Spring mornings and summer days are filled with hikes and cliff jumping in the canyons of Northern Arizona. Kids skip school and get out of work early to go down to one of the innumerable creeks spouting out from the watersheds in and around the San Francisco Peaks, to cool themselves in the still, reflecting waters. The streams pool out in areas where rocks stack together to form jumps and slides into the creek. The contrast between the canyon climate and the arid desert make it seem an oasis in the vastness of Northern Arizona. My hometown of Flagstaff is the largest city for a hundred miles, barely even a city with a population of 60,000. It is a land left relatively undisturbed by human hands. The northeast holds the largest Indian reservation in the nation, termed the “Rez” by the locals. To this day, the US government further encroaches upon the Navajo nation when any value is found from the land. However, the land has a different worth to those who live here. It houses some of the most breathtaking sights on earth. Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Canyon de Chelly, and the largest continuous ponderosa pine forest in the nation, are all laid bear under the blazing Arizona sun. Nevertheless, the children don’t ditch school to visit the national parks on a Friday afternoon. They hike for miles down the creek to the perfect spot where the water is deep and the cliffs are high, and soon find themselves in mid-air falling towards the crystal clear waters that erupt under their feet. The sun overhead beats down on the kids who lie sprawled across the rocks, like sunbathing seals routinely and leisurely dunking themselves and bobbing back out of the water, with little care for any obligation expected of them in their daily lives.
Arizona does not merely consist of large deserts filled with saguaro cacti and volatile wildlife; it harbors some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. Nowadays, people are becoming more susceptible to the slothful and materialistic nature of urban life. The typical Saturday afternoon for a Phoenician adolescent is spent at the local mall or movie theatre, widely found throughout the metropolitan area around Phoenix. Meanwhile, the Flagstaff boys and girls are wading in the creek watching their friends vault off cliffs that rise up to over sixty feet in the air. Phoenix is an armpit city, with row upon row of identical houses and strip malls made of adobe architecture. Dust and fuel fill the air and parch heat-stricken lungs. Summer temperatures reach to 120 degrees, enough to incite people to put little shoes on their dogs and cats when they take them on a walk down the asphalt sidewalks. Nevertheless, sprinklers are still set out all day so the lawn doesn’t turn brown. Phoenix spends one third of its water supply on irrigation alone, which is why it is known for its outstanding golf courses. Therefore, instead of playing outdoors, kids sit in their homes with the air-conditioning set on full blast to play video games and watch their oh-so-treasured television flicker through until morning. The children who grew up like me, meanwhile, are lying on rocks listening to the water stream by their campsite. Let me illustrate more clearly a typical venture down the creek drawn from a youthful experience of mine:
We were headed down Bell Trail in the middle of summer, hiking under the blazing sun to the spot where we had always gone. The four-mile hike runs parallel to Beaver Creek, a less widely known and traveled locale about forty miles southeast of Flagstaff. Prickly Pear cacti line the trail, which, in mid-August, flower and produce a fruit that tastes like a seedy kiwi pomegranate with the occasional spine. People could be heard from the creek as we walked along the trail. Enormous slabs of rock littered the center and sides of the creek as if chucked by giants. The water steered around and formed chutes into consecutive pools that continued downstream. This is where the less hardy hiker sets up camp for the day.
The last two miles of the trek had little cover from the sun that reddened our bare torsos, all but the skin under our backpacks and straps. When the destination came into sight, we sprinted to the rocks and threw our bags beneath a tree. Whatever leftover clothing we still had on was discarded on the way to the jump overhanging the cliff. Everyone dove in with screams and shouts, disturbing our once peaceful surroundings. The placid mirror of water reflected my falling image as I careened off the overhang and felt the familiar rush in my stomach. When my head finally popped back out of the water I took a gasp of breath and attempted to shake my hair dry. The slabs of rock that encircle the two pools create a multi-leveled terrace where one can jump from any number of places. There are several thirty-foot jumps on the opposite side of the creek, which was the direction I headed. To get there I swam to an underwater platform and scaled a wall with clefts that make for easy handholds when they weren’t soaked in water. We find new spots to jump off every time we go.
The air began to cool as the light surrendered to the darkness of the night. We put on our shirts and made a fire to cook the hot dogs and marshmallows we had brought along, as the wind steadily came down the canyon walls. We watched the moon rise into the sky and reflect in the pools by our campsite as we ate our hard-earned meal and listened to the stream cascade off the pebbles and boulders slowly meandering their way along the creek bed. These childhood memories will forever be ingrained in my mind and in the minds of those who grew up in the pine trees and on the red rocks of Northern Arizona. The southern Arizonan rarely veers far from the city, trapped in a metropolitan vacuum that steers farther and farther away from what a childhood is really meant to be, bereft of video games and the languid luxury that is now urban life and filled with natural adventure into the great wilderness that surrounds us. Nowadays, I will sometimes smell the familiar scent in the air of summer days at the creek and I will look back at the times with my friends when we had not a care in the world and not a thing to do but bake in the sun and see if we could fly.