Canyonlands Journal
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The rutted road deadends at a 200-foot dropoff into a nameless branch of the Colorado River. Several miles from here, this branch reaches an edge and, when running, its waters plunge three thousand feet into the main gorge of the Colorado River. Over the year, I had scoured maps and planned to hike to the place where it takes the plunge.

I'm late getting here, it's past noon and the desert sun is hot. I scramble down the several hundred feet to the bottom of the branch canyon and check the tracks: a curved line with claw marks on each side – lizard; a pair of vees, large and small – doe and fawn; small canine paws – coyote; and best of all, no cattle, mountain lion or human prints. A rarely visited canyon!

the silence

From the top, the canyon would look a bit like a tree. At the top of the watershed, I'm starting down in a small branch. Before long another branch joins in. Further on, branches join on the right, then the left, then two more on the right. The return will be like opening a combination lock, each intersection of branches and trunk presents a choice. To take the wrong branch might mean a night spent out without water or cover – or worse.

tracing circles
in the sand
dry grass tips

In an hour of so, the wind picks up and gusts blow sand, stinging my face. The tracks I planned to use to find my way back are already disappearing, so I begin to make stone cairns at the intersections.

Feet turn into yards, minutes into hours, intersections into dozens.

It’s taking too long, so I pick up the pace and quit making cairns. Did I bring my coat? Matches? An extra water bottle?




And then I'm at the edge, looking down at the main trunk, at the great river that carved the Grand Canyon several hundred miles downstream.

feet dangling
a golden eagle
soars below

Most of my water gone, the sun low, I start back. The first major intersection comes quickly and both branches look feasible. I scan for footprints, find none, impulsively take the left. Another intersection, go right, continue on to yet more intersections, many more than I remember. Panic nips like a swarm of gnats.

over hot sand
a collard lizard

I drink the last of the water, hurry on in the diming light, stumble on roots and stones. Shadows lengthen and the canyon walls flare into pink, crimson, rust, then deepen to lavender and purple.

Finally, the place where I climbed down. Up in near blackness, groping for hand holds, blocking thoughts of rattlesnakes warming themselves on the still hot sandstone.

At last, back at the truck – my name for it, Rocinante. I sag out of the pack, grab the water jug, drink deeply, dump the rest over my head, dance a small jig. Stretched out on the sand, my pack for a pillow, the night sky my window.

shooting star
the abyss
fades to darkness

Published in Simply Haiku, Autumn 2009. Rocinante is the name of Don Quixote's faithful mount.


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