In our ongoing search for water, we leave Moby early one morning and strike out: our map indicates a spring up an unnamed canyon. Will we find a pool of water too salty to drink or a seep too small to yield the few liters we need– or nothing. Or will we find clean, usable water? Shortly after leaving Moby behind, we stumble upon this old mining road. It’s not on the map. We can’t figure out where it comes from or where it goes. But it’s wide and lined with rocks. It’s someone’s broken dream. Larry and I have our own past lives and broken dreams . . . but today, we’re looking for water, hoping to string together enough springs to make a backpacking trip of them someday. Little did we know at this point we would cover thirteen miles in the next 12 hours, climbing 2500′ elevation and back down to return to Moby well after dark.
We leave the mining road behind and go cross-country, following our compass and maps. As often happens in Death Valley, we stumble on an old Indian trail. Depending on the light and time of day, they’re either easy to see or invisible, but once you know what you’re looking for, they’re everywhere. And if you follow them . . . you might . . . find water.
We follow the trail until it joins the wash where it disappears into the newer jumble of rock tumbled by a long-ago flood. This mesquite tree gives us hope. Mesquites have long tap-roots and can live in places that look absolutely dry, but if you find a mesquite, you know there’s water down there . . . somewhere. We think this mesquite means that there’s water down deep here and, maybe, surface water in the canyon above.
We trudge on. It’s hot and dry and uphill. We’re walking over gravel and sand in the canyon wash. Every step is an effort. Our packs are heavy–we carry enough water for the day as we can’t be certain we’ll find drinkable water along the way. After many hours, we find another clue about what lies ahead: a log about the size of your leg–maybe a mesquite trunk–whatever it is, it means water in the canyon in the mountains above.
Another clue gives us renewed determination to keep going: an old pipe washed downstream long ago.
Larry stops to check the maps. Where are we? Where are the springs?
While Larry checks the maps, I turn around a look ahead. Water! Look Larry!!! Water !!!!
As we follow the canyon upward, we find more water and more water. We taste it. No salt. We can drink this water. Larry takes notes.
Water creates a strange and wonderful dynamic in the otherwise dry desert, a little oasis of plants and animals, moss, birds, bugs, coyotes, lizards, snakes. It’s an unexpected surprise and oddly beautiful, this trickle of life-giving water. On the hike back down, hours later, another unexpected surprise was the rattlesnake under a rock that Larry stepped on. That is why I always insist he take the lead.
We mark this unnamed canyon and its water on our map. In a year or two, we’ll return. We’ll pump this water through our filter and fill our bottles and drink. We’ll lay out sleeping bags and watch the stars and listen to the night. This a place people rarely visit. What will we hear and see? It will remind us that we’re part of something larger, older, and mysterious. The world of the freeway, shopping mall, and fast-food chain will be impossibly far away. Compared to this, for us, that world seems to be so much nothing, nothing, and nothing.