THE GRAND CANYON
When your spirit cries for peace,
Come to a world of canyons, deep in an old land,
Feel the exultation of higher plateaus,
The strength of moving waters, the simplicity of tall grass,
The silence of growth
“Want to go to the Grand Canyon?” Michael asked, sometime in late 1980. “Beautiful vistas, great wilderness experience.” He was planning a Spring trip, and he’d been there and done that before.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Sounds like fun.” Inside, however, a questions and anxieties churned. What if I fall off? Get snake bit? Get lost? Break and ankle? All possibilities. Also, how could I arrange to be gone from work and family, what would it cost, what should I bring, how to prepare? All good questions to be answered in time.
My first contact with Michael was when he called me when I worked in Rochester. A woman at the Department of Human Services referred him to me, because I had worked on a training manual for child protection workers. Michael was working on a grant from the state to the Wilder Foundation to expand Parents Anonymous chapters. Parents Anonymous was a self-help group for parents who abuse or otherwise lost their cool with their kids. He was a community organizer who was promoting a community development approach to establishing chapters. I arranged a meeting, and he came down with his sidekick Sam, another master community organizer, and held forth. It worked. We started a chapter, and it ran for many years beyond my departure.
While Michael’s forte in community development and non-profit strategic planning was his work life as a consultant, his passion was for organizing wilderness trips. I later learned that he also tied to finagle a way for the group he organized to help finance his own expenses. He was always talking about exploring different models and options. Nevertheless, whatever the group came up with usually went in the direction that Michael wanted to go anyway. Slick. Sam was his business partner in the past, and he once told me that his experience with Michael was that Michael had all the ideas, but Sam did all the work. Aggravating, but probably the definition of a good leader. Anyway, Michael and his buddies were the catalyst for many adventures over the years, and he was a friend and a mentor to me. Through him I also met some intelligent interesting friends that I cherish to this day. Unfortunately he and Sam both died of cancer a few years ago. We always thought that Michael would buy the farm by falling off a cliff, or swamping a canoe in rapids, or through some other accident since he was such a risk taker. Instead, brain cancer ended his life. Ugly. Still, his legacy lives on through those of us who knew him, and carry on with our attempts to make the world a better place, and to appreciate the wilderness while we are doing it.
In a dialogue opening of the song He Was A Friend of Mine, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Jerry Jeff Walker are talking. A phrase that stands out from their banter is one that Howard likes to say: We had our moments.
Camping out on the South rim of the Grand Canyon the evening before we were to start out backpack trip, I overheard Michael and Corky in a heated discussion. Corky was a radical cowboy ex-Navy Seal social worker from Wyoming. As I said, Michael attracted some interesting characters. Corky was one of the few people I knew who had the whammy on Michael and could over-ride him. The discussion revolved around how long a trip we should plan, and whether or not we should do a loop trail or a shorter, and presumably safer out and back. Michael blustered that he hadn’t come here for safety—he could get that at the rim. He wanted to push the limit. Corky pushed back noting we had a rookie crew whose backpack mettle was untested, and he didn’t want to risk pushing the envelope. Corky won. We would go down the Grandview Trail to Cottonwood Creek, then over to Grapevine Creek, then go back the way we came. I sighed relief and went to sleep.
The next morning we hoisted our packs and took off down the Grandview Trail. The trail is on the East side of the South Rim of the Canyon, and winds down to the upper layers of limestone and sandstone to Horseshoe Mesa. On the way down someone pointed out a Grand Canyon rattlesnake curled up in a crevasse. The Grand Canyon Rattlesnake is a unique species—small and pink. Still it was a rattlesnake and we didn’t want to mess with him/her. While I’m at it, for those of you with snake phobias, I’ll mention that in all my hiking throughout the canyon country I’ve only encountered a couple more rattlesnakes—at least that I knew about. Seems like if you avoid them, they’ll avoid you. Statistically you are more at risk driving down the highway in your car, but I know that phobias are not cured with logic or statistics. Phobias or no, it is best to avoid rattlers.
