ACT LIKE YOU'LL NEVER BE BACK
Well, I’ll be. I shut my door and walked around to the back of the car. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I looked up, mouth wide open, in the direction of one of the sister domes of Enchanted Rock. Is there really a rainbow beaming straight down from the clouds into the rock? It was faint, but it was there. I looked closer. A vulture circled the soft pink, yellow, and blue bars of color, riding a hot thermal, floating around and around. One was a sign of good fortune. The other? Who knows what.
You know you’re excited to hike when you can’t take your eyes off of your surroundings while you put on gear. I snapped all my straps together, put on my Oakley’s, and firmly gripped my hiking stick, squeezing it. I finished getting ready by hocking a loogie of clear phlegm to the side just like sticky silk from a spider, ready for action. Yuck! I couldn’t breathe very well. Hardly at all. We were all out of Claritin and allergy drops. I could hear the wheeze and crackle at the end of my breath. And I was a little hungover, too. I’m not gonna lie. But, like I told my wife, “Trips are rarely perfect, never convenient, and something is always amiss. And, when will we be back?” Let’s act like we’ll never be back and everything here, all of the views and all of the wonder, have to be taken in, all on this hike.
We passed the gazebo and greeted two old ladies with binoculars the size of telescopes, sitting outside. One had a knee brace on. The other was in a wheelchair. They both put down their scopes and smiled at us. But, I must admit. Seeing them there unable to walk hit me hard. I know my time will come, too, I thought, when I’m immobile…And what will I do?
One of them had a question. She said she lost the hikers she was tracking with her binoculars, and asked us, with great curiosity, “What’s the other side look like?” She looked at me, hanging on for some word.
It broke my heart. I cleared my throat, working up a smile. I said, “Just the same as this side, ma’am. You ain’t missing much.” Then my wife told her that when we get to the top, we might go look for caves. They nodded to us, smiling, and put those big scopes back up to their eyes again.
We hopped to it and marched over the dusty blocks of granite rock trying not to slip and fall and finally reached the base of the dome. We may have lost the rainbow, I thought, but we weren’t about to lose the sunset.
Last time I was here was January of 2020. I hiked up this rock like the yodeling climber on the Price is Right. In jeans. Today, I had on all the right gear, I had the legs, but I was breathing like a battleship commander getting choked out by the Dark Side of Darth Vader’s outstretched hand, gripping my neck. But I didn’t let that slow my pace. I had to get to the top. I didn’t want to miss that fiery, blood-orange dot on the horizon. The money shot. Gladly, we caught it just before it went down.
But we were in store for something else.
When we made it to the summit, we saw a couple of families and a group of college kids sitting together, as if by campfire, alone under the last blaze of sun. They sat around an indention in the rock, and I could hear their laughter.
Vanessa and I split up and walked the summit to explore and take pictures. I stopped to look at the rock beneath me, tapping it with my staff. How is this granite smooth yet appear so grooved and covered with scars, like healed, burned skin? I ran my hand across the surface, and looked out across the horizon.
“Am I taking too many pictures?” I asked myself. Should I just be in the moment instead of looking for the perfect shot? I can never make up my mind. But sometimes, creation answers with unbelievable displays. Like the sky we saw that evening after the sun went down. Plumes of long clouds ruffled at the edges spread out across the sky in blushing pinks, violet, and lavender in a darkening sky. Like purple sand tossed in the air every which way with abandon. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The granite boulders, once orange and red like rust, took on the color of the sky as well. It was beautiful.
If only those two old ladies were here now! We could all watch the sun go down, together.
I was still breathing hard. Maybe I was just outta shape. Or maybe it was the whiskey and Altstadt the prior night. Who knows. But we weren’t done. We decided to skip dinner and stargaze. We found a spot on a decline and looked up at the sky as the wind picked up. My quivering legs calmed down, and I felt relaxed with every passing breeze.
We weren’t getting good pictures, though. It wasn’t dark enough. So we just stood there on the slope waiting for another coat of darkness to cover the night sky. I looked back down and saw someone climbing up. I flashed my light. The person was steadily making his way to me wearing a headlamp, holding a flashlight. In just a few minutes, he was standing right before me.
“Are you Courtney?” he asked, not even breathing hard.
“No, sir…Are you a Park Ranger?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Yes,” he said, looking ahead, gritting his teeth.
“If you need some help…” I looked at my wife. “We can help you.”
“No, thank you,” he replied. He looked up and quickly left us, hiking to the top with a steady and sure pace.
After another twenty minutes, we heard the ranger talking to some other people who were looking for the same person. They walked off and we heard the ranger utter a choice four-letter word of frustration in the darkness.
My phone buzzed. It was my grandpa calling all the way from Tahoka. I put him on speakerphone. He talked to me in Spanish about the day of my birth. The wind was cool, but picking up. “Mijo, it sounds like you are somewhere windy like when you were born…That was a terrible storm,” he said. “There was no power in the hospital. But I told you, everything will be ok after it passes. And it was!” We laughed. The stars came out and twinkled. The Milky Way moved in a blue haze across the stars.
It was my birthday. My knees hurt. I couldn’t breathe. But I was on Enchanted Rock.