There are sage sparrows at Sunrise Rock, and Bewick’s wrens. I had not seen either of them before, as skittish and unbinoculared as all my previous visits have been. Cactus wrens sat atop every rock and tree, it seemed. I waited, huddled around coffee, for the sun to top Kessler Peak and the cactus wrens’ raucous burr, call and response, filled the cold air. Coyotes sang me to sleep last night, and woke me up this morning before the light.
I am in Kingman tonight, and plan to drive up Pearce Ferry Road tomorrow through Joshua trees to the mouth of the Grand Canyon. A waxing moon, its arc the thinnest paring of light, set over the Colorado River tonight.
I walked somewhere between nine and eleven miles today, I guess and subject to revision, and gained a couple-five hundred feet on the Levitan Scale. My morning hike was in a direction I have not gone except by truck, and then only partway. An old two-rut headed through a wash past the north shoulder of Kessler Peak, and junipers with bright blue berries lined the banks. It ended when it could go no further. There was not a cliff, precisely, at least not that I could see, but the way was steep and full of granite spires.
Unambitious, I sat at road’s end to enjoy the view. There will be a day when I walk down into that spired canyon to find the inevitable unscalable cliff from which I will be unable to proceed either down or back the way I came and no one will ever find me, or worse, a Starbucks. But not today. Water and a sharp rock to lean against were adventure enough.
A vague shape slid against the blue a mile off downcanyon, and I raised my binocs. Eagle! No, wait. Vulture. But… Raven. No. The downside of having very good binoculars for the first time in my life is that I actually feel obligated to ID specks a mile away. There were white patches on the undersides of its wings. That ruled out raven. Another bird of similar affect joined it, and for a time they spiraled up together on the thermal off the Ivanpah Valley as if joined by a cord. Finally one of them obliged with a closer, full frontal view. A dark band along the back margin of the wings clinched it: a juvenile golden eagle. Make that two: two eagles at once in the same binocular view. This identification was confirmed when an astonishingly small by comparison red-tailed hawk harassed one of the eagles: its body seemed the size of the larger bird’s head. An awkward mid-air jostle and the eagle flew away, passing directly overhead. Its white patches were faded almost into black. Remarkable that these new glasses helped me pick them out from a mile off.
There was a moment, walking back to the campsite with plans to eat and break camp and go for another hike, that I found myself stopped. I don’t know how long I was there, but it was long enough for my shadow to have moved perceptibly eastward. I wasn’t tired, and nothing in particular had caught my attention. I was looking at one Joshua tree out of tens of thousands, listening to the cactus wrens and sage sparrows, their songs dwindling toward noon. I was… I was just there. The forest had Joshua trees in it, and red-spined barrel cacti, junipers and Hilaria grass and eagles, prairie falcons and Audubon’s cottontails bursting from the Ephedra, and it had me in it as well, as fitted as the antelope ground squirrel poking out from its burrow, a wild sentience leaning against its walking stick, the desert perceiving itself.