If you’ve ever hiked a backcountry trail, you know about cairns. They’re the road signs hikers use to stay on track. They’re simply piles of rocks high enough to be seen and reassure travelers that they’re following the right path. According to Wikipedia, cairns have been around throughout time all around the world.
I don’t know who has the time to build and maintain these stone piles, so I’ve concluded that it must be the Pixies. If you think about it, who else has the skills to precariously balance rocks on top of one another that magically survive wind and rainstorms? You never see humans stopping to build them. Yeah, it’s definitely the Pixies.
The markers confirm the obvious on some trails—like this month’s hike up the Little Granite Peak trail. The steep climb from the parking area to the first flat was like tromping through a rain gutter. Runoff and traffic have carved a trough that’s easy to follow. On the other hand, where trails traverse slick rock areas, cairns will reliably mark the easiest path. When I hiked to Coyote Gulch in Utah, there were long sections of trail where I had to stop at one of the cairns and look for the next one before I went any further. Later I found that the markers kept me from having to scramble down treacherous cliffs.
Another time that I remember cairns saving my butt was on the outing to Cedar Mesa. While Queen Anne waited in the truck, I hiked down into Cigarette Canyon to get this shot of Fallen Roof Ruin. She insisted that I leave the keys with her. After reaching the canyon bottom, I only had to trudge a mile before I spotted the ruin nesting high in the cliffs. Paying no attention to my route, I scrambled up the smooth sandstone wall with my camera and tripod.
After getting my shot, I started my descent, but what I saw scared me. It was one of those steep hills where you could only see the first few feet before the ground plunged out of sight—like the first hill of a roller coaster. I had visions of rescuers finding my skeletal remains among the ruins because I became trapped there. Anne would surely get bored and drive off, leaving me to rot alone. But as I searched for a way down, I spotted a pile of rocks to one side, so I headed toward them. From there, I saw more cairns that made a zigzag pattern down to the bottom. Thank God I didn’t have to make Anne put down her book and get out of the truck to find me.
So, imagine my smile when I reached the first intersection on the Little Granite Mountain trail and saw five miniature cairns lined up on top of a boulder the size of a small Toyota. This spot must be where the fairies had a picnic. It was off the path behind some bushes, so these weren’t actual trail markers. They were left by the little people having some mischievous fun.
You can see a larger version of Five Cairns on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we start a new project, so come back and see where the road leads us.
Until next time — jw