HIKING HAPPENINGS December 2013
Day Canyon – Quiet Contemplations
by Marcy Hafner
The desert is full of surprises and a spring-fed stream coursing through a canyon is always a marvel to experience. This geological phenomenon starts with a seep of water that travels underground for miles on a journey that may take years to complete. Sandstone in canyon country, as a general rule, is fairly porous, and this allows water to drip downward. Moving laterally along the path of least resistance the flow continues above an impervious layer of rock until it reaches a canyon wall. Then finally seeing the light of day it trickles out to form a spring. Day Canyon is one of these unique curiosities – a serene and secretive riparian paradise that is entirely on public land.
To get to this fascinating chasm, I head north out of town on Highway 191 for four miles, turn left on to Highway 279 (Potash Rd.) and drive 11.5 miles. Then just past mile marker four, I park in a pull off directly across the road from the mouth of the canyon.
Stepping over the railroad tracks I proceed around the wire-mesh gate and broken down fence before dropping down to an exuberant tangle of willow, greasewood, saltbush and tamarisk. To make any progress through this constantly changing growth, I simply follow the most obvious route back and forth across the stream. The lower the stream flow, the easier the path finding goes. Fortunately a sandy bottom negates a muddy walk.
The ruby-crowned kinglet and Bewick’s wren like this dense haven, but I eagerly leave the deep shadows for the open cheeriness of sunlight where the prickly pear and stately, water-loving cottonwoods grow. The further I stroll, the bigger these rough-barked, heavy-limbed trees get until I reach those that have been around for awhile - the hefty old timers. Surrounded by small pastures of lush green grass, they provide an appealing environment for a downy woodpecker, a vocal song sparrow and a congregation of juncos.
When the intermittent stream gurgles softly to the surface, it creates a collection of pools. This tranquil scene, however, gives no hint as to what happens when the heavens open up and torrential rains pour down in a raging gusher of water. Then everything not anchored down moves, including cumbersome logs that are rapidly swept along until momentum is lost. Then they pile up like pick-up sticks high above the streambed – a strong warning to stay out during a flash flood!
In about half a mile the sand turns to rock, and I’m veering to the right to follow an old uranium exploration road that wanders a short distance above the canyon floor. Passing through rabbitbrush that’s now gone to seed and the ever-present junipers, I am pleasantly surprised at this late date in the fall season to see the lovely lavender asters still in bloom – a special treat to cherish before winter sets in. Their delicate appearance belies a stubborn tenacity. All other wildflowers have long since gone, but despite the freezing nights of early November they still hang on.
Now as the dense growth disappears and the path becomes much smoother the entire presence of the powerful Wingate Sandstone walls appear in full spectacular view. I’ve never witnessed any climbing activity in Day Canyon, but the website “mountainproject.com” lists 21 climbing routes with imaginative names such as: Pillar Of Bubdom, Working Class Hero, Superball Tower, Brush Painted Datsun, Stick To The Mission, Black Widow and Kiss Of The Spider Woman.
Eventually I stroll through an abandoned barbed wire gate, and after approximately 1.5 miles the road drops down again to the canyon floor, where I can hear the soothing trickle of water dripping down the walls of a short box canyon. The main canyon shoots off to the left, and I scramble up a short hill to take a peek at the route ahead that eventually leads to remnants of petrified wood.
Day Canyon runs approximately five miles before emptying out at the Colorado River. By arranging a shuttle it is possible to hike its entire length by entering the upper end via an old eroded cattle trail that steeply descends to the head of the canyon. This access is about a mile from the Long Canyon Road and is a hike I’d like to do sometime; but for now that’s a story for another day.
Instead, on this extraordinary Indian summer day so conducive to a lollygagging frame of mind, this is as far as I wish to go. Rather than pushing on I’m content to just ramble so I can savor my fallish mood reflected in the pale fluttering leaves of the willow - the brilliant colors of the oaks - the heart-shaped cottonwood leaves so gently floating to the ground.
Stopping at a small pond I am captivated by the buoyancy of water striders as they cast their shadows across the pool. With their amazing ability to “walk” on water they are sometimes called pond skaters or Jesus bugs. The key for this amazing talent is the water repellent hair on their legs that holds bubbles of air.
Underneath the enchanting spell of two cottonwoods, I settle down for a long contemplative break. Looking over at Bootleg and Raptor Towers, I drowsily get comfortable. With the grandeur and stature of vertical walls surrounding me, I linger long enough to get my fill of this precious gift of radiating warmth orchestrated by the echoing calls of a raven.
Reluctantly heading back I continue to treasure the solitude I always find in this deep inspiring gorge of undisturbed explorations and quiet pleasures - a perfect location to tune into the undistracted rhythms of nature – a place of refuge, solace and contemplation. During this particular walk I saw only four people, and the comment passed on to me was, “It’s pretty cool back here.”