I’m quite certain that I’ve said it in the past, but I have another opportunity to confess, or admit, anyway, that I have become something of a reluctant admirer of Arizona’s desert beauty…the landscapes, rather, in which one might find beauty, might encounter the aesthetic appeal that touches whatever it is inside that gets “touched” and one knows or senses that one is in the presence or beholding something that one esteems in such places as beautiful, awesome, wonderful, inspiring, or even simply nice.
My personal point or range of reference in such cases has been the landscapes of my childhood in Germany (with visits to France and Switzerland), South Carolina, and Florida, the high desert and mountains of the Front Range in Colorado in my younger adulthood, and more recently, the mountain and valley landscapes, as well as the winding river bottoms and grassy plains of Utah, in what I am hoping is still my middle adulthood.
While it might not be fair, proper, or even emotionally healthy to make comparisons between places, preferring to live in one over the other, for instance, one cannot help notice differences between and among them, some of which one simply happens to enjoy more or less than others. One friend suggested that there is no need to like one over the other, or even prefer to live in one over the other; he said that I should simply enjoy them for what I find in their offerings, for their individual appeal to that internalized aesthetic that makes my heart say, “Oh….”
I haven’t been hiking for several months now…not since last August, actually; there have been reasons, not excuses. That said, I went hiking the other day, and found reasons, again, to reluctantly admire the Arizona desert that lies something like 60 miles north and east of my home in the extreme northwest corner of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
I have read trip narratives and other on-line literature about Badger Springs Trail many times over the past few years. I knew it wasn’t a very long hike and knew that it wasn’t too terribly far away, either, so it made for a good starting place to get back into the desert hiking thing.
The trail is situated in the Agua Fria National Monument, something like a preserve, but sketched throughout with dirt roads that allow for vehicle travel to access its deeper parts.
If you remember the post I did a couple of years ago on “Indian Mesa,” that area is also contained within the Monument…several miles distant, but still there. Some of the trip reports have indicated that there was no water present and definitely no badgers present; other narratives have said that there was plenty of water, depending on the time of year, but still no badgers. My hopes, when leaving the city, driving up the freeway and out into the Monument, were only that I would be away from people, computers, and the noise of society. While I did momentarily encounter two very distant people on my way out, and only two handfuls of them on the return trip, I did not come across any computers…or any noise of society.
I did happen to see some ant-sized jet-liners making their way across the sky as I looked toward the various ridge-tops at a few points during the hike, but other than those few glimpses of people and airplanes, my hopes were realized and my soul was quieted upon the return drive to the city…something that I don’t remember feeling for quite some time…the peace that comes from having been immersed in an undemanding Nature that is simply there…even for a few toiling hours.
When I had studied the landscape features of the Badger Springs area on Google’s map the night before the morning of the hike, I figured that I would follow the trail toward the right at the juncture, that I would head west and then south along and through the dried river bed. It appeared that one would have that option (and one really does, of course, it’s the wide-open desert, after-all). When I actually arrived at that juncture, the trail quietly suggested that I head the other direction, east and then eventually north.
At the realized crossroads, I viewed the two people off in the distance at what I perceived to be their camping grounds, off to the right and west, a situation that I didn’t want to disturb or otherwise intrude upon…so I turned east and off into the morning’s sunrise. I followed the well-maintained trail until it reached the boulders of the stream-bed. At this point, I remembered that one of the narratives’ authors said it was best to cross to the other side and then continue on from there, evidently the boulder-hopping was going to get extreme, which it did.
There were many small and large pools of shallow water throughout the course of the stream; most would have soaked one’s feet and legs up to at least mid-calf…and very few others would go beyond that. The boulders were ancient granite that had fallen from the surrounding cliffs of millennia past, washed smooth by the floods and the fine sands they carried, polished and bleached unto a near white, some of them, in stark contrast to the brown of the watching hills; and chunks of lava, too, rich in their darkness, like porous, black bowling-ball sized oblique orbs tumbled from some distant cauldron.
When I think about the name of this place, Badger Springs, I have to wonder at how long ago that last badger was seen, have to wonder at how common the creatures used to be at such a place, if they ever were, and I do not wonder at how important this place of water must have been, and remains, to the animals who lived and continue to live in the area. My mind goes also to the meaning of wild and how much of that remains in this place, how much of it remains outside of my wondering at what it must have been like, exactly there, before the Europeans came to see and stay, at how it must have looked when there were only the Native peoples who lived in the area and what their lives must have been like. My one disappointment with the hike is that I was not able to locate the petroglyphs that adorn scattered rocks in the area. When I read about the trail in the on-line literature, I thought it said they were at the end of the trail, near the top.