Going down with our backpack burdens straining our knees, lungs and muscles, we also tingled with the edgy-ness of being close to drop offs. Over the trip with time, however, we gradually lost our fear of heights, at least on the trail. This is just one of the accommodations that our minds and bodies made during the trip.
At Horseshoe Mesa there was an old mining camp. Not sure what was being mined—silver? There were mine shafts and the remnants of the campsites. Rusted metal cans were strewn around the area. My guess is they were thrown there around one hundred years ago, and I noted the jagged edged of the lids that were likely pried open by knives. They must have eaten a lot of beans. I wondered how many more hundred years it would take for them to completely disintegrate? Several human lifetimes, but a blink of Canyon Time.
The trail fell off to the West side of the Mesa. It switch-backed through loose rock and shale. A real drag. You had to constantly plant your feet side ways to avoid slipping. It was exhausting, and I remember wondering how would we ever get up this loose scree on return? But that day I was just focused on staying upright as we descended into the defile of Cottonwood Creek. Note to desert adventurers: If you see cottonwood trees there is likely water. Forget snake danger. Water is life. If you run out of it, or drink too little of it, you are screwed.
Side note: Colin Fletcher, author of The Man Who Walked Through Time, and a granddaddy of the backpack movement, backpacked the length of the Grand Canyon in the 1960s. He relied on finding springs and pot holes for his water when not in a side canyon with water, or not down at the Colorado River. Spring run off fills pot holes with water on the Tonto Platform—a plateau that is mostly hike-able that runs parallel about half way between the rim and the river. Pot holes and springs are a vital source of water on long backpack trips, but they also dry up. Yikes. Much of our Southwest adventures were planned around reliable water sources, which we purified initially with iodine tablets, and later with pumps.
Now having finally gotten through the scree, we were down in the upper creek bed of Cottonwood Creek. I remember trees, brush and cactus. Eventually we got to a camp spot beside a stream and a pool. Miracle. It was exposed to the sun, but there was one scraggly tree to give some shade. We threw off our packs, took off our boots, soaked our feet, and laid out like lizards on the rocks. I remember hummingbirds.
I had worn my black leather Army boots which created a horrendous blister on my right little toe. Like a fool I had earlier put some moleskin over it. Two lessons learned: don’t wear black Army boots in the desert; and, don’t put moleskin on a blister. Best to cut a doughnut hole in the moleskin to go around the blister and cover it with a band aide. Live and learn. Anyway, when I ripped off the moleskin the blister skin came with it and now there was a bloody red hole about the size of a dime. Last thing I needed down here was an infected toe. Corky looked at it, pronounced it pretty bad, and gave the following prescription: Soak the toe in the stream, then let it air dry on the rocks and let the sunlight get at it. Repeat several times during the day. I complied while the rest of the group took off to explore down canyon. After each soaking/drying episode I took shade under the lone tree, moving around as the sun angle changed. Corky nick-named me Sundial.
Another memorable event was when Jim almost set the Canyon on fire. Apparently his white gas stove “exploded” during re-fueling, splashing fuel and fire into the brush, and later I learned on his sleeve. We all jumped into action and took our tarps out to smother the flames, stomping them out for good measure. Looking back on it I’m amazed we all seemed to instinctively know what to do without instruction or previous practice drills. We worked as a unit and dodged disaster. A spontaneous team building exercise with no margin for error. Jim, however, noted that we jumped first to put out the fire in the brush without noticing the fire on his sleeve. (See previous reference to incident in the Introduction). Coda.
After a couple of days at Cottonwood Creek we hiked over to Grapevine Canyon. Along the way we followed the Tonto Platform trail, which featured some tricky “edgy” spots and traverses along scree. On a later trip on the same route Phil, who was afraid of heights due to a fall off a ladder in his younger years through a greenhouse window, froze. I was behind him and Michael ahead of him. Phil was an ardent Chicago Cubs baseball fan. Michael began talking with him about Cubs baseball as a diversion. Little by little as he conversed about famous Cubs players, statistics, and the like, we were able to coax him across the tricky scree part. Baseball mind over matter.
