The Grandest of Canyons
No more cars came that day and at sunset we were in a hilly wooded country, thirty miles from the next food and water supply. There was also the prospect of facing a real Arizona cloudburst. The darkness of approaching night was intensified by the blackness of the storm. Gray thunderheads were marshaling into a solid formation above; a whistling wind was playing havoc with the small trees. We had read of desert cloudbursts and knew they were things to be feared.
With a vengeance we set to work making camp. First a cozy little juniper hut, built in the branches of an uprooted tree—this to keep out the wind which was raging even harder now. Then we gathered soft foliage and spread it six inches deep where our bed was to be, so water running underneath would not wet our bottom blanket. The bed was made so that both of our waterproof blankets, which had long ago lost the right to deserve the name, were on top of us. Finally we built a roaring fire, then glanced at the sky.
Truly we had been intent on our work. Where half an hour before had been black ominous clouds, there now reigned a glorious moon and God's starry firmament. Most of our efforts had been in vain, but it had been fun. As we rolled in on those soft juniper boughs we slept with a consciousness of work well done. A more beautiful and restful night had not been ours for weeks.
Although we hated to leave the pretty little camp next morning, necessity stepped in. We couldn't afford to sit around waiting for cars for we were out of water and our only food was a pound of uncooked rice for which there was neither milk nor sugar.
Cars on that lonely Arizona road were even scarcer than the area's population. It was in the middle of the afternoon before a shimmering black dot appeared far back on the desert. It might be a car. Win stood in the road, making a signal that we wanted a drink. A Ford truck, equipped with a home-built house body, braked to a grunting stop. George and Jane Eberly were soon introducing themselves.
"We're almost out of water ourselves," George explained. "There's a little left in the canteen. You can each have a good swallow."
We both took our swallow. The lukewarm water tasted more delectable than Michigan apple cider.
"Can't we make room for them on the bed, George?" It was Jane Eberly to the rescue. George was agreeable and we were soon resting comfortably on a real bed with the desert miles slipping away behind us.
"We're from Washington state. Moving to Cuba, New Mexico." From his driver's seat George had to raise his voice to a shout above the clatter of the old Ford. Smiling at Jane, he added, "We just got married."
Winfield and I had some difficulty concealing our amazement. A few moments before, we had been parched with thirst. Now here we were, charioting over the desert in the home-on-wheels of a couple of honeymooners.
Although newlyweds, George and Jane had a kid—a small baby goat named Lily. The little fellow had been abandoned on a mountainside, nearly frozen to death. Jane had adopted it, nursed it back to health, and named it Lily Eberly. The young animal was now so full of life, so interested in the two newcomers, and so curious about everything both inside and out that the four of us sprinkled the trail with laughter all the way to Seligman. It was a jolly time.
If all newly-married couples are as happy as the Eberlys, everyone should be newlyweds. At Seligman we offered to leave them but they would not hear of it.
George stopped for camp that night a little east of Ashfork and we cooked, ate, talked, showed pictures, and sang songs until bedtime. Both parties agreed they hadn't had more fun in a long while.
Flapjacks, bacon, coffee and toast made a real meal in the morning, and then we were on the road again. Williams, the next town, had prices which were nearly reasonable. This was the principal take-off point for Grand Canyon.
"There's quite a lot of snow on the road but probably you can make it," said a storekeeper, when Win and I asked him about the road to the canyon.
Our map showed that the town of Maine, twelve miles farther along the road the Eberlys would be traveling, was also a take-off point for the canyon.
"Please stay with us as far as Maine," Jane pleaded. We were having too good a time to quit the newlywed's company until the last moment, so agreed readily.
Heavy snow fields now flanked the trail at intervals as our little traveling home headed on toward Maine. The elevation was almost seven thousand feet. Heavy strips of ponderosa pine were now a common occurrence, and clear snow-fed streams bubbled over rocks beside the road.
It was really hard to say good-bye to the Eberlys at Maine. We had grown to love them nearly as much as they loved each other. Maine had only one store and an out-of-gas gas station. Waving farewell to the newlyweds, we went in the store.
"Boys, I think you're out of luck," was the grocer's gloomy announcement. "Not a car in the world can make it in to the canyon from here. Too much snow. You've got a sixty-five mile hike ahead of you."
But twelve pounds of rice were in our packs. Figuring if we could make ten miles before dark, there was a chance of doing the rest in one day by pushing far into the night.
