An airplane overhead breaks the silence. It’s been just me and the sound of the stream for a few hours. The sky is grey and overcast, but there is no wind. Occasionally, a little bird bops along with me.
Eventually, I make it to the river. A small bank makes for the perfect little camp spot. The light begins to fade and the high clouds suddenly light up in a luminescent orange. I gather some tinder and some dry leaves, I flick my lighter and the leaves catch. I pile some more sticks on. The sticks catch, too, and I hurry to grab some bigger ones. Never started a fire in one go, I think to myself.
The flames start to blaze as the light fades in the sky. I carefully prop my wet shoes on a log as they steam in the heat. I had been sucked into some deep mud a mile back and I was psyched to have the chance to dry them, otherwise, they’d likely be frozen solid in the morning, which is never a fun way to start a day.
My thoughts dissipate into the water that surrounds me. I hoot into the darkness and get a faint echo back. A mouse rustles occasionally in the bushes.
I love it out here. Living at its simplest.
The campfire feels like such nice company, especially during the long nights this time of year. I flatten my backpack and recline on the cold sand. My mind wanders occasionally as I write, to distant canyons and mountains, but it’s hard to think of anywhere else when I feel so content. Quickly my thoughts flick to the aches and pains in my body, which are nothing new, but I try to push them out of my mind for a minute as I sink into the angle of repose.
Morning comes too quickly as I push off the muddy shoreline and into the river. The canyon walls tower overhead. I watch their rippled reflection as I glide downstream. A few hours pass uneventfully, and I reach my take-out point. I yard sale all my gear on the beach and make a half-assed attempt to get the sticky mud off my packraft. I eat lunch, drink some coffee, and pack up again. I stretch for a moment to try to get my achy back to relax, but alas I have to get going.
A couple of miles on the pavement and I come to the dirt road back to my car. As the sun starts to dip below the buttes, I head toward the canyon rim to camp, electing to stop early rather than push through the dark. I hop around the sandstone to take some photos of the sunset — a pale pink highlighted by the rising moon. The river where I was earlier in the day looks even more placid and serene from above.
This river, the Colorado, is the lifeblood to the U.S. Southwest. Without it, we wouldn’t, or couldn’t, live here. I find it such a strange irony that a megadrought is resurrecting the side canyons that drowned under the fetid waters of Lake Powell.
Night comes and I stoke the fire for a couple of hours again until I decide to sleep. Nestled under an overhanging rock, I think of the people that once lived among these canyons. Their dinner was harder to catch, I think, as my ramen begins to boil next to the fire.
I stir at the first sign of light in the east. I sip my coffee as the sky lights into the brilliant pink and orange hues of the sunrise. I make note of the quiet again. It’s hard nowadays to find places without a human-made sound. Even here a distant rumble of a plane in the sky again breaks the natural silence. I hear the breeze pick up ever so slightly on the rocks. The piñon next to me rustles.
I have nine miles left on the dirt road to hike. Realizing I’ll drive back past here, I stash my pack next to a juniper tree and pull out my water bottle. I jog lightly at first, adjusting to the lack of weight and making sure my body feels okay to keep trotting. I follow the road back to my truck, making much quicker time than if I had kept the heavy pack on.
I knew I was in need of some desert solitaire, but I didn’t know how much I had missed it. I haven’t been out to the desert since I finished hiking the length of the Grand Canyon earlier this year. And, well, it’s nice to be back.
“Every so often,” he says, “it’s just time to walk.” — Dick Griffith, “Canyons and Ice.”
Call for Comments
- Do you have a place where you go to find peace and solitude?
- Tell us yours in the comments!