Kepping secrets

Keeping secrets

Our eyes were peeled wide open as the car passed the canyon’s rim and began its steady descent.

Stacks of limestone in blinding hues of red, yellow and orange set the backdrop. Perfect threads of singletrack traversed narrow ridges and spilled through arroyos before diving past alien-looking hoodoos, over razor-sharp escarpments and into narrow slots. Manzanita, scarlet paintbrush and serviceberry dotted the view in all directions. Bristlecone pines – thousands of years in the making – stood steady watch over that secret place.

We parked the truck, pitched the tent, cracked a couple cans of Durango-brewed and shared a toast. We’d chanced up the rarest of landscapes. The Sands fam had discovered a little corner to call its own for a few days.

After many miles of pedaling in that perfect place, I enjoyed another chance encounter. One moment, there was only stone, sand and piñon – the next, two burlap-clad, gray-haired forest folk walked into the picture. “Happy greetings, fellow traveler,” the smaller form called. Her long braids swayed in the breeze as I double-took. The larger companion, hidden behind a shaggy mane and bushy salt and pepper beard, fingered a heavy iron and turquoise amulet and quietly nodded his hello.

In coming days, I’d routinely pass these “fellow travelers,” plying the trail with their hiking boots and wandering through that magic landscape they’d also stumbled upon. The pair would also drop by the campsite after hours and offer up cold cans of 3.2 Busch in exchange for a little light conversation. It was there that we learned that we were in the presence of “real hippies.”

These were long-hairs who toured with the Allman Brothers before Duane ate his fabled peach, a pair who viewed “Phish” as a grievous misspelling. They were travelers who’d called a van home for three decades, hadn’t touched meat since Carter left office and cleaned trophy castles in order to feed their summer singletrack habit.

Before parting, the life-mates inducted us into the inner circle. High atop an overlook, they insisted on holding hands (to share our energy of course) and then swore us to the highest level of secrecy. “You must never tell anyone else about this place,” the two said in unison as the sunset flickered into the distance. “Some things must be kept secret.” There it was, our new/old hippie friends had invoked the “Law of the Secret Spot.”

According to the unwritten code, telling people about great trails, special overlooks, hidden canyons or secret hot springs is strictly taboo. Publishing articles on such sanctuaries is beyond sacrilege, grounds for a life of internment in the concrete wilderness, far from the nearest campfire ring. The formula is simple – more people means more traffic and the eventual destruction of a secret spot.

Once upon a time, I dismissed the Law of the Secret Spot as selfish BS. I’d known too many spots that had been too secret and watched as they went the way of the plow blade, chainsaw and drill rig. Those secret spots had vanished not because of over-use, but because they were forgotten or voices were silent when the earth movers arrived. After all, there are bigger creatures hiding in the dark than fellow bikers, boaters and hikers.

That in mind, I bid our fellow travelers farewell, got back in the truck and promptly swore to share (hell, even write about) this latest secret spot. Luckily, I had a rapid change of heart after visiting another roadside attraction and alleged crown jewel – a national park.

That precious patch of America had deservedly attained one of our highest forms of protection – no chainsaws, kayaks or mountain bikes could ever defile this special place. However, the veil of secrecy had also been swept away. Finding this corner of the country required little more than a tour bus ticket, a tube of SPF 70 and a rubber tomahawk for protection.

Outside the grand entrance, a glittering strip offered adventurers specials on country breakfasts, helicopter tours and nights inside “authentic teepees.” Inside, we found exhausted Eastern Europeans leaving butt imprints in the cryptobiotic crust. A glance inside a tight slot canyon betrayed three empty bottles of Dasani, a wad of toilet paper and a petrified pyramid resembling nothing so much as an emergency rest stop. One-time singletracks were now wheelchair ramp wide, and “travelers” wearing nothing but banana hammocks and cowboy hats called to each other in Italian as they descended into the canyon on horseback.

Let’s just say the Sands tour ended abruptly and we quickly made for the front door, happily wading through 15 minutes of gridlocked traffic to get there.

Having seen the not-so-great pyramid and after facing down the marble bags, I carefully reconsidered my law-breaking ways. “You must never tell anyone else about this place,” sounded somewhere far off. The words shook my new tour bus reality.

Maybe some places are best left off the map, I told myself, having realized there are actually worse things than a little light logging. As we parted the NPS (National Park Sideshow), I grabbed my make-believe iron amulet and uttered a new oath.

I solemnly swore to hold that new limestone playground as a sacred secret … well, at least for a little while. Some secrets are pretty difficult to keep under wraps. I’ll do my best, but the truth is we “fake hippies” can’t always be trusted.

– Will Sands