more. Each spring the desert has this ability to draw me away from the heart of ski season, in pursuit of canyons, dirt roads and endless opportunities to travel through a new landscape.

 

The maze of canyons dropping from our campsite on the plateau.

 

This spring, my friends and I had our eyes set on Robbers Roost, a vast expanse of canyons, Juniper trees, and rolling sandstone fins sandwiched between the La Sals and the Henry mountains. Named for its history as a criminal hideout in the late 1800s, Robbers Roost is the perfect place to escape the endless sea of green Colorado plates that flock to Moab and the surrounding area during the spring.

The Roost has a rich and complex history that I am by no means qualified to tell. It exists at an intersection of geology, indigenous legacies and a more recent colonization that the land bears evidence of, ranching. As with much of the Western US, cattle are king and most of the area is managed by the BLM as grazing land, meaning that as soon as the road turned to dirt, it was just me, two of my close friends, and cows, lots of cows. 

 

I am no rancher, but the Roost seems like a strange place to raise cattle.

 

Characterized by slot canyons descending into darkness, steep sandstone bluffs that I imagine do not pair well with hooves, and an obvious lack of water, the area is the last place I would choose to graze cattle. But I am no rancher, and all of the landscape features that combine to make a cow's life difficult are what make this part of the desert so special for us Colorado tourists.

After a late arrival, the sun set over our camp, leaving in its wake a dark Utah sky and the red glow of moonlight reflecting on canyon country.

 

Desert scenery near a slot canyonThe approach, devoid of any high ground that could hint of the canyon labyrinth lurking below.

 

In the morning, we set out across the fields of shrubs and juniper following a map that would lead us to the mouth of a canyon. We began our descent from a sandy wash, marked by the scattered remains of a cow and a questionable rappel anchor. The canyon narrowed and the rappel anchors remained questionable. Each canyon is one giant puzzle, with each turn presenting a new obstacle, requiring a new solution.

 

 

However all good things must come to an end; as we scrambled back to the rim and the endless sea of sand and shrubs, evidence of the canyon disappeared and the deceptively flat landscape unfolded in front of us.

Although I’ll need some more time here for further “research”, experiences in the Roost have helped me realize what exactly is so special about the Colorado Plateau. The desert conceals places like this from the common eye, reserving them for those who are willing to put in only a small bit of extra effort. This trip was by no means an epic, but the extra work required to get here and explore these canyons sets it apart from the more well traveled areas of Utah and Colorado. Places like this instill a deep sense of appreciation for undeveloped land, a necessary, but rare concept in the expansion-crazed West.