We cross the creek repeatedly. The channel meanders in the narrow bottom of the canyon. Where the creek meets the sandstone wall of the canyon it has carved rounded alcoves. Some of point bars have been stabilized—at least temporarily—by willows, alders, and oaks. We walk through these thickets. We walk up to the edge of the sandstone cliff of the canyon and cross over boulders and step down again among the sedges that line the creek. We cross the creek. The repeated crossings are not difficult. The creek in this season is little more than a stride wide—in some spots it is two strides or even three. Stones have been placed in the creek bottom to make crossings easy. The stones are flat-topped and coated well with red sand from steps by many boots. Neither the water’s width nor the stones matter much for the creek is only two or three inches deep. I slip once from a stepping stone and plunge the toe of my boot into the water. It doesn’t matter.
The color of the stone in this canyon is like the color of a person’s skin—it changes with perspective and light. It changes with sky and time of day. The stone’s skin can be beige or pink. Early in the morning or late in the day, the stone may be orange.
I find great delight in this sandstone. Faces of the stone can weather smoothly and varnish black. Fractures of the stone can be as sharp as wrinkles in an old face. Facets of fractures would be cubist paintings—they could be vases or guitars or a nude’s face. The facets hold different hues—orange, saffron, yellow—and their shades. The colors seem painted by Picasso’s brush—you can see almost the brush work—the quick parallel strokes of shaded color on one side to lend the hint of form and the less clear strokes on the side of purer color where the facet seems to flatten.
The stone is cold. We sit on a broad boulder in the amphitheater at Morning Glory bridge, but the chill is too great. We retreat to a smaller enclosure—a space between a juniper and canyon wall—where we eat slices of summer sausage on savory crackers and gouda cheese on slices of honey crisp apple. I am soon chilled and stiff from sitting on stone. I shuffle awkwardly from the cold as we begin to walk down the canyon.
This canyon opens to a larger canyon, which belongs to the Colorado River. Steep, high walls follow the sinuous course of the Colorado. Negro Bill Canyon is an opening in the Colorado River’s sandstone façade. I would like to say that Negro Bill Canyon opens to the Colorado River. Actually, it opens to a bend in busy Utah state highway 128 and a recently “improved” parking lot. Beyond the highway, a thicket of tamarisk stands between the canyon mouth and the river.
The canyon has a small, narrow bottom. This bottom has lush sedge sweeps broken by boulders or sand bars. The canyon wall curves to the bottom like a bulging belly. There are high flat walls of black varnish or streaks of varnish that look like dumped buckets of coral red, salmon pink, maroon and shades between and beyond. Above all of this is a sinuous rim, where the stone seem twisted around to be topped in turbans.
The slit of sky in the canyon is elusive. It is too slim to be portentous. Yet we watch the sky for signs of rain and time. We watch the sky change through the day. The morning blue sky is cloudless and hopeful. Our destination offers a dim gray sky that leaves no shadows, which is not a sign for dalliance. Later, after we have walked a mile on terrace above the creek and below the alcove-cut walls, we find that blue sky has returned with cirrus fibratus clouds—a sign of rain but not too soon. The canyon sky, no matter the color or clouds, is crossed by ubiquitous contrails; these serve as umbilici to civilization.
The sky mirrors the creek. Each is a narrow band. Each framed by stone. Each curves along the canyon’s course. For just a moment, where stone stills the stream and the canyon frames the pool, the water becomes sky.