Hidden Canyon Trail winds up the sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park, it’s narrow and chiseled path following chain bored into the rock. The chain is not a fence; it’s a hand-hold for those afraid of heights. Some don’t realize their own fear until dizzied by the vertical crags of Zion Canyon and its famous trails to places like Angels Landing, where the rim-rock trail narrows at the top where only angels could land. Yet, you can hike to this zone and walk where angels tread.
My challenge is not heights. I stick to the easy trails and practice moderate endurance. Yet it is December in Zion, and ice challenges any hiker. Unseasonable rain broke the warm weather and water hydrated the sandy soils flashing floods of red clay through any sort of natural drainage. In a land void of rainfall, what water does appear carves the geology into a natural wonder. I come seeking a gift to share, a sight to give, something unusual. First I sought icicles, now I seek running water in a dry land.
Already the Virgin River is less red as I drive to Springdale, the tourist town at the mouth of Zion Canyon. I’m hoping the water is yet flowing. When waterfalls are transient, you need to follow the rain. The height of the storm frenzied in the dark of night, when wind and rain lashed my RV so hard I thought I was at sea. Lightning ripped the heavy clouds with bolts of energy, and water roared in what is usually a placid creek behind our trailer. I couldn’t wait for the morning to to head to Zion and see the waterfalls.
Mud greets me at Cafe Soleil. It’s a small sign of ooze from behind a solid rock wall. Even the tiniest of cracks can’t contain the power of flash floods. What larger signs will I see? I order my peppermint mocha and the barista tells me last night’s storm was of summer monsoon proportions. Not typical of occasional winter rains.
“You should have seen the waterfalls yesterday afternoon,” she says.
“Will they still be running,” I ask.
“No. Some only last minutes.”
Minutes. Ephemeral. Fleeting. Short-lived. I’m the explorer come too late.
Like a rare orchid bloom, I’ve come to the jungle only to stop off and have coffee first. Will I get to see any remains? I prepare for mud and encounter washes of it across the canyon road. During tourist season, you have to take a shuttle up this road. Cars are not allowed when the ranks of tourists are in the thousands daily. Now it’s the regional tourists among a few Australians. I wonder if this is a vacation time for those in the Land Down Under? Many, like me, are surprised at the cold of a winter desert. We shift about in muddied trails, and I shake my head at the incredible crests of water evidenced by debris and red sand streaks. Last night, when none of us could see, this canyon was flooded. This morning, the flood orchid is gone.
One sign gives me hope — a small icicle dripping from an overhang.
Changing plans, I’m once again seeking icicles. I drive to Hidden Canyon Trailhead, crossing a small creek that was a river just last night. I stand at a fork in the trail; both rise steeply. If there is ice, taking the famously steep and narrow trail of solid sandstone doesn’t seem wise. It’s paved and mild at this point, but beyond is likely dangerous. Instead, I choose left to go to the Weeping Rock. I’m not certain if it’s high enough in elevation to form icicles.
The path rises through a tunnel of tree limbs and wild grapevine. Weeping Rock is known for its hanging gardens of golden columbine and crimson monkeyflower where rare Zion snails slither. But not this time of year. Again, I’m that explorer out of sync. I stand at the tunnel and can see the continued rise of the trail. Last week I was disappointed to discover the Emerald Pools were not gem-green in winter. Obviously there will be no flowers ahead, but I step through the twisting tunnel of living sticks and see something.
A waterfall the width of my hand still cascades after the flood receded.
That’s enough encouragement to keep me going. I’ll get to see an ephemeral waterfall after all. It’s not exactly thundering or impressive, but it’s an unusual sight. Along the way I see maiden’s fern green as fresh salad in spring-fed crevices. The springs in this hidden canyon are what makes the Weeping Rock weep. Park naturalists explain that the water storage is from rain collected over the past 1,200 years. Thousand year-old rain mingled with the flush of yesterday. And I’m starting to see the weeps.
I turn the wide corner that enters a natural grotto hidden from view and can’t believe what I’m seeing. That ephemeral waterfall is spraying so much mist that everything below, including Weeping Rock, is slick wet. And the elevation and colder temperatures after the storm have trapped the landscape in ice. Not only have I found icicles, I’ve discovered a rarely seen winter wonderland in the middle of a desert canyon. It’s so unlikely I expect Frosty the Snowman to greet me. And it’s so icy, I’m not sure I should step any further.
Had I died on that trail the saddest part would be no one would understand why. Why be so foolish to climb up ice to an icy grotto, to get wet and frozen by spray? Because that spray is ephemeral. Because I would not see the likes of this ice again. And because, like in the Gift of the Magi, I haven’t enough money to give you all a Christmas gift, but I love my ranchers dearly enough to cut off my long hair. My photos are my gift to all of you who gather here. Risking the ice was my sacrifice. I’m cheered to say I lived to tell you this. I’m overjoyed to gift you shots hardly seen in this wondrous part of the world.
