We had come down from the Bradshaw Mountains to escape the predicted cold and rain. This spot in the Agua Fria National Monument had been recommended to us by a gold panning enthusiast a couple of evenings before. We have found comfort in the warm desert in a Mesquite bosque. Tomorrow we will venture through the bottom of the Black Mesa Canyon.
We had stripped our warm night clothing off as the night progressed in our cozy tent. It felt good to not feel the uncomfortable cold of the nighttime mountains, to snuggle together naked and warm.
A New Day:
The sunrise brings us a totally azure blue wide open sky and the sun’s warmth invites our naked bodies to start the day properly unattired. The sandy loam of the bosque allows us to enjoy barefoot living. We are in the middle of a jeep trail where no sharp debris has settled.
I break down camp as DF warms up oatmeal. We take a break to add dehydrated banana and strawberry with cinnamon. Then, at a leisurely unhurried pace we continue our day.
With everything packed away and our hiking water, kit and snack food ready, we get in gear and cross the sandy wash to drive to the trailhead.
There is a jeep sitting there and a Subaru. We note that the jeep is occupied. As we pull up, it appears that it may leave. Having no previous need to be clothed, we wait in the cab the 4runner, using it as covering. The jeep drives off with the owner smiling and waving to us. We climb out with no one in sight.
We walk over to the trailhead and DF checks the registry. There were four registered yesterday, and two today. There is one car in the parking lot. There is a good potential for solitude. She immediately rearranges her dress shirt for the sun and me a sarong. We figure that most likely, we will only need them under our shoulder straps for the comfort of a cushion.
The trail to the canyon is a reasonably wide wash of soft sand, a tributary. We are able to stroll side by side hand in hand without looking down to check our footing constantly. Small seep willows are taking hold along the way, which is a good sign. Occasionally a granite form rises up out of the sandy bed for us to walk upon.
About the arrival into the main canyon, ahead of us, I spot a man with two small children in tow. They are heading for a large tree. We don’t dress at this point, but instead we make our way up out of the wash to look at a slab of petroglyphs on the rock face.
These are similar to those that we saw up on the mesa last spring. The ancient inhabitants were the same as those of Perry Mesa. For that Trip Report go here: https://thefreerangenaturist.org/2016/04/08/perry-mesa-a-trip-report/
After documenting the petroglyphs, we drape covering over us and proceed. The others have come to rest in the shade under that big tree.
Behind them stands a large pool of water with fluorescent green grass banks.
He makes a comment about more pools down the way. I wonder if he has taken note of the lack of displayed pants that we have presented and assumes a skinny dip. He didn’t outright mention it, but something seems implied. We look up stream and down where he points. There are more large trees out there and we make our choice.
We wander to the next pool and the trees. The footing is across dry cracked silt lying across sand banks from heavy rains and ponding.
There are large areas of granite slabs and banks of ankle high grass.
In the grasses and through the dried silt, there are tracks from the traffic of people. These suggest the best routes. We make our way to where the tall trees stand, look back, judge the distance to the man with his children and note the rock formations surrounding us. From here on, we will be alone and fully liberated.
From here, looking downstream around the bend, there is a vast canyon with black cliff walls where the river has cut through the once flat terrain and given this canyon its name. Debris has fallen and collected under them creating a slope. It all funnels downstream.
Standing on the smooth water-washed granite, we look up at the Black Canyon walls where they meet the mesa above and we survey. There it is the dry grassy high desert that we had visited before. Down here, the saguaro, and numerous cactus flourish among the broken rocks and boulders, the beginnings of a more typical and famous Sonoran Desert. Occasionally, there is seen a smooth cliff face of lighter colored granite defining the river bed. It is rugged here.
There is stark silence, broken by the passing of a breeze in the vegetation and the field of boulders and river rock. This graces our bodies. We find our way through this mass, coming across more ponded water. The going is slow and deliberate.
Each step must be mindfully placed. In all of this day, I find only one unstable rock as I step, but each one must be carefully approached. The one lone step on a loose footing could be disastrous. These are also slippery. I avoid those which are covered with sand. Sand is sometimes deposited on top of the rocks by wash, sometimes it comes from a muddy shoe. All of the sand on the smooth uneven surfaces works like tiny marbles. We eventually spend over two hours climbing, negotiating downstream and four hours in total in the canyon, but not achieving much distance.
This at times appears like a field of gray ice. We are delighted to see the pools of water. Each has its sandy beach and a granite surface sloping into it. There is a distinctive smell here. It smells just like an ocean’s beach. I wonder if there are salts there. The water is not as clear as other desert pools, but there isn’t that brackish green algae found here. There is only a grass-like life under to surface and silt. I can’t be sure why this is so. I can’t sample or taste the water without a filtering. I suspect that the other desert ponds that I know may be contaminated with cattle, either there or upstream. There is no place here for cattle. For whatever reason, the familiar smell is refreshing and friendly.
We find an unusual formation inside a boulder.
