awoke to an uncomfortable heat surrounding my body. Dave was sitting
up on his cot. The sudden effect of the solar radiation striking
the tent was dramatic as the sun peeked over the massive butte to the east
that we had explored the evening before. We had speculated that the
sun would come up right over the top of it, but failed to realize it would
come over the top by 9AM. The sun sure rises early in these parts
this time of year.
Out of the tent to escape the heat and into the preparation of the well-planned breakfast. Hustle and bustle; the clink of aluminum cookware resounding in the small grove of young cottonwoods. I fired up my white gas stove with a flame like the burners on grandmother's stove back in Texas, while Dave set up his slow burning methanol stove with its calm and unpressurized-fuel flame. He fried the eggs. I fried the bacon. Disaster is discovered-the tortillas have taken on water from the cooler ice-melt. Can't be helped. The soggy parts are thrown out and a genuine camping breakfast burrito is constructed, several actually, of eggs, cheese and bacon. After two of these little gut-wrenchers each, the dishes were cleaned and dried, the camp dismantled into earth-colored bundles and the jeep loaded. All that remained was to hike back up that butte to the east of us for a picture of the small but intrinsically interesting cave, now that the light was a bit brighter.
We marched back up the trail taken yesterday evening under the warm and comfortable 10:30AM sun. A slight breeze lofted billowy summer cumulonimbus clouds across the horizon and over our heads. It was a very beautiful day to be out in the world.
The small crack was found and pictures were taken. It was quite interesting this little cave, but members of our species, myself included of course, find it hard to be content with anything. There's always a better view or a better spot to sit and relax. And when you think you've found the perfect spot, you are there but ten minutes before you start aching to be at a better one. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. So we were off, retracing the trail over boulders and sand, stopping only to have myself immortalized in print next to a very large Ephedra plant. Ephedra, of the small and black-sheep Division Gnetophyta, grows rather abundantly in the American southwest. It is mostly green stem with tiny little leaves in rings at each node. The stems are used in some manner or another to concoct a crude beverage called Mormon Tea, a bittersweet drink containing ephedrine, a popular herbal pick-me-up (ephedrine makes it special). The drug derived from this plant has been in the limelight for it's use by star athletes as a performance-enhancing drug, and after scores of heart-attacks by users, has been banned by the FDA. But I digress...We made it quickly down the talus slope and back to the vehicle, the entire expedition consuming no more than 20 minutes of our precious vacation, and off we went toward the park.
We scooted along the blacktop and into the park with minimal hassle after stopping briefly at a place called The Needles Outpost (the only service station for 30 miles) to purchase white gas. Within minutes of entering the park we had parked at Squaw Flat Campground and were unloading the essentials for the first night. Packing up a frame pack is a slow and cautious task for every would-be outdoorsman. Care must be taken to pack the essentials: comfortable chair, tasty snacks, film, camera, shades, water, shelter, food; in that order.
We filled the canteens at the community well pump and got set to go. A young guy, not much older than us, dressed in snappy park ranger duds, with a nameplate engraved EGGERS, greeted us and asked to see our permit. After unpacking the entire upper portion of my pack to get to it, I showed it to him. Satisfied that we had indeed obtained legal right to trespass on a national park, he handed it back and warned us to take it easy on Elephant Hill, the second person to do so. We'll try. No suicidal maniacs here...I think. Dave?..
We loaded the bikes into the Jeep and put up the accordion sunshade in the front for outstanding solar reflection. Then we left. Just started walking, trusting the soft sandy trail to take us where we needed to go. Wanted to go. We had hiked less than 100 meters when we rose over the top of a small hill overlooking a canyon; the first canyon of many to come.
The trail led down slickrock steps to sandy washes lined with prickly pear cactus, barrel cactus, juniper with dull blue "berries", scrub oak, and a thousand different grasses and flowers that I can't name, but which looked very colorful. I even caught sight of a bluebonnet, Lupinus, Texas Bluebonnet to me, the state flower of my former home state. After the sandy wash came a trek up a smooth and often steep slickrock, with or without steps, and flattening out onto a high, dry, lifeless, pock-marked expanse of rock. This up and down over varying terrain composed most of the first hour of hiking. We let our packs down by the stream under a very large brim of rock. It was cool and quiet and the shade was welcome. We decided to stay awhile. We each dipped into our vast supply of approved backpacking snacks - granola, trail mix, granola bars (chewy, always) and the like. We both snapped pictures for our folks and headed out. Soon we came upon 2 female hikers at a Y in the path. One was friendly and talkative. The other was just quiet. We learned they planned to camp at LC2 ("next door" to our camp-about a mile down). We went on ahead at their offer and entered the nicest area yet. The rocks became very ordered and cut, like tiny stairs leading upward through the canyon, each strata protruding one inch beyond that above it. The going was easy on the solid sandstone and the sky was blue...still. Distant rumblings from gray horizons foreboded weather on the way. After 2 hours we were as high as we would go that day, and before us in all directions lay an unimaginably intricate web of sculpted and colored rocks, with virtually every form and orientation of geologic artistry one could care to dream of, speckled tastefully with gnarled junipers tenaciously clinging to seemingly bare rock, only 3 feet tall after 200 years.
The drop down into the canyon beyond was not easy. Difficult in fact. One does not walk along a 30 degree bare-rock face with a 100 foot drop-off 5 feet away without contemplating the possibility of dying a slow and painful, or perhaps an incredibly rapid, death. Needless to say we went slow, carefully sliding down sandstone slickrock and gravel-laden switchbacks. Before long we were on the densely-wooded canyon floor. Camp LC3 was just around the bend, signaled by a stout square peg in the ground pointing up a trail to the left.
The campsite was not great. Even at the time we agreed on that. It was small, with natural boundaries of canyon, trees and cliffs curtailing any sense of openness. Ironic in a desert isn't it? No really good view was to be enjoyed from anywhere near our camp. Dave sighted the area visible from camp from all angles with his camera, but ultimately found no scene worthy to photograph. We set up camp right away under a dark sky of rolling blue clouds. The tent went up first, with all the other crap shortly after. The mosquitoes were maddening, even with repellent shining on our bare skin. Nasty little devils. Between the two of us though, several dozen mosquitoes met their end that night.
We ate a very late lunch around 4 o'clock of PBJs. Neither of us had much appetite. We took our books and chairs up higher on the rocks where the mosquitoes did not follow (why not?) and read Edward Abbey novels (of course) until the rain came. It drizzled lightly. I commented that it wasn't that bad, at which point it suddenly came down in waves. We beat a hasty but dignified retreat into the tent and watched pools of water grow and creep toward us. The hail bounced on the ground and the cliffs 60 yards away herded the water via grooves in the rock into waterfalls that arced gracefully 300 feet to the canyon floor. Several rounds of hangman passed the time until the rain stopped.
Out of the tent, dinner was cooked up. We feasted heartily on Mahatma red beans and rice, cleaned the dishes and went to bed. A powerful headache had taken over and all I wanted to do was sleep. So I did.