As I caught sight of the young family at the end of the long, cool rock-blasted tunnel, my mind drifted back about 90 or so years to a time when there must have been a narrow-gage train bringing miners and supplies to and from the area’s mines back in the day.
I imagined a weathered old soul, on the back-end of the tiny caboose, strumming some Mississippi delta blues as they chugged their way slowly up and down this fantastic gorge.
“I’m a leavin’ dis mohnin’…,
You’d bettah come ‘n leave wid me”
I could see in my mind’s eye this old chap playing with his scratched-up guitar, laying it flat on his knee, like a Dobro. Could hear and see it as clear as day as I began my quiet walk along the pretty trail leading deeper and deeper into the impressive gorge beyond. Feet tappin’ out the steady beat in shoes that had surely seen some miles in their day, the sounds echoing clearly along the tunnel’s walls.
No Starbucks along this path: zero modern amenities here! Just an occasional river runner or adventure-seekers in rafts and the occasional vulture circling above.
And as the sun dialed up its intensity along this peaceful scene, I wondered what this place was like in the 1920s. Coal-fired locomotives running up and down, interrupting the sound of the Arkansas River… What a tough life this must have been. The scrappy, hardscrabble souls all in search of the precious ore, the promise of a golden ticket out of their daily labor.
Lord, please let me strike it rich today.
After walking two miles along the trail, I encountered a locked gate with a sign indicating that this was the end of the line; stepping past it meant trespassing on railway-owned property. Just as well, I thought. It was oppressively hot and I was certain that there would be no breeze coming along anytime soon in this deep canyon.
I dropped my backpack, grabbed some water as I surveyed my surroundings. Spying a route up to a sweet overlook, my spirits lifted at the promise of some elevation gain and up I went, taking great care not to step on any Rattlers! Boy, they sure do blend into their environment. The route up was agonizing given the density of cacti, the loose rocks, the increasingly oppressive sun, and the threat of a lethal and sudden bite on my calf!
By the time I was up on my perch over the Arkansas, I spied a gnarly old Pinion tree under which I sat digging into my pack for my modest lunch. At this point, I felt quite satisfied that I’d encounter no other people. I mean, who the hell in their right mind would detour up this insane terrain in the high heat of the day?
And, after all, are not some of life’s sweet gifts best savored after a period of sustained suffering?
My old doggies soon weighed heavy on my mind and I knew I had to make my way back home, so I packed things up and headed carefully back down the steep incline to the trail by the pretty river. A slip, an injury… not a good idea here!
As I found myself back on friendly ground, I stopped to gaze at the folded and tortured looking rock, by some estimates, 1.7 billion years old. I laughed quietly at how insignificant we humans are in the grand timeline.
Passing through the last of the tunnels, I swore I could hear some melodious blues being strummed as the little imaginary caboose made its way back into town… a harmonica coming to life as well.
Sweet sounds carry me back to my truck…