For our final act we stopped for one last hike in a place near the Salted Sea. We got there at night time, but when we stopped the Covered Wagon for the night and got out to stretch our legs and have dinner, the moon was bright like a street light and we could see without using flashlights. I know we have the moon at home too, but I don’t notice how great it is there like I do when we’re traveling. A lot of other things are like that too, like driving, and rocks, and hard boiled eggs, and public people bathrooms.
The road to the trail had a sign at the bottom that said “Four Wheel Drive Only.” Luckily the Covered Wagon has four wheels, so we kept going. The road was made of dirt that shook us like a machine gun, but the Covered Wagon is tough like us, and knows how to climb much steeper and rougher wagon trails than this. When we got to the trailhead after only 6 miles of machine gun fire, there were other four-wheeled cars there too, like a Prius, a 1980s camper van, and a Winnebago.
As is our custom, we hiked into the canyon just as the sun was starting to rise. Mom called the landscape “biblical,” which means that there are so many things to look at that you forget to close your mouth and start drooling, so you should hike with a bib. All together, the canyon was very pretty. But if you looked at each thing on its own, it was kind of a mess. From close up all the rocks looked like they were each part of a different story. There were some that had zebra stripes, and some with Charlie Brown stripes, and some that looked like they were made of shiny plastic, and some that looked wet even though they were dry, and some that looked like rocks but turned out to be just sand if you tried to stand on them, and some that looked like a bunch of pebbles held together with tar-flavored chewing gum. When I watched the canyon, I felt like it had a big story to tell me, but I couldn’t quite understand; like listening to the radio from outside the car.
For 2 1/2 easy miles we walked up the empty river canyon with our heads tilted back: me sniffing and mom looking for the story that explained how so many different kinds of rocks found their way into one place. When we reached the top, The AllTrails map showed that we should turn around and walk back the way that we had come, but the map showed that the trail continued around in a loop and taking a different canyon back to the start. The loop was called Painted Canyon Loop (Easy). In the middle of the loop there was a trail called the Ridge Trail that went down the middle of the loop like the crack in a coffee bean, and there were little cross trails all along the way so you could get back and forth from the ridge to the two canyons. “Let’s walk back on the ridge,” Mom said. Mom likes ridges because you can see where you’re going, where you’ve been, and make good backdrops for hunky dog modeling shoots.
We climbed up a steep trail that hardly looked like a trail unless you were a goat. When we got to the top we could look out across the whole valley, with the canyons gashed into the mountain like the mazes that scientists use to feed rats, and the ragged mountains in the distance. We walked along the ridge like Legolas and Aragorn walking to Rohan (I’m Legolas, of course).
Mom had bought me a sombrero in New Mexico. Some people think that we hold our land inside of us, and those people are more territorial and bark angry words when other people come on their land. Other people like to let different lands flow through them, and be a part of different lands at different times. Mom and I are the second type, but it’s not our job to decide that the territorial humans are wrong. I bet it’s a hard job to decide how much of a land is inside each human that comes from there, because each human is different. I can’t even imagine trying to figure out what things are true about every single human from a land so that you can make laws, because everyone’s so different. Instead, what’s important to me is that no human feels bullied or gets their feelings hurt just because of the land that’s inside of them. The Land that Mom and I hold inside of us is The West (even though Mom came from The East), and the hills and mountains of The West are something that Mexico shares with us, so we share a kinship with them. We also appreciate their fondness for cheese. So Mom bought me a sombrero so that our Mexican friends could feel comfortable around us and see that we’re friendly.
But I did not like wearing my sombrero. Whenever Mom put it on my head, I slowly let my head sink lower and lower until the hat toppled off my head like it was an accident. Mom tried to make me pose with my sombrero on the ridge, but I was lucky. A strong wind came along and threw it into the canyon. We watched it roll down the steep slope until it fell off a cliff and disappeared. One of us was very disappointed.
After a mile or so, we took a steep almost-trail off the ridge and into the canyon to get away from the wind. The rocks in this canyon were a little different, but then again the rocks in the last canyon were different everywhere you looked too. We were most of the way back into Painted Canyon Loop (Easy) when we came around the bend and the trail fell into a hole. We looked into the hole to see where the trail had gone, and found that it had fallen about two Mom-lengths below us, with the two parts held together with a rope leash. “Well this isn’t going to work,” Mom said.
We looked around for an Oscar-friendly way down, but there was nothing but smooth rock walls for 100 feet above us on both sides. We were trapped. The only way out was to walk back up to the ridge and find a different way down. Mom looked closely at the map and found another trail higher up the mountain that crossed from the ridge to the Painted Canyon Loop (Easy). Because we’re learning from experience, Mom looked closer at the stripes that tell her how steep a trail is. In one spot right above the Painted Canyon Loop (Easy), a whole bunch of lines came together in one place, and the trail went straight across the spot without any squiggles.
