A land both ancient and sudden. Out of the desert we enter this slot canyon oasis, cottonwoods lining the silty river, deer browsing the grass in the shade. Above us, pillars and bastions and domes in gray and red and monarch orange, rising three thousand feet as the canyon’s walls.
We set camp beside the river in the shade, our eyes burnt by the white heat of the desert. The children are red-cheeked and upset – we draw a bath into a plastic tub and they sit in it cooling, watching the deer come through, eating their evening meal.
We raise our small tent and put the kids to bed on their little cots, watch the ruddy sunset withdraw up the canyon walls. Breath the cooling air that settles, listen to the rushing of the river. When full dark falls, we see lightning flashing in the mouth of the canyon, intimations of power held in a dark chalice. The storm wind comes down and stirs the leaves overhead.
Flash flood warnings, heavy rain imminent in this wild place. We lift the children still sleeping on the cots and place them outside, as if to let them absorb a little of the wildness of the storm. The wind eddies the sand beneath them.
We take down the small tent and begin to erect the canvas bell tent, larger, sturdier and more protective. We pound stakes into the desert hard-pan. The tent up, we lift the children and move them inside. They have not woken through all of it, nor will they when the rain comes drumming on the canvas through the night.
The storm yet to descend, but the children protected, we stand with the power humming in the air around us. The spires and pillars, unseen in the night, are imbued with it. They have stood here all these millions of years, endured countless storms and weathers. They loom above us, not malevolent but imposing, not beneficent except their presence makes a haven for life at their feet. Under their shadow, we are both sheltered and cowed.
The storm comes over, thunder above us, light filling the tent in flashes. In the night I have to go out and reset the stakes in saturated earth, braving the weather to keep the tent erect.
Next day, having drunk up the brief downpour, all the grass and leaves have taken on a bright green glow, lit from within. We walk to a waterfall that pours over a canyon overhang as if from a pitcher mouth. We stand under its cool spray, receiving a tenuous benediction.