Our spirits were high. Being in fine condition we hiked the ten miles before nightfall then, clearing a place in the snow, made camp. With pine knots to feed the fire we cooked rice for two hours in order to have enough for breakfast also. The altitude and the snow made us hug the fire a little closer than usual that night.
When the first rays began to pale the eastern sky, our little fire was going, the rice was thawed and heated, and as the sun shot the full glory of its morning beams through the pines, we were on our way.
"NO WATER FOR 45 MILES. LOAD UP!" The warning sign hung over a little stream. We were seldom foolish in running risks with water, but figured the snow would hold out and the canyon could be reached in a day's forced hike. If our two quart aluminum pail was filled with water, it would impede our progress, so we voted to risk it and depend on melting snow as a source for water.
We set a grueling pace and held it for four and a half hours without resting. With packs weighing over thirty pounds each, even our best was not very fast and during this time we had covered only seventeen miles. Furthermore, we saw we had made a mistake. To quote from Win's diary:
"By pushing at an unnatural gait we had worn parts of our bodies raw, and it was excruciating agony to take a step. Our spirits were flagging, so when it began to rain we gave up the foolish venture of trying to do two day's work in one. Francis wants to draw a number of morals from this failure of ours, but I have nothing to say."
A heavy rain began, making it necessary to stop, build a couple of fires to curl around, and make camp for an hour and a half. More slowly, we took up the trail again.
An antelope stood grazing quietly on a level stretch not more than a hundred yards away. He threw up his beautiful little head with its dainty pronged horns and gazed at us for thirty seconds, then bounded off through the low pinyons, stopping now and then to wheel and curiously glance back at these invaders of his domain. It was a refreshing sight and cheered us immensely.
The snow—our water supply—had gradually given out, and since noon we had been getting drier and drier. We kept a lookout for snow patches on the shady side of rock formations and, although we saw some at a distance of two or three miles from the trail, it seemed unwise to waste our strength going after it.
Finally a gleam of white twinkled not more than half a mile from the trail. I was elected to go over and fill our pail with snow. As I drew near I knew something was wrong. The white spot was not even in the shade. A bleached skull and a few stray bones grinned mockingly as I came up. Such moments of disappointment and discouragement take all the punch out of a man, and I hardly had the nerve to return to Win, eagerly awaiting the coming of the precious snow.
We were beginning to suffer a little before we located real snow in a run of junipers half a mile from the trail. Two quarts of lemonade, made from lemons packed on our backs all the way from California, made us feel better. We laid around a fire, wrapped in blankets, and talked for a couple of hours, finally falling asleep to the music of a pack of coyotes howling in the distance.
A late start was made next morning, after tremendous quantities of rice had been consumed. Win swore he would never eat another bite of rice after reaching civilization. We poked along all day and almost forgot there were other humans in the world. Numerous cattle began to dot the plain and coyotes watched us from the hilltops. We were again getting thirsty but in the early afternoon located particles of ice around some tree roots, and sucked them until our lips bled.
Before dark we came to the fork where the Williams trail came in and half an hour later were at Rain Tanks, a muddy water hole where cattle came to drink. There were dead steers around the hole, but this was no time to be particular. The last California lemon was squeezed into a pail of the brown water. It barely resembled lemonade. The water may have killed steers but it couldn't kill us. Only twenty miles had been covered and it was still seven miles to the canyon, yet we were so tired we made camp by that water hole immediately.
Easter Sunday, April first, and a beautiful day awaited us in the morning. After April fooling each other we set out on the last lap of the hike to the "Spectacle Sublime. " At 9:30, the Park Ranger Station hove in sight. Here, after registering, we received the Park seal as well as considerable literature. A good talk with the ranger taught us many of the things of special interest to be seen and heard. He told us how to get to the Grand Canyon campground.
Although it was only a three minute walk to the rim of the great gorge we decided to wash and eat before viewing it. The tourist camp was clean and convenient, but due to a scarcity of firewood we made our own camp deep in the timber where no one ever came. All the water at the Grand Canyon had to be purchased at the railroad depot where it was imported in great tank cars. For our first meal we borrowed a little water from a man in the tourist camp but later used snow, a generous quantity of which was banked up in the woods. It melted quickly over a small hot fire.
After feasting on an enormous meal, we were ready to walk through the forest to the canyon rim, for a feast of a different sort—viewing a sight which we had read, and talked, and dreamed about for years.
- Category: Foot By Foot Through the USA
- Written by Grace McKay
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