Fifty miles north of the city, give or take, a pleasant obstacle in the Black Canyon Trail…a treasure from the desert’s summer rains….
The wildflowers were blooming along Lake Mary Road on the southeast side of Flagstaff this past weekend…too beautiful to resist…too compelling to keep driving past without capturing a few images…furthermore, it was 80 degrees in the mountains…and close to 110 down in the desert…so it was a Sunday morning/afternoon well spent up north.
A sunrise hike with one of my sons last weekend brought some spectacular desert views….
…with perspectives elevated above the fray that exists between here and there…
…treasures of an Arizona desert morning….
It’s a sad song, but it struck me the other day that I have now been back in Arizona for longer than I had lived in Utah….and this little gem of a photo has been sitting in my “drafts” folder for over five years. This particular day in March of 2013 found me walking the neighborhood trail called, “Dimple Dell,” and gazing eastward at the beautiful mass of rock and earth known generally as the Wasatch Mountains and specifically as Broads Fork Twin Peaks (only the western peak is visible; it’s the one on the right). I had posted other images from the hike…maybe even some that looked very similar to this one…which probably explains why it was sitting in the “drafts” folder for so long.
Anyway, they are always bittersweet and tender moments when I look back and reflect upon what used to be in my backyard…at what was just a few minutes’ driving time from the house. And there it is….
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.
It is almost as if I had been a child again, out exploring unknown and unsanctioned regions, far from home and the general safety that accompanies being in a place so named, a place where there were expectations and things that could be anticipated, good or not. I was out in an area that had at least an essence of wildness and things not seen before, things not encountered previously other than in imagination or wonder, in an area that was not touched by expectations or any anticipation other than the ones that compelled me to be there to begin with. Memories of my childhood situated me along slow-moving streams where the water was clear enough to see crawdads sitting motionless and tucked up under various shades of brown and gray rocks on the bottom, where my arms would be unknowingly scraped and sliced with moving among the tall reeds and brush that I had to penetrate to make it down to the stream, standing along the inside of a bay where I imagined that I could see dolphins’ and sharks’ fins cutting through the smooth or choppy water while military jets soared overhead, and where my presence in that other world was a welcome escape from the one where things were known and anticipated. I find images in my mind, too, of old country roads with black and red raspberry bushes growing in hedge-form on the other sides of ditches that separated grassy fields of Dandelions and Queen Anne’s Lace growing in wild profusion…a road leading to a ruined castle, or another one or two that carried me to a sportsplatz and a logger’s camp in the deep pine forest…roads and pathways that led to places crammed full of a child’s joy in being out and away.
I had thought of those things then and now as I recount the day that I noticed the bright groundcover on a berm that we had to cross to make our way down to the lake…two hundred yards or more between where we parked and where we were intent on going. The tightness of the leaves and the tiny cups of bright green, the inhospitable looking soil where they seemed to thrive, and the image of the lake and the snow-capped mountains beyond…all things noted and tucked away…stored now with what must be emotions or sensations of peace, contentment, and real happiness…a word that I don’t often use because the gap between perception and experience has been so wide. But that’s where those memories are now, the lake and the mountains and the myrtle spurge and the company of my son…they are enveloped in a spot of truly happy serenity back there in the memory files somewhere.
I had visited the canyon probably multiple dozens of times during the three-plus years that I lived in the Salt Lake valley, but this was the first time I actually hiked/walked on this particular trail. It’s more of a nature walk…or even just a pathway going from one picnic area to another…in the forest, alongside a stream, in the mountains, alone, with an occasional car to be heard coming or going up or down the canyon road…no crowds, no yelling teenagers or smaller people, just the sound of the stream, the chilled air, and the smell of a wet forest floor caught riding the occasional breeze to make me feel that I was where I belonged.
Near the trail-head of the path that takes one up to the White and Red Pine lakes, as well as the Maybird lakes in Little Cottonwood Canyon of the Wasatch Mountains….
The parking lot was already mostly full when my son and I arrived at the trailhead, but that was okay, as we/I prefer to park just off the road in the canyon…it’s easier to leave that way…hours later when the hordes of people are milling about with their comings and goings…. Aside from simply driving up into the canyon, one of the first wonderful things about this particular trail is the bridge crossing over the Big Cottonwood Canyon stream. Whatever the month or season of the year, it’s an almost magical, soul-moving experience to stand on the bridge or next to the rushing stream, watching the water make its way down-canyon. This photo shows the crush of the snow-melt…those billions of flakes that have returned to their primal form, filtered through the mountain’s soils and rocks and the vegetation’s roots…and now come at last to the stream-bed where they will be carried away and out into the city below.
Can you hear it…the rushing liquid surge that sounds like a a storm of wind in the high trees…can you feel the chilled air rushing with it down the canyon and into your face…enveloping your body…marveling your mind…soothing your soul…?
It had been more than three years since I had hiked this path, and being honest with myself, I had forgotten how steep the trail was at times…had forgotten how the faces looked of the people struggling up it as I had come down it on my many returns over the years…. It was the roughest hike I had made in quite some time…and one that didn’t use to be such a challenge.
Wonderful life in its simpler forms…the magic of a coming transformation found along the trail.
We’re not there yet, but this is one of the first glimpses of Sundial Peak as viewed from down the canyon…with the brilliant greens of the new summer growth, the patches of snow still extant on the east-facing slopes of the surrounding mountains, and the white trail of the stream that I know is running in its fullness as it drains from Lake Lillian.
Still on the approach, we can see Dromedary Peak to the right and the “Play Doh” like red rock in the foreground whose surfaces were smoothed by the passing of ancient glaciers many millions of years ago….
Looking over those smooth red rocks and back down the canyon in the photo below.
Getting even closer now, preparing for the final ascent up to the flat land before the lake…with a couple of hikers for near perspective.
I never made it up to the top of Sundial Peak during my years of living in the Salt Lake valley, but it was always something I wanted to do…something that I thought I would get to do on some weekend jaunt up there when those mountains were in my every-day…when they were a steadfast part of my eastward view.
The clouds were alive and moving with the strong breezes and winds that blew through our morning up at the lakes…constantly causing shadows to move over the water and mountain peaks….
Below is the view further to the west of the above images…where we can see the breached dam a the far end of Lake Blanche…
…and we know that the water continues down to Lake Florence and Lake Lillian…seen below in their descending order…stair-steps of cascading wonder….
We didn’t have sufficient time to explore for hours and hours like we did the first time my son and I made the trip up here in 2011…but the reward at the end of our hike up there was rich enough in itself to have made the entire effort worthwhile.
Lake Blanche and Sundial Peak in memory form.
Thank you for being here….