Sunday, June 17, 2012

A speck of gold in the edge of our pan

Dear First Day of Monsoon,

The locals call it the day of the first monsoon. I am reminded of the fragile watering holes we have visited and take solace in their being revived and refreshed. The last months have been nothing short of very hot and dry, and so, when the rains came they were even more welcomed. We had little warning that today would be the day Tucson would leave the clutches of the oppressive dry heat. My favorite swimming holes have been waiting for months now too – evaporating and desiccating as the muck grows on their shores. In the morning the desert and it's inhabits were giddy with the sight of the cumulus nimbus.

The clouds grew high in the sky and then darkened. We saw it coming, but were still caught in the streets as the massive drops fell and sizzled on the concrete. Months of dust and heat were immediately washed from the city. Shop keepers and bar tenders left their posts to stand in the doorway to smell and feel the temperature drop. Lighting was all around, thunderously loud, and movie-like in it's intensity. The winds came and pruned the palms and streets turned into rivers.

The rain didn't stop abruptly as it came. It lingered on, clouds shrouding the city's mountainous backdrop. The cacti greened and expanded, the dusty trails darkened and compacted, and rivulets became rivers. The water that fell onto the landscape collected itself, it amassed as water has always done upon the land – trickles meeting with other trickles, those trickles finding yet another, then that creek continuing along dry arroyos until meeting yet another, and soon enough the wash was full and raging.

I knew where they water was going. I have been to these places, these hidden places, where water has gathered and stood strong against the desert heat. Deep in granite canyons, lined with impervious rock, and protected by shadows, there are pools that persist. These places are simple but special, they are infrequent and alone. When we find them we are miners with finally a speck of gold in the edge of our pan. Eureka!

Today these places, beat down by the constant desert sun, and gasping not for air but for water, have been rejuvenated.  

Photos: 1) Araviapa Creek, 2)secret Galiuro waterfall, 3)Deejay Birch getting air into a hidden pool deep in the Blue Mountains

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Exploring Sonora

Wilderness found

Rarely do I visit a place that gives new meanings to words themselves. Not often do any of us explore a landscape that brings new perspective to concepts previously planted squarely in one's mind. Matter of fact, there are very few places left on this Earth that can truly remind our presently over-electrified minds what wilderness really is. I will call this place Sonora, and I have just returned.

Don't worry about how to get there. Don't go searching all over the Internet for things to do while you're there. Don't busy yourself with maps and menus and matrices, for it is unlikely that any of those things will mean much once you are there. There are directions to this place – though I will not recount them here. And there are further specific place names and road numbers that may help in travel, but that is neither the goal or intent of this essay. Sonora can be found west and then south when traveling from Tucson – 'nuff said.

When we got to our camp in Sonora we were welcomed by our friend Keith, who has essentially taken up an artist in residence at the wild place. Having become infatuated with the wild desert landscape and intricate ecology of sonora and having already explored from his month-long basecamp Keith was a great guide and companion for exploration. We lost ourselves in rivers of lava and wondered through layers of wildflowers as Keith handily expanded upon the subtle ecology and history of the volcanic dreamscape.

Within minutes of stepping from the car we were engulfed by the desert. Ocotillo in full leaf and bloom rose wildly on all sides, hemmed in by black basalt towers and domes. Craters and remnants of craters splashed with winter color created a lunar-like viewscapes to the west, while swirling desert playa dropped away to the east. In every direction was wilderness for as far as the eye could see.

At night, beside the hot mesquite fire, we ate meat from the coals. The desert was quiet and cold and the sky was lit with limitless stars. The dry air made the guitar chords resound brightly and they bounced off the lava backdrop that formed our protected camp. It was the three of us, two dogs, and 200 square miles of desert.

On day two we learned about the craters by walking their long, elegant rims. Rarely is one afforded the privilege of a hike that describes a perfect circle, ending where you began without a step backward. On colorado we found a perfect nature-built trail of rock benches and steps. We weaved through indescribable formations of eroded tuff mixed with colored lava pours and chunky conglomerates. The geology of the place was confusing to the eye and mind, though it was impossible to not make an attempt to make sense of it. I wanted to capture the place with photos that I could share later. I wanted a way to prove that what I was seeing did indeed exist.

We repeated another circle hike in the afternoon, traversing a wide crater rim a mile in diameter. Elegante was dark and ominous, its tone more subdued and somber than colorado had been earlier in the morning. This crater held a secret. Its floor appeared entirely inaccessible, being rimmed with loose basalt cliffs for 360 degrees. Looking into the crater floor was like looking into a time and place before mankind, it was a place before footprints and before trails and before our impacts have scarred a place.

As the sun settled and turned the sky to red we were at the edge of elegante with our backs to the crater floor and our gaze turned west toward the mighty shield volcano that built the place on which we stood. It would have been quite a show, watching the unfolding of this grand volcanic place. Just as the desert itself was morphing, my mind's definition of wilderness was being rearranged. Sonora, in the last moment of the day's sunlight, was unfolding the definition of wild before me.

The sun set, the moon rose. We were still just three humans and two dogs alone in the desert.