Robbers Roost, Dirty Devil River WSA
Angel Trail. Starting out as a trail, this route dissolves into a treasure hunt for rock cairns and other clues that suggest a way down to the river. Just one technical spot presents some difficulty where a short rope would have proved useful, but after an hour or so, I am down. Though wider than I had expected, the Dirty Devil River is only ankle deep. So the crossing is easy, but cold. Now on the other side, I plan to simply to walk two miles downriver to Robbers Roost, the canyon I wish to explore for the next few days. The walking is not exactly easy. bushwhacking through thick brush, I find myself trudging through deep sand, crumbling riverbank, and something like mud. Though slow and tiring, I can feel the solitude of this place creeping in nicely. No one is here. No one human. There are no trails to follow. No signs. No people. I feel a kind of possessiveness come over me. This place is all mine.
Soon the river canyon comes to life. Ducks. Geese. The rare sighting of an owl, looking down at me with his catlike head. Hunting. This is a regular paradise for birds and other animals. Like a flash of revelation, it occurs to me that this place is like this everyday. Whether humans are here to witness it or not. Rather, this is what the Earth was like before humans. An obnoxiously noisy species, are we not? With our cars, diesel trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, air conditioners, generators, airplanes, helicopters, etc. I suppose it’s not so much us humans that are creating the noise. It’s our machines. They’ve become monsters.
A woodpecker pecks away at a cottonwood tree branch just above my head. The only audible sound in the canyon. It echoes off the canyon walls. I’m not even sure he’s aware of my presence. Further down the canyon, I come to what appears to be the opening to my canyon. More brush. Thorns. My bare legs are getting thrashed. A short ways in, I discover this is not my canyon as it quickly dead ends into an alcove. I walk on. Winding around another bend in the river. The river moves with me. Silently. Effortlessly. I should float on rivers, not walk beside them. Soon enough, another opening emerges in the cliff walls. Much larger than the last. Yes. This is the one. This is my canyon.
Wide and inviting, Robbers Roost Canyon opens up revealing her clear sparkling stream of life. Jewel of the desert. This is where my hike really begins. A wet, lush, jungle of a canyon. The walking doesn’t get any easier. I expected to be hiking on rock, or at least broken rock. Not this brush and sand I am struggling through now. For hours, the hiking goes on like this until I finally arrive to camp, tired and hungry. It’s a cozy little camp situated in a small alcove. The only firm ground I’ve seen in miles. After washing my feet and legs in the stream, I set up my camp chair and make some tea. Now, sitting in the fading evening sunlight, I truly start to realize the depth of solitude this place offers. Sandstone walls, hundreds of feet high, tower above my camp. Cottonwood trees, their bright green leaves glistening in the sun, rustle in the soft breeze. Oil black Ravens soar the skies above. Songbirds charm the canyons with their subtle music. And sweet, sweet nothingness.
Barefoot now, I walk. The warm sand massaging my tired feet. Mushrooms, small reeds, and tiny flowers poke their heads up through the sand. Footprints are everywhere. Not just mine, but an astonishing variety of others. Some I can recognize. Deer. Bobcat. Coyote. And smaller ones. Chipmunks. Mice. Smaller still, lizards, with their tiny feet and long tails trailing behind. Many, many more I cannot begin to recognize. This place is teeming with life. A regular metropolis of animals, birds, bugs, reptiles. Without a sound. Very little sound anyway.
What would it be like without our machines? I try to envision our cities, bustling with people, but no machines. What would it be like if someone just flipped a switch and all of our machines were turned off at once? I don’t mean to be hypocritical. We love our machines, myself included. Without the automobile, I could not have traveled here. Not so easily, anyhow. But at what point do our machines start to become a species of their own? At what point do they take over our lives? How long can we continue at this rate? What will our world be like two hundred years from now? Two thousand? At what point does technology have a diminishing return? Some people are starting to question this. There is a small movement towards a less is more philosophy. Is this just a fad or does it really have the power to transform our way of thinking in a global way? These are the questions that always come up deep within the wilderness. Questions that beg to inquire, are we really so advanced, or have we just made life more complex for ourselves. Is simplicity merely a lifestyle choice or does our survival depend on it? Time will tell.
As the sun goes down, I decide to make a small fire. More for ceremony than for warmth. I gather wood and have the fire going in no time. The burning cottonwood and juniper are sweet as incense. The glow is warm and enchanting. Dark now, the moon starts to rise, illuminating the canyon walls in front of me, though the moon itself is still hidden. It will be full tonight. Stars begin to pop out. First Venus, brightest star in the sky. Soon I can make out six of the seven sisters of the Pleiades, directly above Venus. Then, behind me, perfectly framed by the canyon walls, The Big Dipper. Perfect. I go for a walk. Still barefoot on the soft sand. A shooting star flies overhead. There is no sound. Absolutely nothing at all. And this happens everyday. Year after year. Decade after decade. Millenia after millenia. Time stops for a while as I feel my mortality, and immortality. There is deep love in these canyons. It radiates from all beings, living and non-living. But how to tell the difference? The moon is alive. Very much alive. As are the stars. The rocks. The flame of my campfire. All living, breathing parts of this universe. As am I. So lucky to be a part of it all.
Later, much later, wrapped up in a warm blanket of love, peace, and goose down decadence, I let my little fire go out, fall asleep, and dream of shooting stars and faraway galaxies.
The next morning, I wake up to cold, pre-dawn silence. Remembering the small pile of wood stacked next to my fire ring from last night, I crawl out of my bag and light myself a morning fire. It comes to life, blazing with heat in no time. Making tea, I watch the unfolding of a new morning. The tops of the canyon walls start to glow with morning sunshine. Slowly, the canyon fills with light, a process that takes over an hour to complete. Sitting in silence, I watch this dazzling show of shadow and light from the warmth of my fire. Today is the most perfect of mornings, sweetest time of the day. When the sun finally reaches me, it forces me to stop writing in my journal. I take off some layers and make breakfast. The day has awakened and is now anxious to get underway.