Friday, August 9, 2013

Pot o' Gold

Our Pot o' Gold after a tunnel-shaped
rainstorm fading in the background.
     I recently spent two weeks out West exploring national canyon parks leading to the Grand Canyon. It was not my first visit. It will not be my last. I am smitten by the land's diversity and vastness. Its appeal to me is emotional, otherworldly, and poetic, and will hold me in awe and inspiration for years to come. Like the Florida Everglades, the vast stretch of canyon lands in the Western United States is unique to the world.
     We started our trip with hiking in the 23,000-acre Colorado National Monument, outside Grand Junction, Colorado. From there, we descended to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, both outside Moab, Utah. We drove, walked, and saw landscape that went on and on, yet subtle changes happened at every bend. Mountains without trees became treed mountains, rounded horizons turned jagged, and waterless river beds transformed into streams, falls, and The Confluence––the coming together of the Green and Colorado Rivers––at the heart of Canyonlands. 
     Over our heads floated great skies, clouds, and hawks, and eagles. Pinnacles, domes, and turrets captured your eye and imagination. Flying buttresses of stone-supported fins, windows, and portals. And everywhere four common denominators prevailed: the air was pure, the heat relentless, the sun blistering, and the need for water was constant.
     There was (and still is) much to see, and the best part of it cannot be done from inside of a car. For me, I had to traverse this land by foot (crawling and scooting on bums included), or suffer in my future for not having been "up close and personal." I realize not everyone can visit this land the way I did, so I'll borrow from Wallace Stegner, "Those who haven't the strength or youth to go into it and live, can simply sit and look." 
     The Canyons, in all their vastness, are primitive, lovely and terrible, static and convulsing, and unspoiled and spoiled. Important to note is that some of the spoiled comes from nature's forces; increasingly more comes from the hands of man.
May I have one for my garden, please?
      Days lingered in the Southwest desert, and in short order I packed away a wristwatch not to be seen until my flight home. I chose not to know the hours of the days. When curious, I looked for my shadow knowing the compass direction in which I was headed. Time became spacious. Time became freeing.
     On this trip, we also traveled Cataract Canyon on a four-day river trip (Western Rivers Expeditions). Cataract's rapids rank along with those of the Grand Canyon in power and difficulty. We hurtled through 30 rapids (one Class V), rode Rapids 21, 22, and 23, which comprise The Big Drop with a fall of thirty feet in less than a mile––one of the Colorado's steepest stretches. We greeted The Confluence, and felt and saw the remote and hidden heart of the Canyon. 
     Our raft trip traversed the Colorado River corridor that cuts through 277 miles of earth, and is punctuated by eighty-five named rapids. Of that river length, we traveled 100 miles at roughly thirty miles a day. When not running the rapids, our party of thirty-eight drifted on placid currents enjoying the wonders around us, and the end-of-day sandy campsites––including having our shoes sucked off our feet by quicksand as we alighted at water's edge. 
     Daily, our five guides selected climbs into the red sandstone walls that convulsed up from beneath the River's depths. We hiked past/over/under monumental boulders, and across landscaped peppered with Prickly Cactus, Mormon Tea, and other plants. We were prompted to enjoy swimming in the chocolate-milk river (silt churned up by the grind of rushing currents along the River's floor and against its walls). We women in the group referred to it as the "mud spa." No effort was required to stroke, as the River's pace carried us downstream quickly. Such refreshing refreshment I wouldn't have thought of before this trip.   

     From the bottom of the mile-deep Canyon, we  spent a lot of time looking up magnificently-sculpted walls of saturated reds, yellows, greens, purples, grays, browns, and every hue in between. Morning, afternoon, and evening heightened, refined, or diminished the intensity of colors. Did I mention that our raft traveled under the cliff from which Thelma and Louise chose to drive their car?
     Edward Abbey wrote in Desert Solitaire that "... you cannot get the desert into a book any more than a fisherman can haul up the sea with his nets." Imagine, then, how I felt writing this Blog Post. 
     I've brought back many images, thoughts, and future words noted in a small book I carried with me on the trip. I am filled to excess in all this. My writing will reflect it for a long time.

Have you experienced an unforgettable trip? Did you, and how did you, use your images, thoughts, feelings, or characters that were a part of it?