Grapevine Creek was a marvel, its main feature was pools carved over time out of the granite rock. Mother Nature’s bath tubs. In the upper reaches of the Canyon there were tadpoles in the pools. As we went down the creek to the middle and lower pools we saw how they turned into frogs. The frogs were of silver-gold luminescence and clung to the sides of the pools with their suction fingers. They were like nothing we had ever seen before. At sundown they would strike up a frog chorus calling and responding with grunts and chirps.
After dinner we settled around the fire, brought out the guitar, and sang songs. As we got louder the frogs would get louder and join us in reverie. They were calling to us and we to them. On wilderness trips we always managed to haul a guitar and have sing-a-longs, many of which we knew by heart. Bob Dylan. Woodie Guthrie. John Prine. Kate Wolf. Iris DeMent. On and on. We even made up our own songs. I made one up about Cottonwood Creek. Some of it goes like this:
The rocks are soft in Cottonwood Creek
The stream is cool in Cottonwood Creek
The song of the wind rushes to the peak
Of the walls and the falls in Cottonwood Creek.
Pretty cool, eh? I know, not Grammy material.
I’ve been jumping around in space-time with this piece. As bits of memory float by like leaves on a river’s surface, I remember things from different trips, and tend to compress them into one. As a side note I have always been fascinated by the concept of time. Einstein has demonstrated that time is relative. Einstein was smarter than me, so who’s to argue? All I can say is that there is definitely a different feeling of time out in the wilderness, especially in the Grand Canyon, where millions of years are exposed confronting you with the reality that we are just a speck on the timeline of the earth and the universe. The feeling of time in the wilderness is holistic and all encompassing, and is different than the feeling we get at home chasing the clock. It is what Colin Fletcher felt when he named his book The Man Who Walked Through Time. On another trip Howard kept chirping: What time is it? Our reply: Canyon Time! In other words, time not revealed by a clock. I believe he later understood, and put a piece of masking tape over his wristwatch crystal and wrote “Canyon Time” on it.
So jumping around in space-time, I am combining the events of the first two Grand Canyon trips, both of which were down the Grandview Trail to Cottonwood Creek, to Grapevine, and back again. The first time down Grapevine Canyon a group took off to see if they could get to the mouth and see Grapevine Rapids of the raging Colorado River. I stayed behind with my “canyon toe”. They returned around dinner time, and here is the story I heard:
The creek dropped in elevation, winding back and forth among the narrowing canyon walls, eventually to a drop off at the mouth. They could hear the roar of the rapids, and feel the mist. At the drop off there was a chute on either side of a small water fall from the creek. Somehow three of four of them got down to the gravel like bottom and the roaring rapids opened up before them. They stood in awe. Now how to get out? From what I understand it involved standing on shoulders, reaching up to climb up a rock wall, and pulling each other up. I don’t think ropes were involved.
Years later Michael and I were at the same spot, and ropes were involved. He and I slipped down the drop off to observe the power of the rapids. As the rapids shot by the mouth of Grapevine Canyon I remember looking in awe at the swells that rushed by higher than my head. I could feel the power, and it seemed like the walls were vibrating. In my head I kept hearing the beating of a bass drum. Boom-boom-a-boom. I clicked a mental picture and turned to see how to get out. I don’t know the height of the drop off, but my guess is at least twenty feet, if not more. There was a cut where the stream let forth a small waterfall. People above dangled a rope down the side. The plan was to “chimney” up the cut, back to the wall, and feet to the opposite side, avoiding the waterfall and the slick moss. Michael went first. He made it nearly to the top, then slipped and fell into the waterfall pool below. We all gasped, fearing he had broken his leg or something. Turns out he cracked his elbow, but nothing more serious. Adrenaline pumping, I though to myself, it is now or never. Michael boosted me up, and I remember barely being able to brace myself against the wall, straining to keep my feet above the moss. Slowly I ascended pulling on the rope. At the top, the very place Michael had fallen from, I pulled with all I had so that the folks at the top could grab me by the belt and roll me over to the edge. I was saved! Now to get Michael out of the hole. He slowly ascended again, and got nearly to the top. “Throw me something!” he pleaded. Folks at the top had ahold of my ankles as I reached over the rim. I couldn’t quite reach him, so I reached down to my waist and took off my belt. With the rope in one hand, and my belt in the other he pulled up with all his strength, and we were able to reach down and pull him over the rim as well. He was saved as well, but I recall him lying on his back breathing like a beached whale, and his face turning white and his lips turning blue. I was afraid he was having a heart attack, but he was just thoroughly exhausted. Slowly he recovered, and we packed up and headed back to camp. We lived to tell about it.
