Flagstaff, Arizona: Countdown to Exploring the Grand Canyon by Raft

I have often wondered what part, if any, the strange rock formations in the Grand Canyon played in the development of the Hopi belief about Kachina deities.

Five squirrels with long tufted ears just went charging past our van… in a row. I think it must be love and Peggy agrees. We speculate a female is leading the boys on a glorious romp. “Catch me if you can!” she giggles. The Albert Squirrels are excited to make babies and perpetuate the race, or species, if you want to be biologically correct. Lust is in their hearts. Or maybe it’s just the guys working out territorial differences.

We are located at a KOA in Flagstaff, Arizona as we prepare for our raft trip down the Colorado River. It’s a big campground. Everywhere we look men and women wearing yellow shirts are busily preparing for the onslaught of summer tourists. It feels like a beehive, or squirrel’s nest. The camp cook tells us 28 people work here. Jobs are highly specialized. The man who straightens out misplaced rocks stopped by to chat with us this morning.

Yesterday we watched two employees struggle for an hour on laying out the base of Teepee. It had all the flavor of an old Laurel and Hardy film. They kept measuring and remeasuring the angles, first one way and then the other. I expected one to leap up and start chasing the other around camp with a 2×4.

We wonder what the Kachina deities who live in the San Francisco Mountains overlooking our campground think about the squirrelly activity taking place beneath them. There are bunches of them up there, over 300 according to Hopi lore, and each one has a lesson to teach, wisdom to disperse. They come down from their perch in the winter to share their knowledge. I suspect they would have made quick work of the Teepee project.

Peggy and I hike up the mountain following Fat Man’s trail. Of course there is no irony here as we desperately try to beat our bodies into shape for the Canyon trip. The trail’s name suggests this is a gentle start. Instead it takes us straight up into a snowstorm. The Kachinas are rumored to mislead people under such circumstances.

Once they had the mountain to themselves but now they have competition. Technology has arrived. Tower after tower bristling with arrays of tracking, listening and sending devices look out over the sacred lands of the Hopi, Navaho and other Native Americans.

It’s hard not to think Big Brother is watching. Or not be disturbed by the towers’ visual intrusion. But their presence means we can get cell phone coverage and climb on the Internet. We are addicted to these modern forms of communication so it is hypocritical to whine, at least too much.

But back to the squirrel theme, Peggy and I are a little squirrely ourselves as we go through our gear and get ready for our grand adventure. I am nervous. This is my first multi-day river trip. What have we gotten ourselves into? Do we have the equipment we need? Will we survive the rapids? What will the people who are joining us be like? What challenges will we face that we are ill prepared for? There are many questions and few answers.

Would pirates and bones wearing life vests be part of our trip? Would my every move be recorded on camera?

Would people who should not be let near knives suddenly be wielding them?

Would we be stalked by threatening spirits of the Canyon?

And, horror of horrors, would I be required to paint my toenails to keep rafts from flipping in the canyon? The answer to one of these four questions will be revealed in my next post.

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