Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Frogs in the Desert

I love this country! The Colorado Plateau, that is. It is early morning in Capitol Reef, Utah and I am watching the sunlight slide down the nearby cliffs, illuminating them in hues of apricot and vermillion. Got a hot cup of dark coffee in my hands, and my daughter Lindsay is still asleep in the tent.

Today we drive over the high country of the Henry Mountains through the slickrock domes of the Escalante, to Bryce and Zion Canyons and, eventually, to Kanab, Utah. Yesterday we got wet and muddy in the waters of Sulfur Creek and I watched as Lindsay sloshed through the stream and clambered over tumbled boulders, all smiles and increasingly confident in her hiking abilities.

I first came to this country forty four years ago with a busload of geology students from Foothill College, all fresh faced and eager. Most of what I knew about the desert southwest was what I had seen in low-budget westerns. You know, all those cool rocks the cowboys would hide behind to shoot at other cowboys who were riding past Joshua trees, all conveniently located not far from Hollywood in the Mojave Desert.

But that geology trip was a revelation to me. In nine days we went from digging trilobites in the Marble Mountains of California to hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back out again (with a night of revelry on the Colorado River in between), to visiting Indian ruins at Wupatki in Northern Arizona…and then to the red heart of the Colorado Plateau at Zion National Park. As I watched a nearly full moon rise over the Great White Throne, I knew that I would one day return.

And here I am. Beguiled visitor to the plateau’s western edge and full-time resident on the plateau’s eastern edge. I never lose my fascination and awe for the swirled sandstone, sinuous canyons, and hidden pockets of water. If all goes well this afternoon, we will sneak into a secret little canyon of mine on Zion’s east rim where quiet emerald pools are cradled by rock basins, landscaped with wiry shrubs and patches of wild fuchsia and paintbrush. In and out of the waterpockets are the desert tree frogs, neatly camouflaged denizens of pothole and pool. Life on a small scale in a landscape of a mighty scale.

After four decades the magic is still there. The fascination. The anticipation. Made even more significant by the company of my own child who lives in the moment in the landscape of her father’s past.