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How I loved getting lost, setting off over slickrock into the silence of solitude and the sweet scent of sage, sandaled feet bathed by silk-sensuous sand. But something was missing: the sign at the trailhead claimed it led to water, as most paths through the desert eventually do…but I kept getting stopped by the outcrop of building high boulders backed up in the wash, and could not find any way up, over, under, around or through.
When curiosity finally trumped the need for solitude, I said yes to a friend’s suggestion that we hike together to the Calico Tanks. Arriving where I’d been stymied, she simply sprinted up a ledge barely the width of a hiking boot, and kept on going.
I followed, throwing my weight forward in the hope that shear momentum would overcome the pull of gravity and keep me from falling backwards down the steep incline.
Soon a whole other world spread out before me, as if I’d come into a sacred place through a hidden gate. Stairs appeared as though out of nowhere: huge blocks of rock led up to a plateau. I would have been content to stop right there, sit still to merge with the sky blue, rock red, and Manzanita green.
But my friend kept on going, heading steadily upwards, following a trail that kept disappearing as it wound over rock.
I had to trust her guidance. It felt like a spiritual act, as if I were following a Moses or Jesus or Mohammed or the Buddha. But when I saw the petroglyph Sun carved into the black patina of the redrock, I knew that out here the sacred Being is Nature.
And my Transcendentalist sensibility also knew that any spiritual transformation would not come about as a once and forever conversion, but as a call for continuous cultivation.
Thus I paid strict attention to the rest of the route, so I might return and resume the inner journey this place invited.
I never came back alone. This was not just because it is recommended to always have a hiking companion for safety, which is good advice as this same friend broke her toe on this trail during another trip, and I talked her back down to the car.
I don’t come alone because I need to share the spiritual excitement of getting lost, seeking the path, and finally finding a footprint (though not always or only of a human) to follow…then pushing ever onward beyond all ones accepted limitations.
When the trail ends, another decision presents itself: climb down to the seasonal basin, touch in with its wetness, then spread out a communion of trail mix and brought water.
Or, continue straight up the side of the canyon, inch along its wall while ignoring the five hundred foot drop to the pool, and crest the summit that offers a polluted view of Las Vegas.
In the several times I’ve been out here, the path has never been the same. I’m still not quite sure that I can find the way, especially when detoured by pockets of water flooding the trail. Of course the time of day makes a difference, for the sunlight and shadows rearrange everything…so that nothing’s familiar. Or boring: It’s always a physical challenge, a spiritual adventure.
For up there I can stand on a literal line in the sand, step back and forth across colors that create the Calico tapestry for which this whole basin has been named. This line reveals the Earth’s texture as a unitary Text, and Nature’s script as a universal Scripture…a Revelation that could unify us all.
Perhaps next time you’ll come too.