“Little Wild Horse” by Jackson Yang

         I could feel the slow tingle of excitement work its way through my body as I boarded the plane to Utah this past April. Whenever I flew out to spend a couple of weeks with my mom’s side of the family, I knew I’d be bringing back a slew of good memories. Maybe it was seeing the family, or simply the drastic change in scenery, but I could easily find a sense of calm that was often hidden somewhere in the busy suburbs of Connecticut. Being a self proclaimed outdoorsman myself, it did not hurt that I would always make some sort of road trip or camping adventure with my crazy Uncle CJ. We had driven from San Diego to San Francisco and back to Utah one summer, then up to Montana another, all in his beat up FJ Cruiser. The odometer may as well have been counting the number of stories we made. I like to think that part of what makes an experience memorable is the people that you share it with, and Uncle CJ is the type of character where you know you’ll come back with at least one good tale. My most recent trip out west found me towards the south of the Beehive State, snaking my way through the Little Wild Horse slot canyon near Goblin Valley.
         We step out of the car on an overcast day, the threat of rain not to be taken lightly in an area where flash flooding through canyons has proven to be deadly in the past. Uncle CJ quickly points this out, and recalls how in this same place a number of years back his and his friends’ cars were washed down through the canyon on a stormy night. He laughs at it now, but I sense an air of gratefulness that the only fatalities that night were their automobiles. We take a brief moment to speak with a German tourist who has some questions about the area. Uncle CJ possesses the innate ability to immediately get along and converse with the strangers we often meet on our trips. His scruffy and hardened exterior is surprisingly approachable, perhaps because he gives off a strong impression of familiarity with landscapes that are so alien to others. After a few directions and pieces of advice, we gather some water and snacks in our packs and set off down the trail to the canyons. I take my phone along only for the camera feature, the suburbanite in me whining about the lack of service swiftly silenced by the digestion of the natural scene around me.
         Rocks of every size brought by the coursing waters of flash floods shift underneath our feet as we progress along the path towards the canyons. I look around and note the sparse shrubbery interspersed amongst the rocks and smoother areas, feeling that something that determined to live in a place like this deserves at least some acknowledgement. We finally reach the entrance into the slots, discreetly marked by a simple sign at a fork that points us in the direction of Little Wild Horse. My fears of a flash flood or of starring in some unfortunate 127 Hours sequel are assuaged with the first step into the canyon, mirrored by a slow placement of my hand on the nearest wall.
         The power of nature consistently amazes me, especially these lesser renowned feats. People are often so wonderstruck by tornadoes or earthquakes, which are indeed frighteningly strong, but the exertion of a lesser force over an uncountable number of years has made these slot canyons equally beautiful. The water carved its way through the rock to form the main slots, but it is the slow and steady wind that smoothes and even erodes through the rock in an unbelievable way. Never before have I experienced such a unique sensation brought about by slowly caressing and experiencing the texture of this canyon wall. It is not smooth in the traditional sense. Although my hand glides across the surface as easily as it would across a loved one’s face, it is apparent that the rock yearns to be coarse and rough, a tribute to the resilience of the great canyon to not conform to the manipulative elements. In some areas there is a physical deal being made between the two, the canyon still maintaining its structure but allowing the small wisps of wind to create networks of tunnels through the walls. They somewhat resemble a beehive, but perhaps my mind is tricking me and paying homage to the nickname of the great state.
         We continue our slow saunter through the canyon, any pressure from time constraint or other worldly responsibilities fading away as we traverse the maze cut out of the rock. We stop occasionally to disconnect from the experience in an attempt to document it with a photograph. I climb to the top of a massive rock in the middle of a clearing to pose. However, we both somehow know that no matter how many pictures we take, the true memory is something engraved into the mind and the bones; something that cannot be recorded in any way.
         After an array of movements and time, filled with both conversation and quiet, we finally reach near the top of the canyon. I tell CJ that I want to press on, but he insists that we stop and eat the few snacks we brought with us, mainly an orange and an apple, and go back from here. While resting he points out the spot where he and his friends took shelter when the flash flood surprised the poor teens. He speaks about the ferocity of the muddy water, comparing it to a swift river of chocolate milk, but with the ability to flip over cars or carry hundreds of pounds of rocks downstream. As he reminisces, I find a smooth pocket of fine sand in the rock that I am resting on. I subconsciously begin to fiddle with it, taking advantage of the opportunity to constructively exert some of the nervous energy that plagues me. We finish our light snack, careful to pick up all remnants, including the orange peels, so as to leave the scene as untouched by human presence as we found it. The purity of the natural setting created a profound experience for us, and we would hate to ruin that for the next travelers.
         Our descent, as expected, is much faster than our journey up was. The pathways and walls seem both familiar but slightly different seeing them in the reverse direction. There is one opening from a tunnel that has slanted rocks on either side, a brief widening of the pathway, which feels especially unique though. We stop here for a brief pause, and put down our packs. Sitting on opposite sides of the pathway, neither of us speaks, for we both can feel that this is a moment of thought and reflection. Silence has never felt this loud. The refreshing, clean air rejuvenates and expands the mind with every deep breath. The same wind that gently works through the rock of the canyon swirls around us, dancing on the skin and lightly whistling in the ears. I lean back and attempt to fully appreciate the serenity of the moment. I lay perfectly still, opening my mind up to the world around me. After what may be some of the longest ten minutes of my life, we set off back down the trail, leaving only the faint warmth of our bodies on the rocks.
         As we exit the canyon and work back towards the patiently waiting FJ, I recall how Uncle CJ told me about a substance-enhanced trip through the canyons he took with friends as a teenager, and what an experience it was. While I am sure he had genuinely enjoyed it, it is a different sense of satisfaction than what I gained. I left that canyon feeling that I had grown as a human being. The everlasting appreciation I have for nature comes from its consistent ability to amaze me and influence my own feelings. While I may never be able to have the exact same experience in those exact same canyons, I know that I now carry with me that walk as part of who I am. Life changes, and can move surprisingly quickly. However, whether I am sitting in the passenger seat of the FJ, or miles upon miles away at college, I will never forget the feeling of a simple stroke across a smooth canyon wall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *