Cows moving around in brush sound as loud as you might think: a lot of breaking wood and the sound of weight thudding on the ground. The cows that live in the Paria River Canyon were up to something last night, crashing about and crying mournfully to each other from both sides of the river. As I was eating my dinner last night, a cow sauntered up the hill to the bench where my tent was pitched and she panicked when she saw me: hey I said, as in how’s it going friend, but she turned and fled back down into the river and there followed a long series of disgruntled moos and crashes.
Walking up the Paria today was fortifying. It’s a lovely canyon whose character changed every few miles. The Chinle skirts disappeared, the rock became less of a purple red and more iron-rich red, and eventually the red was supplanted by white sandstone, a sediment layer on top of the red. Rock from another time. Walking up the canyon meant fording the river over and over and over and over. Though never more than shin deep and not all that fast, this morning at 6:30am the water was frigid. The first few crossings I didn’t mind, but an hour and dozens of crossings later, my feet were completely numb. Feet are incredibly sensitive and feed information to the brain about where the foot is, how stable the ground, what other muscles need to support the step so the walker doesn’t fall. But my numb feet gave me nothing but that kind of painful discomfort of frozen limbs. It made walking on the stone-covered flood plain of the river slow, a kind of moving study in what other ways the body might balance if the feet are restricted in their capacity. It took a few hours, aching hours of leaning heavily on my trekking poles, before the sun finally crested the rim of the canyon. Almost instantly I warmed, my toes wiggled, and the water didn’t seem so cold anymore.
By noon I was heading out of the Paria and up Sheep Creek Canyon, and then over to Bull Valley Gorge. Bull Valley Gorge lead to a long slot canyon whose walls looked like images of water, all wavy lines and gentle curves, but also rose dramatically skyward on either side of the canyon. The slot narrowed to only a few feet wide a couple times, and where it had more width the sides sported massive snow banks covered in mud. So well covered, in fact, that I though they were simply mounds of dirt before I realized they were snow. The dirt was something of a mystery: how does enough dirt to completely cover up the snow collect in the canyon just since the last snow? Is it flood debris? Rock shedding? The canyon had other surprises too. At some point an old rusted motorcycle had washed down and wedged against a rock. Another time a truck slid off the road above and got wedged into the slot. You can see the truck from below, vertical, the cab crushed (I think the three men inside died at the time, in the sixties (?)). The astonishing thing is that a road drives right across the top of the slot, on a bunch of dirt and trees wedged in the gap between the rocks, and also the truck. So the truck is now part of the bridge it slid from. Cycle of life right there.
I’m waking deliberately, carefully, to protect my knee. Despite having hiked so many miles today, it’s actually feeling alright (relatively speaking of course). It’s a little less swollen, though full flexion is still both painful and impossible. Sometimes I enjoy long hiking days: with few stops and a steady pace, you can hike a lot of miles. I remember a shaman I knew once, a Huichol man with a beaming face like leather, explaining how to climb a mountain. It’s like this he said, showing with his feet. Tiny steps. Tiny steps. See, step like that and you can climb all day. Tiny steps. Tiny steps in big-walled red rock country.