Awash in the Canyonlands
It came. All night the rain chucked down, and H. J. and I listened to the ever-increasing crescendo of rushing water. In the morning the Paria was a different place. The river, 12 hours before, was a puddle-deep riffle maybe ten feet across. Now it was a boiling mud bath, waist high, 25 feet from shore to shore. The rain, though, was over. We waited in camp for several hours, and the waters stabilized. And so we decided to press on, walking on the banks as often as possible, and crossing the river only when there was no other choice.
The crossings were interesting. We'd face upstream, leaning on our hiking sticks, and sort of shuffle-step across, the waves lapping at our hipswe'd arranged our backpacks so that items least damaged by wetness were on the bottom. The current tried ceaselessly to upend us. A fall carried with it serious consequencesa drenched sleeping bag, possible lacerations, a good chance of hypothermia. Several times, I felt my heels rise up from the riverbed, but neither of us tumbled.
Late in the day we spotted a mule deer, crowned with antlers, running sure-footed along the riverbank, leaving deep hoofprints. We watched him bound effortlessly across the river, leap up the far bank, and disappear around a bend. We crossed at the same spotlocals always know the easiest route to traveland camped beneath a lone and spindly aspen.
On our final day, the skies were brilliant and the sandstone glowed like embers. Canyon wrens darted in and out of holes. The Paria River grew broader, and gentler. The walls of the canyon began to open up, wider and then wider still, as if we were being gradually released from the vaults of the earth and into sun, until we came upon the mighty Colorado River, and our hike was over.
Article © Michael Finkel, 2000.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication