|Soap Creek Canyon, Arizona
Itís very quiet without the sound of trickling water that one so often hears in desert canyons. Thereís no water at all, no pools, no damp mud. Thereís nothing to eat, and one misjudged step across the broken cliff that lies shattered on the canyon floor in ruined chunks and twenty-foot shards could mean a serious injury. In this place, where the temperatures rise above 90F on a ďcoolĒ day, such a misstep could mean death. I relish the gravity of it all. I quietly consider that nobody knows exactly where I am, only vaguely where I am. There was no permit required to hike here, unlike yonder desert across the river in Navajo land, not that I actually think the permit system in effect over there has anything remotely to do with safety, solitude or ecological protection. Nope, aside from a very rough itinerary scribbled on a notepad and magnetted to the fridge door at home, Iím on my own in the maw of a 300-foot crack in an ancient seabed, long dry, picking my way slowly through an avalanche of rock moving at a pace too slow for me to notice. Sometimes I like to imagine canyons eroding on geologic time, where boulders crumble in less than a second, and the walls fall down like a sand castle caught in the rising tide, rinsed away by fast-moving waters. Boulders, bleached wood from God knows where, even me (eventually), all merrily making our way to the ocean, to the inevitable singularity. But not right now. Not today.
The sky overhead is dark and thick, saturated cumulonimbus clouds skate across what I can see of it above the canyon walls. I feel deliciously alone and insignificant in this canyon. The rocks of the canyon donít care that Iím here. The yucca donít care. The bats roosting in the small dark fissures of the crumbling Hermit Shale donít care. They go on about their business and ignore me utterly as I stomp along through the gravelly sand of the wash bed, or more often, pick my way painstakingly through boulder fields that have been created by the unrelenting industry of gravity, that Type A personality of the erosion world. The canyon deepens as I descend to the river. There are a few places that require downclimbs, but over all it is smooth going in the pristine sand of the canyon bottom. Soon I encounter a drop-off too steep and large to negotiate so I backtrack and follow anonymous cairns up canyon right, through the rocks, picking my way ever-higher and wondering if it is really necessary to detour so high up the canyon wall. So much wasted energy, I think. Often the presence of cairns reminds me that Iím not the first person in a canyon, which is almost always true, but often it is fun to delude oneself on some level. In this case, the cairns are appreciated since I would have stumbled around for hours picking this route. Soon, the cairns lead me back to the canyon floor, but only tens of yards later, another drop-off that cannot be negotiated, and has no detour. Iím stopped cold. Sure thereís a rope hanging down off the 20-foot drop-off, looped casually at the top around a rounded pinnacle of rock. But thatís not my road. I sit and enjoy the silence, the still air, the solitude. Wilderness experienceÖcheck.
I backtrack upcanyon, beyond the detour, to inspect the big drop-off from below. Thereís a shard of rope hanging down from the side, but even if I could get up to the hangar, the going isnít much easier from there. I mill around, examining deep cracks in the dried mud, then head back downcanyon to the detour marker, and up the canyon right rockslide. My right heel throbs, painful Achilles tendonitis thatís plagued my week of otherwise fabulous hiking adventure in the area. I plod along, slowly, and decide that thereís no reason to detour so high up the canyon wall. I drop to the canyon floor, and discover an impassable obstacle that I had bypassed on detour before, and now it makes sense why the detour is so high up the canyon wall. More backtracking, painstaking route finding to regain the tenuous string of cairns that marks the way I came. I get back on track, and plod up-canyon, very slowly. The daylight fades, and in the half-dark of dusk, I take to watching for brightly-colored stones on the canyon floor. There are purple ones, and some that are red, and then the ones that Iím interested in: the swirling multi-colored variety. I stop occasionally, pick one up, and toss it back. So engrossed, I pass right by my canyon turnoff, and after awhile, I notice that I no longer see the distinctive circular tread of my own shoes in the gravelly sand. I walk on, expecting to see them appear, but they do not. Finally, I decide Iíve gone too far, and head up the sloping, sandy bank to the west. At the top of the rise, I see my car parked forlornly ½ mile away, dwarfed by the Vermillion Cliffs just beyond. I move towards it, and encounter improbable footprints going in the same direction, as if the last hiker made the same mistake I had and took the same corrected course that I have. I move towards the car, searching for fabulous rocks, but find nothing by ant mounds among the blackbrush. Back at the car I remove my boots and take some aspirin for my aching foot. It hurts, but the pain is the price of admission. Fun times in the desert. Iíll remember the nice canyon forever, and forget the pain in a week.
Rafters on the Colorado River in Marble Canyon at
Navajo Bridge, just upstream from Soap Creek Canyon
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Page created 12-09-09