John Wesley Powell lost an arm at the battle of Shiloh in the Civil war. That didn’t stop him from organizing a boat trip down the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon after the war. His goal was to map a here to fore unknown stretch of river and canyon for the U.S. Geological Survey. No white man had ever done this before, and the Native Americans warned of waterfalls, cataracts, and bad spirits. Undaunted he led the expedition down the canyon, and encountered many hardships, like losing a couple of boats with supplies, and having some of his crew abandon the trip right before the end. One story stands out. Powell would take his survey instruments and climb up the canyon walls at the end of each day to get his readings. One day he found himself “rimmed” with no way to turn around and get out. He called for his men, who came to his rescue. They, too, ended up dangling a belt over the edge for Powell to catch with his one arm and pull himself up, saved. Belts come in handy.
I’m trying to recall how many trips I took with the group—now called “Canyonistas”—in the Grand Canyon National Park. I recall a couple more in the 1980s. One was a hike down the Bright Angel trail to Indian Gardens, then a trek over to Monument Creek, and out via the Hermit trail. The other was a hike down Hermit trail to Hermit Creek, then out via Boucher Trail. Easier said than done.
The Bright Angel trail is the most popular in the Canyon. It’s where the mules go with their tourist burdens on their backs. It’s where tourist day hikers go to experience a little bit of the Canyon below the rim. We stopped for the evening to camp out at Indian Gardens, a natural spring. We were resting up for the hump over to Monument creek the next day on the Tonto Trail. We typically sleep out under the starts without tents, and that night was no different. We also typically try to hang or hide our food to avoid critters getting into our stash. However, that night there was no good place to do that, so we left the food in our packs, which we propped up on the rocks. Just as we were drifting off to sleep, a rustle and chatter. We shined our flashlights and the glow of the eyes of ring-tailed cats—relatives of raccoons with long tails and fox-like ears–stared back at us. They were after our food. We hollered and threw rocks at them, and they scattered. Then they came back. This went on for a while until someone got out of their sleeping bag and went over to the packs to guard as a sentry. I don’t think it was me.
The next day, full packs and carrying a lot of water, we took off on the Tonto Trail. It was hot. The sun beat down relentlessly. The Tonto platform, and the trail of the same name, runs more or less parallel to the river and rim the entire length of the South rim of the Canyon. Compared to other trails it is relatively flat, although there is nothing really flat in the Canyon. It is dusty with little or no shade. Basically a route to get from point A to point B, or rather from side canyon to side canyon. Its redeeming feature is a fairly distinct trail and a magnificent panorama of the Canyon. At certain points you can see the Colorado river cutting through the Vishnu rocks nearly two billion years old. Time.
As I trudged across the trail under my heavy burden sucking air and hearing my heart beat in my ears, I found myself hiking next to Kay, who was struggling as well. We decided to perk each other up by playing a game of “at least”. At least we didn’t have a sharp stick in our eye. At least a tiger wasn’t chasing us. At least we weren’t in Junior High School. At least we weren’t at work. Trudge, trudge. One foot in front of the other.
A bronzed, sinewy, California-looking guy pulled up beside me and asked to see the bottom of my boots. I showed him. “Yup, that was you all right.” Hum? “Yeah, you nearly stepped on that rattler and pissed him off by the time I came on him.” Oh. Did he strike at you? “No, but he came close.” Sorry. “No worries.” He was dressed only in shorts and hiking boots, no shirt, and carrying a monster pack with a funny-looking wooden box attached to the bottom. The box was covered with wire mesh “to keep the mice out”. The box contained his food, and he had been out several days and apparently planned for many more. While handsome and obviously in great shape, he seemed a little out of it. Maybe the sun was getting to his brains. Maybe his brains were absorbing some kind of mind-altering drug. We bid him farewell, and he lifted his monster pack with the mouse box and marched on down the trail. At least he wasn’t a murderer.
