Color It Gold
March 23, 1923. California had been good to us, beyond all expectations, but our final goal was still beckoning. Arizona and its Grand Canyon lay ahead. From San Bernardino we started walking eastward.
A pitted asphalt strip, just wide enough for a single car, was our pathway across the Mojave Desert to tiny Victorville, where the asphalt ended and real desert roads began. We were expecting to have to do most of this barren way on foot but the wonderful luck which had been with us throughout our California journeyings was still walking along beside us. Lift followed lift, a couple of them with old prospectors. Two days later, near Needles, the chocolate-coated Colorado River was flowing along just beyond our roadway. That river was the California-Arizona boundary. Its waters had just bid good-bye to Grand Caynon. We were excited.
But excitement ebbed with each mile, then gradually faded into uncertainty, and finally into misgivings as to what the Grand Canyon might be like, if it owed its life to this coffee-colored lackadaisical stream.
The wagon road crossed the Colorado, toward Topock on the Arizona side. From the narrow bridge we had a direct view down upon it, a view as good as the turkey vultures could get, as they soared aloft. Our misgivings partly evaporated. The river looked better to us now — a wide golden ribbon of water caressing the desert as it slipped cooly through this bone-dry land. California and the Pacific were behind us; we would be surrounded by parched desert now for days. Any water would look good.
An aging truck with two men in the front bumped over the bridge and Win and I each gave the driver a smile and a cheery wave. He stopped and got out — a young fellow in his early thirties.
“Not much room,” was his greeting, “but maybe you can pile in the back.”
Dreams such as this do not happen more than once or twice in a hiker’s lifetime. The back of the truck was filled two feet deep with California oranges.
“Help yourself to a couple,” the man suggested. “There’s some sandwiches in the sack, too. My partner and I can’t eat anymore.” He and we rearranged the beautiful cargo until there was room for us to crouch in this golden heaven. No one kept count of how many oranges Win and I peeled and ate. Had our host meant a couple of oranges, or a couple of dozen?
The men were headed for Oatman, Arizona, to peddle their load. To repay their kindness, we helped them sell oranges along the street, and gave them a little money in addition. Our consciences were bothering us a bit. Although I cannot remember the details, I am sure we must have dreamed of oranges that night. Next day, refreshed and enthused, we headed on toward Kingman and Peach Springs, and the ride in the house on wheels of our honeymoon friends, who had wanted to know about our odyssey which had brought us here.
So interested had Jane Eberly been in our tale of adventure that she had neglected her chosen task of replenishing the fire. It had dwindled to a handful of golden embers.
“Reminds me of those oranges you were guzzling,” she said as she reached to put more branches on the glowing coals. “I didn’t know that people could be that nice — to total strangers. –
My brother and I broke out laughing. “Nice,” I exclaimed. “Few nicer things have ever happened on this trip than riding with you two — on your honeymoon.”
Win and I, later that night after we had gone to bed out in the pines beyond the dying fire, thought over all that had taken place since we had entered Arizona. Our first ride in the Grand Canyon State had been in a truck loaded with golden oranges. Our latest ride was with these beautiful people on their honeymoon, pursuing a golden dream.
Decision time. We had thought that Williams might be the best takeoff place for the 60 mile trip northward to Grand Canyon. But 15 miles farther along, toward Flagstaff, was another Grand Canyon road, leading 65 miles up to the South Rim from Maine Junction. “There’s a lot of snow on the Williams road,” a man told us. “You might do better going in from Maine.”
Our camaraderie with the Eberlys had become so strong that, in order to share their company a while longer, we continued with them over treacherous roads and through snow-dusted pines to Maine Junction. Our roadside noon meal together — garnished with Jane’s herbs on the salad, and Lily’s antics in a snowdrift —was a very special goodbye banquet.
When the honeymoon chariot at last disappeared in the distance, Win and I turned northward toward the Canyon — and came face to face with a sobering problem. A few cars might have been adventuring up to the Canyon from the Williams gateway. But none at all would be going in from Maine; the road was not yet open. It was blocked by snow. Sixty-five miles of forced, cold-weather hiking lay between us and the last goal on our list.