There are certain places in our life—maybe a mountain we’ve picnicked at or a lake we always fished in–that down through the years become meaningful to us. During these uncertain times with the Covid-19 crisis, it feels especially good to visit familiar locations full of rich memories. The Snake River Canyon near my home is such a place for me. I’ve hiked the canyon dozens, maybe hundreds of times over the years. On today’s hike, I’m reminded how pretty the canyon is in the spring. At its neck, I’m greeted by a vista of desert grasses lining the canyon walls. I’m always amazed to see how the grasses along the canyon wall change with the seasons from spring green to early summer purple and then, late summer golden-brown.
I remember the first time I really looked at the canyon and noticed it’s beauty.
I was newly married and had just moved to a desert farm with my husband. One morning we had a big fight, and I was so angry I took a walk back in the canyon just to cool off.
I barely saw where I was going, my eyes were so blurred with tears. But slowly I became aware of how lovely and quiet the trail was. Before long, my fury was all gone, lost in the peaceful canyon wilderness.
The walls of the Snake River Canyon were shaped by the flooding of ancient Lake Idaho and Lake Bonneville thousands of years ago. Now the Snake River runs along the bottom. I look to my right, hearing the river as it winds its way down through the canyon floor. I’m not able to see the river though, the Russian olive trees along the bank are too dense. Several years ago on one of my canyon hikes with our family dog, Lindsey, we walked by a particularly dark, deep stand of Russian olive trees. Lindsey peered into the woods and suddenly went berserk, barking wildly.
“What is it girl? What’s wrong?” I asked her, trying unsuccessfully to calm her down.
It wasn’t until she abruptly backed away from the trees and started mewling piteously, that I became afraid myself.
My mind flashed on a book I’d recently read, a Stephen King horror thriller, The Tommyknockers I think, about a dog who’d dug up something in the woods: an evil, alien, space object. I didn’t think there was anything from outer space in that Russian olive thicket, but there might be a wild animal on the other side, drinking from the river. Cougars were not unheard of back in the canyon. I called Lindsey and we quickly made tracks back out of the canyon.
As peaceful as the canyon is most of the time, this was not my only scare, hiking in it. One time I decided to climb up the canyon wall, about 450 feet, to get a view of the valley below. Half way up, I bent over to look at a black sliver of obsidian laying in the dirt. I didn’t want to miss finding a possible arrow head. Then I heard the unmistakable “ping” of a bullet hitting rock not too far from me. My head snapped around to search behind and below me. Who was shooting at the rim rock? I couldn’t see anyone down near the river.
Maybe ten seconds later I heard another ping of a bullet, this one sending rock flying above me. Were they shooting at me?
I didn’t stay around to find out, but started skidding down the side of the canyon wall as fast as I could, stumbling over sagebrush and basalt rocks as I went. I never found out who the shooter was, but after that, I always made sure I wore a bright cap on my head when I hiked in the canyon.
Today, as is my habit, I walk until I come to the big boulder settled among some grease wood at the base of the canyon. Maybe it’s a little obsessive-compulsive of me, but I lightly tap the boulder’s rounded, pebbled surface, and then pivot to head back the way I came. I guess the boulder’s a touchstone of sorts, a reference point for my many walks in this scenic, wild canyon.
Image credit: Snake River Canyon