Speaking of snakes on one of our trips I went off into the bushes to answer nature’s call. As I dropped trou and squatted over a log, I heard the rattle. I quickly jumped up and pulled up my pants. A big rattler slowly crawled off. You’ve heard the phrase having the shit scared out of you. This is an example of just the opposite as I sucked it up and trotted off to fine a more accommodating place to do business.
My poem about snakes:
Just when troubles are put in the past
Reality jumps up and bites your ass
And then you are perplexed and smitten
Wondering just how you came to be bitten
You win and lose some. Some get rained out
Each life has its pain without any doubt
So don’t blame the snake on your unlucky day
He was just doing his job, you got in his way
Some say that God has a hand in all detail
I say the Devil sells everything retail
Don’t blame God when misfortune falls
Do not curse Him, He’s above it all
Don’t lament and feel forsaken
Just watch where you walk
And avoid the snaken
Looking back I’ve lost the chronology of some of these trips, but my mind flashes to images of “moments”. We were caught in a late Spring snow storm on the rim intending to descend down the Hermit Trail. We waited in our vehicles for the storm to pass, knowing that down the trail the snow would stop as we dropped down into more temperate zones. The snow stopped and we took off about two p.m. We knew that we would still be on the trail after dark, but some of the “rabbits” forged ahead. There’s a section of the trail called the Cathedral Stairs, a series of steps that can be tricky to navigate even in daylight. Eric and Debra and I were bringing up the rear when the sun went down just before we got the stairs. I recommended that we stop and bivouac for the night beside the trail and wait until daylight to resume our journey. It was Debra’s first time in the Canyon and she was nervous. She wouldn’t hear of sleeping alongside the trail for fear of falling off the edge. We marched on. Just before the stairs the moon rose over the Canyon and gave us enough light to see the trail without flashlights. We made it down the stairs, then looked to see lights coming up the trail. Some folks from our group had come to walk us down to camp. We were saved.
We camped on the rocks next to a flowing stream that tumbled into a nice big pool. Exhausted we fell asleep to the sound of running water. Eric has devised a system for rating pools from one to ten. The Hermit Creek pool is a ten. The next day we jumped in and washed off the desert dust, then laid out on the rocks to dry, soaking up the sun. Nowadays I think they tell you not to soak in the pools or the streams as it disturbs the wild life, and pollutes the water source. I guess they are right. Too bad.
The other Eric was busy cooking his breakfast of oatmeal. Soon the pungent odor of peppermint filled the air. Someone had mistaken his peppermint schnapps for water and used that to cook with. Whoopee, gourmet oatmeal! I believe it was on this trip that he reached down to the bottom of his pack and discovered some dirty underwear that he had worn from the previous trip and forgot to unpack.
Speaking of gourmets, Steve was a gourmet cook who was determined to be a gourmet cook on a backpack trip. He orchestrated three camp stoves going at once to soak up the mushrooms and to “reduce the Madera down”—whatever that meant. We then cooked up a big pot of pasta, and poured our concoctions on it. Somehow cheese was involved. Unfortunately despite his gyrations, the result was not so good. We gamely tried to eat it, but it was chewy and hard to swallow. We dubbed it “bubble gum pasta” and ended up burying most of it under a rock. So much for gourmet.
Under a magic moon one night in Monument Creek we had a shindig, the finale being a rock and roll rendition of Twist and Shout. The next day Dave came down with a serious infection. Eric S. lead a group of runners to the top to get a chopper down. In the meantime we were able to flag a chopper that was picking up another hurt person. We went on and Kay stayed with Dave until the chopper picked him up. Kay made friends with some other hikers and joined us at camp. We hiked out and Dave was at the rim, healed by antibiotics. All was well.
Over the years the Canyon brought out my inner poet. Here is a rendition from one of my earlier trips:
Dust blows smoke up talus hills
Sun moves fickle wind until
Scorching clouds evaporate
Leaving shadows in their wake
Each a subtle artist
Painting different portraits
On the canyon rim.
