I have something in common with white-faced ibises. And I share it with juncos, goldfinches, buntings, and grosbeaks, too. Like me, these birds are drawn to
the stark, sculpted, pastel-colored canyonlands of southern Utah each autumn. It's a place where backpacking and birding collide-not literally, mind you, but in a most aesthetically pleasing way.
Come September, when the night air grows crisp and migrating birds brighten the days with song and feather, I head for the Dirty Devil River. The stream's deep gorge winds a serpentine, secretive path between the Henry Mountains and Canyonlands National Park. The 36-mile route from Angel Cove Spring to Poison Spring Canyon keeps your feet wet, but the numerous river crossings are rarely a problem in autumn. More likely to slow your journey are the many side canyons that demand exploring.
Watch the brush for the above-mentioned species,
as well as the flash of mountain bluebirds and
pine siskins. Don't forget to check overhead for raptors, including golden eagles and sharp-shinned, Coopers, and red-tailed hawks. Look for iridescent ibises silhouetted against the rainbow sweep of sandstone walls. And if you happen to catch the ibis' quaking call, you'll understand why life in the high desert in autumn is sweeter and more irresistible than any place on Earth.
From Hanksville, take UT 95 south for about 10 miles. Turn east on the road to Pool Spring. The road forks twice; take the left fork each time. About 10 miles from Route 95, turn east and drive a quarter mile to the Angel Point Trail.
Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, by Michael Kelsey (Kelsey Publishing, 801-373-3327; $14.95).
BLM Richfield District, Henry Mountain Resource Area, (435) 542-3461.