Cross-country road trip, resurrected (#7)

This post may or may not have ever appeared on theday.com during the summer of 2007

Hiking the Canyon

I am way too ambitious, in an unproductive sort of way. I almost never accomplish what I set out to do in a day. I set silly goals and never reach them. This crushes me, daily, and it also keeps me going.

This is the kind of attitude that prompted Will and I to believe that we could do a 22-mile hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back up-hill to the Cottonwood campsite, starting after 2 pm.

When buying camping passes we had to convince a National Parks Ranger that we were only hiking to Cottonwood, seven miles downhill, because they wouldn’t let us attempt to reach the bottom. But by our questions, most of which were about trails to the base of the canyon, I think she realized what we might be up to.

“If you do anything wacky, just be careful,” she said. “Snakes come out at night. And they love weather like this.”

We started hiking in a light rain. We got rained on every day in Arizona. I wish I could say that the desert purred or shivered in the rain or something poetic like that, but it just got wet. The hard ground and the rocks in the canyon don’t absorb water well. Cacti shook off water.

Everything did, however, turn a darker shade of red. The dust turned from sandstone to magenta. The cliffs ran purple.

The whole time in the West I’ve felt like I’ve been wearing some strange kind of sunglasses. The light is different out here—brighter but more washed out than anything I’m used to.

In the canyon it was finally dark. And it got darker as we went. The rain stopped and we reached the Colorado River at sunset, where we ate some cheese sandwiches.

It’s been said a hundred times, but you can’t help believing you’ve hit some kind of artery when you reach the river, which flows a milky red through the heart of the canyon.

We stared at it for a few minutes, threw some rocks, then turned around to head back.

I didn’t really realize how hot it was until we started hiking uphill. Despite the rain and the setting sun, things steamed in the base of the canyon.

And we didn’t have much water, having unloaded some of it at Cottonwood to lighten our packs. Bad idea.

Light headed, we fended off bats swooping around our heads. In the dark things got hazier. We jumped at shadows and sinister shapes.

Will pushed his bag violently back into me.

“I saw a snake,” he said. “Turn on your head lamp.”

“Where?” I asked, scanning the bushes with a weak light. I could hear a rattle but I was looking too far away. As I brought the light back towards me I illuminated a big brown rattlesnake swaying its head a few feet away. It bared its fangs at us.

We both jumped back into the bushes on the other side of the path.

From this point our hike became a lot longer. We walked slowly, not talking and scanning the bushes. We listened to the desert hum, tensing up when we heard rattles in the bushes.

My head hurt trying to concentrate through the heat. I became delirious, foggy-headed and heavy-legged. Round rocks looked like coiled rattlers. I thought our campsite might be around every turn. It never was.

We got back at 10:30 pm. Our feet ached. We both peeled off boots and bloody socks to reveal massive heel-blisters. Our feet were weak from weeks of driving rather than walking.

We slumped down on a bench and boiled some Ramen noodles. It hurt to think about talking.

“Yo,” I said. “That was easy.”

“Yeah, we should have left later.”

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