A Waterfall in The Desert

by Buzzy Crowe


This past June 2005 I visited a special place in Utah, and I would like to share that visit with you in words and pictures.  As is my habit, I write in the present tense when recalling these memories.  I hope that you will enjoy the trip:

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I am standing at the top of the east wall of Calf Creek Canyon looking down at the green ribbon that marks the path of the Calf Creek in the bottom of the canyon.  I am in the middle of a high desert of Navajo sandstone, about halfway between Boulder, UT and Escalante, UT in the south-central part of the state.  I am within the borders of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

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About an hour ago, I was high on a mountain, standing in a meadow of yellow flowers surrounded by aspen trees.  I was wearing a sweatshirt because the temperature was in the low 50's.  At my present vantage point the temperature is 91 degrees (F).  I look once more into the canyon to try to catch a glimpse of my intended destination.  I plan to hike the six-mile round trip to Lower Calf Creek Falls, but from up here it looks pretty intimidating.  I climb back in the Jeep, and we (Dianne, Cheyenne & Cody) head on down to the mouth of the canyon.

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At the trailhead it's much hotter than it was up top.  I adjust my canteen, pull my hat a little lower on my forehead and begin my trek.  The trail immediately climbs toward the base of an outcrop of rock steamed red in the afternoon sun, passes close by a rock yawning with a shade-filled mouth, then drops into a more open area.  A little way later, I stop to admire an old dead juniper tree and take a quick drink from my canteen.

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The canyon is still pretty wide as I walk on, and the ground is covered with sagebrush and grass.  The rock formations are impressive, but soon the walls begin to close in, and I get a close-up view of the huge cathedral-like vaults that Nature has carved with wind and water.  I can see clearly the "desert varnish"; streaks of black, brown, tan and reddish color that I know to be produced by a certain bacteria that pulls particles of clay, manganese and iron from the air, cements it all together and then oxidizes the manganese and iron to live.  The black color is from the manganese oxide, while the others are from the iron oxide.  I find that I like the thought that the walls of this canyon are alive (at least at the surface); it fits nicely with the recognition that there is life all around me.

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There are Pinyon pines (with edible seeds) and Utah juniper (with berries for wildlife); Gambel oaks and Freemont cottonwoods offer their shade.  I see a Western bluebird, but he flies out of camera range before I can trip the shutter.  I also see hummingbirds, and I know that there is a chance that I will see a Golden eagle.

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I climb and descend fingers of heated rock between long trudges along a trail of ankle-deep sand the color and consistency of brown sugar.  I am tantalized by the gurgling sound of the creek that I can not yet see.  I keep moving.

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Around one more corner, and I see the creek.  I walk quickly to it and gaze at the Brown trout that I see lazing in the eddies and still pools.  This is truly a riparian paradise.  I stop a moment by the stream to slake my thirst and to drink in the quiet beauty.  I plunge my entire head into the cold, clear water and am exhilarated.  I can see the subject of my quest not too much further up the canyon.  This peek renews my tired legs, and I am on my way again.

I turn the last corner and behold the most breath-taking desert waterfall that I have ever seen.  I stand in awe for quite some time.  I am taking "pupil pictures" (as Harold would say) before I start using my camera.  The air is cool here; the desert heat cannot penetrate the shade and mist from the falls.  The water plunges (126 feet, I am told) gracefully into a perfect shallow pool.  The cliffs are alive with color, and there is a delicate patina of green behind the falls.  .

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An emerald necklace of ferns thrives in the mist.                 21-EMERALD NECKLACE.jpg (214521 bytes)    

This waterfall does not thunder into the multi-hued pool, but enters by a musical cascade near the base of the cliff.  It is a most pleasing and soothing sound.  I open wide all of my senses to take in the experience of this blissful oasis.  I notice a ray of sunlight in delightful imitation of the liquid falls;  it seems to emerge from the cliff face and descend into its own molten pool.  Everywhere I turn, I find new picturesque additions to this wonderland scene.  I try to take it all in.

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I linger a while longer, then reluctantly turn towards the trail for my return trip.  I have been restored on many different levels by this waterfall in the desert.  As I begin walking, I hear an old John Denver tune playing in my head....."Come dance with the west wind and touch on the mountaintops, sail o'er the canyons and up to the stars.  And reach for the heavens and hope for the future and all that we can be and not what we are".  I hum, and walk, and reach.

Love to all,

Buzzy Crowe