Sacred Ground

A little over nineteen miles from my doorstep is the Red Cliffs Recreation Area, a BLM piece of land that hosts early Jurassic dinosaur tracks, remnants from the Anasazi, and a beautiful little box canyon that tempts lesser-aware visitors to swim in her pools.

I say that because the small river that’s cut this canyon flows through hundreds of acres of largely populated pasture land up Pine Valley mountain before it deposits all kinds of biology in her red basins. You really don’t want to swim in it, though that’s a secret we like to keep to ourselves.

Besides dinosaurs and natives, I have history here, too. It’s a sacred place to me, thirty years of memories beginning as a college student, then as a father, now as a companion, and always as a photographer. Thirty years is enough time to watch a massive lightning-struck juniper turn into the elephant tree, to see the thumb of the Okay rock vanish leaving its dangling forefinger, and to witness the gradual defacing of what was once this area’s best kept secret.

Most of my analog pic files are of this place, with some notable vacancies, 4×5 Plus-X and color reversal film that vanished after a move.

After a busy week of commencement and volunteering for the Ironman we took off for an overnighter, this being the first time in thirty years for me, and a first time for Mindy, to camp there.

A portable kiosk now guards the way, keeping control of vehicle traffic in the park. I’d argue that pedestrian traffic needs the same control; hundreds of visitors.

We were lucky to get a site and set up quickly to enjoy lunch and a walk up the canyon.

We hiked the canyon back as far as we could go with Ginger and Mary Anne, the mouth of the box canyon. With so many people we retreated back downriver to a more secluded spot and let the girls have some fun.

Back at camp I initiated the camp shelf I built on the back door of the Monty by making dinner of steaks and stroganoff. We’re going to get a lot of use out of this.

After dinner we read aloud the first chapters of a new novel to each other and passed more time with a game of Scrabble and a nice campfire.

Sunday morning we rose early, a foregone conclusion with dogs, and after coffee hiked the trail system on the east side of the park. There’s an Anasazi excavation that’s has several structures built around it in a vain attempt to protect it, and, if you know what to look for, evidence of prehistoric life.

The campground is located on the east side of Murrow’s Canyon, about two clicks from the convergence of the Pine and Kaibab rivers, north of the Arizona strip. Be sure to bring your swim suit.

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