Grand Canyon Love Story chapter twenty-three

Cow Pasture Landing

by Helen

“So near and yet so far.” We had hiked the Canyon, Rim to Rim, 22 miles,’ in one day. But the trip back to our car, by road, would be 215 miles. Now we realized the North Rim ranger’s predicament on election days. He could see his voting booth, at El Tovar on the South Rim, but to drive there and cast his ballot was a 430-mile round trip. Luckily for us, an informal plane service was available.

The airstrip was far south of Grand Canyon Village, reached by a taxi ride longer than the distance over to the North Rim itself. The plane was so tiny that the pilot and Francis had no trouble pushing it out of the hangar and onto the airstrip. We had to crowd to get ourselves and our gear all in; the pilot exchanged a good-bye wave with the mechanic back at the hangar, and we `circled out over the Canyon.

Grand Canyon by air. We had viewed it from half a hundred different vantage points along the Rim, providing us with the surface view. We had penetrated its interior by hiking down leaned forward to take a picture. Whipping wind and throbbing motor jarred the camera. I tried to steady myself.

“Say, Sam, did you check the motor of this thing last night?”

It was the pilot’s voice, speaking over the radio — obviously with the mechanic back at the hangar. For the first time, as we caught what he was saying, we realized that the plane’s motor was sputtering, even missing some strokes. We had been so completely lost in the Canyon’s depths down below that we had not thought about being aloft in the frail flying machine —with an uncertain motor.

“Did you go over it?” Our pilot repeated his question. Where we had been all eyes, we were now all ears. From our pilot’s expression, we gathered that Sam had failed to go over the motor.

I never finished taking the picture. Lucky we had gotten as uninterrupted a view down below as we had enjoyed before the pilot started checking with Sam. After that, our main interest in what lay down there was to see how quickly the North Rim would replace that rock-ribbed gorge as our “safety net” in case of a forced landing.

The plane had made slow time to begin with; we had been overjoyed at that, for it afforded more opportunity to absorb the wonders below from our flying carpet in the sky. Now, with motor sputtering, the tiny plane didn’t even seem to be moving —except to be slowly sinking. North Rim at last, but only pine trees below. Now we were barely skimming their tops. Then a cow pasture, or I guess it was a natural Kaibab Forest meadow. It looked like a cow pasture, and felt like one, as we jolted to a scary landing and came to a stop.

“Little motor trouble,” explained the pilot, with no more concern than a housewife would have had if the bobbin of her sewing machine acted up. “I don’t know why Sam slipped up on it the way he did.”

In 15 minutes the park ranger, summoned by radio, was pulling beside us in his truck and in another 15 minutes he had kindly driven us out to where we had left our car near the head of Kaibab Trail.

Our complete physical weariness from crossing the Grand Canyon on foot in one day, and without sleep now for 32 hours, had been erased temporarily by the pinging of the airplane motor and the pilot’s chilling radio conversation with Sam. That episode added some emotional tension to muscle strain and as we drove silently north toward Kanab our exhaustion was nearly total. With real effort we avoided checking in at the first motel we came to in Kanab, but wisely hunted around for nearly half an hour until we located a small place two or three blocks off the main highway, where quietness would assure us not only a good night’s sleep but also a preliminary nap for the remainder of this day. It was now about 3 p.m.

A tub shower — and we needed it. A sigh of joyous exhaustion. Then to bed and oblivion.

And then, a wail. A scream. Pounding on doors. More wailing. Beyond the partition of our room — in the next quarters apparently — some family crisis or subhuman melodrama, we couldn’t tell what, was spiraling into an awful climax. We probably heard the first parts of it in our sleep — — some ghastly nightmare. Now we were both very wide awake, trying to remember where we were — and why.

Some child in the next apartment, we finally concluded, had locked himself in the bathroom. By the sound of his crying, and his inability to follow any of the frantically yelled directions from his parents, obviously he was too young to know what was being said. Or too scared to understand. We took it for granted that it was a “he.” No girl baby could have produced such wild screams.

By examining our own bathroom door we soon realized what had doubtless happened. The inner knob lock had been turned, the child had shut the door, and he did not understand how to unlock it from the inside. That was the only place from which it could be unlocked. The door had no place for a key.

The adults next door hadn’t figured that out yet.

“Go get the manager,” someone screamed. “Get a key.”

The manager had gone to town. The screaming continued.

First it just continued. Then it got worse. Soon the child was hysterical and Francis and I realized that this was not just a weird incident; it might soon be deadly serious.

“There’s an outside window; let’s break it,” came a voice which must have been the mother’s.

“But the falling glass. It’d hit Brent. It could kill him.” That, logically and obviously, was the father.

The manager showed up — a woman. With ladder and screwdriver, all of them working together removed the outside window, and a little sister of the distressed family was lowered into the bathroom and to the rescue.

Francis and I, weary, groggy, incredulous, but completely in the grip of insomnia, went out to supper. It was probably 10 o’clock that night before we went to bed, with as big a list of subject matter for nightmares as we had ever had in one day and night. But we never even dreamt. We slept until a cleaning woman rattled our door at 11 o’clock next morning. That, we discovered, was checking out time.

The balance of this book has been written byFrancis and Helen together