A Lesson in Preparation – Rescue on the Toadstool Trail

Trailhead to Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Trailhead to Toadstool Trail © 2014 Bo Mackison

Afternoon on Day Two of my unexpected travel adventure.
Rangers at Big Water recommend the Toadstool Trail on my drive to Kanab,
a mile and a half trek through balanced rocks and hoodoos.

“Go past the first toadstool,” one ranger suggests.
“The toadstool garden is quite the thing to see.”
It’s only a few miles down the road. Three pm. Great timing.

Info on Toodstool Trail

All the Details © 2014 Bo Mackison

A line from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument brochure catches my fancy:
“offers…extraordinary insight into what sustains, maintains, and explains our world.”

Sustains. Maintains. Explains.

Trailhead. I check my pack. Standard Sonoran Desert gear works in the high desert, too.
Sign in at the registration stand.
I’m a dozen yards down the level trail when I reconsider,
and go back for my walking stick and extra water.

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

“No service” on my cell phone.
I can’t phone in my hiking plans to my trail buddy, but I’m on a popular trail. No worries.

The trail follows a sandy wash for the first half mile,
then weaves around sculptured slick rock, flowers bloom in abundance.
Formations of striped red and white make a stunning backdrop.

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

The First Toadstool © 2014 Bo Mackison

Hikers pass me on their return, marveling at the hoodoos and balanced rocks.
“The toadstools,” they thrill. “They really look like toadstools.”

I reach the first toadstool, a beauty standing in its solitude.
A couple reports the toadstool garden is just beyond the white escarpment,
exactly how the ranger described it.

How’s the trail? I ask.
A little scrambly up a few rocks; the garden’s worth the climb.
I’m good to go, glad I brought my hiking stick.

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

Cairns mark the trail, winds through narrow channels, crosses benches of rock.
The garden is a sight to behold, hard to photograph due to the shadows, but the scenery to the west is striking.
After hiking the trail a couple of hours, appreciative of the solitude and sights, it’s time to get back on the road.

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

Formations in Rock © 2014 Bo Mackison

It is solitude that gives us the opportunity to recover a sense of internal order, to develop new self-confidence for the day to come, and to experience the spiritual strength it takes for a person, if necessary, to face tomorrow alone.
~ Joan Chittister

Following the trail, I haven’t seen other hikers since the gardens,
and high in the chalky rock, hiking on the slick rock,
I realize I’ve passed these rock formations before, I’m walking in a circle.

Retracing my steps, I start again at the last cairn.
Again I end up traveling in a wide circle, half hidden in rocky crevices,
slip sliding. The trail disappears a third time.
For the first time on a solo hike, I am lost in a tangle of rock hoodoos.

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National MonumentLife is not meant to be a series of resolutions designed to make us something we’re not. It’s meant to be a series of explorations which, in the end, finally bring us home to ourselves. ~ Joan Chittister

I have time, late afternoon. Again I carefully trace the trail.
I am missing a turn or a step, a switch back. Still, it eludes me.
I am frightened, but at the same time, I am calm.

Deep breaths and I check my pack. Enough water and food, but I don’t have a light.
My mind gets busy searching for options. I pull out my whistle.

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National MonumentHaving the opportunity to be alone is an important dimension of learning to function alone. Having had the time to define our personal positions in life we can then go on with the confidence and certainty it takes to know what we think — and then claim it. ~ Joan Chittister

A plan? Sleep under a ledge for some protection and warmth?
Lean against rocks and stay awake?
It’s only one night, there will be hikers tomorrow.

I’ve never spent the night unprepared in the wilderness,
is this the night?

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

On the Trail © 2014 Bo Mackison

And then, across a small canyon, two hikers climb along on a bench, high above me.
I whistle three sharp blows. They look up.
Are you on the trail, I ask. They nod.

They have a height advantage, they consider the rocks, the paths.
They point, guide me through narrow ways, around boulders, over a shallow crevice
I can jump using my stick for balance.

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

This is life’s greatest moment, when the soul unfolds capacities which reach beyond earth’s boundaries. ~ Isaac Hecker

And then I scramble up a rocky wall and I am on the trail.
We walk towards the road. At the first toadstool, they ask me
to take their photo – they are father and son. Their annual visit.

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

Sego Lilies © 2014 Bo Mackison

It is easy to bounce through life — going here, trying that, tasting this. What is difficult is trying to figure out what we are supposed to do with what we find, or learn from where we go what will make life even richer. For ourselves, of course. But for the rest of the world, as well. ~ Joan Chittister

The trail is in the wash, they go ahead.
I think to myself, I was lost, and now I’m found.

Sustains. Maintains. Explains.

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

Getting stuck in life — refusing to experiment; being afraid to try something new; becoming cemented in what is, rather than excited by what could be — is the difference between living and being alive. ~ Joan Chittister

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.
~ Henry Miller

Toadstool Trail - Grand Staircase escalante National Monument

When we know who we are, when we have confronted the spirits within ourselves against which we vie for dominance, we find ourselves more inclined to be so much kinder to everyone else. ~ Joan Chittister


Most of the quotations are from The Art of Life, Monastic Wisdom for Every Day by Joan Chittister

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Gandalf says:

    Great story and wonderful photos. I’d love to see it some day.

  2. You are certainly on quite an adventure, Bo. I agree with Gandalf, and I too would love to see this place someday. 🙂

  3. I love the Toadstools and hike but maybe I’ve never been back to the gardens. Wonderful how people can look out for each other.

Leave a Reply