Walking With/Without Abbey

“There is this to be said for walking: It’s the one mode of human locomotion by which a man proceeds on his own two feet, upright…”

Walking With/Without Abbey

“There is this to be said for walking: It’s the one mode of human locomotion by which a man proceeds on his own two feet, upright, erect, as a man should be, not squatting on his rear haunches like a frog.”

“What ever happened to walking?” I rhetorisized to Gary, as we were rumbling, bouncing, veering, jolting, swashing wildly down the rutted washboard that could only barely be called a road.

We were on out way to the bottom, to explore Fish Creek Canyon.

Calling this teeth jangling “road” is flattery at the grossest, sick-minded extreme of exaggeration. And then beyond that.

However, the road as it were, does one thing well— it keeps out the RVs.

That is except for one rusted heap of Winnebago smothered in the cat claw at the base of the cliff. Over the edge where the guardrail knows it is a joke.

“Walking? Hell, that went out before thinking!”

I enjoy Gary’s sulfuric acid-laced cynicism. Somewhere during our hike he gleefully kicked over rock cairns saying, “This place is a wilderness. Find your own way!”

Looking off the edge for a canyon called “Fish Creek”

Fish Creek Canyon drops 1000 feet below its rim into the heart, no make that the overworked jaundiced liver, of the Superstition Wilderness area. This canyon slices through an ocean of yellow, rusted, pale dingy, pastel puke orange rhyolite.

The ‘Supes are more than just mountains.

They are a place of silent sounds, long decayed echoes of ancient belching volcano underground erupting long before the invention of microwave ovens, personal computers, plastic bags, the sit-com, political action committees, fog-free mirrors, mobile phones, the Ronco pocket fisherman, human beings.

Fish Creek, no fish, no creek. Not today.

Is Fish “Creek” named with “Superstitious” dry humor?

Leave the fishing rods at home; I have been told that there are actually fish in the winter and early spring when water makes a guest appearance. I am a doubter.

But a place name would not lie now, would it? Maybe. Consider some named dry washes underlying the bland interstate 40 deathway of northern Arizona- “Crazy Creek” followed by “Dead Creek”. Or better yet, amigos, consider the wisely named “Table Mesa”…. “Picacho Peak”. They did not get around to naming the “Rio River” or the “Sierra Mountains”.

The optimal time to enjoy the Supes are — no not the a tasty 118 degree life sucking mid afternoon in June— is following a high elevation snowfall in January or February. The 5000 plus vertical feet, assorted inches, and fractions there-of occupied by the Superstition Mountain proper is often draped in snow, and more so on the shadowy north side. For a few magical days or weeks, thousands normally barren stony lifeless creek beds are resuscitated, they gurgle with dancing clear cold agua. Water trickles off of sheer cliff walls. No highbrow symphony in Carnegie Hall can match the sounds of tinkling of water cascading in the Arizona desert.

Fish Creek Canyon is fairly well-known, at least by those that pass by on their way to that stagnant, jet ski infested recreational stock pond called Lake Roosevelt. It reaches the Salt River, a throttled long ago proud river that once happily powered its way to the Gila River (now dry) to the Rio Colorado (now dead at the Mexico border) and eventually to the Gulf of California. Or, more properly, the Sea of Cortez.

Most humanoids that stop by the entrance to Fish Creek Canyon do not penetrate far into the depths. Just enough steps for a photo before running back to the SUV for a Diet Coke. Imagine the sheer terror of discovering that there is no trail much less interpretative displays, flush toilets, gift shops to purchase un-functional logo-encrusted spoons!

The first mile or so of Fish Creek is littered with townhouse sized boulders, each having finally yielded to the call of gravity from their perch above. Take out your topographic map and see where the contour lines say, “Forget it, we’ll just all merge together into one tangles blob.” That’s the source.

Gary and I scramble up, over, around, left, down, sometimes backward, working our way upstream a place with no stream. We swash through the brush, grimacing as catclaw shreds into our skin and refuses to let go. But the beauty of this bouldery set-up is it acts as a filter. The total volume of gum wrappers, plastic cups, beer cans, used kleenix, cigarette butts, big gulp cups, drops off asymptotically to nil on the other side of the filter.

In other places, even so-called Federally designed Wildernesses, I have bushwhacked my way, purposely lost, and find the way back to my starting point by navigating in the direction of increasing amounts of humanly discarded debris. Sure bet.

Yes, what ever did happen to walking? It was all of the fad before Honda Scooters, moving sidewalks, Little Hummers (4-wheel drive to survive the perils of mondo-mall parking lots), the Internet.

Looking into the heart of the ‘Supes

Edward Abbey wrote a walking journal across the Arizona desert, full of scalpel sharpened sense slicing wit and his survival (tall?) tales. In my first reading I was frustrated in trying to map his route- he mentioned a starting point in western Arizona, with mid-journey pass around a mountain range at the Mexican Border.

That sly old dog- he mixed it all up! Intentionally! Names and places don’t matter anyhow (like Nothing, Arizona population 4. Once, Nothing burnt down, and Nothing was rebuilt. From nothing came Nothing…)

All that matters is the trip. The walking. Alone. With a friend. Without hurry. No rigid itinerary. It just ain’t done like that anymore. Abbey is dead, although in the mid 1990s I noted in a public library card catalog he was still listed as “Abbey, Edward (1929 — _____).

