We are on our way back from a retreat in Cascabel:
We have some time on our hands and I figure that it’s a good time to cruise the old Marsh Station Road. Once again, I’ll look for one of the coolest wash canyons that I have ever seen, a secret treasure that I lost the map for, maybe 40 years ago.
After passing through a barbed wire fence and walking across a desert field of private land, there were a string of mesquite trees. After they matured, digging their roots deep for water, the wash became deeply eroded. The roots of mesquite gather bark when exposed. The result is a corridor of an upside down forest of root. It is dark and mysterious, other worldly.
I remember that it was across a field near where the historic railway bridge crosses the creek. We would park next to the old bridge at one point, but memory and change in terrain have made the place disappear.
I pull into what is now a parking lot for entry to La Ciénega Creek Preserve. I eat a sandwich and relax and stretch from my drive. I stand working on memories, wondering where I have misplaced the hidden gorge.
It is 5pm on a Tuesday. There is enough time before sunset to explore the Cienega Nature Preserve. It isn’t a terrifically big spot, not a hike and more like a large city park. The large riparian trees are looking up at me, beckoning with their shade and sense of natural harmony.
I don’t frequent this place. It is easy to get to and therefore popular, making secluded naturism iffy. Today, might work, but I haven’t been in these parts for many years. We saw water down there. I think that it might be worth the attempt.
Across the main road from where we have parked, the entrance is now a trek up around and through a creosote forest on a hillside. We take the trail, but it feels all wrong, as it runs away from the water. It makes no sense at this time.
We soon find a new parking area, which is much closer. This roundabout route now makes better sense. DF is in a sundress and I’m just wearing my wrap around kilt. The sun is out and with a breeze. It feels good.
At an intersection, we find a sign for the Arizona Trail, the through hiking trail that starts at the Mexican border and runs right up the middle of Arizona to Utah. It crosses through much of Arizona’s scenic beauty. We realize that his is also a scenic section of the grand thru-hiking trail.
There is sketchy signage and directions. We figure that the Arizona Trail is heading the correct direction and it makes sense that it would go through this beauty. Just to be sure we ask a woman watching a small female child, as it whips an equal sized prickly pear cactus with a stick. She confirms my suspicion.
As we pass, she cautions the child that the cactus will jump and bite her. The child listens, but I’m sure is confused, as she is apt to take the warning literally. We also know that they were with another group, a couple with two young girls, up ahead. Clothing stays on. The vision of genitals is illegal here and people sometimes may become foolishly testy in their well-intentioned, but misdirected defense of their children.
At the base where the trail meets Davidson Canyon, we pass the others. Very soon, I’m looking at a tall arch of cottonwood trees at the confluence of the two waterways. One is dry, and one has blessed water.
The trees and blue sky reflect in the creek’s waters as it meanders through the larger creek bed. Shade is all over. It is a natural cathedral. I’m reminded that there is plenty of width here when the rains bring flooding bank to bank.
Figuring that the main trail goes left and those others that we passed will go that way, we go right.
A trail verdant on each side wanders through the plethora of green riparian plant life.
Here is a plant that I don’t feel familiar with. It looks like a wild spinach. Perhaps it is and I wonder if it is edible.
I undo my wrap. Then ten feet later, I hear voices across the streambed. A closer look shows me a pair of deep red pants. Others aren’t expected, after all, there were only two cars in the parking lot. This tells me that there are unlikely to be more patrons.
After this, the stream turns south at a bend. I try disrobing with more success. It feels good, but the tall green trees and water disappear shortly.
Our best choice is to head back, since we are after a thick riparian habitat.
This time, we walk the other side.
When we reach the red pants, we find a teenage girl who sweetly pitches a greeting to us.
A pit-bull comes running toward us, but it is just being friendly. Two male young people politely greet us, too. “Sorry about the dog.”
I ask about downstream. He is familiar with the area. He reports that, “It goes for a while.”
We continue, thinking that the others have turned around because of the kids, or maybe not. Just as I am about to disrobe again around a bend, DF tells me that she sees a child ahead.
Sure enough, we jump the creek and pass a little girl making a dome shaped sand castle by the water. I compliment her architecture.
The two adults and the other girl are resting on a fine rock outcropping. We squeeze along this thin spot and continue.
DF suggests that I can get naked now, but declines her own participation. The people are stopped on the other side of a rock wall. The sandcastle isn’t complete. The cars tell us that there will be no one else, in likelihood. This feels safe.
I turn and continue unwrapping, but then I see two young men ahead. They are coming out of an offshoot of some kind. One is wearing all of the regalia of a true Arizona hiker. The floppy hat, the walking sticks, the kaki shirt and those dull green pants with heavy boots. They look like they don’t waste time and disappear fast before us. I’m home free, finally.
I keep my kilt in hand or tucked into my armpit to be sure.
The place where the two hikers came out has what looks to be a castle wall with gun, or arrow ports. We investigate. It is an old piece of the railroad. Tracks are above this. Two sets of tracks crisscross near here, one above one below. It may be a short cut back.
The little stream continues and we find places to jump, or rock hop across it. The trail actually meanders more that the creek.
We cross under the bridge for the road and high above there is the other rail line bridge.
It is impressive, but why did they put it all here across the only beautiful green spot for miles in any direction? I guess back in the day, it made some practical sense.
At the other side, we are following the serene path through stands of reeds and florescent grasses and hear a disturbance. A train is coming. As quick as we pull out our cameras, the train is high above us. There is so much freight up there, seemingly flying through the air.
With the passage of the train on steel, I can focus on the serene nature that is here. It is pretty. It reminds me of places where I used to play as a boy in Virginia. It was where salamanders and toads swam and tortoises laid their eggs, but none of that is here. I begin to think of a road trip back to those roots. Maybe as a series of hikes. Memories bring me back to a gentle time.
We are walking along, when suddenly we are alerted by a disturbed animal. It is making like a cartoon just to the left of us in a short cliff’s dirt. There is lots of dry loose dirt falling down. Its feet scurry in dust as it is losing traction, stalled in place. We watch and smile, curious as to what it is under the branches of exposed mesquite roots.
The ruckus stops and I see a dirty brown squirrel run across the exposed roots and down into its burrow which is in the cliff’s side. I look closer and see a tail in there. DF leans in to take a photo and I hear it growling, bitching and bemoaning our coming and the grand hassle that it was caused. Don’t come any closer, it warns.
We reach the point where the water stops, the sun is getting near the end of the day and the wind is feeling a bit chilly.
It’s time to leave.
There is a free range hike here that is undone. From this point there is very little chance to bump into anyone for a few miles, where the wash hits Vail, Arizona. The tall trees dissipate. It will be a nice trip when winter comes again.
DF sees an unusual seed pod. She squats down to investigate and take a picture, I come over with my curiosity, as she turns it over.
We’re surprised and laughing.
I get wrapped where I unwrapped before. Just moments later, on the other side of the creek, I see the mom and dad walking toward us. They are followed by the two young girls.
Very soon, near the railroad castle-like bridge, the two hikers catch up to us. They tell us that they had been up and seen the tracks, but didn’t see the road on the other side, just the parking lot. It could be a shortcut.
We decide to just take what we know, but it is a clue to what I started looking for this afternoon.
Something jars some memories. I’ll come back at another time and I bet that I’ll solve the mystery of the hidden gorge.
The wind picks up. I’m feeling the chill, until I get back up out of the canyon and into the sun’s warmth. I march all the way through the creosote forest to the truck quickly. The sweatshirt, after sitting in a baking truck, feels nice and warm, lovely.
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