Below the Rim
It is useless to attempt to portray the suddenly unrolled panorama, or the impression received, as we walked from the woods to the brink of that great purple and gold abyss. The words in our diary failed to describe adequately what our eyes drank in as we stood awestruck on the canyon rim.
The first afternoon and evening at the canyon was spent in typical tourist pursuits. Late in the afternoon we entered the Hopi House and witnessed some of the most thrilling Indian dances ever given for public exhibition. We returned to our home in the woods and, after a hearty supper, carefully concealed our belongings in the branches of a tree before starting down to the El Tovar Hotel where a government lecture was to be held in the music room.
As we tramped through the woods, the light rain that had been falling turned to snow so by the time we reached the hotel downy flakes covered our clothes. We felt a little out of place in our rough hiking togs beside the nicely dressed Pullman tourists, but it was our government, too, which was sponsoring the lecture, so we felt entitled to listen.
Films and slides accompanied the talk and gave us a clear idea of what sights lay in store for the morrow. The ranger quoted our favorite president, Teddy Roosevelt, who had visited the canyon ten years before, in 1913, and had said: "In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which, so far as I know, is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it...Keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American... should see."
We learned Roosevelt had established Grand Canyon National Monument and had urged national park status for the canyon, but congressional action was delayed. It finally became a national park in 1919, just four years before our visit, by the signing of a bill by President Woodrow Wilson.
As we left the hotel and walked up the path to the rim, the snow stopped and a glorious moon broke from behind the clouds. At ten o'clock we were still standing there looking out into the mystic darkness which even the intermittent floods of moonlight failed to penetrate. We located our camp more by guess than by reason and rolled into our blankets only to be snowed under before dawn.
A whole morning spent in cooking! Scandalous! What we did not eat was not worth eating, for supplies at the Grand Canyon store were even more reasonable than at Williams. We also discovered the time and kettle-saving advantages of baked potatoes over the boiled variety, and we made fully a dozen of them seek shelter under our belts. Loaded with supplies for eating, sleeping, and picture-taking we set out to explore Grand Canyon.
Our plans were indefinite. We did not know whether we would be below the rim one day or three, whether we would go a dozen miles or a dozen dozen. We started down at noon on the Bright Angel trail. One look at the trail showed us it was steep and a trial confirmed that observation. It led downhill and that fact was never forgotten.
At four o'clock the river came in sight for the first time, its muddy waters slipping like molten chocolate between the silent, lofty walls. The swinging suspension bridge had been built by the government just a year before and was the only one across the river for hundreds of miles.
Teddy Roosevelt had camped in the canyon depths, at the junction of Bright Angel Creek and the Colorado. The spot where he spent the night was known, for a short time, as Roosevelt Camp until the Fred Harvey Company took it over, just the year before our arrival, and renamed it Phantom Ranch.
The woman in charge of the place would have put us up free had it not been that her boss was down on a visit that afternoon. She was from South Bend, Indiana, and had heard of the Michigan State oratorical contest in which Win had taken part.
We went up the canyon and threw down our packs in a place we later dubbed, "Wildcat Camp." We were sitting around our fire preparing to go to bed when from across the creek came a piercing shriek which sounded like the meow of a cat as heard through a megaphone. I had never heard a wildcat use his vocal chords, but due to the fact that the rush of the stream would have drowned all ordinary sounds, I hastily concluded these shrieks were not from a domestic animal. The cat did not bother us, however, and we slept fine, although I suppose one should say we "cat-napped."
Just as we started our return up the Kaibab trail a rider on muleback passed us. He made the two mile, 1500 foot ascent in only five minutes faster than it took us on foot. He rested his mule a number of times; we rested but once, and arrived at the top of the Tonto plateau, unwinded and fresh, just fifty minutes after leaving the bridge. We thought of hiring out as pack mules in the distant future.
The canyon was overrun with wild burros. They were just like their domestic brothers except they were more lively and quick. Years of undisturbed life in the canyon had made them fairly tame. It was difficult to find a place on the plateau where there were no burros. And nowhere could one find a place in the canyon to escape the sound of their sonorous braying.
The Tonto trail along the plateau was the most interesting of our whole canyon trek. Straight and level it went for awhile, then started bobbing up and down over rough ground. Then it would cut for long distances back around a branch gorge while a few rods across the abyss as the crow flies it would continue tantalizingly on its way. View after view of the river was now given us, and the walls of the granite gorge still retained their marvelous beauty.
We were tramping along, miles as we thought from our day's destination, when we heard a sound. It couldn't be—yes, it was—a rooster's crow. I can never tell how good that rooster sounded to us. No one had passed by since early morning, and although the canyon was wonderful, we had walked and climbed for so many miles we were beginning to long for a sight of the Hermit cabins. The rooster crow told us that our day's work was nearly over. We topped a hill and there were the cabins in their setting of green grass.
We stopped only momentarily, then set out on a brisk run down the winding trail to the river. We ran the entire two miles to the Colorado, jumping Hermit Creek seventeen times in our mad descent. After playing on the big rocks at the water's edge we retraced our steps a mile until we found a huge rock which suited our fancy as an ideal camping place.
Hermit Creek was some twenty-five feet below but Win wanted a bath so he slid down and by holding onto bushes he reached the bottom safely. I had supper ready by the time he returned.
It was pitch dark before I started down to take my bath. Carefully I began the descent. Something slipped and so did I. In the wild plunge which followed I lost soap, washrag, and towel, and also my composure. My fall as well as my skin was broken by some bramble bushes, but I did not stop until I rolled into the icy waters of the river. I had my bath.
