It’s not long after dawn on a clear autumn day, chilly, but set to warm up later. We’re at one end of the 2.5-mile-long Grand Wash, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, a slot canyon on the Waterpocket Fold through white Navajo Sandstone formations and brick-red Wingate Sandstone cliffs up to 500 feet high. This early, the gorge is half-shaded, its rocks cool. A full day-moon hangs against the turquoise desert sky, balancing like a fairy ball on top of towering walls.
on a canyon path
shapes of clouds
Grand Wash twists and turns, so you never get to see from end to end. Strewn rocks tumbled smooth by flash floods channel us one way then another along the canyon’s floor. The trail winds hard against the cliff foot, punctuated by rock avalanches like sculpted waterfalls. The rocks unravel alongside us, ledgy pinkish Kayenta rocks giving way to blocky Wingate. As the sun climbs, Kodachrome colours develop — ochre, umber, sienna, orange, madder. Little rills of sand formed by run-off seem to mimic in miniature the cliff’s giant folds and bays. Small pools from late summer storms have baked into hard curls of reddish-brown clay. I pick up a bowl-shaped curve as big as my hand, for all the world like a Neolithic potsherd.
sparks of a campfire
through autumn darkness
We pass buttresses of a long-collapsed arch. Shapes carved by centuries catch my eye — a hollowed-out heart, a gaunt monster with bared teeth. Desert varnish slicks high cliff faces, dark iron oxides leached-out over millennia. The Anasazi used to scratch their pictographs of bighorn sheep and hunting scenes into these surfaces. Circular tafoni, solution pockets, pockmark the cliff face, the result of weathering when wind or water dissolve softer rock. These cave-like lacunae, some quite deep, riddle the sandstone. They invite your inquisitive hand — bigger ones offer to frame your selfie. But we’ve been warned. Rattlesnakes like to curl up in the warm hollows! However, the only animal life is a green lizard basking by the track. Yellow-flowered rabbit-brush, last of the October wildflowers, sprawls over sand where the Wash opens to sky.
mountain after mountain
named for prophets
We reach the narrowest part of the Wash. The cleft resembles the Narrows in Zion National Park, barely 15 feet wide but floored with sand, and dry. I hang back to take photographs and my buddies disappear. Suddenly I imagine a flash flood in unseen hills, a stampede of crashing stones and torn-apart trees bursting with a headlong roar from this bottleneck slot… I need people (in my shots for scale) so I get on out, fast. The sun’s higher now, warming where it touches — still cold in the shadows. I join my friends and we walk into the 21st century.
at trail’s end
expecting a ride
full of stories
©2018 by Marietta McGregor
Marietta McGregor is a retired botanist, journalist and photographer from Canberra, Australia, whose award-winning haiku, haibun and haiga appear in international journals and anthologies and have featured on Japanese television. She belongs to the Australian and British Haiku Societies, and the Haiku Society of America.