When we left off the last time…
…we were trudging up a steep rough incline rock to rock, step by step. The altitude and exertion were making DF sick to her stomach. My legs were getting shaky from the climb. We had seen no water near the trail and no place to stop and camp.
We decide to take the unknown fork in the trail in hopes of water and a flat camping spot. We haven’t seen a flat spot anywhere since the meadow. In my state, I discover myself on the alternative trail. I was so tired that I missed the fork.
Not long up this section of what is left of the old road, we step out of the foliage and trees to a vast granite sheet. There before us, the trail comes to the creek at a shelf. The creek then cascades down a wide shoot about 100 yards down.
A huge sort of Yosemite-like granite face sits next to this. It is beautiful. I lay down on the smooth washed surface and my body nearly collapses like a corpse.
There is something about cool air, flowing water and dramatic terrain that keeps us moving, but there has also been need and the constant habit of getting further. I soon realize that I must get up. I’m feeling pain. We need a flat spot to set up the tent. If we could we would just lie there, but a night’s sleep requires more than a flat rock.
I walk back down the trail, looking for a lesser slope and trees to tie to. Unencumbered, I climb maybe twenty feet into the forest and soft pine needles searching to no avail. As I return to the trail, I realize that I just don’t have any more in me. This is it. We’ll have to make due.
We only need a flat area three and a half by six feet. Barely that, the only space is in the middle of the trail. We are not apt to be blocking anything but a bear or creature from using the trail.
The spot is loaded with rocks, the rest is solid granite. I need to anchor the tent. The best spot is just a few feet from a short cliff that drops off into the slope of slippery rock. I work on a prayer for direction and sense assurance of help. This has to work.
Like a miracle is happening, I notice a hole in the granite wall. One hundred years before, there had been steel spikes placed into the rock to support the old structures that would have crossed the stream here. DF has been excavating with a thick stick, swishing away rocks to flatten the bed. The stick fits perfectly in this deeply drilled hole.
The thickest small tree is across from it. If I use rocks and wrap the tent post just right, the line angle will be perfect for the tent.
The spot will be too thin, but that just means that we will have to cuddle more this night.
Slowly, everything has taken on a pace of slow-ly. We arrange camp, and go about the business of heating up the delicious rehydrated veggie spaghetti with Parmesan.
The warm meal is incredible after the long active day. We feed each other fresh grapes. This place is gorgeous and magnificent. The rock surface is comfortable. We watch this view among the Creekside trees.
We photograph, we watch the shadows from sunset creep up the tall sheer wall across from us.
We lie there motionless, watching a few clouds cross over us. A horse drifts across the sky. We chuckle, it is followed by a turkey with tall ears. There is a dog with a duckbill chasing that. Back above we wonder at the sheer height of these trees. Their tops are swaying so far above. I wonder what the pinecones do when they hit the granite below, a nasty fall. Do birds use pinecones? I reflect back to a hummingbird along the trail and the sweet pungent nectar of pinecones.
The air is heading toward that state of mountain cold. We put on some clothing, layer by layer.
Silk long Johns, thermal pants, a long sleeve t-shirt and my new Ghost Whisperer down jacket. I don my old wool cap with its memories of Bolivia.
We lay there on our perch together holding hands. I place hers in my jacket pocket with mine. The clouds turn the pastel colors of a sunset out into the view to the valley.
Then Mars comes out, that ultra-red, large early star. The show continues. Two shooting stars surprise us. Grace wasn’t kidding when I asked for help earlier. We feel so blessed, so in touch with it all.
After a night falling asleep watching stars through the net tent, the sun brings light and warmth around 6:00am. I notice the sound of the water still flowing down the grand shoot. Where I live, water comes shooting down streams during rains and soon passes. I take note of the concept that this is always here. That concept seems novel and amazing, because we are so close to the source.
Warmth becomes kinda hot under the down camping quilt and warm clothes. The air is quite wonderful once the coverings are off. So, the first thing to do this morning is to get undressed. Sun and the occasional light breeze caress us back to life. DF gets up to start morning. I just stay where I am, packing, squeezing air from pillow and mattress, stripping off, rolling up camp and stuffing our things.
We realize that chilly cold mountain water takes forever to heat up, but soon enough, we are imbibing oatmeal in our cups. The delicious strawberries that I dehydrated last week accent it. The banana chips just disappear into the goop, turning to only flavor and cinnamon. This sticks to our guts. I could stay here a while.
We eventually are getting yet another later than planned start. We have to make a decision based on the following. Our bodies are sore. I had laughed at DF as she first crawled out of the tent, so obviously stiff. We have been listening to the series of our spontaneous moans all morning. We have a long climb out of here. We discuss heading out on this alternative trail next to the creek and its thick flora. We have no literature about it except this spot, which had been described as part of the other trail. We have been entertained by a couple of comical lizards in mating season, but these reptiles could easily be their cousins, the snakes in the grass. There was talk of a scaffolding to traverse around a rock. We didn’t know if that is what we were sitting on or not. We didn’t want to start our day going nearly straight up on those switchbacks again. The unknown alternative trail could have a switchback climb just as brutal. We do know that the unexplored trail is longer, but not how much longer. We just don’t know enough and doubling back to those switchbacks in disappointment would be no fun to imagine.
Reluctantly, we decide to retrace our steps through the long climb.
