Every road must be connected to another road. A road not so connected, by definition, isn’t much use. So one road always leads to another.
My day’s lesson from A Course in Miracles was about roads. It told me to walk along the road to God.
I camped at Starr Springs, an oasis at the foot of Mount Hillers, southernmost peak along the main range of the Henry’s in south-central Utah. Across Highway 276, the Little Rockies of Mounts Ellsworth and Holmes stood as 8,000 foot dwarfs compared to the rest of the Henry Mountains. Twisted and golden and relatively unvegetated, the Little Rockies seemed more like Basin and Range peaks than mountains of the Colorado Plateau. Farther south, the blue majesty of Navajo Mountain stretches above the escarpments and plains of Cane Spring Desert.
Starr Springs was lush with oak trees and willow brush. The woods stood so dense I had to peak through the canopy to remind myself that tawny deserts surrounded me in just about every direction.
I slid some water on my back and hiked the road to Clay Point, which trended around the southern flank of Mount Hillers. Gigantic headstones embedded themselves along the south base of the range. The rock fins seemed to have once been part of the horizontal strata, but were now tilted vertically. They limned the whole mountainside at base for miles.
A pediment of Hillers at its southwest flank drew my eyes. I figured that if I could surmount it, I’d have great views of the canyon system that surrounded the Henry Mountains to the west like a vast moat. The open scrub surrounding the Henrys makes perfect scrambling country. So I abandoned the road and bushwhacked through the clumpy sage plains that rolled toward the ridge.
Drainages and small canyons radiating out from Hillers toward the distant San Juan River soon interrupted my intended route. I climbed an intervening hillock and resurveyed my flightpath. Beneath me, the road I’d left an hour ago wound and bent a few hundred yards away. Should’ve stayed on the road. I would’ve made it here sooner. A Course in Miracles told me to walk along the road. It would’ve been a lot quicker.
I climbed back down to the road and crossed a cottonwood wash. I stumbled upon another road. Not a well-graded, red dirt track common in southern Utah, but a rough road studded with sharp white stones more often encountered in the high mountains. I wouldn’t have driven it.
I relinquished my original, self-imposed destination of the southwest pediment of Mount Hillers, and decided on the road to God, or at least to the base of Hillers. This was my second hike of the day, and the sun was far into the western half of the sky. Thunder rumbled over Mount Ellsworth, and dark sky cricked with lightning just over the canyon country to my south. I’d touch glue at the base of Hillers and head back to camp before I was true toast.
The road to the mountain held straight, and led up to fins of several colors, fins high and sharp and shaped like spades. I passed a campsite on my left on my way in, replete with fire ring. The fins, maybe 150 feet fight, loomed as I approached the mountain. The road pinched out into P-J woodland, with a deep, boulder-strewn wash on my right.
I dropped down into the drainage, and the world assumed a radically different shape. Two dark tan fins that seemed from their color to bear an igneous pedigree weren’t fins at all. They formed walls much like a castle, with a wide, 50 foot gap where the drawbridge should be. They stood over a hundred feet high and one was about 20 feet thick. Behind them, the sandstone fins I’d seen for the whole hike vaulted up in sandstone hues of white and pink and copper. The wall was a granitic, dike formation that separated me from the more brightly-colored Popsicle fins. I felt like Frodo passing through the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings in Lord of the Rings.
I’d been camped out on the western rims of Clay Canyon early this morning, miles across from here. I’d watched as harmless cumuli swelled at the summits of the Henry’s, then to my east. Those clouds quickly matastisized into gigantic cumulonimbi that dwarfed the mountains which helped make them. The topsides of the thunderheads banged against the tropopause and streaked like the stains of ink rouged by the drops of rain that ran down the index cards I wrote this down on. I’d abandoned Clay Canyon because I didn’t want to get stopped out by a flood at Bullfrog Creek crossing like I had last year. It could be dry and sunny overhead, but let it rain in the mountains miles away, and you can get flooded out. Yet now, I felt timid as those large storms had failed to make much rain. I’d even slipped on rain pants and a rain jacket for this hike and ended up sweating them off, tying them to the straps on my camelback. Fool.
Now, as I neared the gates of the mountain, the air chilled. The sky above the mountain brewed black. A strong wind blew out between the gates of the dike like a giant exhaling. I was Frodo at the gates of Mordor. Climbing up the stair-step wash, I passed through the gate. I negotiated a boulder field as I crossed over the threshold. The plutonic gates opened up into a vast grotto. It seemed to unfold from the two-dimensional walls of Mount Hillers into a hidden third dimension.
The giant’s grotto, completely enclosed by the walls of the mountain, stood a thousand feet high, and about a quarter-mile deep. Spires of fire and ivory, granite gray and burning red, toothy and sharp, stood like battlements along the clifftops. Organ pipes and flutes of stone serrated the enclosing walls of the amphitheater. Spruce and fir stacked in steep, rising tiers draped the cliff sides. Boulders splashed with greenshield lichen spilled everywhere; up the wash I trod, up the walls of the grotto.
