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Hiking Happenings October 2005

Clarity and Light
by Rory Tyler

The Glory of the One Who moves all things
Penetrates all the universe, reflecting
In one part more and in another less.
     Dante – The Paradise, Canto I, Lines 1-3

I rose early at the brink of a mesa overlooking a vast expanse of wild desert, the sun at my back. It felt like the edge of an epiphany, the verge of a better awakening. It was the Light. Acute and conspicuous. Tangible and distinct. I searched a while for words to describe the nature of a comprehension I could sense, but just could not name, then surrendered my thoughts to the luster of the morning.

As the sun climbed higher, the lucent canyon contours began to diminish and fade. The penetrating and precise became blunt and blurred. What had been obvious became obscure. The long-sighted promise of impending revelation disintegrated into a squinting myopia, peering vainly into ever-thickening veils of light. Details lost discretion, slurred into latency, then hid themselves inside the larger view.

I’m sure there are scientific explanations for the impeccable intensity of the first light and the way it decays – refractions, reflections, dust counts, and so on – but none convey the sense of life and promise repeating, dawn after dawn, of the early morning moments. The question stayed on my mind - what makes that hour so special?

As sometimes happens, an intriguing hypothesis appeared from an unexpected source - Forrest Carter’s fictionalized biography of the great Apache freedom fighter and war shaman, Geronimo. It’s called Watch for Me on the Mountain. (Carter also wrote the delightful The Education of Little Tree and the Josey Wales stories that Clint Eastwood made famous.) According to Carter, the Apaches believed that the world we live in is a shadow world, a fragment of a greater reality that our spirit-self enters to gain experience and strength.
At one point in the book, Geronimo makes a mark on the ground in the evening twilight, then asks a young warrior to identify an object on a stump a hundred yards away. He guesses that it is a stick, a dead snake, or perhaps only a twisted shadow. In the morning, with an equal amount of light, he easily identifies it as a crooked stick with a knot in it.

Geronimo explains the morning light. “It is not the same kind of light. Light is life. When it is born in the morning, it is like youth coming into the shadow world to deal with the physical shadows. It must see physical things distinctly. When light is old, it is like the old person getting ready to leave the shadow world. The physical things are not important then. And so the light, and vision, blurs and is not distinct. It means nothing now for the old. If they have strengthened their spirit minds, they turn their sight inward and the spirit things grow sharp and distinct, for this is the world where they are going. If they have not strengthened their spirit minds” – Geronimo shrugged – “then they are lost there, too…in a twilight they cannot see before darkness.” So the lesson here is, if you want to see all of anything you ought to see it in the earliest morning, before the good of light’s intellect becomes older, wiser, and unconcerned with the shadows of the material world.

One easy place to ‘see it all’ is from the South Window viewpoint in the Windows section of Arches National Park. The Windows is the highest part of the park and the South Window viewpoint provides unobstructed vistas up to the La Sal Mountains and down into the heart of Canyonlands National Park. It takes about forty minutes to drive there from town. It’s only about a quarter mile walk from the trailhead to the viewpoint. (If you want to cheat yourself out of a walk, stop instead at Balanced Rock or Panorama Point.)

A second option is the Upheaval Dome Trail in Canyonlands National Park. The trailhead is an hour’s drive from town. The first part of the trail is easy to find and well-marked. You can get a good view in the first ¼ mile, but it is well-worth hiking ¾ of a mile to the second viewpoint where you can scan 270 degrees of mountains, chasms, and mazes. (The ‘cheats’ on this one are the Green River Overlook in the national park or Deadhorse Point State Park, which is only a forty-minute drive and is, after all is said and done, still the best view around.)

A more ambitious hiker might look to Amasa Back for enlightenment (pun intended). The trailhead is only six miles from Moab on Kane Creek Road, but figure on a half-hour of uphill hiking by headlamp and starlight just to clear the canyon walls. Once you’re on the crest of this river-carved peninsula the views are relentlessly breathtaking in every direction. Most hikers take the bike/four-wheel trail that turns north (to the right). Adventure-prone walkers, once they’ve emerged from the canyon, should consider exploring the untrailed tracts to the south and east. Sorry! No cheating for a view on Amasa Back.

Of course, any of these walks is worth doing any time of day…but what would Geronimo say?

Cryptobiotic soil garden


Rory Tyler is available for cowboy poetry/campfire song gatherings which include lore, science, history and lies of the Moab area. (Suitable for all age groups). Rates are negotiable. Give Rory a call at 435-260-8496.



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