Day after day, year after year, the canyon walls are changing colors due to something called desert varnish. As the name suggests, it’s a sort of varnish; a coat of “paint” on the cliff walls around you. Different minerals in the rock and on the surface of the desert get swept up in the rain, and when the rain seeps down the side of the canyons from the surface above, it takes those minerals with it. Over time, enough of these minerals build up, and leave long streaks down the side of the canyon walls, like someone has painted them. Some are white, some are red, but my favorites are the long, black ones. From here on out, it’s a constant companion and one of my favorite features of hiking inside of a canyon in this part of Utah.
As you continue deeper into the hike, 50-foot cliff walls become 75, 75 gives way to 100, and soon you’re staring at 100- and 200-foot cliff walls on either side. It’s spectacular. You’re in a 50-foot wide fissure in the earth. Up on the surface, it’s rock, crypto, cactus, scrub brush, and a desolate landscape. But just a few hundred feet down in this little crack it’s all life, birds, plants, trees, green, and that little trickle has turned into a stream; it’s just a small thing—you can still straddle it most of the time—but if you misplace your foot, it’s submerged. Now you have a new companion: the gurgle of water, and the sing-song echo it makes in the canyon. At once your sounds are muffled and amplified by the white noise of water, and the bouncing canyon acoustics. You’re in a universe that exists below the world you have lived in your whole life and it sounds, smells, and looks totally different than any world you’ve known.
Once the water is officially a stream, things start to get really interesting. There’s a moment when the trail actually climbs back up, almost back to the level of the desert plain. At this point, you realize how much light is shielded from you because when you climb back up to that desert level, it’s suddenly so bright again. Then you hear the gurgle of the stream turn into something different: a roar. (This is Part 6 of a longer hike description. To start at the beginning, go to DAY 120)