Our first warning came from the park ranger. "We don't really have maps of this place. I used to have some copies of the course from the Twelve Hours of Penitence bike race, but those are all gone."
Our second warning came from the campground host. "I'm here for another few weeks, but then I relocate to Crested Butte for the summer because there are too many rattlesnakes here."
That was all we knew about the place on Friday night. Don't get lost, don't get bitten.
Nobody warned us about the witches.
From our campsite we looked across the San Luis Valley at the snowcapped Sangre de Cristos on the valley's far side. The Great Sand Dunes were a strange bronze smudge along the otherwise green mountainside. But we paid little attention to the view and instead stared into the fire pit, where Darin kept making delicious things appear:
On Saturday morning we found what appeared to be a trail, so we rode it. We climbed up fun little rock features, and the trail alternated between rigorously steep and mercifully steep. Occasionally we encountered forks in the trail, but instead of the signage one might expect (the useful kind), divergent trails were marked with Trail Confidence Markers, some of which (but not all) were numbered. What could we do but forge ahead and get lost? We were treated to fun little rock rollers and drops until we found a meadow atop this hill. One of the more prognosticating members of our party dropped bread crumbs behind us, but the same fate befell those crumbs that befell the crumbs of Hansel.
Continuing on, the trail narrowed until it became primitive, and then narrowed some more and all but disappeared into a creek bed. It was great. We felt like explorers of yore. After much loose and sketchy descending we ran out of rock cairns and debated whether we should turn around and push our bikes back up the gnarly hill we'd just descended or continue on into the wilderness and risk near-certain death. We pressed onward. Near-certain death versus hike-a-bike--is it even a choice? We yearned to see a useless Trail Confidence Marker.
The faint and primitive trail eventually t-boned a well-worn trail and we picked a direction. We began to think we recognized certain hillsides. We began to suspect we knew where we were. But the the trail turned and we were treated to a rippin' little descent, and then we found this:
Further into the breech we rode. The sun was directly overhead, and you had to pick up a thing to see its shadow.
Somewhere out there we found a sign with actual, real words. Those words were Witch's Canyon. It wasn't until later that we reasoned it no great place for bikes, nor for credulous mortals.
In places, it was barely a trail at all. Beware the thicket.
There's a rock at the top, though, and upon it we sat.
Unexplainably, the trails were reshuffled so that we found ourselves in familiar territory. We descended the trail we'd first climbed, down rollers and drops and smooth stone berms. There was hucking, shredding, and thrashing. Clothing was rent out of sheer glee. Miraculously, camp rose up out of the plain below as if summoned. It was precisely one beer past sandwich-thirty.
Some of our fellow travelers had also found the Witch's Canyon trail. We asked them how they liked it, and they replied, "Only idiots would try to make it up that trail." Point taken.
By early afternoon it became apparent that spells had been cast, and I succumbed and was bound by an unholy gravity to this rock for nearly an hour.
I woke in full thrall of the spell, and was drawn inexplicably back up the mountain. The others, it seemed, had been similarly affected. Who knows to what purpose the witch's spells allured us back into the woods. We found ourselves climbing a trail that runs along Witch's Canyon but is far more pleasant to climb. It was called Kitten Nugget or Sunbeam Chicken, and it began near Trail Confidence Marker #11. But to what end does a trail have a name if that name is recorded in no log and posted on no sign and remembered by no party in this bewitched company?
I would say with confidence that the spell dragged us up this mountain's every side, though it also compelled us down routes equal in number that we had not climbed. Can one solve a Rubix Cube with travel? That as much as anything else may be what was attempted.
Our lives were undoubtedly saved when the spell's antidote was discovered. Turns out it was pizza. And beer. We had our fill and returned to camp and once again were free to determine our own actions. I advanced to bed directly.
Having never before been the subject of a spell in my sheltered life, I knew not what a suitable treatment might be for subsequent day-after afflictions. It turns out that riding Cottonwood and Chicken Dinner on S Mountain in Salida is just the cure.