by Sue NH
Shimmering bloated masses of yellow, red, and brown sandstone surrounded me as I reclined in the blazing sun. The afternoon sky was as dark blue as I have ever seen it. And far below me, the crystal clear water filling the canyon reflected the color of the sky, barely revealing the shadowy depths beneath the surface. Hot bone-dry air wafted lazily over my sweaty skin, fluttering through my long blond hair.
This place is an improbable witch's brew of landscaping: one part stark moonscape, one part tropical beach, and one part Sahara Desert. It was originally Glen Canyon, until the government built a towering dam and filled the valley with a lake that swallows up over more than 200 miles of the Colorado River, just above the Grand Canyon. My friend Ellen in Albuquerque had to convince me to come to the Lake, since I was predisposed to think unkindly toward a place that had been transformed by man's hands from a canyon to an inland sea.
But when I came to visit Ellen, she insisted that this was a place not to be missed, despite the regrettable heritage of its creation. She lent me her backpacking equipment and car, and convinced a friend to let me use his little Boston Whaler that he kept anchored at one of the three marinas on the Lake. Ellen practically pushed me out the door and sent me on my way to Page, Arizona, where I packed my supplies and equipment into the boat and rode off into the choppy waters. In the summer, it is one of the most popular National Recreation Areas in the country, and the waters near the marinas are plied by hundreds of houseboats and high-speed water-skiers. But this being late September, there was hardly anyone else out on the Lake. The water was still quite warm from the summer, and within fifteen minutes, I was able to motor into a cliff-lined little bay and go skinny-dipping. Navaho Mountain dominated the skyline; it is an incredible flat-topped butte that reminded me of Devil's Tower (made famous in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"). Once I got naked and wet, the Mountain also resembled my hardened nipples which jutted out through the surface of the water as I floated on my back.
Ellen had warned me that there were very few places to pull the boat out of the water, since the steep canyon walls normally slope right into the lake. She suggested that I had better get as far up the Lake as I could the first day, so that I could search for a beach that was secluded and unoccupied. So I pulled myself out from the gentle embrace of the tepid waters, and resumed my journey. The surreal scenery slid past me, putting me in a languid state of mind. I headed up several of the many side canyons, and eventually found a teeny little sandy spot where I could beach the boat. But there was no level sight to set up my tent. So I hoisted the loaded pack onto my back and started up a little foot-trail that meandered around the huge boulders, up and into a narrow crevice in the cliffs. It was still early afternoon, so I had enough time to explore this possibility, and if it didn't work out, I could always go back to the boat and try for another spot. The climbing was hard and the canyon walls were claustrophobic, reaching hundreds of feet over my head. But when I climbed up on top of one of the rocks, I could see a brighter, wider area ahead. Onward I trudged.
When I reached the open area at the head of the ravine, the contrast was dizzying. A huge bowl-shaped amphitheater rose up from where I stood, maybe half a mile across. It was like being an ant crawling around the drain of a bathtub. The buttery-yellow stone surfaces were smooth and soft looking, but the upper rim of the bowl was ragged with the mountainous serrations. A few scraggly pale-green cottonwood trees were clumped off to one side of me, their roots searching for some unreliable underground spring in this otherwise barren landscape.
In an attempt to get out of the shadows of the cliff, I climbed further up into the bowl, scrambling along the top of a finger-like ridge. With no boulders impeding my progress, I quickly gained altitude until I found myself on a (more-or-less) flat shelf halfway up to the summit, and beyond this spot, the slope became even more steep and smooth. I could climb no further, and I had found the perfect place to set up camp. Over to one side there was even a little overhanging fold in the stone skin. It hardly ever rains here, but the idea of sleeping in this shallow cave seemed reassuring. I dropped my heavy pack at the entrance to the grotto, and then walked back out to the edge of the shelf. That is when I encountered the view that I described at the beginning of this story. I had climbed high enough to see back over the narrow crevice that had led me to the bowl, and stretched out across the horizon was the dark blue expanse of the main body of the Lake. Beyond that, the far shore was a sheer wall of dark red rock streaked with wildly twisted bands of black. Way off in the distance, a ridge of mountains was dappled with a splattering of the first snowfall of the year. Yet where I stood, it was quite warm, and the perspiration from my arduous climb was slicked over my body and soaking my white singlet shirt. Being as alone as I knew that I was, I took the opportunity to strip off all of my clothes and wipe myself clean with a little water from my canteen.
Then I turned back to the incredible tableau surrounding me. It was so enlivening, so exhilarating. I stretched my arms high into the air, threw my head back and impetuously hollered at the blazing sun with a high-pitched shriek. Many seconds later, I was shocked to hear someone else scream back at me from across the wide amphitheater. I instinctively covered my breasts and groin with my hands, before I caught myself for being so silly. What I had heard was a perfect echo of my own voice, reflecting back at me off the far wall. The incredible strength and clarity of the reverberation was due to the focusing curvature of the cliff face. I laughed at my unfounded fears, and my laugh bounced right back at me. I found that I could sing a meandering duet, accompanied by myself, of course.
As I sang I performed a liquid, improvised dance, solely for the enjoyment of my echo-self observer. I don't normally consider myself to be much of a dancer. In fact, I sort of dropped out of ballet class in Junior High School, out of embarrassment for my clumsiness. But today, I was like Martha Graham performing the world premier of "Appalachian Spring".... I was like a full-fledged member of Pilobous Dance Theater.... I was the famous feather in "Forrest Gump," floating effortlessly, barely touching the ground. All of my body succumbed to the sensuous feeling of the moment.
And when things get this sensuous for me, I am always teased by the temptation to masturbate. I had only my echo-self as the voyeuristic observer to my increasingly erotic dance. I felt free to touch myself, rubbing the flats of my palms up my torso and onto my swaying breasts, rubbing my hard nipples into the resilient flesh. Then, in a coordinated motion, my head tipped back so that my hair flailed onto my shoulders, and one of my hands slid down to my crotch as I let my knees bend so that I was squatting on the smooth stone of the ledge. My knees splayed outward, and my fingers found their way into the wet and sleek canyon splitting the bulging mesa of my vulva. In the bottom of that chasm, where the waters churned down the rapids, my clitoris stuck up like a boulder through the chaotic white-water. My fingers were like kayaks, bumping up against the hard rock, again and again, keeping up the rhythm that I had established with my dancing. I bobbed up and down on the balls of my feet, and my breasts and head rolled around wildly. The pinching on my nipples and prodding of my clitoris brought forth hoarse and primitive grunts from my throat that reverberated back at me from across the bowl. Incredibly, the echoes seemed louder than my original sounds.
I have no idea whether I took minutes or hours to reach the climax of my masturbation. I was lost in the primal immediacy of the moment, transported from self-absorbed gratification into a feeling of being connected with nature. Clouds, skin, cliffs, sweat, tumbleweed, hair, pebbles, nipples, sunshine, labia, echoes,.... orgasm. It started as gentle breeze, and built up to a howling, spectacular storm within my loins, lightening striking out into all the interdependent elements of my taut body. I shrieked in the total ecstasy of the experience.
And then suddenly, my calf cramped up from the stress of squatting for so long. Perhaps it took a few seconds for the sharp pain to open the door to my distracted consciousness, for before I knew it, I was falling off my birdlike perch and off to one side. Just in time, I pulled my wet hand out of the twitching folds of my cunt, and used it to absorb much of the momentum of my tumble. But that in turn caused me to spin forwards, and I felt the course surface of the sandstone scrape across the tender skin of my forehead. I lay there flat on the rock, stretching my leg to work out the cramp. At the same time, I traded my sweat and leaking vaginal juices for the heat that radiated from the sun- heated rock. Some of that perspiration dripped down my face into my eyes, and the saltiness stung me into clenching my eyelids shut. I was in such a daze that when I reopened them, I thought I was seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. Then I realized that it was blood from my forehead, and that startled me back into awareness.
I forced some discipline into my mind and my muscles, and pulled myself up into a sitting position. I fought off the dizziness, and scrambled on all-fours back toward the cave, where I pulled the first-aid kit out of my pack. Using a little compact mirror that I had thrown in at the last minute,...