Horton Creek splashes cheerfully over the layered lip of a vanished world, transforming lost oceans, sunken continents and mass extinctions into landscape art.
Balancing unsteadily on a limestone boulder in a deep pool, I mourn my missing tripod. Once again, I rushed out to hike the prettiest stretch of Bonzi waterfalls in Rim Country without remembering to bring the tripod necessary to catch that hypnotic blur of water spilling over the limestone ledge at a sixth-of-a-second shutter speed. So now I’ve got to find a flat spot on the sloping rock to set my camera so I can frame the scene in the viewfinder and squeeze the shutter without moving the camera.
Contorting to compose, I use the tips of three fingers to level the camera on the cold rock surface and squeeze the shutter.
Naturally enough, Lobo lopes across the top of the rock as the shutter flops open. “Lobo,” I holler.
Taking this as an invitation, he bounds off the ledge into my foreground with a great, happy splash.
“Lobo,” I holler again in futile protest.
He climbs out onto my rock and shakes himself.
Drenched, I sigh, sit and start wiping the water off my lens. I’m about half-way up one of the most popular hiking trails in Rim Country, enjoying a little post-tourist-season solitude. The trailhead lies just up the road to the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery. The trail itself climbs 1,000 feet in 3.5 miles from the Upper Tonto Creek campground to the Highline Trail — with most of the elevation gain in the final mile. Flatlanders mob the trail on summer weekends, but we locals have it to ourselves in the off-season.
“Pretty, don’t you think?” I remark off-handedly to Lobo, who sits beside me with his one-acre tongue lolling out. Upstream, the limestone spillovers of Horton Creek present a photographer’s phantasmagoria. Uplifted a mile or more to reach their present position, the layers of limestone conspire with the stream to create an forest water feature.
The diversity of limestone landscapes never ceases to amaze me. Comprising 10 percent of all sedimentary rocks, limestone creates a living landscape — proof that rocks have family trees and souls.
Limestone is made of calcium carbonate manufactured by long-dead sea creatures, mostly corals or foraminifera. The calcium carbonate settles to the bottom in shallow seas, mixes with other debris, then sinks beneath its own mounting weight. Eventually, the mounting heat and pressure fuse the sea bottom layers into stone.
Limestone dominates the topography of Rim Country, including the Mogollon Rim itself. That 1,000-foot-tall layering of ancient sea bottoms bears mute witness to millions of years of Earth’s history — including two enigmatic layers deposited in the throes of mass extinctions — when up to 95 percent of Earth’s living species died out in a geologic eye blink.
Limestone has some pretty remarkable properties, besides the neat trick of recycling coral reefs into the Mogollon Rim. Harder than almost any other sedimentary rock, limestone nonetheless dissolves readily in acidic solutions. That means things like acidic groundwater — and acid rain — can readily sculpt limestone into strange formations.
Most of the great underground caverns form when groundwater dissolves buried, fractured limestone. Dissolved limestone turns into travertine carried by streams, which have created both the travertine dams of Fossil Creek and the soaring arch of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
Take a certain quality of limestone, bury it again, reheat it, let it cool — and you’ve got marble suitable for carving the Pieta.
Clever people going back thousands of years have also discovered that limestone can make a paste good for sealing boats, enhancing ground corn and making cement, soil conditioners, glass, iron ore, toothpaste, livestock feed, medicines and cosmetics. Most of the great cathedrals of Europe are made of limestone blocks as are the great pyramids of Egypt.
And, while we’re on the topic, limestone also has produced the remarkable and soothing landscape of Horton Creek, one of my favorite places to blow a day and fill up a camera disc. It offers a great place to practice using different shutter speeds to achieve certain effects from flowing water.
“Does kinda remind me of the pyramids,” I remark to Lobo, one of the few creatures that grins reliably at my jokes. Then he yawns, an enormous stretch that always reminds me of the toothy alligator head I keep on my desk for overdue bills.
I don’t bother to stifle my answering yawn. I used to worry that Lobo and I exchange yawns until I read a study of 35 dogs in the journal of Animal Cognition, conducted by researchers from Lund University in Sweden.
The researchers wanted to determine whether dogs are subject to “contagious yawning,” like people. Other studies have shown that humans often yawn whenever someone else yawns starting at the age of 4, when toddler brains start producing “empathetic response.”
So the researchers cuddled and played with the 35 dogs — all less than 14 months old. Once they’d established a connection, the researchers started yawning. Most of the dogs older than 7 months quickly imitated the yawning people. The yawning dogs then generally settled down — and several started to fall asleep.
So I figure if Lobo’s yawning, he’s nice and mellow. I can get my shot.
I assume my contortionist pose, take a deep breath ...
Lobo launches himself from the rock, landing in the pool with a tremendous splash.
“Lobo!” I holler, drenched.
He pays no heed, chasing some scent. He bounds upstream, hurtling ancient oceans and mass extinctions.
I sit quietly until he’s safely out of sight and the ripples of his passage have faded from the pool. Then I crouch, balance, bend, contort, cramp, hit the shutter.
Next time. I swear. I’m gonna bring my tripod.