A wilder-ness storm messes up a whole lot more than city storms do. They make dirt roads hard for humble Covered Wagons to drive on. They turn dirt into mud and make trails slippery. They turn slot canyons into slot pools. They fill rivers until they’re high and fast and block the trail. And, the thing that I understand least but Mom fears most: they cause flash floods. Since our next few trails were dangerous for all the storm reasons, Mom decided we should add a trail that we hadn’t planned to visit, just to give Utah another day to dry out.
The trail looked perfect, except for that review that said, “The trail is the river. I repeat, you will be hiking IN THE RIVER.”
“What do you suppose that means?” Mom asked.
“It means that you would never have picked this trail if it weren’t nearby, less than 3 miles off the highway, and didn’t require a lottery for a permit,” I told her.
“Yeah, but what’s that bit about the river? Do you think it’ll be like that for us?”
I just looked at her silently so that she could hear that the rain was still falling on the roof.
“Well let’s just see what kind of adventures we get into, shall we?” Mom said, like the sort of person that is sensible about danger and doesn’t mind if her hikes are less than two miles. (She’s neither.)
Where the trail began there was no canyon at all, just a wide open valley with lots of swirly rocks and sand and a dirty river flowing that was the color of a frappuccino. Not a fresh frappuccino, but the bottled ones with that sickly grey tinge that come from gas stations. I tasted it, and it was as delicious as any frappuccino. Soon, though, the walls of the canyon started to rise above the river, and before long we faced our first challenge: The river was flowing right up against the canyon wall. Only half a mile into our hike, and already Mom was going to have to get her socks wet.
“Wait, look over here, there’s a trail that goes up the side…” Mom said. “Let’s try this one and see where it goes.”
The trail took us up and away from the river, and kept us on dry land. The problem, if it was really a problem, was that the further we walked, the deeper the canyon got and the more hopeless it was that we would ever find our way back into it again. It still seemed like we were winning, though, because below us the river bounced from one canyon wall to the other, leaving no way for a landlubber dog and Mom’s socks to stay safe if we’d taken that route.
And the rim was a very nice surprise. Instead of looking up at the rocks and their funny shapes, we looked down at them, which is better because you can see more at one time. Even Mom tiptoed over to the edge from time to time to look over and see if there was a way down, if we needed it. For four miles we walked along the cliffside trail, until the path slowly faded away, and the dirt we were walking on became steeper, and softer, and went right up to the cliff edge. We walked until Mom was doing the lurchy walk she does when she’s near something high and refuses to pick her paws up off the ground. When she’s like that, she also screams at me a lot if I don’t stay 2 feet behind her, which is stressful. So we turned around and went back to surer ground.
On the way back Mom noticed a trail that climbed down into the canyon. “Want to see where it goes?” she asked.
“What if it goes off a cliff?” I said.
“Why would somebody make a trial that just goes off a cliff?” Mom said.
“Well a cliff for a dog can be much shorter than a cliff for a human,” I pointed out. If a cliff is taller than Mom’s chin, even a brave dog like me has trouble getting down, since I have to climb head-first. And without those freakish grabby hands that humans have, forget getting back up again.
“Well let’s just check it out,” Mom said, taking what might have been a shortcut down a slope of loose rocks.
Soon we were on a kind of shelf with a big crack running through it. Mom jumped into the crack, but I stayed up where it was flatter. I don’t care for tight spaces. “I’m going to go check it out,” Mom said. “Don’t you DARE jump down the side after me.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, as I watched her jump down the first step, that was about as tall as her butt.
“STAY!” she shouted up, as she disappeared down the next step.
“Mom, where’d you go?” I asked, peeking over the edge to see her about 3 Mom-lengths below me, and about to jump down another step.
“STAY!” she shouted, jumping into another hole where I couldn’t see her anymore.
“MOM! Mom, you’re forgetting someone!” I barked.
To my relief she came climbing back into view a moment later. “I think you can make it,” she said. “I didn’t go all the way down, but it at least looks safe as far as I got.”
“Oh thank god! I missed you! I missed you so much,” I said, getting ready to jump.
“STAY!” she shouted again, and then signaled me to go the long way around to the crack rather than jumping down on her head.
We climbed down the steps that Mom had climbed down on her own, but then we got to a dog-cliff. Mom ordered me to STAY again as she crept around the corner to check. If I jumped down a dog-cliff then there had better be a way down, because there would be no way back up. Mom came back a second later. “It looks like it drops about 15 feet after this. But then I can see the river on the other side. We were so close!” Close but no cigar. We climbed back up the crack and onto the ridge, where we walked all the way to the end of the canyon.
“I want to at least see what it’s like in the canyon,” Mom said. “Can we just walk up a little ways?”
“Sure, I don’t see why no… Hey! Where are you going?” I barked. Mom had rolled up her jeans like Knuckleberry Finn and was wading into the frappuccino socks and all. “Mom… do you need a poop bag? You’re walking kind of funny.”
“It’s hard to… keep my… balance in this current,” she said. “But it’s not so bad.”
“I thought that we were trying to dry out!” I barked from the shore. I don’t like to swim, but now that Mom was on the other side, I was in a bind. I waded in, and when the water reached my chest, I let loose and sprinted to the other side, gulping mouthfuls of frappuccino as I went. “Thank god that’s over,” I said, shaking off on the other bank. But not a moment later, the trail dove back underfrappuccino and Mom was standing on the bank planning her route across again.
Pretty soon I was getting the hang of this river thing. I raced Mom to the other side, beating her every time, and then I rolled in the sand to get as much water off as I could before she emerged out of the water like swamp thing. Each time she crossed, the wet line on her jeans got a little higher, but she didn’t seem to mind. We walked until we found a few secret pirate caves that seemed like great places to hide treasure, and then we hiked back out again. We crossed the river so many times that I lost count on all my toes and some of Mom’s too. Usually we try to avoid getting wet, but there was something that felt really good about just giving in to it and realizing that wet chest hair and wet socks were really okay. Just like showers, sometimes letting go of the things you think you need can be really freeing.
By the time we got back to the Covered Wagon we’d hiked more than 10 miles, and even though I’d been sprinting through the sand moments before, now I was bushed. Mom put a bowl of water in front of me, but I felt my eyes drooping so heavily that my whole face almost splashed into my water bowl.
Oscar the Riverpooch