My skin would turn red, but it was something I hardly noticed, at least until the next morning when it would hurt. Every weekend over the Summer I would find myself treating my burnt skin and then returning to the creek without any sunscreen, somehow not learning my lesson. We would drive the 58 miles on the I-40 East every Sunday. Winslow, Arizona to us didn’t offer much except a dirt road heading out to the middle of nowhere. Some would call Winslow quaint with an old western vibe. To us it was almost a ghost town. Sometimes after a long day of turning red and trying to sober up, we’d stop at some sub-par restaurant in Winslow before making our way back to Flagstaff.
Nestled by canyons flowed a body of water, surrounded by 50 plus feet cliffs. We climbed, crawled and jumped around the sharp edges of huge rocks to get down to “The spot”. The spot that we always came back to, spread out our towels, set down the cooler, opened a beer and drank up the courage to jump into the water from 50 feet up.
Sitting on the edge of the cliff, boats, kayaks, swimmers and tubes would pass by. Usually with people smiling, calling up greetings and waving up at us. Sometimes someone would call up asking for a beer and we’d toss one down hoping it’d be caught. The water, most years was a dark greenish blue “clear” I guess for Clear Creek. One Summer it rained a lot. So, we swam in a creek straight out of Willy Wonka’s factory.
We hardly wore shoes and those that did slid around in their flip flops or Tevas, their feet painted reddish brown as they made their way down the rocky path to the water. Once someone ended up with cactus needles in their foot, another time someone cut their foot from broken glass. There was always our nursing student friend there to somewhat patch it up, assure it was probably fine and we’d continue on with the day.
Most people at the creek were slightly spaced apart, we each had our own cliffs, like our own little islands. Nearby at another spot, there was other twenty-somethings, dancing to Sublime’s “Santeria” with their tie-dyed blankets over their shoulders, flowing around their ankles with their movement. Sometimes they’d send someone over to invite us to join in on their hookah circle. Sometimes we sent someone over with a song request. There almost always was a golden retriever or lab mix wandering around from spot to spot, getting belly scratches, treats and water as they went along.
Sometimes things were lost in the creek, a hair tie, can of beer or swim trunks. We were never really sure how deep the water was, but it was “very deep”. Everyone knew if you dropped something in the water it was gone forever. One weekend, I jumped into the water from the cliffs. I never really got over the fear of the jump, no matter how many times I had done it before. As I plummeted through the cold water, in panic I pushed down my legs, hoping to propel myself to the water’s warm surface. I felt soft earth against my sole. I broke through the surface feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders and the certainty that I touched the bottom. Laughing at my recount, no one ever believed me.
Occasionally, there was a family with young kids but usually the cliffs and deep water kept the creek for the partying, cliff jumping and other possibly dangerous activities. Some people went to the creek for fishing, and other’s to jet ski. Everyone there though at the end of the day, made the trek up the large pointed rocks with tired smiles, red sun-kissed skin, and a little tipsy.