Slot Canyons in Escalante and a Short Story About Love and Consequence
In a previous post about the Grand Tetons, I touch on some of my feelings surrounding national parks. I have always been conflicted about visiting these areas, because for me, the presence of immense crowds steals away from the very object that we are trying to preserve, which is the wild. Of course, preserving these places is better than not, and of course everyone should be given a chance to experience the wild on some level –but still –what wild can really be experienced with sidewalks and gift shops and shuttle services spanning it? What sense of solitude or self-reliance can be experienced when you know just over the ridge is a 5-star resort?
Whatever the answer –I am grateful for places like Escalante, Utah. Escalante is surrounded by the most beautiful canyon country I have ever seen, and yet there are no sidewalks at all. These canyons below, among many others (a few of which I’ll share in later posts), are reachable only by a long, historic, discriminating dirt road called Hole-in-the-Rock Road, with smaller, even more discriminating dirt roads coming off it. Then there are the trails, which for the most part are marked only by cairns constructed over time by other hikers. Mostly, you are just walking across country. Escalante could easily become like Moab or any number of sold-out outdoor enthusiast hotspots, but for the time being –and hopefully for the remainder of my life –it will remain a small and unassuming town that humbly boasts some of the worlds greatest wonders.
Peek-a-boo and Spooky Canyons are pretty easy to get to. The hike is very short and the road off of Hole-in-the-Rock is relatively smooth. The trail takes you into a wide wash with 3 major slot canyons pouring into it. The furthest of these is called Brimstone Gulch, and because of a rattle snake standing guard in one of the narrower canyons, we were robbed of time and could not make it. These canyons become so slim that backpacks have to come off and bodies and heads must be turned sideways. Larger people will not fit. Panic attacks are likely in those claustrophobic.
I hope you enjoy the photos and the story below that I have written to accompany them.
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A slender moon rose, and it was this meager light that he saw by. He kept the dipper at his back and set to running as far south as God would have him. Hounds reported out of the dark like echoes sourceless and malevolent come from a dream. Torches descended a ridge behind him and converged into a single flame and he turned and groaned and wept and stumbled down into a wide gulch, deep with sand and sharp with gnarled bracket that drew blood from his legs and dragged him down as if even these dead and unremarkable things would have him removed from the earth.
The trail he left was easy to follow, so he ran a few times up on to the slickrock walls so as to throw them off, and were it men alone that pursued him perhaps this would have worked, but they were hounds that led those men, beasts beckoned forth by the scent of his reeking soul, merciless keepers of their master’s peace who would die from exertion before letting the trail go cold.
The gulch narrowed into a high-walled canyon which soon became no more than a dark crack in the earth. He ran through this until he was forced by constraint to squirm and pull himself wildly through the crevasse like some terrified thing in the throes of a frantic birth. He fell over a dry falls and into a sandy pit. The walls were bowed out and smooth. There was no escape. He wept. He closed his eyes to hear the hounds, but beyond the sick beating of his heart he could hear nothing. It was quiet. Dark. In the small rift above him he could see some stars, and amongst them hovered Polaris. He wailed and wailed and begged forgiveness from whatever God may have been sitting with them, but it was only men that would mark the muffled cries of that sinner in the dark.
Minutes passed like timeless nightmares. Moments burned in his heaving throat. He knew that he would die, but was not at peace with how. Thirst and rot within. Fire and hounds without. He sat and curled his knees to his chest and gazed upon the stars, which now bore shining streaks between them as if the world had sped in its turning. He smiled at this and clutched the locket at his throat, closing his eyes and straining to remember her smile.
There came voices above him. He opened his eyes. Torch fires had overthrown the stars and now waved atop the canyon rim like specters come to carry him off. He called to them his surrender, but they left him in the dark once more. The stars blurred and quivered and then were gone to sleep.
His cheek and face burned suddenly and he awoke in full daylight. He yelped and backed against the wall while the snake that bit him shook its tail and moved toward him. There was a log propped against the wall that had not been there before with each side freshly sawed. He clambered up the log, but it was too short to free him. He slid down. He climbed again. He slid. The snake struck at his feet, but he jumped away, took hold of the log, and heaving it down, smashed the snake into the sand.
He heard their voices fall from above, and he cried out to them as though they were angels perched upon the rim with the means of his salvation. His cries were answered when a picture framed in gold landed at his feet which bore the image of the girl, and then again a snake and then another and then another fell from the cloudless heavens like an apocalyptic rain. He grew dizzy and the day grew dark. He caught his fall against the wall and sat, his left eye swollen shut, his right wide and shaking. He held the picture in his lap and looked upon the dusty glass at both the girl behind it and the monster reflected in front of her. He drew it to his breast and lay back his head, closing his eye. But even in that darkness he saw the architect of his destruction and it hurt that she was so beautiful, that she was so fair, and that when first he knew those eyes he believed them to be the very purpose of his life.
He remembered what her whispers felt like on his neck, but couldn’t remember what words that breath carried, and then teeth sunk into his neck instead and the venom felt cold. He remembered when first he saw her naked in the desert moonlight, and then his leg seized up with pain. He remembered the first time he heard the word forever and believed that it were true. He remembered the lustful eyes of other men. He remembered wondering were she would go. He felt the snakes upon him in their slow confidence and he remembered her betrayal. Her blood. His hands. Like a dream. How much like a dream was his life. He opened his clouding eye and looked upon the striped canyon and thought upon all the roads that would unwittingly lead him into this pit and wondered whether he had anything to do with it at all, and then he died. His body, fat and bloated with much poison, would rot to bones in that hot sand amongst the skeletons of serpents and a few hapless mice.
Those in that country would name these canyons Hell and frighten their lustful daughters with this tale of wrath and judgement, but few would go to see the pit and learn the sorrowful truth measurable in that tender embrace, to see that log and know the devil’s work to be but the spiteful work of man. Spring rains would turn about the bones, and the water and the wind would do their irreversible work to steal away all truth from this negligible tale and place in its stead a truth far more harrowing and terrifying than any that man could devise. For in spite of all our wanderings and our transgressions, all roads lead to the pit, and all travelers are erased and memories thereof erased and false tales thereof erased until that wordless story written in water, wind, and stone erodes the stage entire and harbors alone the unheard echoes of beasts obedient only to and hungry only for the moment at hand which is ever essential and dire beyond reckoning and which knows nothing of love or hate and only of war which like a beating heart inheres to all things great and small and precludes eternity at every turn by forcing upon all of creation the calamity of the moment that follows.
To any followers: Still on my summer hiatus. It took hours just to upload these photos to the post. Internet is scarce, but the fish are biting. Hopefully I will be able to post with some regularity now, although they may still be far between. Until then, consider one of my promises kept! I look forward to the time I can visit your pages again –I am sure I’ll have a lot of reading to do in August.