15 miles (map), 18 miles (GPS)
I woke up there and I’ll go to sleep there. It’s a long canyon, complex, twisting, beautiful. For much of the day it seemed that around every corner the canyon changed character, from open and broad to tightly narrow with schist (I think) ledges lining the creek like sidewalks. Oh, and water! From around 11 this morning on, there was abundant flowing water, babbling away happily in its channel. I crossed it with glee many times today.
So, woke up poorly slept (mosquitos, wind, heat, cold, blah blah blah), packed, and got walking in the just-barely light of dawn. So still then, the outside world and the inside one just leaving the sticky womb of sleep. I walked carefully to warm up the ligaments in my left ankle, feeling like an old machine clanking to life, one little ratchety step at a time. The walls of the canyon swept up and away, clotted with sagebrush but not enough to obscure the alternating bands of rock: red sandstone rich with iron, white sandstone, and layers of blocky conglomerate, stacked in a big geological sandwich. I’m given to understand this is all old sea floor sediment, compressed into this rock over unfathomable ages. What was it before that? Was it rock? Will it be sea floor again some day?
Eventually the canyon walls narrowed and Dark Canyon became one of the stranger and more fascinating hiking experiences I’ve had. The scrubby, boulder-strewn sand hills on either side of the creek bed gave way to frequent wide ledges of dark gray smooth rock, not gritty like sandstone, and the water ran below and sometimes underneath these ledges. Walking down the canyon meant strategizing the best use of the ledges: knowing when to get down and cross the creek, climbing the other side. Many times crossing, the day’s hiking proceeded slowly but little flowers clung to the rock cracks and a breeze blew up canyon and carried coolness off the water, so I didn’t mind at all. I had that feeling of total comfort that seems so rare to stumble into: no anxiety about distance or water or food or route finding. Just simple presence, walking down the canyon, noting the moment before the next step. (And also he next step so I wouldn’t fall on my head).
Erin and I stopped for lunch around noon and I had some quinoa and brown rice with a tuna packet, a delicious midday repast. I typically cook only one meal per day, and in low water regions, that meal is cooked where and when the water is. We were anticipating leaving Dark Canyon on a 1200 foot climb in just under a mile later in the day, and dry camping at night. So cooking for lunch, water at hand, toes wriggling free in the sunshine (toe wriggling is one of my favorite break activities). An hour later we stopped again and swam in one of the pools carved out of the creek bedrock by water flow over ages. The water was clear, sparkling, and diving in felt rich beyond compare. I wondered if I could feel how the desert would if it had a body, to be saturated and then let it all run off and stand in memory of water, carved up by such softness. I dried in the sun. Dressed and resumed hiking.
When we arrived at the base of the big climb we planned would end our day, we conferred and decided to postpone the climb until morning, when the air will be cooler and we could enjoy the benefit of water at camp tonight. The red cliffs reach up to the full moon and a robust chorus of frogs rings from the trees. Water flows underneath it all. Beautiful.