2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

Over the Rainbow: Finding Red Rock In the Navajo Nation

A rarely-attempted traverse reveals the Navajo Nation's vast red-rock wilderness.

by: Luke Dittrichè

"Are you bringing a pistol?"

A friend of Leo's asked him that. The question was posed in Navajo, so it sounded like this: "Pistol y ish ne wholo?" But it was just as puzzling to Leo in his native tongue as it would have been in English. Why would he bring a pistol to Arizona's Rainbow Plateau? Who needed a gun in one of America's most remote spots, smack in the middle of the Four Corners? Leo Manheimer would be taking photographer Vance Jacobs and me dozens of miles from humans of any kind—good or bad, armed or unarmed—and it seemed unlikely we'd need to defend ourselves against anything but sunburns and flash floods.

Then Leo's friend explained: A rogue mustang was prowling the area, attacking anyone who ventured too near.

When Leo told Vance and me this story, just before we started off on our hike, he'd smiled and vaguely twirled a finger near his temple. Leo had been doing quality time in the wilderness around here since he was 10 years old, when he spent an entire summer shepherding his family's flock of sheep through labyrinths of canyons and mesas and buttes all by himself. The now-54-year-old son of a revered medicine man named Buck Navajo, Leo had grown up to become the area's preeminent guide, regularly leading Sierra Club groups and other non-Navajos on journeys into otherwise hard-to-access tribal land.

We'd contacted him with a simple request: that he bring us to Rainbow Plateau, an allegedly spectacular part of the Navajo Nation that few people, Navajo or otherwise, ever visit. He agreed, we negotiated terms, and then, after a wild off-road stint in a pickup to a spot about a half-hour east of Page, Arizona, we hoisted our packs and headed out. We were about to begin a 30-mile, west to east, three-day route, one that would start with a steep descent on an old pack trail just south of the rim of Butterfly Canyon but quickly turn into an off-trail riverbed slog and plateau-top scramble. Though finding enough drinking water was a concern, wild horses were not. Mustangs, Leo assured us, don't attack people. They don't want anything to do with people. We all laughed at the idea of a predatory horse.

We definitely weren't laughing the next morning.

The pack trail had petered out early on the first day, at Kaibito Creek, and we'd been dividing our time between sand and water ever since. We pitched our first camp in a sodden spot that was a combination of both, and shortly after waking I was plodding through wet sand in a pleasant post-dawn daze, my boots in my hand and my thoughts in the sky. I followed a frigid waterway through a wide canyon, listening to the plop and pull of my own bare feet and watching the rising sun paint the cliffs and the mud different shades of orange. Suddenly, behind me, I heard Vance and Leo shouting. I looked over my shoulder and saw a horse approaching at full gallop.

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Coopers Rock, West Virginia (8/30/2014)
Posted On: Sep 02, 2014
Submitted By: hikingFF77
Trailhead Register
Posted On: Sep 02, 2014
Submitted By: hikingFF77
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions