The Good Part of Getting Lost—Letter #84 to Governor Ducey
I have hiked a lot around Flagstaff. Remember the Sandys Canyon trail lettter—where I told you how Zoe and I made it from nearly Lake Mary to nearly our house? The metaphor then was sand—how some people/governments are destructive and some destructive and how the attempt to outlaw cities from making their own ordinances—like prohibiting plastic bags—can, by acting like a stranglehold, backfire.
Unlike that hike, the hike I took yesterday backfired fully. I’d heard Picture Canyon was fantastic. A waterfall made completely from treated wastewater. The only perennial stream in Flagstaff is that which is made by effluent. Still, it’s beautiful. Grade A+. I’ve interviewed the manager at the Wildcat facility. He said he would almost drink the water straight from the facility, they did such a good job purifying it. He didn’t drink it, but he said it was almost good enough. It’s better if it runs through the natural filtration system of river, ocean, clouds, rain, treatment, tap but this waste water? He’s pretty proud of the work he’s done.
I parked by the treatment plant and started off with my two dogs, on leash. A collection of informational kiosks told me about volcanoes and the Sinagua Indians and water treatment and what birds I could expect to find in the man-made marshes. I marched forward. Two signs pointed—one to the left, one to the right. The Loop Trail. I swear it said it was a mile long. A mile was just right for a short walk. Then, I’d go to the library to study prairie dogs and bubonic plague and communication systems for my next project.
I hiked to the waterfall. I hiked behind the waterfall. I hiked down the once-volcano, along the cinder cone hill. I walked under the trees and crossed a bridge. I ended up by some guy’s house and another sign that read, “Picture Canyon Loop Trail.” But this wasn’t the end of the loop. I was pretty sure I’d gone one mile. No matter. I’ll keep heading back around. I have a good sense of direction.
I walked for a while. A lot of while. I didn’t see any more signs. I didn’t see anymore houses. The dogs were thirsty. I was thirsty. I didn’t bring any water for a well-marked mile-long hike. I wouldn’t let the dogs drink the mostly-perfect water in case the most wasn’t mostly good enough for dogs. The storm clouds were gathering. (Side note—the monsoon has begun but, again, they’re unpredictable. My neighbor says in the olden days, the monsoons came at 1:00 p.m. and were over by 2:00 p.m. Not these climate changing days.) I walked and walked. I climbed a hill and tried to see where I was. I got out my phone to see if I could see where the Wildcat Water Treatment facility was. I got a map to the mall. I got a map to I-40. I wasn’t lost lost but I was not where I wanted to be.
I retraced my steps back the bridge and saw where I’d gone wrong. A hidden-ish sign for the loop trail! Well, then. I’ll go forward, I told myself. I must be close! A mile is not this far.
I hiked on. The dogs followed. We watched for signs more closely this time. It seemed like we were on the right path. But the path was long. And it started to rain. Just a little at first. And then more. Zora the dog sat under a tree, trying to stay dry. Bear the Dog kept looking at me to say, “You know I don’t like the rain, right?” I remembered the last podcast I’d heard about being struck by lightning. I tried to stay near a copse of trees. I heard thunder. I jumped. It rained harder. Then it started to hail. I still saw signs but they didn’t say Loop Trail anymore, now they just read Arizona Trail. Great, I thought the Arizona Trail goes all the way from Mexico to Utah. I love Mexico. I love Utah. Heck, I’m from Utah. But as much as I love it, I do not want to walk all the way there.
I was soaked through to my underwear which I knew because I tried to stash my phone in my pants to try to keep it from getting wet. The screen blurred. The battery went from 80% to 15% . If I was going to call Erik to get me home by using Find My Phone, I had better hurry. I had to pick Zoe up from camp at 3:00. My hopes of writing about Prairie Dogs had turned to hopes of burrowing in with them to keep dry.
Next week, in Part 2, we find out if Nicole made it back from Picture Canyon or if she’s still out there, looping and looping in a corkscrew kind of path, never quite completing here mission. Somewhat like her letter’s to Governor Ducey.
In Part I, Nicole is lost in Picture Canyon on the East Side of Flagstaff. She thinks it’s east, anyway, but even with her compass, isn’t quite so sure.
I heard a ruckus. Big trucks. Maybe I was close to the Treatment plant which is close to the quarry where I’d bought rocks for my yard that’s right nearby where they drive big trucks. I rushed to sound, ran up the hill to see not a bunch of dump trucks but a bunch of regular trucks. I’d found the freeway. No no no. That’s not right.
I went back to the last sign I’d seen. This one I thought had said go forward but instead it said go west to the Wildcat Treatment Plant. I hadn’t even seen the sign or the map. It also said go east to the outdoor classroom. Maybe I was between the treatment plant and the kiosk that told me which way to go. I should go toward the treatment plant. I walked that way. No. Wait. This isn’t the way. I just came from here. How could I walk the way I came? Did I miss the water treatment plant? I went back to the sign. Maybe I should go the other way, toward the outdoor classroom. I looked at my compass. It said go west. Oh, duh. West is THIS way. I started walking. I walked and walked and was back at the Freeway. There was no Wildcat Water Treatment plant. The outdoor classroom was not the row of kiosks. I did not see a row of desks or a chalkboard. All I saw was I-40. I was not that lost. Obviously, I wasn’t going to die except of hypothermia and embarrassment. But I was so frustrated that I couldn’t figure this out. Where the hell did the river go?
I tried to get it together. I tested the compass. Now west was the other way. I must have read it wrong. Or was reading it wrong now. Who knew? Compasses aren’t so helpful in gauging the spin of the poles when you’re spinning in circles yourself. I started running. The dogs were ahead of me, in the bushes. I was moving moving moving and then across the trail. Is that a…? I’m already leaping. The snake hissed and struck at me. I made it over his head before he could strike again. I started to panic. I might have called out for my mom. Here I am stuck between I-40 and a rattlesnake and no way to get home.
Eventually, I made it. I gave up on the “loop” signs and followed the sign that said Wildcat west. I reorganized my compass and my brain and said to myself, don’t stop going southwest. Follow your compass. Don’t think just because it’s not over the hill that you’re not going the right way.
In the distance, I saw a greenhouse. Maybe it was just someone’s greenhouse, but, I thought I recalled seeing a greenhouse from my tour with the city manager. And then a pipe from the methane recapturing system. And then some more pipes and then the Rio de Flag—which I thought I should have been following all along. The tanks. The filters. The kiosks noting types of birds, volcanic history, human history. I saw my car. My pants were almost dry.
I told my friend Jon that I was going to write you a letter about this and blame you. I was joking. It’s totally not your fault I got lost. I mean, it would be nice if you could foot the bill for a little better signage but truly, this was all my fault. I thought I knew where I was going. I thought I saw a sign that said one mile. I thought the compass pointed west. I thought the outdoor classroom might have been the kiosks. I thought I was closer than I was. I had to calm down and keep walking.
The point of writing the letter to you is this: It’s a good thing, although scary and full of snakes, to get lost. It makes you reconsider your suppositions, your prejudices, your assumptions. What I wouldn’t give for you to spin around, mentally, as I did, when you look at the funding situation in our state—when you look at the kids who want to come to NAU from out of state and who would be twenty-thousand a year to attend. Look at the kids from in state who will pay more than ten. Forty thousand dollars is so much money. Prohibitive for so many. The idea that maybe everyone should have the opportunity to have the same as others is a disorienting one to you. But just think of the things the world could accomplish if everyone could write well and speak well and argue well, and, with practiced deductive reasoning, learn to find their way back to the water treatment plant well and learn to treat the water well and knew how to be sure they read their compasses right.