The willow wind cools the flight
Of hummingbirds in the night
Stars jump like tinsel on a pond
And far off a tortured rock lets go
And crumbles down a canyon wall.
Mesquite on the Esplanade
Offer lizard shade
And deep within the inner gorge
Colorado spirits forge
Etchings of everlasting time
Sacred music, page-less rhyme
Can blast the walls and make still
Hearts that stand on edge until
They see the raven flying high
Carve the air of inner sky
And take the wind and know not fear
Until his outstretched feathers clear….
Then up and swirling so graceful high
A circling spirit in the sky
That knows no bound
Back again around.
And my heart did leap into the air
And envy overcame me there
For it seemed not right, not somehow fair
That he could soar and I was bound
By boots set firmly on the ground…
Then once again he came around—
I caught his eye, he gave a glance
And said, “Someday you’ll have a chance”
Then I understood…
Someday I’d soar the ridge and climb
The mighty winds of canyon time.
Here is another:
When all your houses have turned to dust
When all your monuments are rust
When all your ice cream melts and fades
When the deserts are the Everglades…
I’ll be there, I’ll be there
When all your companies have gone
When all your hunches turn out wrong
When all your dreams and schemes and lies
Fill up the rivers and the skies…
I’ll be there, I’ll be there
When all your Rambo toys are bust
When all your justice turns unjust
When all your pantyhose do tear
And all your garbage fills the air…
I’ll be there, I’ll be there
When Joan Jett and MTV
And Parker Brothers Monopoly
Buy out Boardwalk and tear it down
I’ll be there, just around
Two corners in the shadows
Down this great big hole
When your existential angst
Compounds interest in the bank
Me, I could really give a shit
Laying here in this open pit
For we are more than Goldilocks
Or that old man Dr. Spock
We are the big bad canyon rocks
So have your kids and track your time
And nurture bloated paradigms
And make your plans so ever clear…
I’ll be here, I’ll be here
Over time we found it increasingly difficult to reserve our backpack trips in the Grand Canyon National Park. To control the access the National Park Service requires you to reserve a route several months ahead of time. Apparently you have to give them several choices of routes, then they look to see if there are any other groups that would conflict with your choices, and, if you are lucky, approve a route. Too many rules, too much hassle.
At the Western end of the Grand Canyon National Park is the Hualapai Indian Reservation. The Hualapai make their own rules, and, if you are lucky enough to connect with a tribal member who has the authority to grant access, great. Michael, Kay, Susan and Francesca found such a member named Margaret, who, for a fee, granted access. A feature of this area is that you can drive down the Diamond Creek road all the way to the Colorado river, a take-out point for rafters. I was not on these trips, but I’ve heard stories about the beauties of Diamond Creek, and the problem with finding water in Mohawk Canyon, where Sam told the group at the end of the trip to take a good look at Mohawk, because we’d never go there again.
The women of our group wanted to set aside the alpha male domination of Michael and other men, and be the trip leaders. In the spirit of being open to different models, he said, yeah sure. The plan was to hike down Meriwhitica (the Hualapai’s Garden of Eden) to the springs, then hike up Spencer Canyon to Milkweed, then out. Unfortunately the topo maps ordered did not arrive in time. Undaunted, the women talked to an old Indian who knew the area. He drew a map for them on the back of a placemat. How would we know when we got to Milkweed Canyon? Turn right at the Island. There would be a spring.
Meriwhitica Springs is a sacred place to the Hualapai. We were warned not to disturb anything down there. At the trailhead I noted the dumping of old appliances and metal cans. At the springs there was a broken down barbed wire fence. So much for an undisturbed place. Still, the springs were magical, water bubbling up from the canyon floor with vegetation all around. Birds and butterflies. We camped out in the rain that night, Eric and I in hammocks sheltered under a tarp. Kay had an attack of kidney stones, which fortunately subsided the next day.
