by Nathalie Reay
“Alright, we finally made it!” one teacher called out. The statement was a little obvious, considering the giant sandstone bridge above us. The 50 fifth-graders cheered.
Immediately, we all began to disperse to claim our temporary camping sites beneath the bridge; we would be spending the next hour or so playing and eating at the predetermined site before finally leaving Natural Bridges.
Numerous sandstone boulders filled the canyon along with much more sand and scrubby bushes. Beyond the bridge was a large, sunny pool of water, as well as a longer shadowed pool just behind the bridge at the base of the canyon’s sandstone wall.
I turned to my friend Alice. “Come on,” I said, “Let’s go get that flat rock over there before someone else does.” We hiked over the rough ground until we settled on the rock, which was just under the bridge. The angle of the sun turned the bridge’s shadow away from us.
I promptly plopped my lunch bag on the ground, pulled off my shoes and socks, and sunk my toes into the hot, dry sand. The two of us laid back and closed our eyes--the rock was warm, the sun was high, and the hike was temporarily over. Life was perfect.
Then, Alice and I were suddenly awakened by multiple manic screams and splashing. She sat up quickly, but I took my time. With my class, immediate jeopardy was a frequent exaggeration. It turns out I was right; the screams--though terrifying--were no more than the delighted rough-housing of about half the class.
At least twenty students, clothes and all, were thrashing around in the warmer pool.
“Want to go swimming?” Alice asked me, grinning. I paused for a moment, contemplating whether to answer “absolutely” or “not in this life, no”. The latter response was just slipping from my lips when I convinced myself otherwise.
Maybe I was in full-length pants and a T-shirt, maybe we did still have the hike back up the canyon, and maybe we did still have the hours of riding back to the school, but what was being a little wet?
“Okay,” I agreed. “Let’s do this.”
Alice and I peeled ourselves off the rock and approached the floundering party. She waded in to her thighs, but I didn’t venture quite as far. I bravely rolled up my sweat pants, and soon found myself up to mid-shins. The water was warm and a little too dirty for my liking. Squishy mud welled up between my toes.
“Alice,” I began, regretting my decision. “This is--”
I was cut short by another bout of screams, along with some cackling. A larger boy in my class trudged out of the pool dangling a small frog in his hands. He ran up to the teachers to show them, before turning and flinging the frog back into the midst of the pond. More shrieking ensued.
“Hey,” I insisted, but Alice wasn’t paying attention to me. I chanced wading out a little farther. Suddenly, something wriggled between my toes.
I screamed. “Alice!” I yelled. Then I promptly turned and sloshed out of there.
Alice wasn’t too pleased to know that I would no longer be playing in the party pool, but when I explained the situation, she was sympathetic enough. We decided instead that we would play in the larger, cleaner-looking pool.
Once again, Alice was the pioneer. I could barely stand to keep my feet under the water; it was colder than ice. Nobody else played in the cold pool. We both waded out, daring each other to go farther. Finally, my legs were completely covered.
“I am not going any further,” I stated. “It is not going to reach my waist.” Yet I knew very little. At that moment, karma sprang on me and my feet slipped. I fell into the frigid, wet depths, reaching for Alice. She came down too.
We rapidly resurfaced. Spluttering and chattering, I heard the teachers laughing with undisguised amusement. I spit out some cold, earthy water and tried to forget the mouthful I’d accidentally swallowed. I was still freezing.
“Well,” Alice and I looked at each other. “We might as well swim to the far end now.”
For the remaining visit, Alice and I braved the dark waters of the shadowed pool. We were already completely soaked, so we stopped worrying about getting wet. Our easy demeanor even enticed some of the less brainy boys to come swim with us... I won’t soon forget their squealing.
Finally, the teachers called for everyone to start packing up. Alice and I dragged ourselves out of the water only to find the breezy air even worse.
Our feet stayed sandy as we tried to fit into our socks, and our wet hair and clothes clung to us nightmarishly. I never did eat my sandwich; I discovered it had acquired some rather unsavory sand. As we contemplated our uncomfortable state beneath the sunny blue sky, we remembered the long uphill climb back to the bus. I sure felt intrepid.
I never will forget that day. I hadn’t expected much out of a fifth grade field trip to Natural Bridges, nor had I expected I would stick to the leather bus seats on my return. But what an adventure I had!
It gladdens me to think that upcoming fifth grade generations will have the opportunity to have this same experience--to scream at frogs and swim in dark, icy pools beneath giant sandstone bridges. I smile when I imagine doused, sandy eleven-year-old troopers trudging back up the trail.
Years from now, I hope this can be the case. I hope that Natural Bridges will remain an unaltered, open destination for the public. I hope there will be sand, ponds, and frogs.
I hope the bridges will be still be accessible. I hope that decades from this time, children, adults, friends, families, and all adventure-loving people will have an opportunity to enjoy the amazing frontier of San Juan County.