Part of my wandering led me to be ever looking at what the end might be, what it could have been, what the top might be, as I was walking through a riparian wilderness that had existed for what must have been centuries upon centuries and longer, a remaining waterway that flowed through a rich canyon of scattered boulders, grassy meadows, and collections of cottonwood, sycamore, willow, and other deciduous trees and shrubs, and even juniper and thorny mesquite trees with assorted prickly pear and cholla cacti. The stream went on and on, there was no solitary source, no “spring” that I could find, just the seeping and flowing water that percolated down through the hills and up from the ground and then collected in the waterway’s bottom, as water will do; it flows with gravity and then through the earth when there is enough to collect, its drops and tiny rivulets gather, as they do, and start to move, below the surface of the land and then above it when it can, going where there is least resistance, through and around, living in and on the land and nourishing what it passes, bringing and sustaining life in an otherwise wasted land.
The only actual animal that I saw during the hike, aside from a smattering of birds and a solitary unnamed lizard, was a black bull, an Angus, maybe, a calm mass of flesh and hair that was grazing alongside the water in grasses that reached near to his belly, a creature that left huge tracks in the mud, the corporeal sign of the one other heartbeat that was with mine out there that morning.
Yes, I had seen tracks of other peoples’ passing, too, footprints large and small made by shoed humans coming and going, some moderately fresh, and some that were made several days ago; but other Peoples’ marks, too, tiny bird tracks, and dogs or coyotes, even, those familiar footprints from my lifetime made in their own coming and going, to and from the water, mostly without human people’s prints accompanying them, and then there were the pointed hoof marks of javelinas in a different location…and finally, a raccoon hand-print in the still wet mud near a pool, left when fishing, maybe, or simply just washing. What else has gone away with the badger…what cats, deer, or antelope did I not see, could not have been seen any longer…what other parts of the wilderness and its wild lives have passed and gone?
The proper trail was lost and gone at around the one-mile mark, give or take, so the rest of the trip was all in the actual bed of the stream, sometimes hopping boulder to boulder, but most often walking on the dry earth down through the waterway or on either bank. I must have crossed the bed half a dozen times when the growth became too thick to be reasonably passed-through, and sometimes I passed through the growth anyway, and have the bloodied scratches on arms and legs to prove it.
I was watching for snakes and pack rats, Gila Monsters, and road-runners, and saw none of them; I was looking, too, for those petroglyphs, mentioned earlier, and couldn’t imagine where they might begin to be; at what possible place among the hundreds could I begin and have any chance of finding the proper one.
The stream bed hit a ninety-degree bend at about the mile and a half point; the terrain changed on both sides of the waterway and became more like rolling desert hills. They were populated with various bushes, including jojoba, creosote, and California bottle brush, as well as the different cacti mentioned earlier. The now-western hillside contained a bit of a lava or basalt parapet, but there were no “boulders” around it that I remembered from the photos I had seen on-line. I had hoped to have something distinctive to draw my eye on one of the hill or cliff tops indicating that they had previously been occupied areas, but nothing struck me as likely places, so I continued on, pushing through the scrub, wondering when it would be far enough.
At what I believe to be the two and a quarter mile mark of the hike, I stopped for a water and snack break in the middle of a stand of ancient cottonwood and sycamore trees. It has been sufficiently warm at night for the trees to waken from their winter slumbers, so they were all bedecked with fresh green leaves, full of the bright verdure that meant they hadn’t been baked and hardened by the summer’s sun. The ground in this resting spot was covered in sand that reminded me of an ocean’s beach, evidence of the mass and force of the typical monsoon floods that must frequent such a place. Rocks had been tumbled there, as well, and it has clearly been a while since any such floods had occurred, as there was plenty of typical tree litter that must have accumulated through the fall and winter seasons: branches and twigs, leaves of so many kinds, the fallen husks from the new leaf buds, as well as some kind of nut bodies from some unknown tree.
It was when I was here, in this cottonwood garden, that it was so quiet as to make me feel that my ears must have been plugged, somehow; the quiet was total, with not even a whispering of a breeze causing a tinkling among the cottonwoods’ leaves…a complete quiet…one rich in its fullness.
That’s probably enough. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt along the Beaver Springs Trail of the Agua Fria National Monument in Yavapai County, Arizona. Thank you for your company.