Friday, March 21, 2008

The Persimmon Gap Draw

The book said to walk back along the road until you come to a draw. Neither Trudy nor I remembered crossing one, but Ben did, and sure enough just 30 yards from the parking lot we found it — a dry, stony wash running under the road thru three large corrugated culverts.

Follow the wash the East until it splits, the book said. Then go left and walk until you come to a dry waterfall.

After the first split there was another split and then another. And at each, the rightmost path seemed to run to the hills (where one would expect a waterfall to be) and the leftmost veered north into the flats. But Trudy had the map, and against our doubts and protestations she led us into the flats.

The wash was littered with stones and pebbles of every color: red, green, maroon, white, brown, yellow, chocolate, black. Each step revealed another treasure and another question, for as you picked up a smooth yellow rock, you'd gaze around and wonder where in this world of Cretaceous limestone it came from.

Don't ask, Trudy said. Even geologists can't explain what happened here.

Gradually, the wash turned east, and hills began to climb out of the rolling desert. At this point, Ben wandered out of the creek bed along a rising ridge running north. We continued to the east, periodically looking back to mark his progress up the ridge.

As the wash wound its way into ever-growing hills, validating Trudy's hunch, the banks of the wash grew from slight mounds to ten-foot scrambles to high hills. We found ourselves in a different world as the creek turned left then right and the hills grew taller. Far to our left, we could periodically see Ben in his bright red shirt standing on a higher ridge, waiting to catch our eyes, waving at us as we turned to look.

Then we found the waterfall — 70 feet of sheer rock. To the right, a crude path split off from the wash and climbed the hills, taking us up and around the waterfall. And beyond it we soon came to another dry waterfall — a pour-off with layers of orange and black rock and a surface that was weathering green. This one was scalable, so we scrambled up and over, reassured by the cairns that appeared from time to time.

We were in a shallow canyon, and Ben's ridge was now hidden. After looking back periodically and seeing no red shirt or waving kid, I began to think that it was time to turn back. Trudy agreed, but felt our objective was near — a panoramic vista looking down into the plains to the north.

We walked over one rise and then another, still following a path with cairns periodically piled alongside. And still there were more rises ahead. And still Ben's ridge was hidden.

Just over the next ridge, I mumbled, thinking that this is just how a poor lost soul might walk forever in a desert convinced that an oasis was soon to come. But just then, the sloping plateau came to an end, and a window looking north and easterly opened up before us. The flats were laid out before us, under a stunning blue sky. In the distance, hills and other mountains rose up from the desert floor.

But I didn't absorb this view. I had instead visions of twisted ankles or broken bones dancing in my head. I turned to look for Ben.

And as I turned around, there he was, far in the distance on top of the ridge he had long ago begun to ascend, waving a dry Yucca stalk trying to get our attention. He saw me turn and waited for me to respond. I waved back and then turned to look at the view before us. And then maybe Trudy and I spoke, but I can't be sure, because Ben's red shirt seemed very small on that distant ridge.

He waved again and waited, as if to ask if he should come our way. I waved him over to us, and he started to descend the east face of his ridge, carefully choosing his way between Ocotillo, Sotol, Yucca and Prickly Pear.

Trudy started back, but I wanted to stay in sight of Ben, so we agreed on a meeting point back along the creek. The going was slow for Ben, due to the density of pokey things, but he made progress down the hill, periodically disappearing behind the several ridges between us. I climbed higher, so that he could keep me in sight, and I sat down to wait.

He disappeared from sight behind another ridge. And I sat there nervously waiting. And then there he was on the top. Then he disappeared behind the next ridge. And I sat there nervously waiting. And there he was again, his red shirt shining in the sun, surprisingly closer for the distance that seemed to separate us. Then he was gone again. And then there he was, shouting Yoo hoo! to get my attention. Then there we were the two of us, working back in the direction of Trudy's creek.

You missed quite a view, I said to him.

Missed it!? he said. And he pointed to the tall peak that lay just north of the ridge he had been ascending. I could see it all from up there!

As stunning as our vista of the plains was, I suspect that from that peak, he felt like he was on top of the world. And unlike my nervous memories of our stunning view, I bet he remembers his.

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Arriving at Big Bend

Trudy read to us as we ventured south from Fort Stockton on the road thru Marathon and beyond. She spoke of shallow Cretaceous seas and hard, white Ouachita limestone. She told us about continents in collision and pointed to flatirons heaved out of the ground at steep angles.

Eventually, Trudy grew silent, closed the geology book and set it in her lap. There was nothing more to read. There was plenty more to see. We drove though Persimmon Gap and with that had arrived at the northern boundary of Big Bend National Park.

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