I’ve decided to wash my clothes, so I’ll take a bath while I’m at it. I pull my extra pair of jeans out of my pack, along with two t-shirts, some underwear and socks, and my other western shirt. I strip off the clothes I’m wearing and grab the small bar of hand soap. Before I start for the river, I realize there is cholla cactus around, and I don’t want to step on any. I pull my boots back on without socks. The sun is getting hot, so I pop my cowboy hat onto my head and carry my belongings to the water’s edge.
Ever the curious type, Gizmo wanders over to see what I’m up to. I have to keep taking things away from him as he picks up socks, shirts, and underwear and tosses them around. I lay my rain slicker out as a ground cloth, a place to put my clothes to dry after I’ve washed them. It’s a painstaking task, but I’m proud of myself for taking the time to do it. I pull my boots off and step into the water to bathe and find that it is surprisingly cold. I realize that the river must travel far beneath the surface before it returns to the light of day. It feels good to scrub myself, and I take my time, enjoying it. Gizmo takes my lead and goes back to splashing in the water with his muzzle. He lets his lower lip flap as he does this, and it’s a comical sight. He can be a bit of a clown sometimes.
I do not carry a towel. It’s one of those things I do without to keep the weight down for Gizmo. Since my clothes are all wet, I am forced to drip-dry. I don’t mind because the day is warm and pleasant, so I pull my boots back on and step back to the edge of the water to let the sun dry me. Gizmo comes over to have his ears scratched.
There’s something about standing naked in the world, stripped bare and exposed to the elements. I’m definitely not an exhibitionist. I’ve gone skinny dipping and don’t mind exposing myself around others if I have to. Still, I lean toward being a bit prudish about those sorts of things. But when you’re in such a remote place, you get a feeling of unreserved freedom, you’re exposed yet unconcerned about others. I enjoy standing here, naked except for boots and hat, listening to the sounds: my horse and the gentle rustle of the bush, quail warbling, the chatter of a couple of pinion jays, the soft buzz of flying insects and the faraway whistle of a train.
A train. It occurs to me that the train I’m hearing will be passing right through our hidden retreat. For a moment I feel anxious and instinctively look around to take stock of my situation. I consider throwing some clothes on, but they are still wet. I resign myself to hunkering down and waiting it out. The whistle does not blow again, but the rumble of the boxcars grows and grows, gradually, until I know the freight train will show itself at the end of the canyon any second. And it does.
Except, it’s not a freight train. These are not clunky diesel engines, coupled together to increase their might, pulling a two-mile-long string of boxcars with a caboose attached to the end. No, instead I see a smooth silver rocket, a streamlined engine pulling a collection of aluminum rail cars that seem fused together as one, a sleek and shiny habitat that glides across the desert floor, the great domed windows of its club cars stretching high above its roofline.
The train’s windows—and its windows are everywhere—are filled with the faces of travelers, pilgrims from Chicago on their way to experience the great American Southwest. There are parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers. And in their first face-to-face encounter with the west, they see a cowboy and his horse, and it’s not like they thought it would be.
Gizmo and I stand side by side as they pass. The engineer blasts the train whistle. Passengers point to us and wave. Parents shield the eyes of their children. Gizmo turns to look at them, and I smile, tip my hat, and wave. I look down at my naked self and think, do I look stupid in these boots?