I’ve finally arrived. After drifting further and further into the black hole of incessant mind noise, I finally escaped from the real world and back into BLISS. It was bad this time, let’s just leave it at that. But what exactly is it? I feel like I am getting close to something, but what is IT? Perhaps the end of something, or the beginning? A crossroads. A time to decide. But decide what? Or perhaps not to decide. Just give up. Latch onto a feather in the wind and just sail on the breeze. Is life a struggle or a breeze? I seem to be choosing struggle lately. A complex web of thoughts and ideas crashing into each other. An incessant buzzing that must STOP!
So here I am, sitting on the sandy shore at the bottom of Dark Canyon. The sound of water cascading down smooth sandstone waterfalls into deep and shallow swimming holes. I sit under a large cottonwood tree. It’s leaves rustling in the breeze on a warm 90 degree day. My shorts, the only clothing required on a day like this, are slightly damp from my last swim in my own personal stone bathtub, a stone’s throw from my shady camp. I will spend the next 5 days down here. Just me. And the rocks, the lizards, and miles and miles of winding sandstone canyons with ribbons of clear water to wander through. Or I may just lie on my sandy beach and not do a thing. Yes, down here the decisions are gone. No schedules. No time. Just sweet, therapeutic Wilderness.
“In order to grow, you must continue moving along. Moving forward. When you travel, all things are new, so you see only beauty in them” - Paulo Coelho from The Pilgrimage
Move along now. . .
“You’re out there. Doing what you would die for. You’re living proof that there’s grace in this world. Outside living free.” – Jay Farrar
Am I a hopeless romantic with an eternal case of wanderlust? Do what you love, people say. This I completely get. I see people everywhere doing what they love. These are the successful people. It’s so plain and simple, a child could understand the formula for success. I simply love to travel. But traveling as a career? Walking desert canyons as a career? This I’ve been trying to figure out for half a lifetime now.
The sound of moving water has been consistent since my first step onto the floor of Dark Canyon. At first, this sound was almost overwhelming. But it’s now become a new kind of silence.
I spent today walking along a carved limestone canyon. Walking sometimes in the stream, sometimes above it. My day started on my sandy beach camp. The shade from the large cottonwoods provided the opportunity for a much-needed lazy morning. Sleeping late into the morning to the sound of rustling cottonwood leaves and running water was delightful and decadent.
Yesterday’s hike in was even more arduous than I expected. A 1500 foot descent down the Sundance Trail with 1200 in less than a mile down a 50 degree talus slope. With a fully loaded pack, this was no easy endeavour. Descending a loose, rocky staircase for a mile took it’s toll on my legs and knees. Not to mention this is only my 2nd backpacking trip this year.
When I started at the rim, the temperature was 70 degrees. About halfway down, it felt like 90. Heat exhaustion began to take hold. . .and on a descent. At one point, I took an emergency nap under a shady boulder. When I finally arrived at the canyon floor, I quickly realized that I had taken the descent from hell in order to arrive in the canyon of Eden. Crystal clear water, shady trees, large swimming holes, and cascading waterfalls. Home.
Hiking deep desert canyons with running water in June is quite pleasant really. It has been consistently 90 degrees from late morning to sunset. A comfortable temperature when shade and water abound. I’ve spent the majority of the time in only shorts, or nothing at all. Even at night, I’m able to go barefoot and shirtless until bedtime. No other time can I remember having the luxury of this type of evening while backpacking.
The days are long. So very long. It’s like two days in one really. Today, for example, I hiked down canyon for a few hours, and found a beautiful spot to spend the day on a smooth limestone bench overlooking a large glimmering swimming hole. After enjoying the water and then taking a nap in the shade, I made myself some tea and hiked on.
The dramatic lighting starts at about 4pm and goes until 8pm. Four hours of radiant lighting, sunbeams shooting through shimmering leaves, and glowing canyon walls. As I rounded the next corner of this mystical show of color and light, I came upon a family of Bighorn Sheep. They were enjoying a drink in the sunshine from the water’s edge. They paused to look up at me and then went back to causally enjoying their business. This I was able to perfectly capture with my SLR camera.
Naked. Why? Well, why not? It’s 90 degrees, the sun has gone down, and there’s no one here but me. And this is Wilderness. BLM. Our public lands. MY PUBLIC LANDS! A soft breeze smooths my wrinkled, waterlogged skin. Today, I hiked, waded, and swam my way up canyon through the most dramatic desert scenery you can possibly imagine. Waterfalls, deep plunge pools, narrow rock tunnels, hanging gardens of dripping columbine flowers, and welcome cottonwood trees for shade. Among the varieties of wildlife were hundreds of frogs, tadpoles, lizards of many sizes and colors, blue birds, yellow birds, red birds, ravens, canyon wrens, big horn sheep, squirrels, chipmunks, butterflies, dragonflies, and humming birds, just to name a few. Dark canyon is bustling with life. Tropical-like groves of tall grasses and reeds thrive here. Around the next corner, nothing but solid carved multicolored sandstone. Not broken rock, but smooth, sensual arcs and waves of continuous rock.
After hiking with my backpack for a few hours, I finally decided to ditch it at the first shaded campspot I could find. Continuing packless made much more sense then trying to climb around the waterfalls, always hoisting my pack up the rock ledges. Now I could swim through the pools and climb up the waterfalls, through the waterfalls. And what a fun way to travel through the desert on a hot day! During the afternoon, the water did not contain a trace of chill. Possibly 85 degree water. Bath water. Crystal clear bath water. So I spent the entire day wet. Wet and happy.
