Can’t remember the last time I hiked for ten hours — maybe my thirteenth summer, into or out of the Grand Canyon. Seven hours now describes a long day on foot for me, but after Wednesday’s eight-hour warm-up I was ready to push myself on Thursday. We were heading back into the far northeastern reaches of Arches NP backcountry, accessible only by 4WD or backpacking. [Note to self in future: main drainage system south of Fish Seep Draw.]
8 a.m. — The morning light and refreshing temps around 60 made the early parts of the day easy. We’d find a tributary to this drainage system we were exploring, follow the sandy wash up as far as it would let us, and find ourselves constantly surprised by what we found. Over and under and through willows, downed junipers or cottonwoods, spider webs, rabbitbrush, flash flood debris — we walked until we were stopped by an obstacle. Perhaps it would be a massive boulder fall that blocked our path, although a few beckoned us to scramble over. A patch of quicksand with my curiosity-led footprints in it stopped us once. A vertical pour-off can halt your forward progress in a hurry if it’s not climb-able. Thickets of poison ivy, thriving in the moist wash bottom, can spell the end.
My favorite impasse, however, was the small slot canyons we found. Sandstone does fascinating things under the pressure of running water, which is possibly the most powerful force on the planet. The water will find any area of weakness and begin scouring, and grain-on-grain erosion relentlessly wears away the exposed layers. Arid regions such as Utah have little soil to absorb the rainfall, so run-off is violent and rapid. The canyons that result can be breathtaking, narrow, and dark.
6 p.m. — I was starting to get tired. All told, we roved 18 hours in two days through Lost Spring Canyon. Found several arches we didn’t know were there, and two majestic alcoves eroded over a hundred millennia. I was hoping to spy some pictographs or petroglyphs, but instead found other fascinations. Bobcat tracks. Spring flowers re-blooming. Lizard trails. Hanging gardens. Patches of green grass, which, since I haven’t seen green grass since leaving Minnesota, compelled me to throw myself down upon it and lie there gazing upward through the cottonwood leaves tinged with yellow.
No other human beings; this was a gift. I accepted it with gratitude, painfully aware of how few weeks I have remaining here.