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The canyon relented from its stairstep plunge of slick polished chutes, and for a time, we were able to walk unhindered along firm gravel, weaving in and amongst boulders as big as my backyard shed.
Each of us found our own pace, strolling through the wonderland quietly, alone and swallowed by a far bigger world. Cliffs of Redwall Limestone rose everywhere, holding alcoves big enough to shelter a small village. Unexplored caverns of black mystery peered down at us from 800 feet above.
When the next geologic layer surfaced beneath our feet, we gathered to sort our ropes, inspect anchors, and abseil deeper into the smooth belly of the canyon. My pack dangled below me, a sliver of sky shone overhead, and chambers of rock wrapped around from every side.
Late in the day, Rob identified a side canyon as our halfway point. With that, I thought we might be spending the night in these depths, but hazy mystical light filtered into the gorge from the river canyon below, illuminating walls of striated gray and painted red. The river couldn’t be far now. A buried beer treasure awaiting us at the Colorado prodded us onward. As nighttime darkness filled the gorge, we sat contented, cold beers in hand and the soothing hum of the river passing by at our feet.
Pack rafting downstream proved easier than our desert walk had been, up above. That was a 9-mile march across the Esplanade Sandstone to the head of Cove Canyon. Now, we floated on the strong back of the Colorado.
At the roar of Lava Falls, we turned back into hikers, climbing through loose slopes of hardened black lava.
On the rim, my gaze upon open grassland valleys felt liberating. Perhaps it was only this way because I had felt the other side, the deep hidden embrace of Cove Canyon.