cañonbound

063

Followed these tracks for miles/A thousand cows are hard to hide/Reached a canyon so wide/A man’s whole life could fit inside.

-The Balse, “Shootout” GhostTown Cowboys E.P.

The young man with the poofy hair must really be fond of walking, some of the locals have remarked. Even in the heat of the day, they see him walking along the road toward the mountains, water bottle in hand, sunglasses obscuring his eyes and hair done up in a ridiculous-looking bun. They drive by, tap their horns to acknowledge his presence, and he looks over, startled, and offers a nod. “I told him that if he likes hiking around so much, he should go up into the canyons in the Granite Range,” said Chuck, a bartender at Bruno’s. “I told him about the bighorn sheep skulls I find up there, bleached by the sun, and he seemed impressed by that. I told him, ‘Be careful, though, it’s extremely rugged. There will be some minor bouldering, some scrambling involved.’ He seemed impressed by that, too.”

The jagged clefts in the mountains command the attention. They are verdant swales in otherwise barren slopes, filled with willow, juniper, tule and rose. They are alluvial entry points to the summit, fanning out over the foothills and narrowing, steepening with elevation. They are washes graded to the angle of repose. Stairmasters to the stars. He wends his way up the dry defiles and disappears from sight, enveloped by the mountain.

Michael, volunteer coordinator at Friends of Black Rock, would sometimes accompany him on these treks. Recalling one particular descent, he said, “When I saw the route he wanted to take going down, I said, ‘No way, man. You’re crazy. I like you, but you’re crazy. There’s got to be an easier way.’” Michael had wanted to keep the down-climbing as painless as possible. His knees were creaking in novel, disconcerting ways. “He had wanted to continue going up, but we sort of reasoned that there wouldn’t be enough light left in the day to make it back before dark. So instead he wants to go this crazy route back, a different way than we had come. It wasn’t bad, actually, but it wasn’t the most direct route.” They made the descent without undue difficulty. Michael had turned back frequently to track their progress down the canyon. “We only got about halfway to the top that time. It took almost three hours. We’ll come back to it another day.”

Meanwhile, the chasms deepen, widen, elongate in his mind. He imagines finding a sheep skull, or an eagle nest. Maybe a passel of fossilized sea creatures, frozen in a slab of limestone. Or maybe a chunk of gold, or a ledge of silver. Certainly, the canyons harbor plants, animals, intermittent water and ample shade. In his eyes they are full of promise and adventure, a worthy test for the legs and hands.

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