On the trail: A walk in the park | AspenTimes.com

On the trail: A walk in the park

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesThe first, small waterfall in the Colorado National Monument's No Thoroughfare Canyon tumbles into a serene pool.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – Intent on escaping the local landscape, I hit the next best thing to Utah early Sunday morning – the Colorado National Monument.

My goal was an easy hike – a walk really – in the national park’s No Thoroughfare Canyon and a taste of Edward Abbey’s desert solitude.

The trail is one of two in the park that offers running water, at least in springtime, and No Thoroughfare’s gurgling creek – it’s really no more than a shallow ditch – manages to outdo itself, given it’s low-volume flow. It offers a series of pools, waterfalls and stretches where the morning sky, reflecting off the water, give it the look of liquid silver coursing between the rocks.

At the outset, the creek bed was dry, and I thought I might not find water, but in its ever-miraculous way, the dry desert sand turned wet, and then shallow pools began to materialize. Cottonwoods and willows, just beginning to bud, emerged in the ravine as running water trickled forth. Water adds life to a desert setting in the way that nothing else can.

The trail passes by a deep, green pool where the tiny creek slides off a rock ledge, continuing to a second, much more impressive waterfall two miles from the trailhead. The route crosses the creek (an easy step across) multiple times and the pleasant morning in the shadows of the canyon was the perfect antidote to the weather at home of late.

I passed an elderly gentleman, the only other person in the canyon, with a brief greeting, and continued on, contemplating the nagging ache in my knee, a crick in my neck and a general feeling of advancing age.

The second waterfall (there’s a third that I haven’t been to) plunges off a high, smooth wall, striped with desert varnish, into an olive pool.

After lingering there, I turned to retrace my steps, and met the old man again. As it turns out, he once lived in Aspen and climbed 14ers until he was 70. Now 72 and after a lengthy battle with cancer, he was on the first hike of his recovery and vowing to tackle a 14er next summer. My knee suddenly felt inconsequential.

I told him I’d never made it up a 14er, but he sized me up and assured me I have plenty of time.

“You have a long career of hiking ahead of you,” he said, securing a foothold in my memory of No Thoroughfare’s magic.