His favorite hike

He walks south from the trailhead. The sky is clear and blue and perfect. Ground squirrels scramble over the rocks. The earth is smooth, tan streaked with gray. He fixes his gaze on the left side of the trail, deciding to focus on the other side only on the walk back.

A sandstone cliff rises on his left until it towers far above him, 100 feet of sheer pale-orange sandstone, pock-marked by wind and water and time.

Like Adam in that long-ago Garden, like the native people who lived here before him, he had given names not only to the animals, but also to the natural features of the land. This formation, with hints of Monument Valley, he called the “Arizona Cliff.”

In a nest on a narrow ledge of rock halfway up the wall, a pair of presumably monogamous Peregrine falcons feed their young. At the foot of the cliff, the carcasses of other birds attest to the predatory prowess of the falcons, the fastest animals alive, reaching 200 mph during their hunting dive.

Further south, the cliff face is interrupted by an inverted triangle of ascending curved green terraces, a formation he called the “Amphitheater.”

Further along, the cliff face breaks itself into a kaleidoscope of pastel colors no one knows the names of. This “Painted Cliff” is marked by a deep hollow with caramel-colored rock, vertically streaked with a frozen brown veil — the “German Chocolate Cave.”

And now the path is blocked by a flat chunk of gray rock about 10 feet high, perhaps 50 by 50 feet in area, roughly the shape of Arkansas, with a bath-tub-sized rectangular hole cut about where Little Rock would be.

Water pools around the base of the “Flat Rock.” The water is the edge of the Pacific Ocean, now on his left as he walks back north.

The water is cobalt blue and turquoise, accented with the white lace of surf. The air smells of salt and kelp. Dolphins laze along in the shallows, sometimes bursting through the curling face of a wave to momentarily reveal themselves whole. A hooded fisherman catches and releases a leopard shark about a cubit in length.

Squadrons of brown pelicans swoop low, disappearing behind the sunlit wave crests. Several elegant white great egrets feed in the smooth wet sand as the waves retreat. The seagulls feast here, too — George and Katey and their chicks, Steven, Jonathan, and Livingston.

Gordon Clanton teaches sociology at San Diego State University. He welcomes comments at gclanton@mail.sdsu.edu.

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