The healing embrace of Our Merciful Father and the warming quiet was gently broken by the faintest of sounds. There was a little shuffling nearby, but I couldn't pinpoint the source. I took my time scanning the area up and down the surrounding wash until my eyes caught the slightest movement ahead and to my right.
Fancy that. It was a very rare and solitary desert tortoise with armour measuring roughly 18 inches in length. Surprised and delighted, I could barely move as a small stream of tears started to flow down my cheeks.
Tortoise was slowly plodding up Hell's Canyon, past some smelly coyote dens, with the greatest of effort. Upon closer inspection, I could see some scarring on the back and sides of his old shell, probably the result of battles with coyote who no doubt tried to make a meal out of him on multiple occasions.
Even so, there was tortoise looking no worse for the wear, and I couldn't help but marvel at this simple little creature of God's making, so perfectly and lovingly outfitted for survival in this harsh environment.
Okay, so I'm about as human as they come, and the little encounter at the tail end of the Big Encounter was the icing on the cake as it were. Truly profound and refreshing!
Invigorated, I headed further up into the canyon to explore that area that I had spied earlier from the higher vantage point.
Twenty minutes later I turned a sharp bend in the wash just past a large mesquite tree and came upon a secluded spot at the base of a massive red rock outcropping. For some reason, I simply felt like I had arrived, though I can't quite express why. It was a unique spot, not nearly as stunning as other scenery I had experienced in Arizona, but there was simply something compelling about it.
I rested there for about a half an hour as I took in the surrounding features and began to wonder who in their right mind would name this area Hell's Canyon.
In the soft sand and clay of the arroyo I could make out various tracks. Horses had been this way, so had the occasional hiker. There were fresh deer tracks and I could also make out the smaller hoove prints of javelina. Of course there were coyote tracks here and there as well.
Above me in the rock face was a small cave that sort of gave me the creeps. I decided not to explore it that go round, for fear of what might be holed up there. Maybe that was not very rational, but the hair on the back of my neck was standing on end.
The ocotillos were in full bloom with their marvelous little fiery flowers on the tips of long extended branches. In fact the whole desert was fairly green and fresh from the recent rains and it seemed as if a variety of curious little birds suddenly decended on the area with their talkative chittering and lovely bird song.
Of course I was surrounded by desert rocks and boulders of all shapes and sizes, including one peculiar red rock that stood out in sharp contrast to all the others. Not entirely sure why, but I immediately came to think of it as the mercy stone.
A few yards past the mercy stone, just on the edge of the arroyo, I spied another pile of rocks that looked like it might have once served as a fire pit.
Hell's Canyon. Bah! For the time being, I started to think of it as Hidden Canyon.
I immediately set about clearing the fire pit and got down to the business of setting a very solid foundation for what was to become a massive rock cairn constructed as a tower measuring about five feet in diameter. On that first go round I managed to get it to about four feet in height and named it St. Patrick's Cairn for one of my patron saints.
Eventually tired from the handpicking and moving of some very large rock, but satisfied with the effort, I headed back down the trail wiith the intent of many more trips to the spot to finish the work.
The work maybe seemed a bit fuzzy and odd at the time, but it was slowly taking shape in my heart nonetheless.
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