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Horse Thief Canyon

Horse Thief Canyon a timeless place of wonder, a place of mystery. A phenomenon experienced by my wife and me on a late fall afternoon. We were out on one of our photography expeditions looking to capture the rugged beauty of the canyon. It was walking the trail into the canyon that we first experienced the sound of the slow shuffling of a weary horse and the creaking of leather as if a grim faced rider a horse thief perhaps had turned and was looking back over his shoulder. We paused and looked around. There was not a horse and rider to be seen. We shrugged our shoulders and continued down the well beaten path.

As the mouth of the canyon narrowed, and the steep walls climbed high above us, we began to have the sensation of being watched by the eyes of beings filled with distrust. Where were they watching us from, that dark cave, from behind large boulders in the distance, no, perhaps from the high on the ledges of the canyon? The more we moved forward, the more intense the feeling became. We decided to ignore our feelings, and I concentrated on my photography.

As we approached the back of the canyon, there was no way forward but to climb the steep trail to the top. Standing at the foot of the trail, we once again heard the shuffling of a weary horse. The sound stopped as it approached the canyon wall. Then we hear the creak of saddle leather and the clomp of a boot hitting the dusty ground. Suddenly wind rushes down the canyon floor, and within the sound of the wind is the sound of many hooves clattering straight towards us. Just as quickly as the wind had arrived, it dissipated, and all was quiet once again. Suddenly it dawns on me. We are hearing the echoes of a distant past, of a time when a lonely tired horse thief was cornered in the back of the canyon to met his demise.

Not wanting to hear any more, we climbed the steep trail up the canyon wall and made our escape. We walked the trail along the rim of the canyon, slowly losing the creepy feeling that just moments ago had invaded our very being. The sun was lowering in the skies, and the shadows were growing deep. Ahead was a small trail we followed to a rocky overlook. As I was getting ready to photograph the rough and tumble walls across the canyon, We began to feel we were not alone. A small sensation at first, but then the feeling started to grow stronger. A vision of proud warriors guarding the canyon on the ledges high above the canyon floor began to cloud our thoughts. At once, we understood these ghostly warriors of old were still standing sentry, guarding their families against the dangers that existed many generations ago. A time when the canyon was pristine and devoid of the generations of names and dates carved into the sandstone walls by many modern visitors.

We continued the climb up through the tall prairie grass that grew along the sandy trail. The late afternoon sun brings a welcoming, peaceful relief. Up ahead, just cresting the high point of the trail, I photograph a grandmother and grandson out on a late afternoon nature walk. We wondered aloud did they experience mysterious haunting sounds and feelings or was that left for people like us who wonder about the old west and the old ways.

Driving away, We agreed that yes, the legend of Horse Thief canyon was, in fact, real.

Recently, I felt the need to add more images of Horse Thief Canyon to my portfolio. It was early fall, and the weatherman had forecasted a sun filled Sunday all the previous week. From the moment we left town to head for the canyon, we knew that sunshine was not going to be had that morning. In order to give the morning sun a chance to lighten the surrounding gloom, we slowed the pace of our trip. It was still dark and gloomy as we arrived at the canyon parking area. I knew to get good images on such a day was going to be a challenge, but we pressed ahead.

After the climb up the first hill leading to the canyon, we discovered an uncomfortable truth. Spiders had stretched their webs across the trail from the bushes and tall grass on either side, hoping to catch one last meal before the insects disappeared until spring. Adding to the gloom of the morning, the presence of the spiders and their webs gave an increasing sense of foreboding. Finding a long stick, we did our best to move forward, clearing some webs and ducking under others. The spiders and their webs became further and further apart as we approached the mouth of the canyon. This was a good thing for our peace of mind, but on the other hand, it meant they were harder to spot and much easier to walk into, which did happen on occasion.

Walking the trail into the canyon, we listened intently for the sounds of a shuffling horse and rider. To our relief, we heard none. Perhaps a person only hears the lonesome weary horse thief in the late afternoon as the shadows in the canyon grow deep. The time of day, he was entering the last desperate phase of his wild ride for life.

I began to concentrate on finding photographs to take in the gloom of the morning. On one such opportunity, as I lifted the camera to take a picture, I heard a giggle in the breeze. I knew we were the only ones on the trail, so I just shrugged it off. Then I heard a rustling in the grass and another giggle. Something rushed past me and tugged at my pant leg. I looked around but saw nothing. It was just a rabbit, I thought.

Karla asked me if I was hearing giggling in the breeze. I said yes but could not find an answer to it. As we moved deeper into the canyon, the giggling continued with occasional tugging on the pants leg and tapping on the shoulder. Standing among the large boulders bordering the trail I began capturing images of graffiti from generations past carved into the canyons walls. I felt a tap on my head. I looked up as quickly as I could and glimpsed a shape moving past with great speed. The form looked familiar, but I could not place it.

We continued along the trail that morning. I looked for picture taking opportunities and enduring the occasional giggle, pull, and tap. We finally reached the trailhead after a long hike into and out of the canyon. I glanced at the familiar shape of the two creatures cut from sheet metal and affixed to the two large rocks at either side of the trail's entrance. At once realizing that these are not just sculptures but living images of tricksters who play tricks on travelers hiking through the canyon. Smiling, I knew this trickster had met his match.

Alan Simpson

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The essence of sophistication is simplicity. 

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