The Silence and Solitude of Desert Canyon Backpacking
Fear mixed with anticipation are the prevalent feelings after I load my backpack and start off an unknown trail. I had always envisioned this starting as uphill, but recently I took a trip into an isolated red sandstone canyon, and my beginning hike was downhill.
This canyon is so infrequently visited that I not only didn’t see another person while down there, I also didn’t see anybody during the drive in. My vehicle seemed to be the only one around for miles.
And that is why a certain amount of fear is a good thing to have. It is important to understand that if I get in trouble no one will be coming to help.
My descent was not on a trail, but following arroyos and washes that were the most navigable. When I dropped into the main part of the canyon, in what seemed like the only spot not cut off by cliffs, I was very careful that I had good footing before I took a step. A slip or a rock shifting could cause the heavy weight of my pack to drive me tumbling downhill. My trekking poles helped immensely in maintaining stability in all the rocks.
Thoreau said that those who are the most alive who those who are the wildest. Alive and healthy is what I felt upon completing my trip.
It is a fine thing to take pride in the fact that you have the physical and mental fitness to disappear into a wilderness for a few days, to handle yourself safely and to return renewed as much in spirit as in body.
It is interesting what you remember a couple of weeks back from a wilderness journey. The gruelling part of the backpack and your exhaustion at the end of the day are forgotten. I remember how great it felt to be alone in wilderness for a while. I never really feel that alone though, since my border collies always go with me into the backcountry. To watch them out there is to understand that their passion for nature and wilderness equals or surpasses mine.
It is such a good life, out there. One evening my cousin and I took a long walk along the canyon floor, as it was getting dark. Stillness and silence and fragrance enveloped the canyon. You see I was lucky enough to be out there in a calm period, the third week in May. Abronia, or sand verbena was in bloom everywhere. Abronia is a spreading plant with many clusters of long tubular white flowers. It releases an intoxicating sweet smell to attract night-flying moths.
During my walk, the air was so still that the entire canyon floor was permeated with the sweet Abronia, making the quiet, massive red cliffs my personal corner of heaven on earth for a few days.
-Photography by Adam Baker-