Every morning I wake up to the rugged and remote beauty of Vermilion Cliffs.
The ruggedness serves as a reminder that mother nature is my C.E.O. and the remoteness reinforces my belief that the environment is our entertainment.
Every day, from sunrise to sunset, mother nature reveals her ever-changing moods and weather patterns.
In the blink of an eye, a double rainbow can appear as quickly as an afternoon downpour ends.
A flash flood can quickly transform a dry river bank into temporary natal pools for red-spotted toads.
A pre-sunset sky transforms into a mosaic of pink, orange, purple, and red mystical hues; like a kaleidoscope of colors dancing across the desert sky.
Mother nature’s magical moods entertain and energize me on a daily basis; however, there was still something missing, the Perfect Stranger.
Every other week, the Perfect Stranger honored our romance by driving over a thousand miles (round trip) to Vermilion Cliffs. Even though she was completing her thesis, managing her non-profit foundation, and taking care of her two dogs; she still made time for me.
How many people would be willing to drive to the middle of nowhere to pursue a romance with someone who could only offer their love and desert landscapes? Would the drive become tedious over time; diminishing the romantic sense of relationship urgency, or would the early morning desert driveway embraces serve as a reminder that this was no ordinary love?
On a February winter’s morning, the Perfect Stranger and I set out for Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. After a twenty-minute drive to the Kaibab Plateau, we headed north on House Rock Valley Road (also known as B.L.M Road 1065). For twenty two miles, we followed the unmaintained gravel road before reaching our final destination, WirePass trailhead.
Wirepass is a 1.7-mile trail that spills into the longest continuous slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch.
Buckskin Gulch holds a special place in my heart. In 2011, I celebrated my 40th birthday with a thirty-eight-mile backpacking trip into the lower intestine of Buckskin Gulch, before following the Paria River all the way to Lees Ferry.
It was during this trip that I fell in love with slot canyons and made a mental note to myself; this is a place you only share with someone special. Four years later, I found myself day hiking Wirepass with my love, the Perfect Stranger.
In sections, which were less than three feet wide, the Perfect Stranger and I navigated and negotiated our way through the slot canyon. Having bruised several ribs a few weeks prior, rock scrambling was quite a painful endeavor.
Slot canyons can be treacherous during flash flood season. With higher ground exit points few and far between, the B.L.M. (Bureau Of Land Management) strongly suggests avoiding slot canyons July through September. Rain from fifty miles away can deliver barreling flash floods within minutes.
As we approached the Wire Pass / Buckskin Gulch junction, petroglyphs left by the Anasazi came into view.
Petroglyphs of humans, bighorn sheep, and a mysterious dotted line followed the entire length of the rock wall.
Canyons with vertical walls a few hundred feet high and only a few feet wide are considered true slot canyons. True slot canyons are found on the many rivers and tributaries that flow into Lake Powell. Branches of the Paria River, Escalante River, and the numerous creeks that cross Navajo lands south of Lake Powell, are birthing grounds for mother nature’s masterpieces.
Buckskin Gulch’s curved sunlight sandstone walls screamed the works of Georgia O’Keefe. Perhaps Georgia O’Keefe was speaking on behalf of mother nature when she said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way-things I had no words for.”
Georgia O’Keefe was right! No words or pictures could accurately convey the beauty of this slot canyon.
Unfortunately, the Perfect Stranger and I were unable to venture any further into the belly of Buckskin Gulch. Within a half a mile, we hit our first mud puddle; a sign of recent rain in the canyon.
A few hundred yards later, a deep water trough ended our hike. In thirty degree weather, a cold water swim was not something we had planned for.
As we made our way back to the trailhead, the Perfect Stranger and I made plans to camp inside Buckskin Gulch for a few days. Due to the lack of water, most backpackers only spend a day or two in the Gulch. In order for us to stay three to four days, we would need to carry in enough water to sustain us.
Leaving Wirepass trailhead, I realized I had a few weeks until I returned to my seasonal job. Would my work affect our extraordinary love? Would the Perfect Stranger continue to make the pilgrimage out to the middle of nowhere in a Northern Arizona town? Would the miles that separate us continue to keep us close or would they painfully remind us of our geographically challenged romance?