The canyon had torn our clothes so before starting in the morning there was some mending to do. The Hermit trail back up to the South Rim was supposed to be an excellent one. It was described in the guide book as having "only one steep stretch." That stretch, we concluded after climbing it, must have extended from the bottom to the top. It seemed the steepest in the canyon.
Perhaps it was the high altitude, perhaps it was because we had not eaten breakfast, but we could climb only a short distance without resting. When we stopped at Santa Maria Springs for a drink and rest, a mule party just finishing their lunch gave us their leftover sandwiches and fruit which braced us up considerably. After numerous forced climbs we reached the top, rising 1,400 feet in the last mile.
From Hermit's Rest at the top of the trail we caught a truck ride along the winding, scenic Rim Drive. We got off at Powell's Monument to survey the whole grand sight and were able to locate places below on the plateau where we had been the day before.
Powell's Monument was erected to the memory of Major Powell, the one-armed hero who first dared brave the terrors of the Colorado and successfully navigate it through the canyon in 1869. Two other men to have made the trip, much later, were the Kolb Brothers who had a studio at the Grand Canyon.
When we started down into the canyon we had not known how long we would be gone but had hoped to return in time on this day for the illustrated lecture which the Kolb Brothers gave at 4:15 P.M. Three minutes before the doors closed we swung up to their studio and purchased our tickets. Slides and films vividly portrayed the Kolb Brothers' daring descent of the cruel river, while one of the brothers followed the illustrations with his talk. At the close of the lecture we spent some time examining far points in the canyon through a telescope, then wandered up to Hopi House where the Indians were gathering again.
The dances were fully as good as those we had first witnessed. Joe, the Chief, was a splendid Indian. He was witty, good looking, and somewhat of a celebrity, as we soon found out. After putting our contribution on the tom-tom we went to the canyon store and looked at a copy of the National Geographic. What should we come upon but a full page portrait of the Indian we had just seen dancing, and beating on the tom-tom where we had just placed our dime.
At the government lecture in El Tovar we listened as "old timers," for we had tramped all but three miles of the main trails on the south side of the canyon.
April the fifth. We couldn't afford to stay longer, even though Grand Canyon had been immensely enjoyable. Had we put up at El Tovar, and taken the trips by mule instead of on foot, our sojourn would have cost 165 dollars. Upon balancing our accounts, we found that we would still have a dollar in change after tendering a five spot for our canyon experience. Our slogan was, "See America on foot. It pays."
Busily intent on packing, and paying little attention to anything else, we suddenly glanced up to find ourselves surrounded by a half circle of Indians. There were at least seven of them and how they got there was a mystery. They just stood staring at us, so we continued packing. Win pulled out his watch and one of them quickly reached down and snatched it away from him. We were deep in the woods and were uncertain what to do. From one to another the watch passed, each Indian observing it closely, and raising it to his ear. When the little ticker reached the end of the circle the fellow stepped quickly forward and gravely returned it to Win. After silently examining our complete equipment the group filed off into the woods.
With a last look at the canyon we prepared to head southward toward Phoenix and, just before dark, caught a ride in an old yellow truck which, to use the Western parlance, had gone "haywire." Behind the truck came a garage man in a Hupmobile; it was his duty to see that the old wreck got into Flagstaff. The Maine road could now be traveled, so we returned the same way we had come into the Park.
The story of the things that went wrong with that old truck in the next fifty miles, and the skill and patience of the mechanic in the Hup, would make a book in itself. The truck driver was a whiskey-runner and didn't even know how to take the radiator cap off, so it was entirely up to the man in the rear. A few of the things that happened to the truck before midnight were that it jumped out of time twice, burned the insulation off the wires, broke the crank pin, split the gas line, lost the crank pulley, broke and lost the fan belt, broke the front light, broke a couple of parts down near the carburetor, and several other things that I am not mechanic enough to even explain.
During the hours from 5:00 P.M. until midnight thirty-six miles were covered. At midnight we ran out of water. Win and I went back in the desert till we struck junipers and there built up a big fire and cooked a good supper while the men drove the twenty miles in the Hup to the nearest water hole. By the time they returned from their forty mile drive they were nearly frozen. We gave them our blankets, cooked another supper, then listened to the howling coyotes.
Nature took her course. Gradually the two exhausted men succumbed to the warmth of the fire and dozed off. They were too tired to continue on so we tucked our blankets around them and piled more wood on the fire.
Both men were armed, as were many with whom we had associated in the last two weeks. Besides small firearms, the men had a heavy Winchester which they left with us while after water. In all our trip's experience, however, nothing more dangerous than a mosquito ever attacked us, so we always preferred to travel without weapons of any kind. Wrapped in a poncho we rolled up as close to the fire as possible and slept until morning, which wasn't far off. Two great holes, burned in our waterproof poncho, gave evidence in the morning that we had indeed been close to the fire.
By daylight we continued on and, although things went wrong with our haywire truck, it was easier to see to fix them. Maine station, when it did show up, was a welcome sight. The old truck, to celebrate, died on the last hill. This time she was out of gas. The thriving gas station at Maine was innocent of any concealed liquid, so it meant a drive to Flagstaff and back to get some. Before we bid good-bye to our friends we checked up and found that the truck had used twenty gallons of water and twelve gallons of gas coming the last sixty miles.
- Category: Foot By Foot Through the USA
- Written by Grace McKay
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