Two hours before the approaching sunrise, the alarm shook me out of sleep. On the first of my twenty-one mornings among rocks of Utah, I wanted the best light, and that would come at dawn I was told. I made the seventy-mile drive into the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park before those first enhancing rays struck the cliffs. Highway 191, then 211, all in darkness until the last twenty miles when red and white ghosts began appearing, taking on the forms of faces, loaves of bread, choirs.
I park at the trailhead and start out in dry cool air. And when I stop, there is not a single sound, nothing—silence. Suddenly it comes, the flaming globe, blazing on the pinnacles and minarets and balanced rocks, not gradually but with a burst of light. I must be Eve on the first day of creation, it seemed, in full knowledge that millions of days have preceded me.
Livening and brightening in color and texture with every minute of the sun’s climbing, the rocks seemed animated with changing character. My camera snapped and snapped, but soon I realized I had risen too early. The formations are more vivid a half-hour to an hour after sunrise than at that moment of bright burst.
The trail is mostly on slickrock, a whitish sandstone with many potholes that fill with water during storms. Then, I am told, the spadefoot toads come to life, having lived through the dry spells in a state of estivation in dry sediment in the bottom of the hole. There they wait, patient, perhaps listening for the sound of raindrops pattering at last above their heads. But today the potholes are dry with dirt in their bottoms. I follow these rock cairns which mark the trail.
It looks like dirt but it’s a living system of plants and animals, a community getting by in a dry hot place. To walk here is to bomb the kibbutz.
Tomorrow morning I will shoulder a backpack with two gallons of water, tent and sleeping bag for an overnight stay in a waiting canyon near Druid Arch, deep in the Needles. You will not hear from me tomorrow night.