Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef, UT Camp 2
Today’s hike continues the off-trail segment of my trip across Waterpocket Fold, an area of vast unbroken sandstone. It is rippled, folded, polished, and carved in such a way that it holds literally hundreds of waterpockets, tinajas, or “tanks”, as the park service likes to call them. I like tinaja, so we’ll go with that.
This is an area that would typically be devoid of any water at all. It is high up and away from the canyons with their creeks, streams, washes, and seeps. Water runs down the smooth sandstone surface of Waterpocket Fold forming holes over thousands of years. They have now become the size of bathtubs and even small ponds in some cases.
Tinajas exist in many desert places and have often been my sole source of water on desert trips. But tinajas are typically elusive and hard to find. Often only presenting themselves when your water bottle is sloshing around that last sip of stale, warm water you’ve been holding on to for hours. Your mouth dry and sandy. A slight headache and a bit of dizziness coming on. Only then does this desert oasis reveal itself like a sparkling jewel. As precious as life itself. Deep inside a shady sandstone pocket. Often these desert tinajas are only six inches deep, two feet long, and a foot wide. I’ve camped close to these tinajas many times before. Like magic, I’ve managed to pump as much as seven liters from these holes in the rock while the water line has dropped less than a half-inch. It’s as if the water were coming up out of the ground.
But here, the tinajas are everywhere. Many containing thousands of gallons of rainwater. More waterholes than I’ve ever seen in one place. Just astounding. And so rare. So unbelievably rare. Some of these oasises have formed tiny gardens complete with tall grasses, flowers, and trees. I have seen trees as tall as twenty feet in height growing out of these pockets. And then nothing but bare rock. Acres and acres of bare, naked sandstone as far as the eye can see. Tropical islands in a sea of sand and stone. And there are life forms. Waterbugs. Water striders. Frogs. Butterflies. Mosquitoes. Bees. And they have all, somehow, chosen this place to live. This place as home. Out of all the creeks, lakes, rivers, swamps, and ponds in the world, these life forms have chosen the small tinajas of Waterpocket Fold, deep in the desert, as their place of choice. As did the cliff dwellers. As have I. If at least for now.
I sit at my camp. After dinner. Drinking my tea in the dark. I’m perched on a cliff with views in all directions. Stars are starting to pop out. The moon still low in the sky. Warmer than last night it seems, I sit here writing in my journal. The screaming and ringing in my ears have mostly subsided and I’m at peace. At peace with the world. At peace with myself.
The big dipper appears. Larger than life. Taking up half the sky. The rocks glow in the moonlight. And I feel embraced. Embraced in the love of Wilderness. Wrapped up in her essence. Held in her healing hands. Each slow, deep breath I take cleanses my body. Purifies my soul. With a grateful heart, I offer my unconditional love back to this Wilderness. This desert. The sparkling water jewels of life. The rocks. The sun. The stars. The moon. And to Mother Earth. After all we’ve done to her, her love is still stronger than ever. But we must. . .absolutely MUST remember who we are. Where we come from. And where we will return. We absolutely MUST leave our cities and houses of concrete, plastic, and steel to make our pilgrimage back to Unspoiled Wilderness. Back to the way it was. And still is. In places like Capitol Reef National Park.
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