Something is amiss. All the leafless plants tell me it’s winter; the sunlight is pale and wan, telling me it’s winter; I’m on the calendar’s first page, which tells me it’s winter. But — hiking in shorts? 55 degrees? Maybe we’ll call this “the winter that wasn’t.”
Only one set of new prints disturbs the sandy wash; I’m almost alone on this 10.8-mile backcountry trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. Just the way I like it. Heading south from the Elephant Hill trailhead, lots of coyote scat, two dark-eyed juncos, one spider, two ravens and nine mule deer complement six hours of silent refreshment. The prize: my first-ever look at a massive eroded fin of Cedar Mesa sandstone that guards the head of Elephant Canyon.
I have no words for Druid Arch; it’s a good thing a Utah author does. In her book, Desert Quartet, Terry Tempest Williams describes her initial impression of it:
Red Rock. Blue sky. This arch is structured metamorphosis. Once a finlike tower, it has been perforated by a massive cave-in, responsible now for the keyholes where wind enters and turns. What has been opened, removed, eroded away, is as compelling to me as what remains. Druid Arch — inorganic matter — rock rising from the desert floor as a creation of time, weathered, broken, and beautiful.
Having gone as far as I could up-canyon, I lounge only somewhat uncomfortably on cold rock to eat an energy bar and chug a half liter of water. Above me the towering arch is chiseled, alluring, indomitable.
Some call this formation “Utah’s Stonehenge,” but we all know which one existed first.