Breaking camp at Meriwhitica we hiked up Spencer canyon, which flowed with water when we first started. I think most of us started out with full canteens and water bottles, but I also remember a nonchalance about water thinking we’d hit the springs at Milkweed soon. First lesson of desert hiking: Don’t take water for granted. Carry more than you think you will need and drink it. Soon the water in Spencer ran out and we were staining up the canyon bed in the heat and dust, searching for The Island. We stopped to rest under a shady ledge mid day with a growing sense of desperation. Eric, Jim and I took a side trip up a small canyon to either find water or a short cut. We did find a small pool of scummy water containing rotting vegetation and no doubt millions of bugs. Eric filled his water bottle with it and we hiked back to the group. Our dilemma: we could keep pressing on to find the elusive Island and the mouth of Milkweed, or we could turn around and go back from where we came where we knew there was water. However, this would likely mean we’d be a day late on our schedule, miss our flights, and cause a search party. Eric wanted me to take his picture so his young daughter could remember what he looked like before he expired in the desert and had his eyes plucked out by ravens.
Sam and Susan decided to take the bull by the horns. They gathered up our empty canteens and water bottles, and took off up the canyon in search of Milkweed Springs. One of Sam’s favorite sayings was: it will either happen or it won’t. Well, we all knew that they would either find water or they wouldn’t. We waited. After a while they came back with full canteens. They had found the spring and the mouth of Milkweed! We were saved.
As we got closer to Milkweed we could smell the water. There was damp sand at our feet. Then suddenly, as we turned the corner we could hear the water pouring out of the side of the canyon. We looked up and saw a stream pouring water like a faucet out of the side of the canyon. We looked around and saw a rock outcropping—must have been the Island. Now to get out.
There was no trail. We had to invent our way up the canyon, climb up boulders the size of cars and buses, and had to lift up our packs to others above us in places. It was work, but at least we knew we weren’t going to die of thirst. Somehow we made it, and were able to get to our vehicles in time to catch our flights. Chalk up another trip.
Fast forward to another Hualapai trip, this time to Bridge Canyon. Sam’s van and Michael’s rental car were barely able to make it down a rock filled road to the trailhead. We camped there that night. I had brought with me a Dictaphone tape recorder. Sam fell asleep and started to snore. I got the giggles and walked over to record him. The others thought this was hilarious as well, and we all burst out in uncontrolled belly laughter, good for the body and soul. I believe I made copies for others, but I also know that whenever I needed a laugh all I had to do was play that tape. Now I’m not sure where it is. May be around here someplace.
The next day we took off down the canyon. I was bringing up the rear as usual when I noted that my group had headed straight down the canyon wash through the brush and boulders. I looked to my right and saw what to me looked like a trail. Oh well, it was too late to call them back, so I followed. I kept dropping down into the gully, balancing my external frame backpack. At one point the canyon narrowed, and I slid down on my butt to drop down to the next level. But the sides of my pack wedged between the walls pinning my arms, and my feet could not touch the bottom. I couldn’t free up my arms to release my pack belt either. I was hung up. HELP! After dangling there for a while, Keith had heard me and came up the canyon. He looked at me and laughed, released my pack belt, and I dropped down. Again, saved. He escorted me and Francesa who was having knee trouble down to camp. Around the campfire that night we speculated about what would have happened to me if Keith had not rescued me. Having died like Jesus on the cross, they would have found my skeleton, bones bleached by the sun, still hung up in the wedged backpack. That would have been some time after I expired and ravens plucked my eyes out and buzzards eaten my flesh. Whew.
Bridge canyon drops down into a natural amphitheater leading to the Colorado River. Broke out the guitar and sang some songs, the group chiming in. Frogs called back. A magical evening.
At the end of the trip back at the vehicles, Michael’s battery was dead. Apparently he had left a light on or something. We unpacked Sam’s van to get at the jumper cables and got Michael’s car started. Then came the fun part. Getting up the rocky road without going over the edge. Michael went first, tires kicking back gravel, but gaining speed to get to the top. Then Sam’s van. A couple of times it looked like he would spin out, but he kept the pedal to the metal, and made it. At the top Michael was blasting the car stereo full tilt. Sam yelled at him to Shut that Goddam Thing Off! He did. We were saved. Again.
Well, that’s about it for reflections about the Grand Canyon. I’m sure I’ve left out a detail or two—maybe even a whole trip. Now on to other adventures.