Hway-12 between Boulder, Utah and Calf Creek Falls.
“There are times that one treasures for all one’s life, and such times are burned clearly and sharply on the material of total recall.” ~ John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley
I gas up in Boulder, Utah. Connie doesn’t really need fuel, but I need to cleanse my mental palette after the meeting on the mountain with that biker. So, I’m wandering among the two shelves of this gas station — trying to shake the disturbing memory.
A might-be-pretty-if-she-cleaned-up 30-something woman is trying to get the store clerk to buy a box of organic produce, but the bored girl behind the counter is having none of it. The girl expresses no emotion when I ask how far Calf Creek Canyon is.
“You’ve got 13 miles to go,” she says in a well-worn monotone while looking out the dirty window at Connie.
A couple minutes later, I pull out of the dusty parking lot wondering about the role of women in society.
From Boulder I climb. The road snakes back and forth for several miles while Connie carries me up to the top of what seems like a relatively small hill, and then the world changes.
This little section of Hway-12 between Boulder and Calf Creek Canyon should be declared a national treasure. Imagine riding along a knife edge. You better not make a mistake, because there is a drop of at least 1,000 ft. on either side of the road.
I’m overwhelmed by what I’m passing through, and I don’t want it to end. So, I pull over at a wide spot and start making pictures. I experience that odd photographer’s feeling of not being able to really capture the essence of what I’m seeing.
Eventually, I climb back onto Connie and descend to the canyon floor where I find my campsite. I go through the familiar step-by-step process of setting up camp. I’m hot and exhausted by the time everything is done. A bath in Calf Creek is next, and then it’s bedtime. I watch the half-moon move across my tent window as I fall asleep.
I wake to the sound of rain on my tent at 5:30 a.m. It’s just sprinkling, and it’s over before I’m fully awake.
I’m on the trail to Calf Creek Falls twenty minutes later. Seeing these falls is one of the main reasons I came to southern Utah, and I’m packing heavy. I’ve got a DSLR camera, three lenses, a tripod and a liter of water. I’m going to make a lot of pictures on this hike.
A few minutes later I come across a scene on the trail that I want to photograph. I slowly and methodically set up the tripod, camera and lens. I make several light meter readings. This place, this scene, deserves extra care.
Finally, I’m in Calf Creek Canyon. My camera is set up, and I’m ready to make pictures. I look through the viewfinder, focus and press the shutter release, and nothing happens. Looking at the camera back, I see an error code. I try everything I know about digital cameras to fix the problem, but nothing works. Frustrated and angry beyond words, I tear down my gear and start thinking about returning to my campsite.
I decide to continue up to the falls even though I can’t make pictures. So, with everything packed away, I start hiking. I make it about 100 yards, and that’s where I break down. The tears aren’t the little weepers you experience while watching a sad movie. They are shoulder-shaking, grave-side, gut-wrenching sobs. My tears aren’t about my failed attempt to make pictures. They are really about all the stuff that feels misaligned these days, and my failures swallow me whole on that dusty trail in the pre-dawn light of Calf Creek Canyon. I get myself together after about ten minutes. I’m hiking up to the falls. The inertia of The Ride is the only thing pushing me forward.
You hear Calf Creek Falls before you see it, but that does not diminish the power of seeing it. The canyon narrows significantly during the last half mile and the temperature drops because of the mist. And then you see it – crystal clear water dropping 180 feet, past red rock cliffs, into a deep blue-green pool.
I take my clothes off and get in the water. Approaching the spot where the water impacts the pool, I’m as cold as I’ve ever been and that’s when I decide to get out.
For some reason I decide to give my camera one more try. This time it works perfectly, and I start making pictures of this beautiful, amazing place.
An hour later I’m back on the trail for the return trip to my campsite. I’ve got a lot of riding ahead of me today. Las Vegas is hundreds of miles away.
Two hours later I’m on the road. I’ll be riding through Zion National Park before too long, and Las Vegas is further down the highway. I’m going to get there tonight.