We'd come to the high mountain, in part, to escape the summer heat. But the sky was promising cooler, wetter weather. We drove off the mountain as early afternoon clouds puffed proudly over the wide spaces. Away from the high tundra, dense mountain forests, and shiny little lakes. Downward toward sandstone canyons and towers, where trees gather space around them, where water fills murky potholes carved into solid rock.
The desert, 5000-or-more feel below our mountain perch, should have been too hot for comfortable travel in July. But the clouds fulfilled their promise. Rain slashed down on us as we drove, turning the dirt road to snot. We skittered slowly out from under the storm into a cool cloudiness. Other storms surrounded us, trailing grey tentacles of rain over the sphere of the earth.
We found our way to a lonely swath of desert and called it home for the night. The sphere of the sun emerged from beneath the clouds to highlight the stone mountains surrounding us. Darkness brought the sphere of the moon to prominence, and the bright spheres of planets and stars sounded their distant points from the scattered clouds of the sky. Surrounded by these spheres, their silent music in our ears, we slept.
During the night, or tens of thousands of years before, other spheres had poured into the desert. Scattered on low sandstone islands surrounding us were thousands of ironstone spheroids, filling cracks, spilling from bowls. Pea sized to apple sized, their deep rusted colors contrasted with the buff sandstone where they lay.
Why they fill this part of the desert and in such astounding numbers remains a mystery. Some say they fell from the sky. Or that they rose from deep in the earth. Or that each grew as the byproduct of a living, expanding biofilm in an ancient seabed. The mystery of their origin only adds to the intrigue of their presence. We even saw fresh fungi furiously mimicking the spherocity on dainty stalks.
We hiked into a sandstone canyon where walls of white and red favored either our white dog or our red dog. They explored ahead, behind, and all around us as we hiked. Sprocket cooled off in a shallow pool of water. And Zeek, usually a pinnacle of agility, slipped on the edge of a pothole and fell into the deep pollywog frog-water with a kerplunk and couldn't get himself back out onto the steep sides. I had to hold onto Trina's legs as she reached down in to pull him out.
We hiked until the sun came out and began to wilt us and the desert flowers. Then we drove to a small town for a quick taste of civilization in the form of lunch. After, we headed down the road toward Bryce Canyon.
Not TO Bryce Canyon, but TOWARD. As dog owners, mountain bike riders, and self-proclaimed rugged individualists, we don't have much use for National Parks and the long lists of restrictions and long lines of industrial tourists that plague them. But the jagged pink cliffs, spires and canyons extend beyond the boundaries of the Park, and we found our own slice of heaven nearby.
We camped near the mouth of a Bryce-like canyon and took a twilight stroll through spires and hoo doos, WITH our dogs. (Off leash!) And in a cloak of solitude.
In the morning we parked the dogs in the truck in the shade and took a fun, zippy ride (which promised to be too fast for the dogs) through the open forest and spectacular red canyon scenery of Thunder Mountain. This popular bike trail plunges through open forest, bare ridges, and winds through stone pillars and spines and towers. All the grandeur of the nearby National Park, but with the added joy (in our book) of experiencing it from our bikes on an interesting and challenging trail.
As day warmed up, our thoughts turned back toward cooler elevations, and soon our truck tires turned that way as well.