Visible from the kitchen window overlooking the canyon, Goat Mountain became one of my early exploration goals, but it soon became clear that due to being property locked, the fire break was the one and only way to the summit. Being stymied from the start, I turned to other objectives, chief among them was finding the true summit of Ironside. The mountain was a series of bumps dotting a long ridge running east to west, separating the canyon where I lived from the valley communities to the north. The main fire break traversed the wide, lower flank of Ironside. The detritus of granite stones, heavy with oxidization gave rise to the name. It also gave rise to many homes for the local rattlesnake population, a fact never far from my mind. Link had taken me on my first excursions, but we were never able to find the highest point. Whenever we thought we had found it, there was always another place of clearly greater elevation. I started by retracing those earlier paths, finding which was best for reaching the ridge above. What I ended up discovering was a new network of fire breaks hidden behind the roofs of nearby homes. Some of these went nowhere, others cut over the ridge, while still more wended their way toward La Cresta. All of them were covered with garbage. Eventually, I realized that where ever the peak may be, it was beyond my capacity to locate it. Most of the hiking was just scrambling over boulders and listening intently for the telltale buzz of rattlesnake warnings, and so after only a few such adventures, I again turned my attention elsewhere.
Living in a small community nestled into a canyon in an area where rural and wilderness lands blurred gently one into the other, summer break was a time filled with both excitement and boredom. As my friends moved away, one after the other, more of my time was spent alone. At first, Mother’s friend Link would take me hiking. He showed me some few hidden trails in the short time we were hiking partners, but then I was on my own. There was a creek that crossed both the dam and the road leading to the quartz mine, the enigmatic true summit of Ironside mountain, and a seemingly unending network of gullies that made their way toward the creek at the canyon bottom. What I would explore first however, were the many hidden firebreaks which cut their way across the hillsides surrounding home. Most were as wide as the street I lived on, but gutted with ruts and littered with aluminum cans, car bodies, and assorted appliances. One such break followed above Mountain View road as it wound it’s way toward La Cresta mountain. Another held to the broad face of Ironside before turning due north, through a saddle and off into the distant rural communities surrounding Lakeside. One circled behind Goat Mountain on its way to the summit of Crazy Man. Still more cut under trees, sagebrush, and sycamore often without any clear destination. From the time R1 and R2 moved away, these roads became my best friends. The time I spent with them was some of the happiest of my childhood. I promised Mother that I would be home in time for dinner, but afore long I found myself increasingly loathe to return, even as the sun threatened to dip behind La Mesa and into the Pacific ocean.
Father had taken me to the riding area up in the Laguna mountains before, but it had always been to ride up and down the dirt road skirting the north end of Lake Morena. This time, he took me all the way up to the campground at the end of the maintained road, from which all trails were designated “ORV” or, off road vehicle area. Everything that wasn’t the main road was more challenging than any of the riding I had done up to that point in the desert, and even that dirt road had its moments. Every path was cut through sagebrush and littered with blocks of granite. A vast network of trails or varying difficulty crisscrossed the mountainside. This became Father’s favored riding area as it was much closer to home than the desert areas, and offered more interesting and varied terrain. I always felt that I wasn’t good enough to be there, and the tales Father and his friends told of the dreaded Corte Madera hill filled me with fear that certain death was waiting around every corner.
I had asked Father if we might be able to visit the Arches park, also located in Utah, but evidently it was farther away than I had imagined. By way of consolation, he offered to take me to see an arch that was located somewhere in Zion canyon. As we set out down the dusty trail, I could hardly contain my excitement. I had never seen a natural stone arch before, and I was fascinated by the idea. Father assured me that while the trail was steep, it wouldn’t be nearly so harrowing as the Angel’s Landing had been. Being a less popular and more remote location, the path was dusty and rock strewn, but for the first time since we’d been at Zion, it felt as though we had the park to ourselves. After a couple miles of hiking, we reached the base of the far canyon wall. Unlike the hard red rocks populating the rest of the canyon system, this was a white, chalky stone producing a granulated sand that coated the surface of the otherwise solid rock. Though the path cut into the cliff wall was wide enough that hikers could pass each other easily, it was steep. Though it was hewn of solid rock, the sandy white powder made my feet feel uneasy beneath me. My mind conjured recent images of the canyon floor, a thousand horrifying feet below. I tried my best to forge onward, but when my foot slipped and there was nothing to see ahead but blue sky, I froze in place. Father tried to motivate me, but I was ready to go back to where the ground was flat and the sky was above. After a couple false starts, the promise of seeing an arch helped me discover a hidden reserve of courage. It wasn’t much farther to the Hidden Canyon, which as it’s name implied was quite impossible to see from below. The canyon floor was the same white sand as covered the trail, but rising above the narrow canyon were cliffs of the same red sandstone I had come to expect from the region. Father found a wide crack in the wall, and stuffed his hands and feet into, climbing several feet up before deciding it wasn’t wise to climb higher without protection and so far from civilization. He dropped back down, and we continued deeper into the little canyon. Father carried on about how he would like to climb up to the top of the canyon wall, and how he wondered if anyone had ever been up there before. After a few short minutes, we arrived at the promised arch. It was so tiny that Father could stand underneath and touch its apex. I felt that the arch looked out of place in its environment. A dozen feet beyond it, the canyon closed to an impassable crack, further giving the impression that the arch was a tourist attraction added to give the otherwise uninteresting canyon some measure of appeal. Walking back down the trail was easier for me, as on descent the far wall was visible and the feeling of falling off into the wide, unknown sky was absent.
After the excitement of the previous day, my interest in hiking was at an all time low. I had wanted to stay at camp rather than going with my family, but Mother assured me that this would be an easy hike and that there would be a place to go swimming. Reluctantly, I followed along. As promised, it was a casual hike. I enjoyed the trail that lazily cut it’s way back and forth up the side of a tree covered hillside, making three crossings of a small stream making it’s way toward the Virgin river. There were two waterfalls, one a series of steep rock slabs, and the other a misty cataract. After a short while, we reached the end of the trail. Rising high over our heads was one of the canyon’s sheer walls, what seemed a trickle of water dampening it’s face and staining the red wall a dark green. At the base of the cliff was a circular pool of water. As promised, we got in and swam around. My siblings and I stayed near the edge where the pool was shallow, but Mother and Father swam out to the middle of the pond. I asked Father how deep he thought it was. In answer, he dove down to the bottom of the pool. When his head popped back up above the surface he took a deep breath and said “About eight feet, I think.” Despite being an expert swimmer, Mother grasped a piece of driftwood and paddled around the far, rocky edge of the pool. Father explained that during the rainy season, the trickle of water turned into a surge, and the water falling the hundreds of feet down the cliff is what made the small pool so deep. That day ended up being one of my favorite from our Utah vacation, but despite my hope of returning one day, it wasn’t long afterward that swimming in the Emerald Pool had been banned.