By the time I got done at The Petrified Forest in The Painted Desert and arrived at Walnut Canyon National Monument (inside Coconino National Forest, Arizona), it was after hours. I’d actually just planned to camp in the national forest, but passed the boundary for the national monument on the way in. The only practical difference for me was whether I needed a camping permit to camp where I’d picked out off the map. Although the national forests don’t usually require a permit and there isn’t always a visitor center, I wasn’t sure of the rules for a national monument. With the visitors’ center already closed, I didn’t have lots of options. I decided on the fly to just go with it and check in first thing in the morning.

Sometimes it’s just easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission. (Don’t try this with people, consent is mandatory, asshole.)

Anyways, I picked an adequate site that had a fire ring, so it was a good bet I’d only get in a little bit of trouble if I had needed a permit. Nothing of note came of it.

First thing in the morning, I packed up everything, tent and all, and headed for the visitors’ center. Turns out I was fine, and was still technically in the national forest, so everything was hunky dory. I was a little sore from the drive, but decided I’d give the canyon itself a try. The ranger with whom I spoke (they’re always the nicest and most helpful people, I swear) warned me about a whole shitload of steps down into the canyon, and also that there was a handicapped accessible rim trail I could opt for if I didn’t feel up to the canyon trail.

Eventually, they’re going to pry me into a wheelchair due to my neck injury, so I want to do all the things I won’t be able to do then, while I can. I went for the canyon trail. I carried one camera body with a wide angle lens on it, packed my birding lens and some water into a backpack, and headed down. I almost forgot my birding hat, and had to go back to the car to get it. That’s rather unlike me.

Anyways, I passed through the visitors’ center to this overlook window.

Holy moly, what a view!

…and then I stepped outside.

Jesus, it was just gorgeous. It took me awhile to catch my breath (pack of Marlboros a day and 2000+ meters of altitude were still getting me, plus holy shit the view), but eventually, and very slowly and carefully started making my way down the steps.

Funny thing I wouldn’t have guessed before my injury – for me, going down stairs is often exponentially more difficult and tedious than going up. Also, it’s more dangerous, and I tend to fall more. It’s the impact of all my weight coming down on my leg when I step down, I think.

Anyway, I stopped frequently to look around. I could already see these giant, long, massive ledges throughout the canyon walls, and the ruins of ancient dwellings beneath them all around the canyon walls. It was impressive as hell.

Oh, almost forgot this warning sign:

Going Down Is Optional

Sorry, National Park Service, but I know a lot of people who’d beg to differ on the “Going Down Is Optional” part, and a few who’d take issue with the “Returning Is Mandatory” part as well.

When I got to the bottom of the main staircase to the main trail, I came to this ominous entryway. It was a little foreboding, in the same way as the entrances to some giant cathedrals.

The walk around the center “island” in the canyon was long, had some stairs here and there, but was mostly flat and manageable. The foot path takes you past some of the inner dwellings, some of which you’re allowed to enter. I didn’t, the place felt sacred in a way I’m not used to, and I didn’t care for the feeling of desecration. I kept to the path, and just took a few pictures in.

It just felt weird in a way I can’t even begin to explain.

After a bit, even taking shots into the ruins felt somehow disrespectful, so I put on my birding lens and turned my camera elsewhere. Did I mention the ravens? There were hoards of Common Ravens about, and when I asked the ranger upon my return to the visitors’ center, she expressed the staff’s perplexity at the sheer number of them this year. None of them had ever seen that many hanging out there

Weird.

Add to that this pervasive clicking noise I kept hearing everywhere, and it had all the makings of a Hitchcock film of which no one wants to be a part.

It took a bit of hunting, but I found the source of the clicking coming from everywhere at all times.

Cicadas are creepy, until you figure out what’s generating the noise. I’d never heard cicadas make a noise like this before. Back home, it’s more of a rising and falling buzz. This was just discreet clicks, coming from everywhere.

It was very weird to me.

The trip back up was arduous, but uneventful. At least until I got near the top. As I made it to one of the landings near the top, I was treated to this view.

I needed yet another rest anyway, so I spent some time just gawking. Eventually, I took the above composite photo, made up of 24 individual frames.

It sure was pretty.

On my second full day there, I tried to take it fairly easy. I did walk the aforementioned accessible rim trail and took a few photos, but the previous day’s stair-climbing was catching up to me.

Cliff Swallow

Some really weird weather rolled in, the temperature, chilly already, dropped like a rock. It was below freezing at night, not much warmer during the day. Rain rolled in. Then it was snow. Then sleet. Then rain. Then hail. More snow. cycling all of that, then clearing for awhile before starting all over.

I tried to mostly relax and work on photos in my mobile office during the foulest of weather, take a few phone selfies when it was nicer.

The weather was weird, and when I drove over to the visitors’ center to refill all my water jugs, even the park rangers commented on it.

It was very weird.

I tried to heat some water in the sun for a shower, but wound up having to boil water for a bath. It was just too cold and windy to heat the water properly using only the sun.

Speaking of the sun, the sunsets there were pretty good.

And I did get up one night and froze my damned ‘nads off to try to take advantage of a very clear sky.

And before I was done, one attempt at a nice artistic shot of my girl in the dark. It didn’t come out in any way like what I was hoping for.

On Tuesday morning, I left Walnut Canyon and its very weird weather behind, and headed for the Grand Canyon, a very gratefully mere hour and a half drive north.

Not to worry, for those of you who’ve read the last three or four blog posts, there was more personal weirdness to come at the Grand Canyon.