"There is this to be said for walking: It's the one mode of human locomotion by which a man proceeds on his own two feet, upright, erect, as a man should be, not squatting on his rear haunches like a frog."
-- Ed Abbey --
What ever happened to walking?" I rhetorisized to Gary, as we were rumbling, bouncing, veering, jolting, swashing wildly down the washboard to Fish Creek Canyon. Calling this a "road" is flattery at its grossest, sick-minded extreme of exaggeration. However, the road as it were does help keep out the RVs. Most of them besides the rusted heap smothered in the brush below the cliffs.
"Walking? Hell, that went out before thinking!"
Gary's sulfuric acid-laced cynicism is enjoyable. During one trip he gleefully kicked over rock cairns saying, "This place is a wilderness. Find your own way!"
Fish Creek Canyon drops 1000 feet below its rim into the heart, no make that the overworked liver, of the Superstition Mountains. Here, the canyon slices through an ocean of yellow, rusted, pale dingy pastel puke orange rhyolite. The 'Supes are more than just mountains. A place of silent sounds, long decayed echoes of ancient belching volcanos erupting long before the invention of microwave ovens, plastic bags, the sit-com, political action committees, fog-free mirrors, cellular phones, the Ronco pocket fisherman, human beings.
Is Fish "Creek" named with "Superstitious" dry humor? Leave the fishing rods at home; I have been told that there are actually fish; the name would not lie now, would it? (Which reminds me of some of my favorite named dry washes underlying the bland interstate deathway of northern Arizona- Crazy Creek followed by Dead Creek. Or better yet, amigos, "Table Mesa".... "Picacho Peak". They did not get around to naming the "Rio River" or the "Sierra Mountains"). The finest times to enjoy the Supes, except for a tasty 115° afternoon in June, is following a snowfall in January or February. The 5000 plus vertical feet, assorted inches, and fractions there-of occupied by the Superstition Mountain proper is draped in snow, and more so on the shadowy north side. For a few magical days or weeks, normally barren stony creek beds are resuscitated and gurgle with dancing clear cold agua. No highbrow symphony can match the tinkling music of water cascading in the Arizona desert.
Fish Creek Canyon is fairly well-known, at least by those that pass by on their way to that stagnant, jet ski infested recreational stock pond called Lake Roosevelt. A throttling of a proud river that once happily powered its way to the Rio Colorado and eventually the sea. Most humanoids that stop by the canyon entrance do not penetrate far into the depths. Imagine the sheer terror of discovering that there is no trail much less a lack of interpretative displays, flush toilets, gift shops to purchase unfunctional logo-encrusted spoons!
The first mile or so of Fish Creek is littered with townhouse sized boulders, having finally yielded to the call of gravity from their perch atop the canyon. Take out your topographic map and see where the contour lines say, "forget it, we'll just all merge together." Gary and I scramble up, over, around, left, down, sometimes backward. Swash through the brush as catclaw latches into the skin and refuses to let go. The beauty of this bouldery set-up is it acts as a filter. The total amount of gum wrappers, plastic cups, beer cans, used kleenix, drops off asymptotically to nil on the other side of the filter. In other places, even so-called Federally designed Wildernesses, I have bushwhacked my way, purposely lost, and find the way back to my starting point by navigating in the direction of increasing amounts of humanly discarded debris. Sure bet.
Yes, what ever did happen to walking? It was all of the fad before Honda Scooters, moving sidewalks, Isuzu Troopers (4-wheel drive to survive the perils of mondo-mall parking lots), car fax/phones. Abbey wrote a walking journal across the Arizona desert, full of scalpel sharpened wit and survival (tall?) tales. In my first reading of it I was frustrated in trying to follow his route- he mentioned a starting point in western Arizona, with mid-journey pass around a mountain range at the Mexican Border. That sly old dog- he mixed it all up! Intentionally. Names and places don't matter anyhow (like Nothing, Arizona population 4. Once, Nothing burnt down, and Nothing was rebuilt. From nothing came Nothing...). All that matters is the trip. The walking. Alone. With a friend. Without hurry. No rigid itinerary. It just ain't done like that anymore. Abbey is dead, although in the public library card catalog he is still listed as "Abbey, Edward (1929 - _____). How did he manage the double edge of being a society rebel ("Society is like a stew. If you don't keep it stirred up, all of the scum rises to the top.") and being so, er, "fashionable" among the hip, for whom environmentalism is the latest string of fads, following protesting, jogging, disco, cocaine, and preceding ____________??. He probably did not care- it was a living. And he certainly doesn't care now, being among the deceased (card catalogs notwithstanding).