Dark Canyon Wilderness. I’ve been wanting to come here for years, but it just hasn’t worked out. Too early season. Too late. Snowy access roads or too hot. You have to plan it right. I’ll pick June. June is the perfect time. To enjoy, really enjoy the water aspect of this place, you want it to be HOT. And the nights. I’ve come to crave warm nights like this. Not humid, but warm. The rocks and the sand hold the temperature into the night. I way over packed. Not a surprise. Shorts, socks, shirt, underwear, they have not been changed since I got here. It gets washed all day long. Nothing stinks and the warm clothes I brought just aren’t needed.
Wilderness. My problems are over the moment I leave the trailhead. Everything I need on my back. And the knowledge that for the next 5 days, everything will be new. The past no longer matters. The future disappears. And the present moment just comes at me frame by frame in splendid technicolor. It’s the one place I feel completely at peace. I’ve had no revelations. No new ideas. No new direction revealed for my life. Only the knowing that THIS IS RIGHT. I was born to walk the Earth. Born to travel. To see the beauty. To observe the splendor of life. To be overwhelmed by emotion by a ray of sunlight, an encounter with a frog, or the texture of a rock wall. To spend the day splashing through creeks, singing songs and laughing at squirrels. I was born to be a kid, you might say. To not take life so seriously. To not get sidetracked by a career. Or a project. Or anything that ties me down to the life of pavement, bills, shiny new toys, or status.
“The best thing you’ve ever done for me, is to help me take my life less seriously. It’s only life after all.” – Indigo Girls
“The good fight is the one we fight because our heart asks it of us. We must never stop dreaming. If we do, our soul dies. Dreaming nourishes the soul as food nourishes our bodies” – Paulo Coehlo
This is the perfect campsite. It’s in the shade all day long, thanks to a large rock wall and overhang. Large cottonwoods provide more shade as well as beauty to my site. It’s also nice to have a tree nearby to hang my food. I’m not sure if there are many bears down here, but there are plenty of rodents that will go for your food bag at any moment of inattention.
This morning I woke up and hiked downstream to a swimming hole I took note of yesterday. After a refreshing morning plunge, I laid out on the warm sandstone to dry off. A symphony of birds was celebrating a new day rising. After an hour or so, I hiked back to camp for a late breakfast of hash browns and sautéed red bell pepper, my new favorite camp dish. After breakfast, I made some black tea and headed upstream for a tea walk, singing and splashing through crystal clear water. Frogs jumped, tadpoles scattered, lizards scurried, and I hiked, tea in hand, smiling at the glorious day unfolding before me. This time I was headed to the slickrock waterfalls. These I had also taken note of the day before. They are 3 smoothly carved channels through multicolored sandstone, each flowing into a perfect swimming hole. I sat on the edge of the upper pool with my feet dangling in the waterfall while I drank delicious tea from my insulated camp mug.
What to do now? Absolutely nothing. Happiness is wanting what you have, and this is what I wanted. Dark Canyon Wilderness is even more beautiful than I had imagined. It’s nature’s perfection, really. Vibrant life. Dry clear air. Crystal water. Abundant sunshine. Large and expansive, you could spend weeks down here if you desired. It’s rugged enough and the approach is difficult enough that your chance of seeing another person is slim to none. Especially after a few miles from the trailhead. I saw two people the first day, one on the second, none on the third.
I’m now back to the shade of my lazy campspot and feel a nap is approaching. I can feel the constant sound of running water is washing my busy mind clean. The thoughts, which were numerous and complex before this trip, are now becoming fewer and fewer. My soul is being washed clean. My body is sending gratitude. All aspects of myself are quite simply and peacefully relaxing. I’m satisfied with the occasional passing breeze blowing past my ears. No other stimulation is necessary. I’ve stepped right into this moment. The moment where all things exist, and cease to exist. Where everything is happening all around me and I just happily observe. It’s all so perfect. Judgement is gone. Clock time is gone. The energy buzzes all around me. I become vividly aware of my breath. Slow but full. Healthy and effortless.
I go deeper.
The breeze has now stopped. Stillness prevails. But the sound of water remains. Layers of silence. I now realize that the continuous sound of water has become a form of silence as well. For silence is possible anywhere. Silence and stillness. I’ve found them on a busy street corner. At a concert. In the sound of thunder. In the roar of a freight train. The key is getting to the point where you can hear it. That stillness and silence behind the sounds. Or rather within them.
The breeze has picked up again and has the cottonwood leaves sparkling like green sequins in the dazzling sunshine. All this against an enormous backdrop of brilliant glowing orange sandstone rising some thousand feet from the canyon floor. What’s so comforting to me, so reassuring, so gratifying to me, is the fact that this happens every day here in Dark Canyon. Whether I’m here to witness it or not, this place happens! The beauty remains. This absolute perfection of harmonious life. Perfection exists. Unfathomable beauty exists. Love exists. Peace exists. Long before the human race ever existed. And long after. This exists. And our forefathers cared enough about it to make it WILDERNESS. No roads. No motors. No scenic roped off viewpoints. No paved walkways. No “improvements”. For any improvement to this place would mean destruction. Humans trying to “improve” what God has created as perfection is absurd. You cannot improve nature any more than you can improve a Picasso. What we can improve is our respect and our empathy for Mother Earth. Our respect for the soil we tread upon. For soil is all we are. It is where we came from. It is where everything that nourishes our bodies comes from. And it is where we will go back to and be born again. Perhaps this time a flower. Or a tree. Or a frog. Or, if we are lucky, a high soaring bird. We all come from the Earth. We all go back to the Earth. And this happens over, and over, and over again. We are of the Earth, and the Earth itself. Sometimes it takes stepping away from our world of plastic and concrete to remember the simplicity of life, and the simple equation of DIRT + LOVE = LIFE.
Now, for that nap. . .