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An Overnight Success?

Need a crash course in backpacking? Join our newbie and his brooding teenager as they fend off mountain lions, overzealous retail clerks, and other beginner hazards.

We set out on the Bell Trail, which turns out to be beautiful and not really all that busy. Just a few dayhikers as we move from high desert to a red-rock trail that lips out over a canyon. Joey’s load is lighter, which frees him up to complain about other things, such as my impending divorce, my failures as a father, husband, and human being, the death of Mayans from diseases borne by the white devils, etc.

We hike 3.3 miles out and, behold, we find a stellar campsite, wedged up against a huge rock, which in turn sits at the top of the canyon wall. I’m ready to take it, but Joey objects.

“Let’s keep looking,” he says. “Even with that rock there, you could get up to pee in the middle of the night and fall into the canyon.”

I trudge a few steps forward and then stare back at him.

“Did you just make a useful suggestion?” I ask.

“I think so.”

“Don’t let it happen again.”

We discover an even better site up ahead, where the red rock juts out to form a half-cave. We can hear the creek gushing through the canyon 50 feet below. As we pitch the tent, a sinewy woman passes by and tells us we’ll be sleeping right next to a spot where Native Americans formerly roasted agave, a plant that apparently can be consumed, although, to look at it, you’d probably want to slow-roast it a long time and then dip it in blue cheese dressing. The woman, I might add, is a dayhiker. When she leaves, it becomes clear that we’re the only people out here, that far from being busier’n a peapicker, the area is clear of human beings, the nearest of whom is now 3.3 miles away, which probably fails to impress you BACKPACKER readers, but for us greenhorns, it’s a new frontier.

We rest on some flat, red rocks. The walls rise high above us. The creek swirls below us. The last light of day slides across the hills.

Somehow, without having done anything right, we’ve blundered into the most beautiful place in the universe, and it’s ours and ours alone.

“This is cool,” I say.

Joey nods.

“This is incredible,” I say.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” he says, softly.

We cook a freeze-dried mesquite barbecued chicken casserole meal. It is…well…unpleasant.

“They make it too elaborate,” Joey remarks. This is true. We have ramen for breakfast the next day and it’s far better.

After dinner, I build a little fire as the darkness closes in. Joey crawls inside his sleeping bag. Sitting before the fire, camping out in the high, lonesome desert of Arizona, I feel an urge to sing cowboy songs. I mean, you can’t just belt out Sondheim, right? But I also wish I had brushed up on my lyrics a bit. It’s embarrassing to sing, “Something something something ’til I lose my senses! Something something something and I can’t stand fences! Don’t fence me in.” I try to sneak “Sweet Baby James” in there, but Joey smells a fake.

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