So often I walk. Sometimes I walk with Abbey, sometimes without. He is out there. Laughing to himself, around the corner in those sandy canyons, the side canyons without trails, without interpretive displays, without being an Official United States department of Interior Fee Area to Pay for the Cost of Collecting Fees. Trails are useful and enjoyable ways to get to a place, but it ain't the only way. If you are afraid to get lost once in a while, you'll never last if you do by accident. It is a treat to be able to lose oneself these days, perhaps a luxury unavailable in the 21st century. So sometimes you drive, sometimes you fly, sometimes you walk, sometimes on a smooth trail, sometimes on a sandstone ledge, sometimes on a rocky river bed where there is no river. For a route, all you need is a way.
Dear Abbey- What is this crap you wrote in that Time-Life tome- "Cactus Country"? The photos were not well-produced and were a bit off focus in reproduction. I was eager to read it since it has a chapter on "The Mountains of Superstition". It reads more as though you turned on the EA Automatic Cliche Machine and let it spew a disjointed shotgun spray of Abbeyisms. You describe one of the most trampled all-but-paved-as-a-highway trails- the Peralta Trail up to Fremont Saddle and the view of Weaver's Needle. Little blue-haired ladies from Minnesota, overweight accountants, and other fair-weather creatures cruise that route. In Spring the dirt lot is full of Yuppie 4x4=$ mobiles and Avis rent-a-cars; the Forest Service is there to count heads. You could have written it without even being there in person. And you promulgate false descriptions of the Needle. Bristles my geological sense of justice. "it is made entirely of volcanic rock," okay you are correct up to here," mostly basalt" WRONG- The nearest basalt is Black Mesa, a few miles north. "and according to geologists it is actually the eroded remnant of a volcanic neck or plug- solidified magma having long since been completely eroded out of existence..." Name your geologists, Abbey, for he/she is a shaman. The base of the Needle is composed of fragmental material, a "breccia" in geo-jargonese, the kind is formed at the base or margins of a thick lava, crumpling itself, bulldozing up the underlying surface into a carpet of rubble. The pinnacles near Kayenta, Arizona, Shiprock in New Mexico, Devils Tower in Wyoming; those are your volcanic necks. And your neck?
Okay, asks the reader- what is it? Or better who cares?
Another tall tale is that the Papago name for the Needle was their translation of "Big Phallus", which like other classic landmarks have been re-named to conform with standard American Political Correctness Do Not Offend Anyone approval. Renamed it for a man named "Pauline"! Do not forget good old SP crater, a volcanic cinder cone north of Flagstaff- SP stands for "Shit- Pot" for its geometric similarity to Sir Thomas Crapper's monumental gift to civilization. But back to the Needle. The east face of Superstition Mountain, the prow of that ship plunging its way toward Phoenix- is composed of remnants of large lava flows, which in the eons since eruption, have been weathered, contracted, faulted, creating vertical fractures. In turn, this is readily eroded as each springs shower pours naturally slightly acidic rainwater into the cracks. The winter's snow (yes it REALLY happens) freezes inside the cracks, and ice, with the rare property of occupying more area as a solid than a liquid (a negative sloping phase transition- but more importantly, the reason why ice cubes float) pushes, wedges, thrusts the cracks deeper and wider. The infamous Needle? Just an outlying remnant of a massive lava flow. A survivor. A lone sentinel. Another rebel doomed to dissipate with time.
NASA has not developed an instrument sensitive enough to detect how little I care of the stories of the Lost Dutchman's gold. Yeah, Abbey, there is not much Au up around the Needle, but it occurs on the periphery of the Superstitions; where old geological faults separate the volcanic rocks from the much older fractured, quartz veined basement of Pre-multicellular life, Pre- Cambrian granite. Could this be the reason for naming of the Goldfield Mountains north east of the Supes? The ghost-town of Goldfield (resurrected as a tourist enterprise, a renewable resource) may give a slight clue to the presence of gold around here. Yet for years, fool after fool after fool has come out here from the frontiers of New York or Los Angeles, thinking themselves bigger than these hills, and have perished among the rubble of the relentless August furnace. There is a gap between overestimating one's abilities and underestimating the terrain; in the Supes, this gap yawns as a gaping chasm that could swallow the Grand Canyon in a blink.
It's fun to nail you Abbey, you old dog. Too bad you aren't around to defend yourself on a walk. As if it really mattered. Not more than taking a bushwhack up one of those crevices to the lone pinnacle at the top of the next ridge. I think I see a way.........