Kane Creek meanders below high cliffs. We walk out along a road that has been blasted from the cliff. The view encourages us to look down on the course of the creek. My gaze is drawn to the cottonwoods, whose upper branches shine feathery and white in the morning sun. Although this morning is cool—even holding a sharp chill in the dense shade of the cliffs—I imagine the cottonwoods in a warmer season, when they offer a welcome shade beneath their clattering leaves. There are no leaves on the trees in this season. The cottonwoods’ leaves lie along the margin of the creek and in the erosional rills of the terraces that stand between the creek and cliffs. The fallen leaves have mostly blackened, although occasionally I find one that has reddened as if infiltrated by sand. I find one reddened leaf in a cage of prickly pear spines. The cage is frosty, and the first light that comes over the eastern cliff gives the spines’ ice a blue glare. Aside from the bluish ice, the pale, succulent green of the prickly pear skin, the blackened fallen leaves, and the white bark of the cottonwoods, this is a red world. The iron red cliffs erode to red sand, which is compacted in the terraces and relatively loose in the bed and banks of the creek. Kane Creek appears to run red. Even the brushy margin of tamarisk that lines the creek has a rubescent cast.
We cross the creek and climb a detrital fan of fallen stones below the cliff. We look for petroglyphs, finding some on boulders and others that can be seen higher on the cliff face. There have been hunters here in the past. I suspect they may also have farmed. On terraces below the cliffs, I imagine corn, bean and squash fields amid the boulders. On hot days after a hunt or the cultivation of crops, I think about those people gathering under the cottonwoods along the creek for the cool water and the calming breeze.