Better to be cautious rather than trapped and making decisions to ward off disaster again.
All the while, I keep looking to the other side of the canyon, to see where the other trail might have gone.
It is difficult to see signs of a trail across the way, because the hillsides have so many trees covering them.
We trudge on.
We arrive at the upstream fork again, after the switchbacks from hell.
We decide to walk down the other trail some, just to investigate and find a place to rest. I can tell that horses hadn’t been this way for a longtime. We were climbing under and over fallen trees all the way.
We find a beautiful spot in some grass by the creek to rest and have some quick lunch. The weight and covering coming off of our backs is welcome.
DF had placed the rest the hot water from breakfast in the baggy to rehydrate the black beans and hummus. It is still fairly warm. We have a couple of tortillas to eat it with. It is filling and good. We decide to take a short walk further, leaving the backpacks behind.
In just cameras and shoes, it is a very different experience and very pleasant.
Packs back on, after the fork, the meadow appears. I decide to explore it a bit further. This had been a major enterprise of a camp. Up slope, I see the remains of a rock foundation. I investigate. It is a perfectly flat rectangle. There are rocks to sit on, and a fire pit made from a ring of old rusted steel.
There is a tributary trickling through, there are more potential camping spots and it is very pleasant.
DF wanders off to find more heavy metal antique debris, while I dig a latrine in the soft sandy soil where, amazingly, no rocks rest. I can see the trail from here. It is Sunday afternoon, the end of the weekend, we have seen no one for 24 hours, and no recent signs of others. This has been a nude paradise. As I take to concentrating on the business at hand, a man with a dog on a leash comes over the rise! The moment couldn’t have been more synchronistic. In all of that time, when in the moment that I happen to be in my most compromising position, the one improbable encounter takes place! “Hi there,” he waves, as if nothing is amiss. It’s the very definition of Murphy’s Law. We’re not even close to the trailhead. DF reports a few minutes later, that he didn’t even notice her nude form in the meadow. The Gods have had their little joke.
We continue on the arduous path through the Rocky Mountain high paradise. It is a wonderful place, but I don’t remember that there was so much of it.
The continuous uphill has a way of dragging time and distance out. One set of directions that I have, mentions that it takes about three times as long to climb out as it does to climb in. In the end, that was just about correctly what we did. We stop to photograph and rest at every opportunity, but not for long. If we stay at these most enjoyable treats, a kind of rigor mortis kicks in.
Mostly the stiff pain accosts the calves, feet, hamstrings…thighs…It hurts just everywhere, some places more than others. There is that burn and exhaustion.
The internet was right, 4.5 out of 5 for difficulty, and we only survived ¾ of it.
I come to an uprooted tree. The big fella fell all the way down to the creek and across it to the other side. I identify with the condition.
We begin to see familiar memories and kept thinking that we are almost there, but it goes further than that each time. We come across the fallen aspen with its very smooth white/grey bark. As I straddled over it on the way down, I voiced gratitude for the smoothness of the bark, something only a naturist would appreciate.
Still it isn’t as close to the trail head as I remember. Then there is another switchback section, there is exhaustion and it has me creating mini-goal after another, after another, “Come on guy, you can do this, just a little bit more.”
I take my sarong off of my shoulders in case I need to cover my genitals. I figure that we must be near the trailhead.
It still remains hanging around my neck, for so much longer than I anticipated.
Finally, I point out a car in a clearing ahead.
We soon realize that it is our car and even better, the only car. Nobody around, we don’t have to get dressed in any way. DF who had placed a short light sundress over her is delighted, too. We strip off completely, backpacks, my hat, everything. It feels so good and so light. We dump our trash, we wandered around this public place unencumbered, undaunted, unconcerned and freely.
We have been away in a completely clothing free, liberated condition for long enough, that the imposition of clothing would be strongly resented and foreign. It would be just not right. The next pleasure is to sit down and we do, all the way down the mountain, an hour’s drive.
We have an extreme appetite. The idea of soaking our abused bodies in a hot mineral spring, a notion of delightful rehab and relief, also overshadow. These two things become our focus. We take the beeline road to Safford, only to find that the restaurants are not open. After three tries, we find only Mexican fast food. When I step out of the car in a camouflage kilt, I slip on a t-shirt in the blistering heat. It is so very stupid! How could our culture have gotten so off track as to cover up a body on such a hot day. It makes the heat much worse. It is extremely uncomfortable. There is such insanity here.
After we quickly dine, we go straight to the Essence of Tranquility Hot Springs, only to find the manager putting the closed sign on a chain across the entrance. Within moments, without leaving the parking lot, I step out of the car into the street and remove everything. Not a moment more of this silliness. I am cool and comfortable once again.
We drive home. The disappointments in Safford have gotten us there earlier. We unload the car onto the living room floor and DF immediately goes to task with a tub of Epsom salts. They help.
The morning brings more rigor mortis, pain and hobbling. We begin laughing at ourselves…so pitifully comical.
I’d like to go back there. It is worth the trouble. I’d take an extra day, though. I’d camp at the meadow. I’d do the hike to the waterfall as a day excursion with water bottle filter, light shoes and a camera. I’ll never ever dream of heading all the way down to Oak Flat…umm, maybe from the base of the mountain? It would be much different without the backpack. Anyway, I’d take a whole day to return up that hill, casually. It’s about the naturism, imbibing each moment along the way.