The Desert Rats

We were wild maniacs coming down the valley, out of the barren desert above.  None of us had seen fresh water for almost a week, and the discovery of a spring gushing out of the rock forty feet above sent us into a frenzy.  We danced around in the mist, screaming like animals.  The transformation had occurred.  We were fully Desert Rats.

The desert seemed like a natural place to go after the grind of four years in university.  We wanted nothing more to do with humans.  There were five of us, all fresh-faced from graduation. Too clean.  Too neat.  Too connected.  We needed to get away from all of that, from civilization and society.  We needed to get off the grid.

We drove to the rim of the canyon and got there as the sun filled the great spaces below with a sea of red and orange.  Walking to the very edge, we watched as night fell and the hole in the earth before us was thrown into darkness.  Our fire soon beckoned from camp.  I began to walk towards it, though my foot landed in the center of an ancient fire ring there on the precipice.  Trouble coming.

That night we lay on our backs looking at the stars.  No lights to obscure the celestial sky.  The cool breeze washed away the blazing heat of the day, leaving the fire as our only source of warmth—made by our own hands.  How many people can make a fire?  This simple act connects us with the ancients.  How can this be forgotten by so many?  What about the stories in the sky?  I don’t know these stories.  No one ever taught me.  Where are these lessons?  Have our elders forgotten?  No, they were not taught either.


We abandon the vehicles and walk down, step by step, a mile into the earth.  It is only morning and the sun has already come out with a vengeance.  Heat waves rise off the rock, evaporating all signs of moisture.  The Esplanade, red formations snaking around like a gigantic serpent basking in the sun.  Across its spine we walk.  Another precipice and the land drops off again.  Somehow, the trail weaves across this vertical land without falling off into the great chasm below.

The water in our canteens is gone.  Snap.  My ankle goes, I’m on the ground.  It’s the same foot that stepped in that ancient ring the night before.  My friends take the weight.  I limp on; switchbacks on a thousand foot cliff-face are no place to stop.  Finally we reach our camp in Surprise Valley.

Surprise!  There is nothing here.  No water, no shade, no anything except some scrub-brush and a buzzard in the sky.  I hole up under a boulder and tend to my ankle while the others go in search of water.  The sun is losing heat as it nears the horizon.  In short time, my friends return.  Oh, water!  No energy.  Cold dinner.  Sleep.  Goodnight canyon.


We awake and descend further.  Round a bend, and a jungle of lush greenery appears.  The water comes crashing down, right out of the earth.  Life has flourished here, we soak up the moisture along with the plants.  The pain has disappeared from my ankle . . . healing waters.  It’s some ways further to the great river below, the mother of this canyon, the creator.  We push on.  As the water weaves further and deeper, a primal energy rises up with each step.  The wild-man is coming out.

We round a corner . . . people.  PEOPLE!  Where did these humans come from?  The sight only heightens our frenzy.  We go by them, jumping around, half-naked.  Going forth we see the great river, and the ships of these alien-humans are revealed.  Rubber boats.  Hah!  And we walked, like real animals.  The water from our stream above ends in a hundred-foot fall to the river.  Running, we dive into these waters, screaming like banshees.  The rubber boat people watch us like we’re crazy.  We are crazy.

An old man approaches.  ‘Boys, does anyone know where you are?’

We look at him blankly.  ‘You do.’

Aah, no one knows where we are.  Perfect.

We leave these people and run back through the winding slot canyons, back to our paradise.  This canyon is big enough for all of us.  At camp we lounge in peace.  Moonrise.


Out of Surprise Valley to Upper Tapeats.  A new river of life, its own greenery, feeding into the great canyon carver below.  A day of solitude—every one of us finding a spot to lose ourselves in thought.  The crystal clear tributary flowing by captivates the mind, just as a fire in the night.  Every riffle, every ripple a thought onto itself.  Serenity in the canyon.

We walk halfway out before the sun rises and hole up in a cave through the heat of the day. We have become one with the desert, escaping the sun like all the other animals native to this country.  On the rim the sun burns crimson, setting on the civilized people we’re supposed to be.  But howling at the moon above, we know the truth . . . we are wild.