By Vaughn Hadenfeldt
I’m camping in a familiar spot at the junction of a side drainage and its main canyon. For over thirty years I’ve shared this campsite with family, friends and clients. Tonight I’m with two men who have hired me to guide them through this canyon on a backpack trip. Like many locations where desert canyons join, this has become a popular campsite. A good route in or out, a fairly reliable spring, a sandy level bench above most flash floods and a grouping of cottonwoods is hard to beat. Shade, comfortable ground, water, access, plus rock art and ruins within a radial view make this a choice place.
Through the years one gets into a familiar camp-spot routine. The kitchen is here, I rest my back against that log, the food hangs from that limb, I pee over there, I sleep right here and early morning sun first hits right over there. This night, the two men have retired to the choice tenting area. Like most clients they will crawl inside, zip the doorway closed and miss the night sky. Sometimes, or oftentimes depending on their prostates, I will know they are still alive by the zippity-do-da needed to relieve themselves. The more zipping, the more chance they have for stargazing.
As usual, this night I’m sleeping in the open on the ground next to the kitchen area. Being next to the stove has its pros and cons. You can just roll over while still in your sleeping bag and start the morning water to boil. However, sleeping by the cook area that’s been camped in frequently often means visitors in the night. If you’re lucky maybe a ringtail cat with babies will do a roust-about visit, but most likely it’s my little Haunta buddies – the deer mice — who stop by. I have one now, scurrying about and ricocheting between the pots and utensils.
I’m lying down thinking about this particular camp and the countless nights spent right here. I always get a grin of pleasure when I’m nestled in my sleeping bag and take that first relaxed look up beyond the looming canyon walls into the night sky. Another grin quickly takes over the first when I remember back to one of the times my daughter camped here with me…
…A good friend and I had backpacked here with my daughter, his two boys and another boy. This other boy was older than my daughter, bigger and quite sure of himself. After becoming a very successful young gymnast, my daughter had switched to karate and was closing in on her black belt. Macho Boy has been taunting her all day and finally grabs her from behind with a real tight binding hold. Macho Boy says, “What can you do now?” But before he gets the words out, he quickly leaves the ground, flies forward and is slammed into the sand with a gasping thump. My daughter is sorry, her karate instructor wouldn’t have been pleased, but Dad feels that Macho Boy is now well grounded and better connected with the earth!
Haunta buddy is still rousting about. I’m wondering if the food bags that I’ve haphazardly suspended from the cottonwood will be his next challenge. Just as I’m thinking about getting up to rearrange the food, an unexpected late-night visitor arrives. In a flashing, spread-wing instant an owl nails Haunta buddy a few feet from my head! After the adrenaline rush leaves and I process what just happened, I appreciate the quiet kitchen.
In the morning, I wake and remember my dream of turtles rising to the surface of a slickrock pool. Their shells are of pottery with corrugated, polychrome and black and white designs.
This is a very good place to camp.