It’s sunny and clear, but still cool on this late winter morning when Linda, Ross, and I arrive at the trailhead parking lot in Ross’ car. Lola and I were the first to arrive at Ross and Janet’s house; Bob and Linda arrive a few minutes later. While Bob and Janet remain behind for health reasons, the dogs, Lola and Rez, pile into Ross’ car along with Linda and me for the thirty-minute trip to the trailhead. Ross drives overland from his house through the desert, and up into the mountains. Two narrow paved lanes bank steeply, revealing a panoramic landscape far below us.
This climbing paved road has no guard rails. Abruptly the paving stops, and we find ourselves on a rust-colored dirt road. Linda remarks that it is unsettling not to have guard rails. As for me, being a “city” guy I momentarily feel lost, riding along in a car on a stretch of road without any pavement, though I assumed, correctly as it turns out, this dirt road would eventually take us to the trailhead.
There are maybe ten or fifteen other vehicles in the lot at this early hour. Sherry texts us that she is about five minutes away. She arrives by herself in Tom’s wine red MINI Cooper. I never noticed before just now how tiny the vehicle is.
Once gathered, we discuss our options. Linda wants to take a rugged hike that will involve rock scrambling. Sherry does not. Ross and I decide to split up; he and Rez will go off with Linda while Lola and I will accompany Sherry in a different direction.
Lola is a wonderful trail dog. She likes to take the lead, and in her explorations sometimes vanishes. Her penchant to explore in this fashion used to bother me when we would first go hiking. I was like a nervous parent who briefly loses sight of a child. I no longer worry because I have learned that she knows precisely where I am at all times, trudging along at my slow human pace. When she goes on one of her solo romps, I now anticipate seeing Lola running back to make sure the humans have managed to stay out of trouble. Then, she turns and take off again in a different direction. In this way, before our hike today ends, Lola will travel three or four times farther than we travel.
This trail is only three, maybe three and one-half miles there and back again, but is rated moderately difficult due to its steady elevation, steep drops and slick rocks. Lola is permitted to be on the trail but is supposed to be on a leash. The park officials who made this rule must have known perfectly well that between the many places where the trail narrows, exposing both hiker and dog to sharp cacti needles, a series of slippery, natural rock staircases– several featuring very large rocks, indeed–and the generally steep down slopes, it would be nigh impossible to guide any but the most docile and subservient leashed dog safely to the bottom of the trail. Lola is many things, but docile and subservient are not parts of her vocabulary.
For these reasons I assume the leash rule has been promulgated to limit the park’s exposure to liability. At the same time, no one seriously enforces it while we are visiting. However, since admittedly I had been violating this rule every step of the way, I neither will name the park nor identify our precise trail here.
At the bottom of a twisty rock staircase, the payoff is a cool and beautiful waterfall flowing over a tall, nearly horseshoe-shape rock wall. The falls break into a large water pool. We hear the falls before we catch a first passing glimpse. Then, for a time it turns quiet as the trail must veer away from the falls. When we next hear them, they are much louder. Around one bend they emerge into full view.
Lola must see them, too. From high above, Sherry and I watch helplessly as Lola bounds past us down the rocks to a small beach. Without hesitating she dives into the pool that forms directly below the falls. She starts paddling. From my perch I can see there is a second, slightly smaller set of cascades and falls lurking below the water pool.
Seeing this, I scurry down to protect Lola. Well, carefully crawl down the rock staircase to protect Lola is probably a better and more accurate description. Eventually I arrived at the beach at the bottom. By now I see Lola pulling on a large piece of wood along the edge of the water. She does not need my help.
We hadn’t seen a soul on the way down, but here at the bottom I notice several small groups of people approaching on the trail above me. At the bottom one young man will “safely” practice extreme rock climbing, pulling himself up while trying to hang upside down from a large boulder embedded in the rock wall. A young, strikingly beautiful blond woman, just arrived on my beach, strips down to a blazing yellow swimsuit and begins wading in the pool where a few moments earlier Lola had been happily paddling. I dip my hands into the pool. To me, the water feels freezing.
I see Sherry wave for me to come back. I clamber back up the rock staircase to her. Lola has been up and down these same rocks several times already. Without prompting, she now follows me. On the way up, I cross paths with several more small groups of young people, including a pretty woman, who is descending barefoot with her two pals.
Once upon a time, with Robyn in Kauai, we had encountered another attractive, young, barefoot woman, who blew past us on her way up a far more difficult trail than this one. I also remember watching this woman as she hobbled back down, pulling along one bloody foot for her troubles. That’s who I think about now.
Sherry and I retrace our steps up and away from the falls. The sound of the water gradually diminishes. By the time we are back on top it’s gone silent. We walk in silence ourselves for a time, taking in the panoramic desert vista while Lola traverses the trail nearby, exploring its edges. I think she might be getting tired.
Back at the parking lot we see that Ross’ car is gone. Sherry will have to drive me back to his house, where my car is waiting. Lola warily climbs into the back of her MINI Cooper. I get into the front seat. It’s a tight fit!
It’s Bob and Linda’s final day in Tucson. They come by to pick me up about an hour after we have finished the hike to attend a crafts fair in the downtown area. We meet Ross and Janet there.
Although Lola is exuberant and seems eager to go with us, I decide to leave her home but outside in the yard. Later, on our way to Ross and Janet’s for a last supper, we stop back at my place so I can feed my hound. As usual, she is happy and perky where it involves food.
At last, around 9 p.m. Bob, Linda and I simultaneously announce it’s time to go home. I am physically exhausted after a long day of adventures. I feel overwhelmed by sleep by the time I insert the key into the door of my casita. I am so tired that it almost hurts. I can’t wait to hit the sack!
However, to my mild surprise, Lola is not waiting for me by the door, wagging her tail in happy greeting. As I step further inside I notice Lola is standing against a wall, oddly, her tail seemingly tucked between her legs. And when I attempt to gently stroke her, she turns her body away from me but does not move. Then I hear her softly whimper. It suddenly strikes me: something is terribly wrong.
It will turn out to be a long night for us. But that’s another story for another day.