Cairns

A Throwback Tale

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Peekaboo Trail

Cairn. I rolled the word around in my head, almost like a chant, matching pace with the sound of my feet hitting the slick rock. Canyonlands National Park in Utah was an adventurer’s dream. I was taking a much-needed break from Arches, the tourist trap only 45 minutes to the northeast. After being run into by one too many inconsiderate photographers, I was looking for some good hiking trails off the beaten path.

The visitor’s center was tiny, showcasing some of the local flora and fauna as well as the particular geology of the park. The list of trails was comprehensive; many were long and remote, boasting miles of solitude surrounded by canyons.

The Peekaboo trail caught my interest; it was an approachable 10 miles and rewarded you with a “peek” at the end of some ancient petroglyphs. I loaded up my pack, double-knotted my hikers, and went on my way.

The sun was hot, but not fierce, and my mind began to wander as it normally does during my long walks. After thinking of something meaningless for a couple minutes – let’s say food trucks – I stopped to take stock of my surroundings. I was off trail… or was I? In forested parks, the trails are well-marked by packed dirt and handy signs every junction. Here in the Utah desert, however, cairns were the beacon guiding the way towards the final destination.

They were also easy to miss.

I soon realized that constant vigilance would need to replace my usual daydreaming m.o. while I hiked. My initial irritation at this concept surprised me. Was I so arrogant that I couldn’t stand to actual pay attention and “work” to find my way? Certainly not.

I plodded on.

For those unaccustomed to the ways of hiking, cairns are piles of rock that vary in size from 6 inches tall to taller than a human. On the Peekaboo trail, the cairns were good-sized, meaning most of them were about a foot tall and easy to spot. It amazed me that someone had taken the time to gather rocks and stack them on top of each other, basically erecting a sign that read “follow me – stray ye not from the path”.

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Hunting for cairns in all the right places

So I followed. I put aside my random thoughts about penguins, Lisa Frank, and the invention of soda, and decided to actually pay attention. I eagerly looked for the next marker, confident that some well-meaning and intelligent park ranger would not lead me astray with these cairns.

In the end, the petroglyphs were interesting, yet it was the hike itself that was most memorable. Following piles of rocks for 5 miles in and back felt akin to being guided on an epic treasure quest. Here’s the part where I could throw in some deep metaphor about people in my life who have guided my way, leading me along my quest for discovery.

But no, this is purely about rocks.

I promise.

 

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Canyonlands Recap

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Length of Stay:

  • 2 days, 3 nights

High:

  • Fantastic hiking that truly immersed me into the natural wonders of the park

Low:

  • Sunburned lips

Favorite Hike:

  • Murphy Point
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Spectacular canyon view from Murphy Point

Favorite Treat:

  • Prickly pear cordial (the local establishments sell a lot of prickly pear victuals: fudge, licorice, tea, etc.)

Favorite Random Moment:

  • Watching lizards – yep, just sittin’ on a rock seeing how many I could spot scampering by

Peekaboo

I’m not talking about that ridiculous game you probably last played as an infant or with an infant. I’m referring to this glorious 10-mile hike that took me deep into Canyonlands national park. The jury’s still out on why exactly it’s called Peekaboo, yet I have a couple of theories.

  • Most of the hike is filled with steep rock faces you’re able to peer over, catching marvelous glimpses of canyons
  • Dips in the rock collect runoff rain water and become home to a myriad of tiny critters. An entire ecosystem lives in these potholes.
  • Petroglyphs with ancient etched rock pictures remind hikers that they’re only a speck on the history of this land
  • Erosion has left a couple windows of rock open, allowing brave souls to scramble up and take catch sight of the other side
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Take a peek at this!

Whatever the reason, I did my fair share of peeking on my journey. In 5.5 hours I ran into only two fellow humans. This is ideal for me – solitude with a sprinkling of personal contact. (The ravens* kept me company; their wide array of noises only got on my nerves once two of them began to follow me.)

Canyonlands is a special place. The desolateness of the desert coupled with the cloudless sky and fresh air invoked feelings of true freedom. And the sights, naturally, were phenomenal.

If you’re ever in the area, you should really take a peek. 🙂

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These petroglyphs don’t look like much, but they’re really old… which makes them cool

* They’re actually really smart birds