Vermillion Cliffs & California Condors - A Weekend Wandering

I love the outdoors. There is simply something rejuvenating when I can get away from man made environments and become surrounding by wild spaces.

Driving out of Phoenix on Friday morning with Sonora, I experienced anxiety ease from the concerns of my life at present at the same rate that traffic thinned out from the horde to the sporadic. The temperature dropped as well as pressures of thought. Prayers were sent up asking for clarity and direction as to what is soon to be in store, but also the spontaneity of living in this moment, before God and his creation.

By the time I arrived at Vermillion Cliffs, my head had already begun to clear as much as the air around me, and the loss of cell phone coverage placed me fully where I was, before God, in nature, and around other individuals also place geographically in this remote Northern Arizona landscape. It was wonderful, seeing these sheer cliff faces rise hundreds of feet over the plateau, with other canyons cutting drainage ways down to the Colorado River.

Vermillion Cliffs
Reaching BLM road 1065, a gravel road breaking off North along the cliffs toward the Paria Plateau, I stopped by the site of the next days California Condor release. This release was the reason for the venture into the wild, as 3 of these endangered birds were being introduced from captivity. I had seen a California Condor once before, many years ago, and I was struck by how large they can be. These birds, while being a vulture complete with red heads, have the largest wingspan of any bird in North America (6 to 9 feet!). From this viewing area, the condors roosted at the tops of the cliffs, and you could even see some of the 10-12 that lived in the area soaring around in the afternoon winds. It got me excited for the release, and to learn more about the condor with the experts and supporters of the movement that were there.

But, in the meantime, I spoke with Tom, a recreation coordinator with the BLM who also happened to be an Iraq war veteran. So of course, we got to talking various war stories as well as the many recreation opportunities that existed in the area. To get the low-down on the best hikes, camping spots, and other recreation opportunities from an expert was great. It is also refreshing to connect with someone who has similar history and interests...the conversation was easy and the connection made! I'm looking forward to following up with him on the ways to try to get permits for some amazing hikes.

Anyway, the rest of the day was spent, driving North towards the state border between Arizona and Utah and finding a great spot out under the stars. This was Sonora's first camping trip, and I don't think she really calmed down to enjoy the relaxation! But for me, it was really relaxing to let the moonlight create shadows with the trees and bushes, and listen to the pure silence. The silence which allows the possibility to hear that still, small voice. A silence into which I could calm my thoughts, and listen for clarity to speak. To sense what direction God had in store. Clarity did come, and energy in the silence was renewed. It was also pretty cool to hear the occasional lowing of cattle or howling of coyotes.

Sonora heading on the Wire Pass Trail
The next morning, rising with the sun, I packed up camp and headed up to do an early morning hike in Wire Pass. This hike, just across the border in Utah, was a slot canyon in one of the world's longest slot canyons (which is Buckskin Gulch). It was amazing, surreal, quiet, and peaceful. To wind through shoulder-width slot canyons, seeing the striations and carvings in the rock from water flow down to an intersection with Buckskin Gulch catalyzed the prior evening's solitude and clarity into an awe-inspiring energy. Reaching the confluence of the two canyons, I explored the slots for roughly a half mile in each direction and then had to just sit and watch as the sun got high enough in the sky to start filtering rays of light directly into the canyons.

Upon completing the hike back out Wire Pass, I talked for a bit with a group of hikers heading into Wire Pass to do a 20 mile overnight hike through the canyon and out the other side. It sounded awesome, and something to do in the future.

Leaving the trailhead, it was now time to head to the California Condor release, at which I arrived to a growing crowd probably near 200 people. Representatives from BLM, the Peregrine Fund, National Park Service, and Arizona Fish & Game were there with spotting scopes and lots of information. The conversations were great, and I learned quite a bit about this large bird which almost went extinct through lead poisoning and hunting (and of course some other factors as well, although the first two were primary reasons). Condors soared overhead, and eventually the call was made, the blind with the birds to be released was open, and the collective gasps of awe performed when you watched them take flight for the first time in the wild. Flapping their wings, soaring above and below the cliffs, the condors were to find their home. Those releasing them would monitor them into the night, making sure that the successfully integrated into the wild and found a roosting spot among the cliffs. It was very cool. Here are some videos courtesy of the Peregrine Fund which feature the California Condor.
Wire Pass Slot Canyon

The rest of the weekend involved swinging up a bit higher to see Aspens turning color. I had to do it as it was only about 20 minutes away, and we don't get to see many changing of the leaves down in Phoenix. After doing this, and enjoying the 60-70 degree weather it was time to return home.

The last bit of enjoyment was deciding to pick up a hitchhiker and take them 2 hours to Flagstaff. And yes, this older lady ended up being caught up in conspiracy theories, with nefarious witchcraft groups out to dissolve her bones, the law enforcement was out to get her as well, and no one, neither good nor bad, God nor Devil, was on her side. They all had rejected her. Yes, as we rode it became apparent she had mental health issues, but I hope in some small way the ride helped her along her journey. We had quite the conversation about God, condors and vultures, choosing to be good or wicked, and ultimately how she desired help so much, but simultaneously could not accept help from anything organized.

Interestingly, all these different interactions worked together in solidifying and clarifying the direction God is calling me. We are to live in the moment, with love of God and others as our focal point. Experience life, live love, and be consistently/solely focused on what is good, noble, and true in the moment. It isn't abstract concepts that pleases God, but in realized living. I'm sure not everyone is as hooked on learning about condors and other large birds of prey like I am, but something grabs your attention and brings you into a state of flow in your life. What is it, and how is it a part of who God created you to be? How can you find time to listen, to quiet your mind from the daily worries that plague you, and allow yourself to be recharged? How can you let your interactions be true and faithful, to God, to yourself, and to others?

All I know, is I'm heading back up to Vermillion Cliffs with Amanda as soon as we can swing it. This weekend basically cost the price of a tank of gas and some food from the grocery store. Buckskin Gulch, here we come.

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