Hayduke trail day 19: Halls Creek/Heat/Tamarisk

April 5
Mileage: 20
276 miles hiked

Trapped in a stand of tamarisk. I’m trapped in a stand of tamarisk. I came down here following faint cow trails to cross this wee wash, which happens to be plum full of tall, dense tamarisk, and now I’m stuck. I thought I could crawl over a patch that was bent over as though from a strong wind, crawling so as to distribute my body weight, making the tangled mess into a solid object, a bridge maybe, but instead I sank in up to my waist and struggling just makes me sink in further, and there’s no floor below me just creek down there, and all around me is upright tamarisk, and I can’t find a way to grab onto it to pull myself out.

Dan rescues me. He takes my pack and poles and I struggle and eventually worm my way on top of the tamarisk and out. Afterwards we sit under a juniper tree in the cool shade and I stare at the dusky juniper berries that litter the ground and watch blood ooze from a cut on my knee. We’d been planning on hiking 24 miles today to get us halfway to the road where we’ll hitch to Escalante, and to set us up near some potholes that may exist and may even not be alkaline, but right now I am waving the white flag. This day has been kicking my ass, and I’m pooped. Slow walking in the deep sand along Halls Creek in the oppressive heat- that’s what we’ve been doing all day. And now this business with the tamarisk. Halls Creek is in a broad wash, flanked by redrock cliffs on one side and sagebrush hills on the other. There is little shade. It’s the first hot day we’ve had on the Hayduke, and I am roasted from it. And the deep sand is exhausting- with each step forward you fall a half step back. Sometimes cattle trails lead us up into the sagebrush, but the cattle trails peter out, leaving one to navigate the omnipotent prickly pear and tamarisk alone, always, always struggling in the deep sand. I have to stop every 40 minutes to dump the sand out of my shoes- it builds up so much there’s no room for my toes, and my feet start to hurt. Really, though, it’s just the heat. We’ve had cold days for so long. I’ve forgotten what heat is like. I’m a whiny baby today.

Halls creek runs with water off and on, but the water is alkaline. Skurka’s water notes did not tell us this, and we’re not sure where we’ll find water today after finishing what we packed out from Muley Tanks, but then mid-morning we see “Fountain Tanks” on the topo map, with little blue circles, in a side canyon off of the wash that we’re in. What could that be? We veer off, ascend some steep slickrock, and discover an enchanted woderland- two large slickrock pools of non-alkaline water (rainwater? How do these things fill), some leafy cottonwoods, and deep shade. A little island in the sky! We take a long lunch, cooling our jets in the shade and gazing at the abundance of deep green water, and pack out four liters. Back into the heat we go.

The last three miles of the day the banks of the creek become completely clogged with tamarisk and we give up looking for cattle trails and walk right in the water. We reach a deep spot and I strip off my clothes and jump in. The water is ice-cold. Just like that my mood breaks, the sweat and frustration of the day sloughing off. the sun is growing longer, and just now a breeze picks up, canyonshadow stretches its arms across the land. I put my clothes back on and get lost in the wonder of it all; the mud clouds my shoes stir up in the clear water as I walk, the clusters of frog eggs beneath the surface, I even see two frogs doin’ it! The cool water on my scratched shins, the hard pebbles in my shoes, cowtracks in the mud, the way the redrock cliffs glow in the evening as though lit from within. I’m enjoying myself so much I don’t even realize when we’ve reached camp, and it’s time to climb out of the wash. As luck would have it, there’s a side stream running up a little ravine here, with no noticeable alkaline residue around it. We gather water and camp on the red dirt out in the open amongst the sagebrush and I cook my dinner and watch the stars come on one by one.

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