By Christopher Seep
Serendipity: making a pleasant discovery by accident.
While taking the very scenic Utah state highway 12 from Torrey to Bryce Canyon, in the midst of wonderful high desert scenery, appeared a sign, “Calf Creek Recreation Area.” Any sign with the word “creek” in it immediately gets my attention. Braking hard, I pulled into the parking lot and was immediately struck by the area’s beauty, especially clad, as it were, in autumn colors. Calf creek begins several miles up-canyon, the product of large seeps and springs. Almost impenetrable, its banks are a riot of cattail, reed, river birch, cottonwood, and willow, creating an open-sky tunnel along the stream.
My wife and I rigged our rods in record time and surveyed the water. Shy trout darted from the root wads and undercut banks, and it became immediately apparent that stealth was necessary on this creek. A few pools provided access from the water’s edge, but wading in the creek bed proved the most feasible approach for fishing Calf Creek, casting either up- or downstream. The creek has a moderate gradient, and, wet wading, the water against my legs had a pleasant insistence and coolness, especially given the 80-degree air temperature and full sun. Slowly shuffling upstream, I cast my 12 foot Iwana to the bank and boulder pockets. Parachute Blue Winged Olives and Elk Hair Caddis, size 18, did the trick, and that afternoon we caught many browns in the 8 to 12-inch range with some larger trout hooked and lost.
As the sunlight began to flee the canyon we had to make a choice: pack up and drive on or stay and camp for the night in one of the dozen-or-so primitive campsites. For us, that was an easy choice. We pitched the tent on one of the nicely secluded campsites, surrounded by cottonwoods and Gambel oak. Although the other campsites were occupied, the campground was very quiet, and we almost felt alone.
Dinner on the two-burner Coleman, then a campfire to counter the high-desert evening chill. As the conversation and fire burned to embers, our attention turned to the night sky, the stars exhilarating in their number and brilliance.
Comfortably ensconced in the tent, I burrowed into my sleeping bag, having donned gloves and a knit cap in anticipation of a cold night. Leaving the tent in the early morning hours, I was rewarded with the sighting of a shooting star, certainly an omen of some portent. We awoke to a clear 30-degree day. We put on our hiking boots, first checking for scorpions, as the sun was beginning to paint the upper reaches of the canyon. The warmth of another fire thawed our chilled limbs.
We had agreed to hike the Calf Creek Falls trail, beginning before breakfast, knowing the day would warm quickly. This is a six-mile round-trip path to a 126-foot waterfall. We agreed in advance to hike about halfway to the falls in order to leave time for another day of angling. The trail was steep and rocky, gradually climbing above the creek, but the rush of water was never out of earshot. In a couple of places beavers had dammed the flow to create large stillwater ponds. Eventually we came to ancient pictographs drawn centuries ago in red ochre, like dried blood, by the Fremont people who once inhabited this canyon.
Near the pictographs was a small cavern in the cliff face, and old granary, where the Fremont people stored the corn, beans, and squash they cultivated. I imagined I heard their ancient voices borne across a millennium by the wind:
“This canyon, this desert,
gave us all we required.
The perennial spring hoarded the scant rain,
and, in most years, slaked our thirst.
The poor soil grew our meager maize
and fed us, along with the turkey and deer.
The rock shielded us from the summer sun
and in winter warmed us.
Pinyon and oak made possible our fire.
The endless night sky humbled us
and the coyote, too,
for we could hear his night song.
And in years when there was no rain,
when storm and hail destroyed the corn,
when turkey and deer deserted us,
some of us the Raven bore to the Spirit Mesa,
there forever to lie by the Pool of Cool Water.”
Retracing our steps, we backtracked to the trailhead, the day now very warm, our fleece tied around our waists. Stopping to regain my wind, I crushed a bit of sage between my fingers and inhaled its intoxicating scent, one of those elemental, appealing odors like wood smoke or pine.
After a few hours’ fishing, more browns brought to hand, we reluctantly broke camp and continued our drive to our next destination.
Calf creek. Serendipity.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.