Bryon wears soft cotton pants and no shoes, so when he walks behind you--even right behind you--you can't hear him at all. He knows how to build a fire by rubbing two sticks together. He knows the best wood for making a bow, and the way to prepare cactus to eat so that it doesn't act as a diuretic. Bryon knows that if you go ahead and chomp into a piece of cactus without preparing it this way, it will act as a diuretic and dehydrate your already desert-worn body.
There's a map in his head of secret canyons he's found where water flows in the summer, and he offered to take Logan and me--sworn to secrecy, of course--to one he calls "cat canyon" because he's often seen the wash full of mountain lion tracks.
A disclaimer for the kind of story this will be: I cannot tell you where this canyon is, though I do hope, dear reader, that you discover an amazing canyon for yourself. In Bryon's case, he was driving along one of our local mountain roads looking for something inspiring, and in the distance he saw a large bright green patch of cottonwoods. So he hiked to them, because cottonwoods mean water. Some days I forget that there are so many places to be explored.
We hiked in the dry bed of the wash until rock walls started to rise on either side. Then from the sand we came upon small pools of murky water and slimy gardens of algae. One hundred yards later, the water was running down to the algae in trickles. Then the pools got bigger, and some of the water was clear. It was weird to follow the water backward, from the mucky places where the desert is thirsty to a more hopeful place where the oasis might last all summer. We waded through deep troughs, and the tall boys were in water up to their thighs; I soaked my shorts entirely.
Crawling up an amazing rock formation.
In the swimming hole the water was so cool it had this weird relaxing effect. Not so cold that we were shivering, but cold enough that it felt strange to sit still. The rock rising out of the water was black granite with beautiful white veins, and reflections of the water, brighter than its stripes, danced over it.
Reflections playing on the rocks.
In the belly of the Secret Canyon.
Way up in the canyon, the trees closed in. Bryon showed us the place where a mountain lion was slaughtered. He came up the canyon one day to find blood all over the rocks. The now dried carcass was laying near the stream, missing head, feet, tail and hide. The smell stayed in my nose even as we hiked back down to the field of thistles and sweet honeysuckle. I'm told that hunting mountain lions is legal in Arizona. It didn't help me feel any better about it being done.
Angry Gila Monster
Hiking back out, we doused ourselves in the water, fending off the afternoon heat. Someday, Bryon says, he'll hike up to the source. We watched the water trickle back into the sand as we neared the car, knowing that somewhere up there a spring was pumping a lot more out.