Yesterday I left you in the setting sun, crawled into my sack and went to sleep. Above, hung the half-moon, dimly illuminating the rocks above my camp. So utterly silent was the night that every scratch of rodant, every far away hoo-hoo of owl, every howl of coyote came inside my little tent to awake me until I learned to ignore them. Something about a long stiff climb makes a meager meal and strange night sounds seem just right.
At some point in the darkness, after the moon had gone down, I came out of the tent and nearly fell over from a squat when I saw the sky burning with glittering stars, rich and frosty. The sky was just as full of ancient portent as the rocks I had pondered the meanings of yesterday. Fortunately, we now have telescopes that relieve us of assigning godly names and worshipful accolades to the stars, but it’s easy to see, on a dark night, how the Anasazi could.
In the morning I left most of my ger behind and carried only essentials for the up-and-back climb. Elephant Canyon narrowed and steepened as I followed it deeper into the Needles, rock walls closing together on the sides, and in one place, Big Bird looking down.
In this picture, a rock appears to have been place precariously on a column of sandstone. It is one of the Needles. But geologists think that a very long ago, a great inland sea collected sand grains from rivers flowing into it. The grains hardened into rock; the land rose; the sea disappeared. Then came a long stage of erosion when the harder layers (like the rock on top of this needle) resisted rainfall better than the layers under it. This is why the Colorado river is muddy, carrying all this erosion to another ocean, which might become another Canyonland. It’s an incredible-sounding scenario.
Looking back down the trail, I see the cairns that mark the way I have come. “Trail” is the wrong word here. It is simply a matter of finding a way to the next cairn. Sometimes I try several routes before finding one that works.
After ascending through a crack and climbing over some huge boulders, I suddenly come upon a spectacle that takes my breath away. Druid Arch. Pictures cannot address the grandeur of this place. It is like a cathedral lined with vertical walls and spires, and in its center, the massive Druid Arch. It looked like a needle as I climbed toward it, viewing it on edge, but in this view it dazzles the imagination.