March 8, 2014
Lower Red Lake Canyon Trail (Canyonlands National Park)
Our friends were preparing for a garage sale to lighten their move to Texas (for the love of god). We went over there to help. It felt right to drink a coupla high point IPAs while I arranged shoes, ammo cans and the The Free Bin on the driveway. It felt wrong when the coffee maker gurgled to life at 5:30 the next morning, indicating it was time to pack, shop and drive an hour and change to Canyonlands National Park's Needles District for a longish walk to the Big Riv.
I let the chickens out, ran the dog, filled up on water, kissed the slumbering fam, bought four donuts, and was on my way south, marveling at a 40-foot-tall saguaro made of pre-owned bowling balls. I drank dark creamed coffee, listened to cassette tapes and thought about really nothing much at all. Which was nice. Once at the trailhead, I finished my final donut and donned a hoody while carefully observing a soft pale man cover himself in high performance everything.
Upon walking, I continued to have few thoughts requiring follow-up, which is the closest I get to vacation-mode. Being a self-employed artist requires near-constant speculation and scheming for new ideas, clients, projects. So just walking and taking the occasional photograph without making any commitments was quite relaxing. I zipped through the Elephant Hill 4WD section that serves (for those of us who prefer boot soles over tire tread) as the 4-mile approach to the Lower Red Lake hiking trail).
My body relaxes and works better when I transition from a constructed road onto a tight little path hugging the natural contours of a place. The trail usually aligns with my intuition, which makes it easier for me to hit my stride and feel like I belong there. I slipped into this type of groove handily as the route cut across The Grabens. As I entered the big beach sands of Red Lake Canyon, I felt a twitter of excitement for the upcoming river season. It also brought back a mishmash of memories from past Cataract river trips, including the threat a friend made about hiking out at Red Lake if the company or coffee were not to his liking. A dick statement at the time but hilarious in hindsight.
I followed fresh deer tracks down canyon and onto Cat's river left bench to the always-appreciated sound of whitewater. As I approached Brown Betty (the first rapid in Cataract Canyon), I remembered helping our friends open up the (now defunct) Brown Betty Candy Shop in downtown Moab ten or so fuzzy years ago. I painted some colorful Hershey's kisses or something on the walls (now beneath several coats of paint). I also recalled how there's one spot on Brown Betty's river right mega-beach that I just love. It's on the upstream edge where the waves crash ocean-like among scattered boulders. I thought about the people I've hung out with at that place, including my wife on our tenth anniversary trip last year (we also spent our honeymoon in Cataract).
I arrived at a nice little beach with a good view of the first crashing wave. I took off my shoes and soaked in the river and sighed. I unwrapped my pre-made City Market deli sandwich, chuckled about the bread-to-other-ingredients ratio and squoze on some condiments. I leaned against a big rock and stared at my favorite spot across the river. After a little post-lunch zoning, I unearthed my sketchbook, watercolors and pens and went to work on a loosey-goosey full-book spread. It was sloppy and not at all accurate and totally fun.
My drinking water level was looking pretty good, but I had noticed only a coupla shallow potholes on the way down. I dipped my camelback bottle into the Big Muddy and gave it the UV treatment. This didn't feel right, but I also didn't want to suck my last drop halfway up the hill. I held the water and thought of Metamucil. Yikes.
The hike out was just plain enjoyable. I relish getting into a state of 'flow' when I'm walking or painting or weeding the garden. This hike gave me flow about 90% of the time. The tennish percent of no-flow was due to (1) my increasingly wobbly legs and (2) the bag of salt and vinegar chips I had the foresight to stash for the drive home.