We are heading back the other direction, dry suits drenched and hanging off of us, and I can tell Sarah and Carl are both a bit miffed. I am giving myself a silent lashing – if you are going to check the GPS Lindsey ACTUALLY check the GPS. Don’t just glance at it and see that yes, you are “in the right canyon“. We had just gone for what we thought was the first swim of the canyon only to discover that it ended in a sheer, black wall rising up in front of us. Oops. Turned left instead of right. Out here that could get you killed. I needed to be more careful.
This kind of complacency is typical after a tricky approach. We had already spent the morning navigating over slick rock, through mazes of confusing carins, up several passes and down a very steep, crumbling gully to make it into the canyon. Some part of me had thought once we are in the canyon we couldn’t get it wrong anymore, so after we had sat down to put on our dry suits I had turned my brain off. Time to turn it back on.
But even this small error isn’t enough to dull my excitement because today we are in a canyon! My first ever canyoneering adventure! And not just any canyon. The Subway. An iconic canyon located in Zion National Park. Permits for The Subway are hard to come by and I was ecstatic when I was awarded one for the four of us. Until Carl was also awarded one for the four of us… so maybe it wasn’t so hard to get them during the last minute drawings after all. Didn’t matter. We were here now.
The Subway was supposed to be a wet canyon and a cold one. We were all donning our dry suits and Carl and Sarah – being the responsible and frugal individuals that they are were also wearing a set of dark blue canvass coveralls over the dry suits. In my defense they had only given us one small which I had offered to let Sarah wear but ultimately my reason for not wanting to wear it was the same reason Kyle left his in his pack: vanity. Vanity or no Carl and Sarah kept us laughing with their “Canyon Mechanic” trope as they checked The Subway for clogged pipes and hairline fractures. Kyle and I were clearly not qualified for the job and we were taking the risk of ripping our dry suits and having to buy them off of the rental company.
Because I had never been canyoneering before I didn’t quite understand why coveralls might be necessary. We would just be careful, right? But canyons have a way of teaching you things – only ten minutes into The Subway and I suddenly had a very new understanding of the way canyoneering is a full body sport. We had already belly crawled through two holes in the ground, squeezed ourselves through tight slots, climbed over downed logs and scooted off sandstone slides into freezing cold pools of water.
The Subway was FUN. I don’t know how else to put it and I don’t love likening the incredibleness of MOTHER NATCH to a playground but this canyon really did feel like a water park. There was one pool in particular that we got to where we had to climb up on a giant boulder wedged between the tight canyon walls and then the only way down was to leap into the deep pool of water beyond, clearing an underwater log that stuck out four feet beyond the boulder. I’ve never loved jumping off of things but something about the playfulness of this canyon had me giggling like a child. Kyle and I couldn’t stop grinning at each other as we tromped through puddles and Sarah and Carl came around pretty much immediately after our initial swimming debacle (Carl really doesn’t like cold water, I think part of him thought he might just be able to avoid it the whole time, but not in the Subway).
The Subway is iconic because there are these two stretches of canyon that look rounded like the inside of a subway tube. Above them the canyon walls soar high but below them water sheets through the canyon, warmed by fresh springs, and in spots deep pools form. The water is aquamarine and sunlight shines golden off the damp walls. Trying to figure out how and why the canyons formed this way here but so differently up canyon makes your head hurt. These stretches of canyon were gorgeous, I can see what all the hype is about. We snapped a couple of pictures there and cannon balled into the deep clear pools (on lookers seemed confused by the frivolity and joy with which we were approaching our day but it might have just been that we were wearing dry suits and they weren’t and dry suits really allow you to enjoy a freezing cold wet canyon in a way you can’t without them).
Below the second stretch of iconic curved walls the canyon opens up and begins to look like any other canyon. I mean… not that any other canyon filled with water in October in the desert isn’t ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. The fall colors were in full effect and everywhere we looked bright yellows and dark reds were lining the banks. A little trail wove from one river bank to the other. Carl and Sarah seemed to like this route so they took it. Kyle and I preferred to walk in the river itself because the cold water felt like medicine on my sore thighs (aching from our mountain biking escapades the day before) and because water in the desert is just about the most precious thing you can find.
Walking in the water we discovered giant trout that would woosh past our legs after we had herded them down stream a couple of feet. Tiny frogs huddled into indentations in the river rocks where there was still shade. And all along the river we discovered things. At one spot in the soft sand bubbles were forming. Upon closer inspection I found the sand there VERY soft and deep and that was when we realized it was an underground spring! Isn’t that exactly how quicksand is formed? We didn’t investigate further. Then, toward the end of the canyon I was frolicking through a deeper pool of water when I felt sometimes pulling my gaze upwards – across the river were two giant flat gray boulders. Their surface was rougher than other rocks in the canyon – a completely different kind of stone. Which could only mean one thing.
“DINOSAUR TRACKS!” I shouted, calling Sarah and Carl to come scurrying downriver. We had been worried we had missed them! But there they were. Hundreds of three toed tracks all over the surface of this concrete like rock. Some of them were so clear you could almost feel the ground shake with the impact. We wondered what kind of dinosaur had created them? What had the day been like when those creatures walked here? Or rather, there… wherever and whatever there was like then. If it is in the same location but separated by too many years to fathom is it here or there? My brain hurt with even the reality of dinosaurs after staring at their footprints for a while. What a crazy freaking world we live in.
I really didn’t want to ever leave the river but soon we were climbing out of the canyon and to the car and driving back to camp. The day might have continued but something inside me was different. Ever since Kyle and I did The Narrows some five or six years ago I have been dying to come back and do another canyon. Something about the light. The water. It had been calling to me. And now we had been back. And we had done the thing. And as with most things I found myself no where near satisfied. If anything my hunger had suddenly grown exponentially. And that is the way with adventure. It is never happy with just one.