Saturday, April 13, 2013

When a photo triggers a story

Valerie Millett  Photo - Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.
We've all heard how sights, sounds and even smells can trigger memories, stories, flashbacks or whatever you may choose to call the deep well of experiences lurking in our synapses.

So it was this morning as we were perusing our Facebook account.  An outstanding Sedona photographer named Rusty Albertson shared a link to the blog of another truly outstanding photographer  Valerie Millett.  Finding a great new blog is always a wonderful treat so we spent some time taking a leisurely stroll through Valerie's blog and that's when we came upon Valerie's photo you see above.

And that's when the memories of a particularly very fond story came flooding back in a rush.  It's a story about learning how to canoe.   Valerie's awesome photo was taken from Muley Point in San Juan County, Utah.  Those are the famed Goosenecks of The San Juan River in the lower foreground.

So, how could Muley Point trigger a story about learning to canoe?  Well, let's step into the Way Back Time Machine and rewind ourselves to perhaps 1984 or 1985.  A brash Easterner had joined the Northern Arizona Paddler's Club in Flagstaff and he commenced to carry on a non-stop harangue and barrage of belittlement because of the prevailing attitude that we could only go boating when the water was "up."  Jim told us we were abject fools to harbor such stupid notions and proceeded to point out that there was water everywhere in the Southwest all year round.  Jim then proceeded to "educate" willing suspects by taking us on canoe trips at unimaginably low water levels.  I'll never forget some of those trips.

One such trip was from the Beaver Creek Ranger Station on Forest Road 618 all the way to Camp Verde at an official flow of 15 cubic feet per second.  No kidding.  Well, that was one heck of an eye-opener.

Obviously, once our eyes were opened and our attitudes appropriately readjusted, some of us decided we needed to learn how to canoe.  One of my Dear Friends at the time was Linda Hammond, a physical therapist practicing in Flagstaff.  Linda was an "out there" adventurer and always "up" for just about any adventure anyone could possibly conjure.

Anyway, one day I suggested to Linda that we go up to the San Juan River to learn how to canoe.  I had an idea.  The second she heard the idea, she was "all in."  We loaded up the big ol' canoe and took off.  I can't remember the precise time of year but I think it was in the fall, long after the spring runoff and the monsoon seasons ended. The San Juan was running at some ridiculously low level as it is wont to do during such a time.  What little water there was in the river was as crystal clear as a mountain stream.

We went first to Mexican Hat.  Just upstream from the river runner take out there was a large boulder sitting in the channel.  We spent hours learning how to paddle using that boulder as our training site.  We did everything imaginable with the boulder including wrapping the canoe, pinning the canoe, dumping upstream of the boulder, you name it, we did it.  We practiced getting in and out of the eddy below the boulder backwards and forwards and sideways.  We practiced ferrying through all sorts of scenarios and, together, Linda and I truly learned how to safely navigate the canoe that day.  Finally, after we were thoroughly worn out, we packed everything up and headed up The Moki Dugway,  one of America's most classic backroads to Muley Point.  We drove right out to the tip where Valerie took her photo and set up a camp, viewing Valerie's scene as we enjoyed our adult beverages and comfy lawn chairs.

The next day, we jumped back in the truck and headed upriver to Bluff.  I dropped off Linda and the gear and drove down to Mexican Hat and hitch hiked back.  In those days, you simply wore a life jacket and held a paddle and stood beside the road and you got a ride almost instantly.

Then we proceeded to paddle the canoe down through water most folks thought was far too low to navigate with a canoe. Some of the slots between the rock studded streambed were so narrow, we had to actually rock the canoe sideways to be able to squeeze through and continue.  It was a magical trip and we were both mesmerized by "discovering" such a whole new Disneyland of river running delights.

When we got to Mexican Hat, we high-fived and said, "Let's do that again!"  So, sure enough, we hot-footed it back up The Moki Dugway to Muley Point and enjoyed a deja vu all over again, staring off at the near mystical vista of Monument Valley in the distance with the Goosenecks  practically under our feet.

And the next day, we did the same thing all over once again.  It seemed ever better the second time and we were both hooked on canoeing for the rest of our lives.  Naturally, at the end of the second trip, we had to go backup The Moki Dugway to Muley Point for a third and final night.  It was too late in the day to even think of driving back to Flagstaff.  Besides, the allure of such a special road and a special campsite called out to us.

Somehow when we packed up and prepared to head home the following morning, we both knew we had just enjoyed an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.  We stood silently staring off into the sunrise space of that sublime view, savoring sweet memories of so many special moments during those days.

Years and decades have passed since then. The memories of that experience laid dormant in my mind.  Somehow, seeing Valerie's photo brought them all flooding back out again this morning.

Thank You, Valerie, for sharing your wonderful and awesome photo.  It brings a mist to my eyes and puts a lump in my throat just looking at it.

Be sure to visit Valerie's awesome blog--you're in for a real treat.  Many Cheers, jp

1 comment:

Antonio Ordóñez Valverde said...

Beautiful words and landscapes
regrads from Spain