“That,” Mom said, “looks like a cliff.” Instead of investigating to find out what the cliff looked like, Mom decided that our best option would be to walk all the way back up the ridge to the top and walk all the way back down through the second canyon. Basically our route would look like a big McDonald’s M, and we still had to walk the whole second arch.
Now that we were walking up the ridge instead of down, the wind was in our faces. This was the kind of wind that only blows in stories where something really interesting happens. People don’t return library books, or buy more poop bags in wind like this; they go on quests or save the world. Mom hiked with her paw on top of her head so that she wouldn’t lose her sombrero, and I walked behind her so that she could block my wind.
After hiking almost 2 miles into the wind, we were excited to go back down into the shelter of the canyon for the second half of Painted Canyon Loop (Easy) and the final leg of our golden arches. We were back in a big, wide, sandy, dry river and all we had to do was hike some easy miles back to the Covered Wagon. After awhile I started hearing a strange “plunk, plunk” noise, like something hitting metal. “What’s that noise?” I asked.
“I have no clue…” Mom said, looking confused and curious.
Then we came around the bend and saw that the trail had fallen into another hole. In the spot where it disappeared was a rickety metal ladder that had fallen in and was trying to climb back out. I peeked over the edge, and saw that the drop was almost 2 Moms tall, so I backed up real quick so it couldn’t suck me down like it had the ladder. Mom stayed at the edge inspecting the rock. Then, to my horror, she held out her arms and tried to scoop me up! Luckily, I am very fast and she can’t run, so I got away and stood just outside her reach.
But then something even scarier happened. Mom turned away from me and climbed down the ladder without me. I stood at the top of the hole and watched her go. Then I watched her move the ladder to the side. Then she called me and told me to come. “I can’t! I can’t fly!” I whimpered. But she seemed to have her doggie telepathy turned off, because she kept cheerfully calling my name like I was being a big baby. I looked around for another way down, but there wasn’t one. And then I started crying. I was as scared as I’ve ever been waiting outside the Starbucks.
Mom was still standing at the bottom of the hole calling me like nothing was wrong. Maybe she knew something I didn’t. I put my front paws on the edge, and tried to see if an eagle would swoop down and let me ride on its back to safety but the only thing that happened was that Mom’s voice got even more excited. I inched forward until I felt the ground sucking me into the hole. Then the hole grabbed all of me and I went over the edge.
The hole that had eaten the trail wasn’t straight up and down. It was just a little bit angled like the steepest slide you’ve ever seen, so even though I was falling, I kept moving my legs like I was running and it kept me from falling butt over ears. When I got to the flat bottom, I kept running on the sand like a truck on a runaway ramp until finally the falling stopped. I was okay! Mom was already throwing a party, cheering and telling me what a good job I’d done and how brave I was (as if I didn’t know). Her whole body lit up with pride and love. Now that I knew I could fly, I couldn’t stay stuck to the ground and jumped and pranced around doing my happiest happy dance and squealing.
“You did such a good job! I was so scared,” Mom said, grabbing me in a head lock so that she could kiss the special spot on top of my head.
“What? But this was your idea! I wanted to go back!”
“I know you did…”
“You knew?!?! Then why didn’t you come up out of the hole and walk back with me?”
“I knew you could make it. But the only way to do it without getting hurt was if you didn’t hesitate. You had to not doubt yourself for a moment.”
“Because I thought you knew what you were doing!”
“Well it worked, didn’t it?”
Mom wanted to take a picture of me in front of the cliff so that I could show all of you just how brave I was, but I wouldn’t get close to it again, and ran away down the canyon without her.
Can you believe that a little while later the trail fell down into a hole one more time?! If there hadn’t been a way down this one we would have been trapped, with no way up the cliff behind us, and no way down the one in front of us. Luckily, Mom found a way that I could climb down lower and only jump from 3/4 of a Mom high. So this time I was only medium scared…
When we were almost back to the Covered Wagon, we reached the place where we would have come out if we had taken the trail that went over the spot where all the steepness lines came together. We expected to see something horrible, like a 100 foot long leash dropping off a cliff, but instead we saw a big crack in the canyon wall filled with lots of big rocks we could have climbed on to get down. If we had come down this way, we would have been finished 3 miles, 2 ladders, and a sombrero ago.
In this last half mile, we also started seeing other hikers. One lady stopped and asked us if it was this way to the ladders. “I tried to do the ladders last year, but I didn’t make it,” she said.
“I almost didn’t make it either,” I told her.
Oscar the Flying Pooch