By Gavin Shwahla

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a pile of sand shaped like a lizard run into the sagebrush! I stopped dead in my tracks and fell to my knees. Looking careless and exaggerated, I scoured the sage for the reptile.

It darted, making a beeline for the closest cover. That’s when I saw him, clear as day.

It was a baby sagebrush lizard no longer than my index finger.

I followed him to his new safe house just a step away for me. I searched just as I did before, only to have him escape back into the sage.

This game continued for five minutes until he ran into my hand.

Holding him with care, I couldn’t have been happier. I had just caught my first sagebrush lizard! Now I could add him to my ever-growing resume of peaceful wildlife captures.

As I pulled out of my instinctive “catch-it!” trance, I nearly forgot where I was.

Just yards away in a sea of sagebrush, the seemingly alien abyss that is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park called to me.

The next the morning I woke with the sun.

After breakfast, everyone I had the pleasure of taking this journey with prepared to hike down the adequately named, “S.O.B.” trail.

As my first desert and canyon hike, my inner adventurer was taking more control. At that point in my life I had only hiked in the Adirondacks and the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, and was just introduced to Rocky Mountain hiking. Needless to say, I had my nerves but was at no time afraid.

Within five minutes we were sliding on our asses, climbing down boulders and coasting down mudslides.

Each step of loose scree presented false safety to my boot, but I make it sound worse than it was. It was an adventure in the truest sense of the word, with the worst part being the negativity radiating from a select few of the hikers. However, that was fixed by simply hiking faster down the canyon.

After an hour hike down, I arrived at the bottom of Black Canyon, and in the distance I saw the other half of the group on a sandy shore.

Following the rocks laid by mother nature along the raging Gunnison River, I was greeted by more sagebrush lizards too quick to catch; giant stoneflies cluttered the air as the sun pierced through their bodies illuminating them like stars — which left me amazed and captivated by the time I met the friendliest garter snake, who couldn’t have been more relaxed as I held him.

Once the stragglers reached the river bank, we ate lunch and some swam in the river. I took the opportunity to explore on my own.

I found a boulder acting as an island in the river, and stood alone as two singing white-throated swifts whipped passed me. I marveled at their aerial-acrobatics as they caught giant stoneflies.

A feeling of pure bliss found me. It was that kind of happiness where you just can’t help but laugh, even if there’s no reason for it.

I was living in the moment.

I thought of how lucky I was to see such a place, to experience something that feels more a part of Star Wars than our reality.

It just goes to show that maybe the low points — the canyons in life — are just as, if not more, rewarding as the mountain tops.

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