We ponder the geology and where it may have come from. Having no binoculars, DF uses her telephoto lens to look for something similar.
Sure enough there is another similar boulder.
High above more of this white material is seen in the cliffs.
Moving on, we find a taller spot of granite. There sits a pile of littered trees, carried down by massive flooding. I imagine the tremendous force that did this. This is like Redington Pass in many ways, but much wider. For such a high deposit, the waters would be 15 to 20 feet deep and violently stretching across the entire floor, amazing and dangerous. I begin to wonder what the distant funnel where the canyon squeezes must be like during an epic flood.
While documenting this, DF steps into the picture to try out a boulder next to the pool.
She sits and I then join her. We stretch out tete to tete and gather sunlight. There has been a constant breeze. It sometimes approaches as wind. It is strong enough to create ripples. I watch a leaf floating upstream on sail and ripples of current. There is the pleasing sound of rhythmic lapping where water meets rock. The bow shape of the rock surface bends and stretches my back and spine. It feels very good.
Feeling content, but still consumed with the wanderlust of the moment, we move on to see what we find. There is a large tree seen in the distance, which we decide to make our next curious goal.
Getting hungry, we find a wide smooth slightly slopping surface that will make a great spot for a late lunch. We wrap a whole-wheat tortilla around refried black beans and a spicy hummus. As I squat here, I note a primitive quality about. I can imagine the naked people frolicking, hunting and gathering here centuries before me, what they may have felt, what it may have looked like. DF dressed in her brown skin and natural dark hair hanging down allows me to project on to her this primitive notion. It is beautiful and very human.
I had been resolved to explore yet one more pool of water and its rock formations. We have to climb with foot holds and gripping granite above with our hands. We could wade, but take the former conveyance.
DF follows me up to the top of a higher ground to gaze further downstream from its vantage point. The wind has picked up. Gusts feel as though they will pick us up. We both rearrange our footing to compensate and not fall over. The air is cool, but not an uncomfortable feeling on a naked body. It is sensual and fun. We hold each other.
DF searches for a spot to slip barefoot into the pond. We haven’t a clue what could be under the surface or how deep. Through a small grassy knoll, we can reach a beach. DF slowly wades through the mud as the silt gushes up through her toes.
She never takes a dip. The water may be fine, but the high winds would be an excruciating chill. Perhaps another warmer day, we’ll be back. We could spend a lot of time here and it is not far off of the northern Arizona freeway.
I comment that the sun is about to drop behind the high canyon walls, placing these depths in shade. It is getting later and the temperatures will drop. The high winds appear to continue as per the weather report. She has her dress shirt, but I have nothing. The sarong can keep the sun off of my back and shield from prying eyes, but I am really just naked and it will take some time to return to the shelter of the truck. I announce my intention to make it a mission to get closer to safety, before my experience here becomes miserable.
Mostly focusing on getting from point A to B and having some familiarity to guide us, we make good time across the granite field. If we hurried like this in the future, we could make better distance without spending the night in this canyon. Then again, would that be a waste of this place? Each moment is wonderful.
The pace slows down as we approach a safe distance from shelter.
The man and two small children are likely gone from under the large trees, but I notice in a distance two fellows heading upstream, their back to us. This is not a problem, we rest.
We climb up the hill near those petroglyphs to inspect just what might be upstream. There are many more trees in the distance as the canyon bends. Many wonderful days could be spent here. I sit and make notes for this report as DF explores fully entertained and delighted.
We begin to stroll up the tributary wash to the trailhead. The sand is softer here from more foot traffic. Everywhere the sand has been pristine and hard packed, but not here. DF decides that she would like to go barefoot and reports that the sand is like walking on a beach. I would suppose that this huge canyon would be a safe place to stroll barefoot all over with its smooth surfaces and sand. We stroll on, hand in hand.
I mention that we should just grin and bare it if we bump into someone, which at this late time I figure is unlikely. Just as I say that, we notice textile people ahead with children. We step behind a bush to the side. Why do people with children always pop up whenever I make that resolve? It is extremely rare that anyone might be offended, but people with kids are more likely to freak out. There is no need to be alarmed because the kids cannot be harmed, but mom and pop don’t always know that. DF drapes her shirt, and I simply place my bag in front of my genital area and we wait for them to pass, but they don’t move. We wait, but still they don’t move. With little patience, I decide to wrap my sarong on. As we move out from behind the bushes, they begin to move. We pass and I greet the children as well as adults. I don’t know if they saw us, and so were waiting politely for us to cover, or to shelter their small children, or they were concerned why we hid behind the bush, thinking ambush, or why they waited. The coverings come off shortly after they pass.
Very near the trailhead, we see yet another person, an older man in just shorts. It is getting later. The locals must come here for afternoon walks.
All parties accounted for and matching each vehicle in the parking lot, we realize that we are free to be nude, which continues throughout the three hour drive through Phoenix and then home…save one crowded rest stop.