How did he manage the double edge of writing as a society rebel (“Society is like a stew. If you don’t keep it stirred up, all of the scum rises to the top.”) and being so, er, “fashionable” among the hip, for whom environmentalism was the latest string of fads, following the tie dyed traditions of war protesting, jogging, disco, cocaine, and preceding ____________? Abbey probably did not care- it was a living. And he certainly doesn’t care now, being among the deceased (card catalogs notwithstanding).

So often I walk.

Sometimes I walk with Abbey, sometimes without.

He is out there. Laughing to himself, around the corner in those sandy canyons, the side canyons without trails, the ones that are a perilous journey just to get to the starting point, the ones lacking an Official United States department of Interior Fee Area to Pay for the Cost of Collecting Fees.

Trails are useful and enjoyable ways to get to a place, but they aren‘t the only way. If you are afraid to get lost once in a while, you’ll never last if you do by accident. It is a treat to be able to lose oneself these days, perhaps a luxury unavailable in the 21st century. So sometimes you drive, sometimes you fly, sometimes you walk, sometimes on a smooth trail, sometimes on a sandstone ledge, sometimes on a rocky river bed where there is no river. For a route, all you need is a way.

Dear Abbey

What is this crap you wrote in that Time-Life tome- “Cactus Country”? The photos were not well-printed and looked a bit off focus in reproduction.

Oh well. I was eager to read your writing since it has a chapter on “The Mountains of Superstition”. It reads more as though you turned on the EA Automatic Cliche Machine and let it spew a disjointed shotgun spray of Abbeyisms. You describe one of the most trampled all-but-paved-as-a-highway trails- the Peralta Trail up to Fremont Saddle and the view of Weaver’s Needle.

Little blue-haired ladies from Minnesota, overweight accountants, and other fair-weather creatures cruise that route.

In Spring the trail head parking lot is full of Yuppie 4x4=$ mobiles and Avis rent-a-cars; the Forest Service is there to count heads. You could have written it without even being there in person.

And you promulgate false descriptions of the Needle. Bristles my geological sense of justice. “It is made entirely of volcanic rock,” okay you are correct up to here,” mostly basalt” WRONG! The nearest basalt is Black Mesa, a few miles north.

“And according to geologists it is actually the eroded remnant of a volcanic neck or plug- solidified magma having long since been completely eroded out of existence…”

Name your geologists, Abbey, for he/she is a shaman. The base of the Needle is composed of fragmental material, a “breccia” in geo-jargonese, the kind of formation formed at the base or margins of a thick lava, crumpling itself, bulldozing up the underlying surface into a carpet of rubble. The pinnacles near Kayenta, Arizona, Shiprock in New Mexico, Devils Tower in Wyoming; those are your volcanic necks.

And your neck? Well, Abbey? What do you have to say for yourself?

Okay, asks the reader- what is it? Or better who cares?

Another oft repeated and questioanble tale is that the Papago name for Weaver’s Needle was their translation of “Big Phallus”, which like other classic landmarks have been re-named to conform with standard American Political Correctness Do Not Offend Anyone approval.

The Needle was named for a mountain man named “Pauline”! Do not forget good old SP crater, a volcanic cinder cone north of Flagstaff. SP stands for “Shit-Pot” for its geometric similarity to Sir Thomas Crapper’s monumental gift to civilization.

Superstition Mountain, a photo taken with real old fashioned film and processed with chemicals

But back to the Needle. The east face of Superstition Mountain, the prow of that ship plunging its way toward Phoenix- is composed of remnants of large volume lava flows and compressed piles of hot ash, which in the eons since eruption, have been weathered, contracted, faulted, creating vertical fractures. In turn, this is readily eroded as each springs shower pours naturally slightly acidic rainwater into the cracks. A winter’s snow (yes it REALLY happens) freezes inside the cracks, and ice, with the rare property of occupying more area as a solid than a liquid (a negative sloping phase transition- but more importantly, the reason why ice cubes float) pushes, wedges, thrusts the cracks deeper and wider.

The infamous Weaver’s Needle? It’s just an outlying erosional remnant of a larger mass of rock. A survivor. A lone sentinel. Another rebel doomed to dissipate with time.

And NASA has not developed an instrument sensitive enough to detect how little I care of the stories of the Lost Dutchman’s gold. Yeah, Abbey, there is not much Au up around the Needle, but it occurs on the periphery of the Superstitions; where old geological faults separate the volcanic rocks from the much older fractured, quartz veined basement of Pre Cambrian granite.

Could this be the reason for naming of the Goldfield Mountains north east of the Supes? The ghost-town of Goldfield (resurrected as a tourist enterprise, a renewable resource) may give a slight clue to the presence of gold around here.

Yet for years, fool after fool after fool has come out here from the frontiers of New York or Los Angeles, thinking themselves bigger than these hills, and have perished among the rubble of the relentless August furnace of the Superstition Mountains.

There is a gap between overestimating one’s abilities and underestimating the terrain; in the ‘Supes, this gap yawns as a chasm that could swallow the Grand Canyon in a blink.

It’s fun to nail you Abbey, you old dog. Too bad you aren’t around to defend yourself on a walk. As if it really mattered. Not more than taking a bushwhack up one of those crevices to the lone pinnacle at the top of the next ridge.

I think I see a way.

This was original written around 1995 and published in a Web 0.001 style page at http://dommy.com/alan/walkin.html All photos are my own, floating somewhere among http://flickr.com/photos/cogdog