Cañón de Nacapule seemed like the perfect place to flee from the unrelenting pounding of hip hop music that had been playing non-stop in our neighborhood for more than 12 hours. Tucked away in Sierra de Aguaje range just a few miles north of San Carlos, it offered the peace and quiet we were desperately seeking. Nacapule is a Yaqui Indian word for “earlobe”. It is also the name of a fig tree which is found in the canyon, whose seeds feed small birds and bats.
A pot-holed, paved road gave way to a rutted, rocky, dirt one. We were entertained by the roadrunners and jackrabbits darting in front of us as we made our way through the desert. Signs guided us in the right direction, as the road veered off in different angles at several points. Upon reaching our destination, we were surprised to see a barbed wire fence and locked gate standing between us and the canyon. We decided that the risk of scooting under the fence was worth it. Had we returned home to the party that drove us away in the first place, we were not sure we could be responsible for our actions.
In lieu of a trail map, we stumbled upon a sign warning us of the risk of death. We decided to tempt fate and proceed. Our path into the canyon was clearly marked, wide, and flat. Things changed rather quickly, however. We moved forward (or what we thought was forward), maybe on the trail. But then again, maybe not. Signs had fallen over in the rocky soil, and rocks, painted with arrows, had been deliberately moved. At points, huge boulders blocked our path, requiring more climbing than hiking. Sometimes there was more than one way to get from point A to Point B. It did not appear that one route was any less challenging than the other; you know, “Expert hikers go this way, big babies go that way.”
I am the person who trips when there is nothing in front of me. Even in the grocery store, my husband provides a play by play of all “potential” obstacles I may encounter. So when I was not watching my feet closely, hugging the sides of a ledge or grabbing a branch to steady myself, or deep in prayer (making all kinds of “deals” should I come through this hike without one clumsy episode), I was aware that my surroundings had completely changed.
Cañón de Nacapule is truly an oasis in the middle of the desert. There are at least five “ojos de agua”, some permanent, and others that are filled by the summer rains. The canyon also boasts a waterfall. It has its own ecosystem and microclimate that attracts a wide variety of birds, reptiles, and mammals. The water source is responsible for unique flora including: towering palm trees, flowering plants and bushes, fig trees, and cacti. Some of its species are endemic only to this area.
The canyon is about a mile long, and by this point we had traveled maybe 1/3 of a mile. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Based on the struggle so far, it seems we really should have been done by this point. I could not agree more. Our next challenge was a rope ladder, drilled into the canyon wall. Once we reached the top, we were greeted by incredible views of the canyon. It was here we lost the trail. Kind of. There were two signs offering us different choices for further hiking, but nothing beyond the signs was especially clear. Caleb thought he knew which way to go, but it involved mountain goat skills that I was not sure I possessed at this point.
On a different trip (one that did not require sneaking under a fence), we were able to reach the back of the canyon, primarily because there were other people to follow along the way. Caleb had been correct in the direction he thought we should go. I had right been too. It did take mountain goat skills.
Cañón de Nacapule offers stunning views, unexpected surprises, and the opportunity to push oneself beyond what is believed possible. We were not always certain we were following the intended path, surely giving new meaning to the “road less traveled”. Scrabbling along on all fours over boulders, testing for footholds in smooth inclines, I found myself celebrating my accomplishments more so than the beauty of what was around me… For me, this is the real power of nature.