Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What Happened at the Window

Water was running in the creek. Blue sky was overhead. The cliffs were close on either hand. The rock under our feet was smooth from years of water running out of the Basin. A trickle fell over sculpted falls and gathered in small pools that glistened in the sun. You could tell this was not a place you'd want to be during a deluge.

There was a crowd at the window when we got there, including a multifamily group with boys who were screeching with joy for the glory of that place. Their parents were doing what they could to restrain them and keep the boys from bounding thru the Window and falling onto the rocks in the desert far below, but they were failing in the task.

Failing in that task? Yes, and not only were they failing to restrain them, but they were taking the boys down to the very brink that was polished so smooth that it was treacherous to walk on, and they were posing for pictures, one kid at a time with an adult, both with backs turned to the precipice just behind them.

As one kid was posing (and goofing around, as kids do for cameras), the others were bouncing off the canyon walls and running up and down the narrow creek, splashing in the water, turning that treacherous place into a nightmare waiting to happen. The parents could not settle them down.

At one point, a kid posing with his dad jumped away from the man's side as the last photo was snapped, jostling his dad and making him lose his balance. The man swung his arms and his eyes widened as he tried to keep himself from falling onto his back and sliding down the slick chute and plunging into the desert. He regained his balance, but his eyes were wide with horror and his mind was clearly petrified at the fate he had so narrowly escaped.

I was sitting against the canyon walls grimacing, almost curled into a fetal position. It was more than I could bear. I looked over at Trudy and said I had to leave. She nodded, and we walked away.

The view of the desert thru that narrow opening between the rocks was spectacular, by the way, but you'll have to take my word for it. We never took a picture of the place.

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Oak Spring Trail

When we got close to the Window, the cliffs on either side began to close in and we heard water running in the creek bed. Then we came to a sign: left to the Window, right up the side of the cliff to a promontory with a panoramic view of the desert. Although our eventual destination was the Window, we took the path to the promontory, figuring that we'd catch the Window on our way back.

It was a steep path of red and pink and maroon shards of stone that slipped as you walked and made clinking/crunching sounds as you climbed. With each step we rose higher above the narrow Basin floor.

We began breathing deeply. Our hearts began pounding. I began panting audibly and had sweat streaming down my face and wondered if I was the only one. Up, up and up, each step was a workout -- only for me, I guess, because when I mentioned feeling the burn in my glutes, Trudy remained diplomatically silent.

At the top, we rested. With the desert west of the Chisos arrayed out before us and distant mountain ranges marching to the horizon, we sat down and ate. We drank our water and snacked on apples and oranges and on the gorp that Trudy had packed, complete with morsels of chocolate that did wonders for our spirits.

Ben took off his boots and laid back on his rock and took a nap. Trudy and I gazed out over the desert and mountains.

The wind was blowing in gusts up the western face of the mountains, but we sat just an arms length away from the edge of the ledge where there was hardly a breeze unless you held out your hand. It was a wonderful place to sit. A wonderful place to look out on the world. A wonderful place to rest your glutes!

Actually the trail doesn't end there. Oak Springs trail winds around the face of the cliff from that spot and then plunges into the desert. Below us, we could see it drop in zigzagging switchbacks until it passed out of sight.

As we were putting our gear back on, we briefly considered taking it into the desert instead of the afternoon hike was had planned. Trudy looked at me. I looked at her. We came close to deciding to do it, but then I looked down at the switchbacks again and envisioned my glutes on the way back up. "Let's not," I said. So we turned and went back down the way we had come.

Later that evening, in our room with a good meal of spaghetti behind us, I said how it was lucky we didn't take the trail down to the desert. Ben looked up from behind his book and agreed. "We'd just be getting back now!" he said. If that, I thought to myself, rubbing my sore legs.

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Maybe Next Time

At every turn in the Basin, there was some place off in the distance, some place well off the beaten path, that called to us — well, called to me. And I was constantly chattering (incessantly so it probably seemed to my two intrepid companions) about going over there into a canyon or climbing up there. My inner child yearned to hike the hidden valleys between the sheer canyon walls on the northern side of the basin. And I really wanted to scramble up one of those slopes of scree.

At about the midway point of our hike down to the Window, we came close to the encircling mountains where the valley narrowed and the creek bed ran close to the cliffs. Although the sun was shining, the only sky to see was straight above us. A steeply angled pile of loose red and brown rock ran from just beyond the trees up to the rock face.

Here was a slope of scree I might scale that led to hidden canyons I might hike. I marked the spot for investigation on our return. But as it happened, by the time we passed this spot hours later on our hike back, I was substantially less inclined to go wandering off the beaten path and much more focused on the spaghetti that awaited us at trail's end.

Maybe next time.

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