The cove vaulted up in vertical, staircase layers like large books stacked alongside shorter ones on shelves. I wandered farther and farther in, past all my intentions and plans. I wandered through the empty quarter of a strange, holy city of cathedrals and pyramids. Then the cold rains came on me. I stood next to 20 foot boulders, canopied by immense specimens of pinyon and spruce. It grew so cool and wet in this temperate enclosure that I needed my rain gear after all.
I crouched in the dry creek bed and listened between the chords of the wind for the roaring sound of flash flood. I used a flat, diorite boulder as my standing desk to write all this down, rain splatting the black-inked words into teared mascara. Shags of juniper bark dangled like party streamers before my eyes. Heavy pine duff softened my step. Gigantic Mormon tea and cliffrose told of the wet world through which I climbed.
The atmosphere cool and aromatic and wet. A Bryce-like fairyland enfolded me. And a rock garden, too. A nearly perfect, A-frame boulder blocked the wash. Penny-hued hoodos like hooded monks stood in a line and watched my trespass. Boulders maroon and pink, serpentine green and metal gray. Some stones, called porphyritic diorite, were jeweled with pebbles set in black substrate. The fragrance of pine wafted. Beneath my crunching boots, fine and dark red gravel lined the run of each stair of the gray boulder wash, as if I walked the bottom of a dry aquarium. It seemed landscaped.
Giant sage plants loosed their sweet scents on the rain, melding with the dampening smell of wet stone. Birdsong rose and fell in the soft rain as I sheltered beneath the trees. White piping soared above me on the walls. Fins over a hundred feet high – ivory and alpenglow and orange – planted themselves in the middle of the amphitheater. A jagged, church-sized monolith was emplaced in the middle of the amphitheater. It seemed like the needled mound at the center of an impact crater, sharp and steep. I passed by a dead juniper trunk so twisted it seemed more water than wood, a self-contained rapid spinning in its own vortex.
I finally turned around from my trance and gazed back through the break in the dike through which I’d stumbled. The cliffs and plains of the desert and of Navajo Mountain seemed viewed through a picture window, seemed unreal, cloaked in storm and dream and distance, like a sea to horizon. Out there, a world of horizontality. In here, a world of verticality. The two, the active and passive forces of the universe, met here in a balance that held everything together, without anyone ever knowing that it did.
I wondered how I’d happened on all this.
Before all this, as I stood on the road to Clay Point, on a treeless ridge, exposed to swirling storms, I’d almost turned around and headed back to camp at the thud of thunder and the lash of lightning. I’d left my campsite at Clay Canyon because I was afraid of storms that never came. So cautious, I overreact and decide out of fear. I misperceive events, see signs in nature that aren’t really there. Yet despite all that, I went ahead into the storm, and I can’t tell you why. Accidents make up my life.
All of this from an accidentally discovered road, from a hidden entrance into a mountain I discovered by chance.
Roads led me here. Unintentionality did. God did. My pure accident represented God’s intention. I stepped back and let something deep within lead the way. I recalled today’s lesson from A Course in Miracles.
Just when you think your day is over, . .
Just when you believe you’ve run out of grace, . . .
When you think you don’t have any more gas in the tank, . . .
And when you’re second-guessing yourself over the choices you’ve made, . . .
. . . you may have it all wrong.
Trust your process. You are being led. There are no accidents.
What’s accidental to you, may just be part of a plan. One road always leads to another.
On the way back, in a soft rain, a full-arc rainbow planted itself before me, its pedestals on either side of the road. The colors seemed brighter than any rainbow I’d ever seen. I made out the red and the orange, the yellow and the green, the blue and the indigo and the violet all standing out from one another, and yet all shading into each other in a seamlessness that made all colors one and one color the all. I remembered part of a Navajo chant that I’d been reading about just yesterday-
Homeward now shall I journey,
Homeward upon the rainbow;
Homeward upon me starting,
Homeward upon the rainbow;
Homeward behold me faring,
Homeward upon the rainbow.
It’s called the Mountain Song, and upon the rainbow, both man and god move from mountain to mountain.
I remembered that I followed the road to God.
[To get here from Utah Highway 276, turn left at the signed fork where Starr Springs is your destination to the right and Clay Point is to the left. This road tracks the southern flank of Mount Hillers and the road trends west. At the next fork, also signed, veer right and take the road to Pennel Creek Junction. You’ll eventually drop down and pass a cottonwood-lined wash. Just after that, you’ll reach a road on your right that leads up to the base of Mount Hillers. Turn right onto that road. You’ll pass a small turnout campsite on your left with a fire ring. Keep going toward the orange and white fins at the base of the mountain. Eventually, the road pinches out. You can drop down into the wash and cross it, continuing to hike up toward the mountain, or you can climb up the wash. Or, to the right of the road near its end, someone thought of you and I and constructed a stone-bordered path that snakes to an oblong, raised firepit with a semi-circle of stones in front of it. Keep hiking up past the firepit. You’ll know when you’ve arrived when your world changes.]
© 2014 by Michael C. Just