Serendipity is the ultimate gift of seekers. I hope each one of you continues to seek and find the unexpected on your writing journeys. The paths often fork and always seem steep. You just have to keep stepping out, risk being vulnerable, learn as you go from both masters and your own observations, and explore what could be. Share what you find. Write.
If I had not stepped beyond that tunnel, I would have missed the Zion Winter Wonderland. So this week, we are going to explore what it is to step beyond a hidden point.
December 22, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that steps beyond. It can be a door, a tunnel, a worm hole in space. You can create an explicit for what “beyond” is or you can simply use the word. Follow the prompt where it takes you, beyond what you think you know is there.
And Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to All Living Creatures!
Respond by December 27, 2016 to be included in the compilation (published December 28). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
My flash will be up soon! Believe it or not, it has started to pour rain and it’s a few hours before dark and I’m going to see if I can spot any flash floods (from a safe and secure distance).
UPDATE: Back with my flash and a fabulous sighting to share! First, I wanted to explain that I don’t write my flash until after I confirm the prompt. The prompt begins with a photo from my collection. Sometimes I have a general idea, and other times the photo gives me one. My prompt post is my own challenge to connect ideas that I have to what is going on in the bigger world or my smaller corner to the picture and the original idea I had for a prompt. Much can change in the writing, so I write my flash after I finish my post.
I’m working on two WIPs. It’s not a situation I intended, but I hadn’t been able to sell my Miracle of Ducks manuscript. I had already committed to finishing my Rock Creek revision when I lost my home and office. It gave me the push to make revisions to MOD which I thought could improve it and reset the story in a western state. In other words, I took my own life upheaval as permission to disrupt my novel writing process. I don’t recommend it. But what I learn in revising one manuscript, I can apply to the other. And I clearly understand the truth that we evolve as writers from one novel to the next. Messing with the sequence is messy.
Writing my WIPs as flash fiction has been helpful. For instance, in MOD, I have to rewrite scenes that were set in one place for the new location. It’s not as easy as replacing town names or Lake Superior for the Rocky Mountains. The flash I’m sharing tonight is one of the key setting chapters that I’ve not been sure how to approach. When I pulled a scene out and distilled it to 99 words and to fit the prompt, I found a way into how to make more changes. Who would have thought flash fiction could be that kind of a revisionist tool? I didn’t and I’m the one hosting the challenge! The more I write my WIPs as flash, the more insights I gain. Plus, it gives me a chance to gauge feedback. And I’m not committing lengthy rewrites, just short ones to help me find the direction I’m seeking.
And back to seeking. I took off in a flash to catch flash flooding. Zion Canyon was shrouded in misting rain, the canyon walls dark and red with wetness, but no flooding. We ventured near enough to Weeping Rock to see that the intermittent waterfall that had iced everything was now gone. It truly was a brief sight. Even the ice was gone, although I didn’t go all the way up to the grotto. At the entrance to the Narrows, I walked along the Virgin River. That’s when an angel dropped down from heaven and flapped silently past me. I burst into tears at the sight!
If you ever read my blog Elmira Pond Spotter, you might recognize my feathered obsession with Blue Heron: he was part of my Paradise, my Private Dancer, and always entertaining me with Burlesque on hot days. I romanticized him as a poet, a knight, an angel. With the holidays coming, my heart has been heavy as lead. I miss my home. I miss the pond. I miss the way my life used to be. It’s part of what drives me to nature, an act of healing, of finding new inspiration. And as I stood there, Blue Heron flew past like he’d decided to join me on my displaced journey. So yes. I cried. Right there on the river. Then I wiped the tears, smiled and chased that bird a quarter of a mile up the river! Seeing Blue Heron on Red Rock is my Christmas miracle. At the very least it’s the serendipity of seeking. And finding.
Beyond Rock Creek (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Denver. Many who rode the stages were headed to Denver or back from the mining camps. Denver illuminated Sarah’s hope, a growing city by western standards. Respectable but not exclusive to those who were different. A woman could be an accountant there, run her own business. Nancy Jane always thought so. Sarah dreamed it could be so. Cobb had mocked her. Now she had the money he had owed her and none of the ties. Beyond Rock Creek was Denver.
If she’d known life awaited her with bitter disappointment Sarah would have stayed on the prairie and died young.
Getting Beyond the Past (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“Ever study the old missionary graves?” asked Michael.
“No. I respect your elders who closed the burial ground,” said Danni.
“Why do you like cemeteries anyhow?” Michael stood by the gate, talking to Danni as she noted names on headstones.
“It’s a way to read history. I’ll show you. Come in.”
“Hmm, no thanks.”
“We’re not far from Tom’s. Want a drink for old time’s sake?”
“Old time’s sake? Like back when we hated each other?”
“I never hated you, Michael.”
“You hated me?”
“We both love Ike. That’s what matters.”
“Time to get beyond the past, then.”