Grand Canyon Love Story chapter forty-one


This must surely be one of the few books which contains a postscript. This is added not only after the book was written, but after it was set in type and partly printed.
One month and two days before we were to head into Grand Canyon on our May 1, 56th wedding anniversary hike, Helen had a ruptured appendix, an emergency operation, and a case of peritonitis. For 19 hours she was in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Then she started an amazing recovery. In a week she was home. Soon she could take short walks — first a few blocks, then a mile. Twenty-seven days after her operation she walked the steep up-and-down two miles which we regularly take three times a week.

To have made the 20 mile round trip grueling hike to Grand Canyon’s Phantom Ranch, just one week later, would have been pushing things too much. But Helen had a birthday coming up on May 24. We had celebrated Francis’ 80th birthday with a Grand Canyon hike; why not honor Helen likewise?

We were able to get reservations at Supai in the lower end of Grand Canyon, at their new Havasupai Lodge. While this hike would be longer than to Phantom Ranch, it would be less steep. We made the eight miles down on her birthday, next day did the six mile round trip to the three magic waterfalls, including the arduous chain-and-tunnel descent to the base of Mooney Falls, then the eight miles back out.

The doctors — and many others — are calling Helen the “Strong Lady.” A longtime Phoenix, Arizona newspaper publisher, Robert Creighton, wrote us, referring to the fact of Helen’s birthplace being in that state’s Gila County (pronounced “He-la”).

“We are of course delighted — but not surprised — to know of Helen’s great recovery from her operation. Gals from `Hee-lee Countee’ are gristle tough and it takes more than a busted appendix (or even four or five holes from a 44′) to down them. Some of the finest cutthroats in the West came from there and she should be proud of her geographical heritage.”

Francis has always been considered the seasoned hiker in our family, carrying the larger pack and doing all he could to aid Helen on the hardest stretches. Now she has gained a reputation which surpasses his. He made her a special birthday card, inscribed: “You’ve come a long way, Baby!”

Supai itself had come a long way also, since our last visit. The new lodge — available for occupancy although it would not be officially dedicated until a week after our departure — was a creative architectural expression which blended with its ancient red wall surroundings. We found it hard to realize that all this air-conditioned luxury, these bath facilities in which solar water heating played a large role, these spacious rooms with double beds and handsome furniture, all had been carried down from the outside world either by helicopter or by pack animal. The young men in charge — Havasupai Indians educated in the village school — were soft-spoken, friendly, efficient.

The new lodge had prompted a remodeling of the village cafe. The camping area, stretching along the stream below the village, had been enlarged. Supai, the only Indian settlement within Grand Canyon, was being clothed anew.

And the waterfalls. Where Navajo Falls had tumbled down in isolation we found, instead, nine shimmering cascades, of as many different shapes and sizes, all churning downward over a long vegetation-clothed escarpment. Some had their individual rainbows. Some plunged down straight as arrows. Others split, regrouped, and shot sideways as they met projecting rocks. Havasu Falls, farther along, cascaded with half again as much magnificent power as it had displayed at our former visits. Mooney Falls churned with nearly twice its former volume.

As we followed the stream between these falls it divided, its branches creating water wonderlands beneath the trees. At one place there were deep mysterious pools lined with green finery which swayed like grasses blown by wind. Heavy snowfalls —somewhere — had fed new life and urgency into these magic waters of Supai, in Grand Canyon’s western depths.

Their music rose upward and expanded. The towering escarpments caught the sounds and tossed them back to us. We shivered in delight as we imagined what they might be saying. This was our beloved Grand Canyon speaking.

We absorbed its secret message.