The Music of Tonto Plateaus
Our day’s hike, so we planned, would take us on the Tonto Trail westward over the Tonto Platform to Hermit Camp. The map showed this as a gentle, waving line. What the map did not show is what really mattered. The gentle waving line became a tantalizing path into a smorgasbord of adventures and scenic excitement.
Straight and level our route went for a few moments, then the trail started bobbing up and down over forbidding terrain, like a yo-yo, sometimes at fifty degree angles. Now it would cut far back around a branch gorge while a few rods across the abyss, as the eagle flies, the trail would mockingly continue on its way. Sometimes, though rarely, it would plunge swiftly into a gorge, curl its way along the bottom, then just as precipitously make its way out the opposite side. View after view of the river was now given us, and the granite gorge became a moving picture of color, with that word “moving” carrying double meanings. In one place, where morning light hit the granite walls, the colors seemed to echo and bounce into our field of vision. Win and I almost forgot about the difficulties of hiking midst all those echoes of grandeur.
There were other echoes, much less subtle. Even though we had been experiencing the Canyon-below-the-Rim for less than two days, these new echoes had become as much a part of this wild landscape as the granite walls or the switchbacks. Grand Canyon, we discovered, was a homeland for wild burros, descendants of domesticated pack animals which had been left behind by forgotten prospectors or explorers in some dim past. There were few places on the Tonto Platform where, within an hour’s time, we were not able to locate a burro somewhere in the distance. And nowhere, throughout that day, were we for very long out of earshot of their clarion conversations.
Each animal spoke in a distinct key, but there was enough similarity to permit a general description. Their raucous caterwaul usually started out like the muffled sound made by a small boy exhausting himself on a tin circus horn. Then it increased in volume until it took on the tonal quality of a muted foghorn. By that time the Canyon walls were echoing with the strange music, and we were reminded of a factory whistle blowing on a chilly morning. Gradually the echoes grew fainter and finally died away. But now the receiving burro on some distant elevation had composed a reply and the strains were repeated, beginning this time, perhaps, on a long, sonorous note as a sign of “message received.”
Sounds blended with colors all day long. In late afternoon, we made a great swing around a branch canyon, climbed up over a sharp rise, then headed down in a long series of switchbacks before leveling out (comparatively speaking) on the Tonto Platform again. Enveloped with visual and oral “music,” we were tramping along, miles, as we thought, from our day’s destination, when we heard another sound. It was completely different from a burro’s call but even more out of place, even harder to believe. It couldn’t be — yes it was — a rooster’s crow. For a moment we were almost in shock, but only for a moment. I can never tell how good that rooster sounded. We had seen no one all day except that early morning mule rider, and although we had been having one of the finest experiences of our trip, we had walked and climbed and twisted and turned, and were beginning to long for a sight of Hermit Camp. The rooster crow told us that our day’s work was nearly over. Topping a hill, we came upon several cabins in a setting of greenery. This was the Fred Harvey Camp. Our Tonto Trail experience was the finest in the Canyon.
But the day was not yet completed. Stopping only briefly at Hermit Camp, we set out on a brisk run down the winding trail to Hermit Rapids on the river, running the entire two miles to the “silvery Colorado” and fording Hermit Creek seventeen times in our joyful descent. After playing “goat” on the big rocks at the water’s edge — somewhat perilously I must say — we retraced our steps a mile until we found a huge rock which suited our fancy as an ideal camping place. We were situated probably 25 feet above Hermit Creek, but Win wanted a bath so he slid down and, by holding on to bushes, reached the bottom safely. I had supper ready by the time he returned.
It was pitch dark before I started down for my bath. Something slipped and so did I. In the wild plunge which followed I lost soap, washrag, and towel, and my dignity. 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 stream. It took probably 15 minutes for Win to retrieve me, but I had my bath. The canyon had torn our clothes badly so before we could start the next morning we had some mending to do.
he Hermit Trail was known as a good one and was described in the guidebook as having “only one steep stretch.” That stretch, we concluded after climbing it, must have extended from the bottom to the top. It definitely seemed to us to be the steepest trail in the Canyon. Perhaps it was the high altitude, perhaps because we had had no breakfast, but at any rate we had to rest every half mile or so. Irvin Cobb, in his “Roughing it Deluxe,” gave a far better description of the trail than the guidebook.
” . . Hermit Trail . . . is a marvel of corkscrew convolutions, gimleting its way down this red abdominal gash of a cation to the very gizzard of the world . . . Alongside the Hermit, traveling the Bright Angel is the same as gathering the myrtles with Mary … “2
While stopped at Santa Maria Springs for a drink, a muleback party just finishing their lunch gave us some sandwiches and fruit which braced us up considerably. After numerous forced climbs we reached the top, rising fourteen hundred feet in the last short portion of the climb.
Late that afternoon, in the Kolb studio built directly on the Rim overlooking the Bright Angel Trail where we’d started our descent, we heard Emery Kolb narrate his motion pictures and slides of the Kolb brothers’ daring boat trip through the Colorado gorge.
That evening we went again to the government lecture in the music room of El Tovar Hotel. But this time we listened as old-timers. We had tramped all but a mile-and-a-half of the main trails below the Rim in this area on the south side of Grand Canyon. Upon balancing our accounts, we found that our Canyon adventure — both above the Rim and below it — for the two of us, had cost just four dollars.
It was worth four million.
Line Boys Finish 27,000 Mile Hike
Earn Own Way On Trip
Touching Every State
FACE MANY HARDSHIPS
Howell, Mich.; Aug. 23, 1923.
Winfield and Francis Line, sons of Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Line of this city, left Howell over a year ago, and began a tour of the United States via the public roads, walking, riding in automobiles, facing all hardships, meeting all classes of people.
Having graduated from high school the brothers determined to continue their education in the school of hard knocks, desiring to learn something of America, its scenic wonders, its people, and its working conditions.
“In our tramp we have visited the 48 states of the Union, have entered Mexico three times and Canada twice” said Winfield. “We traveled 26,741 miles. never once taking a train and never sleeping in a hotel. Nearly always we camped out under the stars.” The older boy reports that he used up only two pairs of shoes while it took eight pairs to see Francis through.
The boys kept their own diary: in it are the number of miles they traveled, the makes of cars in which they rode, their experiences, the people they met, and all things of interest about the trip.
Their hometown Michigan paper chronicles the unique trip of Francis and his brother.