If you love the outdoors, and especially the desert outdoors, then you have probably read Edward Abbey, and in particular, Desert Solitaire. The line in that book that has forever branded itself into my psyche reads, “In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll begin to see something, maybe. Probably not.”
This past week, I parked my Jeep beside a dry wash, a desert artery that carries only lizards and dust during most of the year. However, at unpredictable times, this dry wash runs with water…sometimes a trickle, sometimes a torrent of mud, rocks, and small trees. It has been my desire to trek along this dry wash and enjoy its quiet, and its history, left behind in the wonderful palate of textures and colors, seen only when “traces of blood begin to mark your trail…”
I shouldered my backpack, knowing I would stay out overnight, not wanting to rush, and headed west, upstream toward the wonderful desert evening of the Big Bend. Here it is easy to see the flow of the water over small rocks, and the ripples mirrored in the sand as they rolled across the surface of a temporary rain runoff. Also visible is the higher waterline left behind by a stronger flow of deeper water:
Further upstream, the flow has cut away the bank to a depth of 6-8 feet or more:
The spiderweb of roots and branches left airborne by the flowing water create art unequaled with brush and canvas:Several stories told here…as a very large mammal, probably an elk or mule deer, followed the path of least resistance, walking slowly along the wash. Then, an undetermined digger moved across the wash, digging as he went, perhaps following the burrow of an underground dweller in search of dinner:More tracks, this time a fox perhaps, and multiple well-defined water courses, dredged by a silent carver of the sand:Away from the wash, as I prepare to make camp for the evening, the limestone layers of this slab, turned on end to form a chair for Paul Bunyan, and shade for me in a shadeless land:The sun begins to set against the limestone cliffs of the Madiera Sierra del Carmen, rising to a height of 8000 feet across the Rio Grande River in Mexico, with the distinct landmark of the Taj Mahal Hoodoo beginning to silhouette in foreground right:The layers of evening, a rising moon, the golden glow of the warmer layers of light filtering through the low levels of atmosphere, the shadow of the earth itself just above the tops of the Dead Horse Mountains:Next morning, as I begin the 4 miles back downstream, the colors of the sand warm to the morning light:More tracks from a mule deer, heading upstream:A tributary enters from the north, perhaps a drainage from nearby Grapevine Hills, showing evidence of water flowing at levels ranging from flood to a trickle:One of the earliest flowers to bloom this year, growing in the soft sand of the creek, attended by an opportunistic flying critter:Among the myriad of smooth, round river stones, and set apart among the millions of remnants of limestone deposits, this multi-layered rock of sandstone, three feet across, created elsewhere at another time and washed here from some far-away mountainous perch:And finally, as if still flowing, this river of sand creates eddies behind rocks that have seen the water come and go, and come again:God really does surround us with masterpieces, if we will only crawl.