741 miles hiked
It’s so hot at night on our little stretch of sand a few feet from the Colorado, with the bats circling overhead and the river’s mysterious nighttime splashing noises. (Wave-breakers?) I sleep with my bag flung off, sweating on my neo-air. I dream that the splashing noises are sea monsters, rising up out of the water. In the morning neither of us feel very rested.
The final 2.5 miles of boulder-hopping along the Colorado take us 2.5 hours. 2.5 hours of medatative focus, no room for any other thoughts. 2.5 hours of letting go. I watch Dan be a sheep above me, leaping gracefully from boulder to boulder, while I am a deer, sticking to the more convoluted mess near to the shore. By the time we reach the mouth of Kanab Creek, where we’ll take a right and leave the Colorado to follow this creek up its canyon, the heat is ON. The miracle, tho, of Kanab Creek is that there is canyonshade, aka the deepest and coolest of all shades (save for maybe caveshade), and we sink, sweatsoaked, onto a rock shelf in a patch of this shade, take of our clothes, and crawl into a still, deep, clear, gravelly chunk of the creek, wherein I am introduced to Kanab creek’s other miracle: its swimming holes.
I have read, in the blogs of those who’ve gone before, about how slow travel up Kanab Creek can be. I am emotionally prepared (and I packed enough food, thankfully) for this. What I am not prepared for is how fucking insanely beautiful it is. The slow, sometimes clear/sometimes aquamarine, gravel-bedded creek makes its way through two tall, sheer canyon walls that go up and up and up, insuring that there is always a bit of shade, somewhere, at any time of day. Here’s the catch: these cliffs have been shedding garage-size boulders for some time onto the canyon floor, and this has created quite the mess. The tiny-home size boulders have piled up, creating what I’ve begun to call “neighborhoods”, and one must negotiate these neighborhoods in order to move up the canyon. Oh, it’s so beautiful, tho! The huge boulders have backed up the creek, forcing the water to move under/around/through them, and this has created the most enchanted and convoluted waterpark. We make our own way under/around/through the boulders, wading through aquamarine, waist-deep pools, slipping on riverstones, climbing up sparkling little waterfalls. The boulders create deep, impassible hollows full of cool water, the boulders lead to other boulders. We cannot see a way around the boulders, and we have to guess; which sloped rock surface to scramble up, which pool to wade through? Out there, somewhere, it’s hot as balls. But here in Kanab creek we’re safe in the intermittent canyonshade, finding our way through the cool water and over the massive warm boulders, our wet shoes full of pebbles, working every part of our bodies to the point of exhaustion. It’s heaven.
We keep stopping to swim. I can’t help it! In my hiking life, I mostly only see swimming holes as beautiful, clear and deep as this in very cold places, where one wouldn’t want to get in them. Now I feel like I’m in South America, or someplace tropical. This incredible photographer I follow on instagram (http://instagram.com/shooglet) posts photos of the manatee-filled springs in Florida, and this reminds me a little of that, although not as epic. (Also check out the hashtag #radqueerspaces on Instagram, which is a project this photographer started, and is one of the things I look at when I’m homesick for queer community [sobbing emoji].)
Another interesting (albeit slightly terrifying) thing about Kanab Creek Canyon is its high flash flood danger. The narrow, boulder-choked canyon, its intermittent benches on which to escape, and the far-away drainages from which it draws all contribute to this. Luckily, we’re hiking the canyon in spring, and spring rains tend to be gentler and less likely to cause flash floods. (Although, as our ranger friend reminded us, “A flash flood can happen at any time,” and I watch the benches as we hike, thinking How would I escape if a flash flood came now? How about now?) At any rate, I would not hike this canyon, with its narrow, sheer, rock-scoured walls, during summer monsoon season. Never. Never ever. How wild is it, that a place so beautiful and enchanted, can so quickly become a death trap? What kind of a fucked up, Hunger Games-esque planet do we live on? I try not to think about it too much.
The creek is rife with minnows and tadpoles, swirling together. Do the minnows eat the tadpoles? I don’t know. Dan climbs up onto a bench and for a moment follows a bighorn sheep as it grazes, unawares. How do bighorn sheep get out of flash floods? We scramble up boulders, drop down the other side, wade through pools. Repeat. My muscles are shaking with fatigue. We’re averaging around 1mph. I’m fairly sure enlightenment is just around the next canyon bend.
Enlightenment, thy name is Shower Bath Spring. We reach the spring at 6 p.m., with plans to make dinner and then hike a few more hours, until dark. Showerbath spring is the last guaranteed water source for 30 miles, until our cache. It’s also one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Imagine it: a high rock wall shooting out a stream of water. And the water has been shooting out long enough that a whole garden of life has sprung up around it, intertwined with it, created a mound of roots and topsoil so full of ferns and pretty red flowers that it looks like a giant planter you might find swinging on someone’s front porch, and from this planter issues a refreshing tropical shower of perfect pressure and temperature, which splatters onto the gravel below and collects in a deep, clear pool next to a little beach.
We cook dinner in front of this shower, mesmerized. I stand under it with all my clothes on, which were soaked anyway (our final challenge to get here was to wade through a shoulder-deep pool, our packs on our heads), feeling the water wash all my troubles and aches away, laughing like a little kid. We fill our bottles from this spring and, after finishing dinner, say our goodbyes. It really does feel like goodbye- for some reason, right after Showerbath Spring, the garage-sized boulders dissapear from the canyon, making travel more straightforward. As does most of the water. Tomorrow morning we’ll leave Grand Canyon National Park, and climb out onto the Arizona Strip, where we’ll cruise on dirt roads to Zion. Showerbath Spring, in some ways, feels like the end of the Hayduke.
We hike a few more hours and just before dark we climb up onto a grassy bench to camp, amongst the scrub oak trees and the flowering prickly pear, alongside a bighorn sheep trail. Now that the water is gone, the canyon is much quieter, just us and the crickets and a few bats, sillhouetted against the last of the light. I forget how peaceful dry-camping sites in the desert can be. My favorite places to sleep! I am too exhausted to feel nostalgic, or reflect much on the day. I sleep.
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