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Ode to Canyon Streams

Canyon streams are paradise. They are the most improbable of things, running water in the desert. Particularly in the Grand Canyon, you can traverse miles and miles with not even the barest hint of water in anything. Then, you come around a corner. You descend one more switchback, and the echoing sound of water trickling comes to you. It is a joyous noise of the unconquerable. Not even the harshest of deserts, the highest of temperatures, the sheerest of cliffs can contain the water any longer and it flows forth. The water can appear suddenly or gradually. It can show up in shy puddles that gradually increase in frequency, or it can suddenly roar forth in a torrent such as at Thunder River. The stream can even appear and disappear as if by magic as it flows along the bedrock and occasionally under sands. It can rise at the vertex of cliffs to create a barrier that is only passable if your intelligence, bravery, and fortitude can withstand its silent vigilant guard. The mystery beyond a pool of water, bound by cliffs can be eternal if you are turned back. It can be irresistible if you think you have found the way. An entire ecosystem is contained within as little as ten feet of a canyon stream. The transition from the plants and blazing sun of the desert to the shade and soft greens of a riparian zone is as fast as it is refreshing. There is simply nothing of the riparian, and then there is. You can watch yourself approach, but it feels every time as though you have stepped through the veal into a different world. The water reflects the surrounding canyon as a mirror both back into the amazing wonder of this world and the potentials of every world the water hides below its surface. The reflections of the water on the cliffs dance and weave in a mystical play of glowing light and shifting shadows. These reflections are hypnotizing and you can lose yourself for hours within them, each eternal second a delight.

Water is often at its most dynamic when bound by the walls of a canyon. It resounds off the obstacles giving voice to its movement and declaring to the world its presence while often remaining hidden from view. You can timidly stretch yourself out from a cliff or bridge to try to glimpse water hidden below, or you can test your mettle against the most vertical geography in the world to descend to canyon streams. They leap, bound, and weave around the boulders and curves of the canyon. Cascades and waterfalls can appear with hardly any notice as the stream moves to its next level of depth. You are forced to conform your movements to those of the stream, and an acrobatic race ensues. If you dare follow you will have to do all sorts of leaps and bounds. You will have to traverse balance beams and scale rocks. You will have to place each foot lightly, wary of slick or rolling rocks. In the end you may still end up wet or cliffed-out. Every wind of the canyon stream is a mystery, calling you to see what lies beyond. Each and every time I encounter a canyon stream, I am enchanted.

The movement of the water is fascinating. It changes colors with the flow, the minerals it carries, and the substrata that is flows across. I have seen water run turquoise from travertines and marbles. I have seen it red and yellow as it sprawls across shales and picks up the detritus of water plants attempting to make a living in scant centimeters of water. Water takes on a variety of whites as it is frozen in the deep crevasses where the sun never shines or traversing limestone in the brilliant, glittering sun in its single minded purpose: downward. It ripples, leaps, and laughs its way along the stones. Each new feature of rock providing a unique note to the music that is played to the amphitheater of nature and solitude. A symphony arises from the water itself. The harmonies are joined in by the life that exalts at the presence of life giving water.

You can tarry and rest in the cool oasis of a canyon stream. You can test your courage against the cliffs as you leap into them. You can splash your feet and hands into the water creating your own beautiful fountains. You can slide along the algae-slicked rocks as the force of the stream pushes you exhilaratingly along. You can swim, sunbathe, and swim again as your leisure and body temperature fluctuate from the heat of the outside to the cool of the water. They are often the destination when I am backpacking, so they are associated in my mind very closely with victories, rest, and merriment. The cool water can sooth your aching muscles or your heat-stressed mind and body. There is no need to meditate near a canyon stream for the entire world conforms itself to wrap you in its own meditation.

Canyon streams are the very force of nature relentlessly wearing away at the rocks to form the impressive cliffs and crags above. They cut through the layers of the earth and bring to light a history that we can barely comprehend with our minds. I look upon the canyons that water has carved and am simultaneously dumbfounded at what the stream, seeming so gentle, can accomplish and inspired at the quintessential example of tenacity and determination and all the wonders it can accomplish.