A few months ago, I took a trip out west with my friends Emily and Hannah so I could further put off trying to find a job. Though the trip wasn’t fruitful in terms of prized Apache scalps as I had intended it to be (http://www.yeahhedid.com/?p=249), it still had a profound effect on me, and I really can’t say enough about it. If you haven’t seen the west, and by seen, I mean really seen (a quick family trip to the top of the Grand Canyon doesn’t really count in my book), I suggest you pack the car and go. Right now.
Anyways, this post isn’t about the entire road trip. That may come later (if, down the line, I run out of things to talk about). This is a photo essay about a national forest most of you have probably never heard of (especially if you’re not from the west). You see, I explored a bunch of national parks on this trip. Big ones (Rocky Mountain National Park and Arches National Park among others). All were indescribably beautiful and priceless memories, but I found it interesting that, in looking back on the trip, it was my day in little known Coronado National Forest that meant the most to me. Why? You’ll know soon enough.
It was the tail end of a strenuous seven days on the road, and we were visiting one of my best friends from camp, Melissa, at her school in Tucson (U of A, of course). She and some friends recommended a hike they thought would be worthwhile, and since we really didn’t care what we were doing (it was all new to us), we agreed. After a quick drive not 30 minutes from the University of Arizona, we were at the trail head, a large, wonderfully ominous sign the only thing separating us from what lay ahead.
Energized by the positive words on the sign, we began making our way down a pretty standard looking canyon, weaving around Saguaro Cacti and immense boulders towards what we were told was a riverbed. Luckily, monsoon season corresponded nicely with our trip, and there was more than enough water for all of the people and all of the animals in the dry, dry desert.
Adrenaline and Spirit levels were high when we got to the bottom, though they didn’t last long. The first thing our eyes met when we reached the bottom were the people we were sharing the canyon with. A large, rather lazy-looking family had set up folding chairs on a rock on the other side of the river, and were just… there; eating, drinking, and really just making merry in the hot desert afternoon. Thoughts ran back up the canyon to the sign we had read. Was this a joke? There was no danger here. Realizing there was much more to the hike than this small area that more closely resembled a seedy city public pool than a serene, untouched canyon, we decided to quickly move upstream. Not 100 yards from John Everyman and his tailgating party, we were in it.
I’d heard there were several waterfalls on the trail from my friends who had done this hike before, but nothing prepared me for the dizzying succession of tumbling water we’d find a few miles down the river. In movies and music, there is often a “build up” – a series of increasingly interesting or powerful moments that culminate in a earth-shattering crescendo (music) or climax (films). I’d never really seen this before in the wild, but this little canyon managed to pull it off. What do I mean by this? Let’s look at the waterfalls, in order of how we saw them.
I’m not going to try to keep my innocent naivety a secret. Every single waterfall I saw I thought was the “big one” everyone was talking about. You see, in Pennsylvania, most of us are impressed by the tiny waterfalls landscape architects build for people backyard koi ponds. It’s hard to grasp how big waterfalls are supposed to be when the biggest you’ve seen in person belongs to the local home and gardening store.
I was blown away by this first waterfall (as anyone should be, because it’s incredible). You can see that it’s definitely not small (look at the girl in the top of the picture), but I didn’t realize this was tiny in the eyes of Tucson folk. So we kept going. To waterfall #2.
Surely this had to be it. It was massive, at least four times the size of the first. Big enough to cliff dive dangerously from (we’ll get to that). Big enough to climb on top of and see the whole world from. This had to be it. Wrong again, Luke. After some retrospectively ignorant cliff jumping (or brave, as I see it, because we had no idea how deep it was the first time we jumped), we hiked on… to waterfall #3.
Waterfall #3 kind of just appeared. Literally out of nowhere. One minute, it seemed like the trail had ended. The next, we were climbing our way to the entrance point of one of Tucson’s greatest secrets. After I came back from Europe, I thought I’d never be floored by anything in America again; a blind, ignorant, over-confident statement from a traveler who thought he knew everything. This scene took my breath away faster (and for longer) than anything I’d seen in Europe. It’s hard to judge how massive this waterfall is from the picture, so here’s a similar picture with a strange man at the top.
See that guy? I have no idea how he got up there, who he is, or whether or not he’s magic, but he sure helps scale the thing. Who knows. Maybe it was God himself. He seemed cool enough. That’s us in the water, of course, swimming excitedly towards roaring waters.
The point of this essay? If and when you take a trip to the great expanses of the American west, make sure you’re open to trying anything and everything, even if it’s some little national forest you’ve never heard of. You may be in for an experience the biggest canyons in the world couldn’t ever give you, even with a hired donkey or helicopter leading the way. And when you find what I found, don’t be afraid to jump. Life’s too short not to.