Why would you want to go out hiking in a place where there are no trails, no other hikers, and probably no signs of civilization at all? I never asked myself that question before meeting Chad, because going out hiking on trails was a rare enough treat and reprieve from my place in the noise and grit of a sprawling city.
But then I met Chad and not only was he an avid hiker, he explained to me that he likes hiking in places that don’t require you to stay on trail, better yet, in places that don’t have trails. One of the first places we explored off trail together was a certain desert wash.
I now call this wash my happy place; Chad calls it “the Land Between.” We have yet to see anyone else here (and as a plus there is no risk of running into any large, hungry carnivores). The only signs of civilization are from some markers for mountain bikers, who apparently cross through the area at some point, though not the part we hike through.
For those of you who live where water is abundant, you’ve probably never heard the term “wash” used in this way, as a noun. A wash is a creek bed that is usually empty, but can suddenly be filled with rapidly moving water during a rainstorm. The water drains into the river, leaving the wash empty and, incidentally, forming an easy trail to follow.
This time we decided to do a one-way hike, leaving a car at either end of the wash. We started hiking in the late afternoon, enjoying some unseasonably warm weather and lovely sunshine that surrounded the autumn foliage of the few trees and riparian scrub with golden light.
As we walked downstream we noticed some differences in the wash between upstream and downstream. Upstream (and at a slightly higher elevation) there were juniper and cottonwood trees, and the stones on the wash were mostly grey and gravely; downstream there were no trees and the rocks were bigger and much prettier in pinks, purples, and surprising stripes.
As we continued on our long hike, we saw the lighting and colors change as the day progressed and took a delight in knowing that we were marveling at landscapes that few others have seen.
Towards the end of the 8 mile hike my legs were aching in ways they haven’t ached in a long time, but mostly I was thinking about how amazing it felt to be out in untamed nature and to get more familiar with a place that was already dear to me.
Walking in places like this always makes me wonder how many other incredibly beautiful wild places are out there, unprotected, not part of any official wilderness area or park. And the answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this post? To know the world, to love it better.
Happy hikers at the start
Crack in the earth
Charting our progress
Jumping off point
Chad checks out a cave filled with packrats (desert woodrats)
Juniper berries on tree
Homo sapiens hikerensis
Two cottonwood trees
Where the water is
Teeny tiny plant
Pretty but invasive tamarisk line the wash here
The photographer at work
Chad’s other tree
I see a face
The fork in the wash
Sagebrush and sunny cliff
Biological soil crust
What the coyotes left behind
The face in the rock
Happy hikers at the end