Sunday April 10, 2005

Lower Calf Creek FallsMy eyes perceive light, and I open them to the blinding flow of sunlight on the tent fabric. Check the watch: 8AM. Check Andra: Buried in sleeping bag up to the scalp, brown hair streaming out. I let my eyes adjust, and watch the shapes of the frozen water droplets on the bright tent fabric. So tired…..I wake up again. The frozen water droplets have vanished. Check Andra: Awake and reading. Check watch: 9:30. After a few moments we speak, and I get dressed. Outside the sky is sunny, and the air cool. We pack up camp and have breakfast of yogurt and granola in the car. My hair has reached new heights of chaos during the night, and we share a laugh over it before I cover it with a CSU ball cap. On the road, I drive us towards Escalante, enjoying the immense rock canyons we are passing by, and noting with approval the absence, for the most part, of any type of guardrail between the pavement and precipitous drops into certain-death. Freedom in all things is best. At Calf Creek campground, we stop to hike. We take water in the new Camel Back that Dave gave us at Christmas, and my tripod and camera. It is cool when we begin, but the hot desert sun warms us up such that by 15 minutes into the hike we shed our outer clothes and hike along in T-shirts. Seems a far cry from the snow that pelted us at bedtime last night. The hike hugs the western side of a 300’-wide canyon created by the smallish Calf Creek. Equisetum and Coyote Willow carpet the valley floor, with open rock, dotted by junipers and pinyon, on the slopes. Further north, we pass through thickets of white oak, still dormant, stands of box elder, leafing out with acid green leaves, and birch with reddish bark draped in catkins. Through a narrow stretch, a small rockslide on the cliff face pelts the trail fifty feet ahead with boot-sized sandstone chunks. We share a laugh over this with an elderly trio whom we catch up with seconds later. They are searching for trout in the tiny foot-deep creek, and from their accents we are unsure if they are from this country. Seconds later Andra and I see trout: tiny, six-inch specimens hovering in the current. 

In one hour, we reach the falls. They are much larger than I have imagined. I give it some thought, and estimate the water drops 75 feet, not that it much matters at all how far it drops. The sun hits the wild cascade directly, causing it to shimmer, and the green pool at the base makes me aware of just how orange the sandstone really is. We sit in the shade of birches and watch the mesmerizing patterns of water glide down the sloping rock. I take photographs. I move up to higher ground to take more. Since I can’t take the waterfall home with me, a picture is almost the next best thing. Andra and I move to the side of the falls and examine the extensive hanging gardens of maidenhair fern lining a fault line thirty feet above our heads. At the base of the rock wall, capitalizing on the moisture, columbine and delphinium grow in abundance, not yet blooming. We watch a young man edge his way out over slime-slick rock towards the base of the falls, trying to achieve adequate proximity for a meaningful photograph, taken by his buddy. I fully expect to witness a demonstration of how deep the plunge pool is, but his shoes grip the rock adequately, and he escapes back to dry ground with a grin, unscathed. After several minutes in the sun, sitting in the soft sand, we move on. 

The hike back takes about an hour, though we pass many whom we feel will not make the hike in near so short a time. One old couple in particular inquires how are they have to go, and we tell them about 30 minutes. The old man looks exhausted and flushed already, yet I hope he makes it. He is friendly, and that is reason enough to root for someone. I grimly imagine the time when my own old age renders a 2-mile hike a major challenge, or worse, an impossibility. Banishing the thought and enjoying youth, we snack on granola bars and polish off the water before completing the hike. In the picnic area, we eat hot dogs and have lunch. 

Lower Calf Creek FallsThe drive into the small town of Escalante, Utah passes quickly, but beautifully (like a good lifetime), and we stop in the BLM Visitor center, essentially a mobile home, at the far west end of town. After brief instructions and advice, I am back in the car waking Andra up from her short nap. The sky clouds up, and the wind gusts more frequently. Most of Escalante appears lifeless, closed-down for the sabbath. We stop at the only open gas station for flashlight-batteries, a notebook, and chocolate; only the essentials. On the road again, heading east, we hit the Hole In The Rock Road and continue southeast on this historic route pioneered by hardy and arguably slightly-insane pioneers (Even if they were level-headed when they set out, they most certainly were not when they finished their trip 2 years later). Our goal is a specific side-road that is rumored to harbor excellent camping sites. At mile marker 10, I notice the mileposts don’t match my odometer, which was reset at the junction with Hwy 12. This makes finding our specific road challenging, and we never do. Perhaps some diabolical college prank is at work here, like the time I followed neighborhood Garage Sale signs that led me in a complete circle. Since most roads are not marked on our map, we end up on a 2-track that presents a decent campsite 50’ off the route. Thus, at 4:00, we make camp. Andra naps while I read, predictably, The Monkey Wrench Gang, and walk around our kingdom-for-the-night. Cows bawl in the distance, and a brave black-tailed jackrabbit lopes amongst the junipers, keeping an eye on me. At 5:30 we organize the contents of the car, which have become a jumble of clutter. The sun comes out, but the wind is up still. It is chilly, perhaps 60F with an additional wind-chill. I get a thumb-cramp penning this narrative while seated in my folding chair outside the tent. Since the end of college and those never-ending essay-exams, my thumb muscle has grown soft on the plush PC-keyboard life that requires writing only when signing credit card slips or signing Birthday cards. At 6:40 we eat hot dogs in a chilling-wind, despite the golden sunshine streaming down on us. By 7:30 we are back in the tent, warming up and ready to go to sleep. Only 4 hours in the desert, and already Zen is upon us.