“I’ll catch up with you. The wash shouldn’t fork, but if it does, stay left.”
Famous last words. Bill and I were the only humans in the entire Book Cliffs universe (as far as I could tell) and I am directionally impaired as well as distractible. I prefer following a person over following a trail, but I figured that Crescent Wash was a safe place for me since it goes only two directions. No worries.
The day was hot and still. The wash bottom was not sand, but rock cobbles, boulders, and occasional cracked mud platters. My water bottle sloshed in my backpack as I picked my way “upstream,” which is a misnomer as no running water exists here except during flash floods.
I walked for a bit and then found a shady alcove in which to rest, hydrate, and give Bill a chance to catch up. As I sat in what looked like carved sandstone choir stalls (you’ve seen them if you’ve been to cathedrals in Europe), I wondered what was taking him so long. He’s a fast hiker.
I knew I could easily find my way back the few miles to the truck, but you don’t want to be separated from your hiking companion. I sat listening to the intense silence and wondering whether to head back down-canyon or wait a few more minutes. My shady spot convinced me to wait. I wasn’t worried. Yet.
Ten minutes went by before I saw Bill coming up the wash, looking intently at the ground. He was walking more slowly than usual. I let him get within ten yards of me before I greeted him, as his concentration prevented him from even seeing me in my choir stall. He had been using his considerable tracking skills (he follows bighorn sheep a lot) to locate me, as I… had… missed… the little… tributary fork…
Yup. He had gone up the proper left fork and had NOT seen any of my footprints. This convinced him to turn around and go up the right fork (which, in my defense, was the main fork and significantly wider) to see what tracks he could locate on the rock and dried mud. Sometimes he relied on only a freshly-overturned pebble, or more cracks in the mud than were typical, as finding a true footprint was not possible.
I felt somewhat foolish as we hiked down to the correct turn-off, but he never chided me once. I thereafter called him Tracker Bill.
If you’re reading this, Tracker Bill, please accept my grateful thanks. I’d be lost without you.