The Rainbow Bridge in the Desert

I saw a rainbow bridge in the desert while walking section C of the Pacific Crest Trail in July. It crossed a stream far below the trail which ran near the top of the deep canyon. Could it be a mirage? My dehydrated and sun-baked brain was telling me what I was seeing was real, but could I trust myself that it was true?

Mirage or reality?

The past few days of hiking had been brutal. There must have been a good reason that I was the only backpacker on the trail for 90 miles. The water report that I had which was updated in June told of creeks still running, but by the time I was hiking in July, almost all of them were bone dry.

PCT trail sign on Section C
A drier than normal year on the trail

It was hot….REALLY HOT! The heat in the Western USA the past few weeks was the headline on the nightly news. I needed water and I needed shade. I had seen traces of water in the bottom of the canyon far below for miles. It was the first real stream I had seen in more than 40 miles of hiking. There is nothing more frustrating and annoying than being in sight of what you most need, but with no way to get there. The trail cut into the side of the canyon way too far above the only stream in the desert for one to safely descend to it. Deep Creek wasn’t all that deep, but the canyon it ran through certainly was….

water far below the trail, which you can see cut into the side of the mountain
How to safely descend?

The trail switch-backed several times as it descended deeper into the gorge. The mirage of the rainbow bridge came closer and closer. Finally, I was at the edge of the canyon, with the bridge in front of me. Time to take a step. If it was real, it would hold me up. If I was dreaming, I would fall through the air to the rocks below. If the fall didn’t injure me too badly, maybe I could crawl to the little creek that flowed under the middle of the bridge.

Taking the first step to see if it was really real!

I didn’t fall. The bridge was not a mirage. It was reality. A thought flashed through my mind. I heard the voice of my dead grandfather. He whispered in my ear something he told me more than 50 years ago on the Wye River in the Eastern Shore of Maryland. “Don’t leave a good fishing hole to go find more fish.” My eyebrows raised. Then, as if he was concerned that my sun-baked brain didn’t process what he had just said, he whispered it again. Then, I got it! This place had all of things I needed. Time to stop, relax, enjoy it and cherish it. No need to travel on at the moment. Now, to climb down just a little bit to reach the shade of a cottonwood tree and get out of this sun!


I dipped my water bottle into the stream and then put some water purification tablets into the bottle. It would be drinkable in 20 minutes. Then, I rolled out my sleeping pad onto the soft sand and laid down to rest. Even though it was several degrees cooler in the shade, it was still hot. I took off my shoes and put on my crocs, took off my filthy shorts, and strolled across the sandbar to the water’s edge. The water was cool and refreshing!

Some small fish scampered away from the water’s edge and headed out to a deep pool. Sorry guys, but that pool has my name on it! I squatted down until the water was covering my whole body up to my neck. Then, I took this picture of the rainbow bridge.

View of the bridge from a pool in Deep Creek

The past few days of suffering melted away in the coolness of the stream. I had forgotten what it felt like to be cold. Although the feeling was welcome, I didn’t want to trade hyperthermia for hypothermia, so I quickly exited the stream and went back into the shade to lay down. The wet, nylon shirt that I was wearing kept me cool until all of the water had evaporated in the dry desert air. As soon as I started feeling hot again, it was time to take another dip. Wash, Rinse, Dry, Repeat……I must have completed this cycle a dozen times while I squandered the rest of the day there!

Idyllic spot below the Rainbow Bridge
Those poor little fish!

It must have been the umpteenth time that I walked out to take another dip, that I saw an osprey perched on the Rainbow Bridge. I went back to get my camera. I kept shooting pictures as I eased slowly closer. He never did get spooked, but we did have a stare off. Neither of us blinked, but I did see him shake his head. He was probably wondering what a backpacker was doing here so late into the summer!

Osprey on the Rainbow bridge
Osprey close up

As the sun lowered in the sky and the afternoon heat abated, I thought to pack up and continue on the hike. After all, my destination of Cajon Pass was still a few days hike away. I scrambled back up onto the trail, crossed the bridge and took a couple more pictures to remember this special place.

Crossing over the Rainbow Bridge
Looking upstream from the bridge
One last glimpse back

Had I known what was to lay ahead of me on the trail in the coming days, I would have stayed the night under the rainbow bridge. I shouldn’t have ever left it. But that is a story for another day. The moral of this story is that whenever you come upon a beautiful bridge in your life, don’t be in a hurry to cross it!

And, for goodness sake, don’t backpack the California desert in July!

6 thoughts on “The Rainbow Bridge in the Desert

  1. Basic principles in addition to not hiking in California in July include never eat at a place called Moms and never play cards with a guy named Doc.


  2. I thought about you during the worst of the heat and really hoped you were not down there. I’m so glad you posted, it tells me you survived your perilous journey… or this whole post is a mirage.


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