After years of camping with all the kids and going on hikes with my big extended family, it's still strange for my husband and me to go on a long hike with just the two of us. The third afternoon of our trip, we took a five-hour hike through fantastic rock shapes and sheer cliffs, following a path marked by little rock cairns, and only three times did we see any other humans.
After many years of hiking while carrying a child in a sling and stopping to breastfeed or to feed toddlers, I have adapted to a leisurely pace of walking, stopping to take photographs or sometimes just sitting on a rock to stare at the view and memorize the scene. I'm used to hiking with friends who are naturalists and photographers, who stop often to point out little things they've noticed. My husband walks faster than I do, partly because his legs are way longer, partly because he has no fear of heights, and mostly because he is more intent on getting to the summit or the waterfall or whatever it is we are hiking to.
Eventually, my husband and I fell into a rhythm. Some of the time, we'd hike along together, talking and pointing to things, or taking time to sit in the shade and drink water while we talked. But some of the time, he'd go ahead alone, exploring the trail and I'd meander along at my own pace, knowing that eventually I'd find him waiting for me at the next scenic stopping point.
I like those moments of being alone in the landscape, of looking around at the huge rocks, the cliffs, the red-brown walls towering above me, and feeling so tiny in the hugeness of it all. On one hike, the trail took me through these huge slabs of red rock the size of the Stonehenge rocks, all leaning against each other in a pile as if some giant had been building a house of cards. I stepped from the harsh sun into deep shade as I entered, and the rock under my feet gave way to soft red sand, an entire dune drifted against the rocks.
Just a sprinkling of afternoon sun came streaming down between the cracks where the rocks leaned against each other. My footsteps on the sand made no noise. I sat down in the sand and looked around me to fully absorb the moment. I was surrounded by rock, surrounded by silence. I stayed for a few minutes, just breathing in the energy of that sacred place, before brushing the sand off my clothes and continuing on the trail.