Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lee's Ferry - Paria Canyon

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Camped by the shore of the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry. The river is running cold, and swift, and deep blue/green.  There is a small riffle here where the Paria River joins the Colorado and judging from the color of the river, it has not rained for many days.  Our plan had been to hike tomorrow up the Paria River canyon, but thunderstorms in the forecast may change all that.  We'll check with the ranger in the morning.

We left a cool 7,000 foot campsite this morning and drove east along the base of the Vermillian Cliffs National Monument on our way towards the Colorado River.  As we drove, and dropped elevation, the temperature rose so that by the time we stopped at the trailhead for the Cathedral Wash trail we had stripped our long pants, and jackets and were back ins shorts and tee, with big brimmed sunhats and plenty of water.  The wash starts as a dry gravel streambed below a culvert on the side of the road and quickly deepens into a meandering canyon with towering sandstone walls, layered in colors and textures/  Swallows dart overhead using the rounded natural hollows as nesting holes.  There are all sorts of flowering plants in the base of the wash.  Most of the hike is easy terrain, but in several places we need to resort to rock scrambling and ledge crawiling to find ways over  smooth eroded spill overs that offer no purchase for climbng either up or down.  There are minimal cairns that mark where the trail deviates from the streambed and climbs up one wall or another to surmount some downstream obstacle.  About half way down, a strong breeze picks up and we can smell the river. Around a few more bends and we can hear its' roar echoing off the tall walls that now crowd out the bright sky overhead. Within an 1.5 hours of leaving the car we have reached the banks of the Colorado river. It is about 200 feet wide here with a small sandy beach.  Across the river, a tall sandstone cliff rises over 1,000 feet and as we look both up and downstream things look about the same.  We both immediately wade right into the river without looking at each other and discussing a plan - our parched and dusty feet are crying for some relieve. 

The trip back up the canyon to our car was faster, since we deliberated less about the route, but by the time we got there, we were both exhausted from the oppressive heat which grabbed us like a vice once the breeze from the river subsided.  We had a "euro-snack" lunch of salami and hard cheese and moved the camper to our overnight spot at Lee's Ferry before taking a few hour siesta while we waited for the temperatures to drop.

The wind is up and it is warm, and invigorating, and seems to get into everything.  The skylight has pooped open on its own during one gust, so now I can see why all the campsites come with metal wind barriers near the tables.  I take the Yoga mat out and spend an hour meditating on the incredible landscape and the scents on the wind.  I enjoy the wind blowing at me as I hold a balanced pose with feet and toes gripping the rubber mat over the rough stone surface like a suction cup.  All I can hear is the wind, and the rushing of the river and as I scan around for a focus point for my breathing as my eyes bounce between the scuttling storm clouds and towering vermillian cliffs across the river gorge. I see a small lizard running between shading spots, I see yellow flowers atop spindly stalks buffeted by the swirling wind, I see the sparkling flakes in the multitude of colors of crushed rock that makes up the  rough surface of our campsite.

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