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Tue, May 21

A trip back in time just down the road

Donna Newman

Donna Newman

One hot Saturday afternoon, we decided to seek the cool mountain air at Hualapai Mountain Park. There, cool streams and shady trees beckon. The tall pines offer shade on hot days, and there's almost always a cooling breeze wafting the mouth-watering scent of food cooking over coals in the fresh mountain air.

A herd of mule deer gazed curiously at our pickup as we made our way slowly up and back down the mountainside, and a lizard scurried frantically across the road at our approach.

A short distance down a foot trail, we came across a gurgling, splashing spring that emerged from the rocks and danced down the mountainside. Accompanying it was the wonderful smell of moist soil and the subtle scents of pine needles and wild roses.

We've been called tree-huggers, but I have to confess to an even deeper obsession. We stopped to poke our noses deep into the bark crevice of a ponderosa pine, and we inhaled the wonderful scent of butterscotch. If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend it.

In the dust of the trail, we spied tracks from elk and those of a large cat, and the cry of golden eagles soaring overhead indicated a nest of fledglings high in the rocky cliffs.

Going from cool and shady to hot and sunlit, White Cliffs just outside Kingman is a trip into this nation's history. There, the ruts from hundreds or maybe even thousands of wagon trains that brought settlers to the West are permanently etched into solid stone.

The trail meanders across open meadows and through narrow, rock-strewn passes where a wrong step easily could lead to a twisted ankle.

It takes little imagination to realize the intrepid pilgrims who wore that trail had to walk their horses and carry their wagons and provisions over the rough terrain. I found myself filled with extreme admiration for their grit and determination in the face of the daunting desert landscape.

Tracks from a horse's shod hoofs left their imprint in the rocky soil, bringing to mind those first Caucasian settlers to traverse the historic trail.

The myriad of fragrances unique to the desert tend to defy description. The scent of blooming desert flowers is softer, sweeter and more seductive than any expensive perfume I've ever come across. It mingles with the dry, subtle aroma of baked earth and hot boulders. It's easy to lose yourself in those scents.

The calls of hawks bounce off rocky canyon walls as the birds of prey soar in search of the cottontails and jackrabbits that live at White Cliffs.

The wind whispers through the dry grass and trees and through holes worn into the solid stone canyon walls by centuries of blowing sand and rain. Or maybe the whispers come from the spirits of those pioneers who passed that way long, long ago.

A hummingbird zipped about and lit briefly on a nearby tree branch as we trudged the well-worn wagon trail and seemed to follow as we explored the canyon and mountainside.

We came across lizards, a couple of long-eared jackrabbits, a cottontail, a hawk and several desert wrens flitting from one low tree to another.

We heard quails calling to each other just before one exploded from a creosote bush, giving its feathered comrades a chance to escape from the interlopers to their canyon.

Only one thing dampened my spirits.

My hiking companions said a stream used to flow through White Cliffs canyon, providing weary human and animal travelers with a blessed respite from the dry heat. Then just a few decades ago, one local vandal chose to leave his dubious mark on history by dynamiting the mouth of the spring. Today, water runs through the dry creek bed only during the desert's infrequent heavy rainstorms.

Donna Newman is the Miner's law enforcement reporter.


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