Hopi Gods and Squirrelly Squirrels… Rafting the Grand Canyon: Part 1

Rowing on the Colorado through the Grand Canyon

While a veteran crew of boatmen handled the more dangerous parts of our 18 day journey through the Grand Canyon, I was allowed near oars on some of the tamer sections.

 

Since Peggy and I will actually be hanging out at our home in Southern Oregon for a couple of months and not generating new material for my travel blog, I thought I would dip back in time to the very beginning of my posts.  I had attended a writer’s conference in San Francisco during the winter of 2010 and been told that writers need an Internet presence. I felt doing a series on an 18-day trip we had just completed rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon would make an excellent start. It was an epic-adventure, one that was burned into my memory banks.  Part of the experience was that Peggy and I would be traversing some of the earth’s most challenging rapids with a true cast of characters. That alone was enough to make it an epic adventure, but even more important, at least for me, was that we would be traveling through the heart of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Please join us on this adventure. By the end, I think you will see why the Grand Canyon has earned its world-class status. I will start with Peggy and me in Flagstaff, Arizona getting ready for our adventure…

 

Tom and Bone

One of the ‘cast of characters’ and our group leader, Tom Lovering with Bone in his hair. Tom and I had found Bone when we were backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1977 and he has traveled the world ever since.

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 that a female is leading the boys on a glorious romp. “Catch me if you can!” she giggles. It’s that time of the year when the Albert Squirrels are excited to make babies and perpetuate the species. Lust is in their hearts. Or maybe it’s just the guys working out territorial differences.

Someone they won’t be mating with are their northern cousins, the Kaibab Squirrels. It isn’t that they couldn’t or wouldn’t if they could, it’s just that the giant hole in the ground known as the Grand Canyon is too deep and too wide for them to cross. As a result, a new species has been created. Scientists and natural history folks call this process allopatric speciation— a pair of two-bit words for sure.

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 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 re-measuring the angles. 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’m sure that 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. We’ve been out travelling in our van for months and the pounds have accumulated. 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. I once spent a week up on the mountain by myself and restricted my wandering to fair weather.

Grand Canyon rock formation

I’ve sometimes wondered what, if any, role that rock formations in the Grand Canyon influenced how the Hopi Indians pictured their Kachina gods.

Once they had the mountain to themselves but now they have competition. Technology has arrived— modern gods. 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 squirrelly 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 people who should not be let near knives suddenly be wielding them?

Would Canyon spirits stalk us?

Would we be required to paint our toenails so our rafts wouldn’t flip.

 

A note on photos: Peggy and I took most of the pictures that will be included in these posts on the Grand Canyon trip. Our friend Don Green was also along, however, and has generously shared his photos with us. I will note which photos are his.

WEDNESDAY’s Photo Essay POST: It’s back to the featuring the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: The next chapter in MisAdventures sees my brother and I in a death-defying race to the top of the 75-foot tall Incense Cedar in the Graveyard.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: It’s all about food, seemingly tons of it, as we make our final preparations for the Colorado River trip. Homeland Security puts a crimp in our efforts as it checks our supply for bombs.

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34 comments on “Hopi Gods and Squirrelly Squirrels… Rafting the Grand Canyon: Part 1

  1. I enjoyed this Curt, and look forward to reading the rest. (we’ve stayed at that Flagstaff Arizona KOA three times….once backing our camper into a huge tree…not our best moment) 🙂

    • Most KOA Campgrounds, especially the older ones have relatively small spaces, built before the era of mega-rvs. We always had to be careful, even with our 22-footer! The Flagstaff KOA is in an excellent location to explore the surrounding country, however. Peggy and I used it several times and I even used it on my 10,000 mile bicycle trek. Glad you enjoyed the post, Sylvia. Many more to come… 🙂 –Curt

  2. When I first read the title, my eyes read “Squishy Squirrels.” Yikes, hate to think where that one would have ended up. 😄

    I’ve always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon. Must do it some day.

  3. When I first read the title, my eyes read “Squishy Squirrels.” Yikes, hate to think where that one would have ended up.. 😄

    I’ve always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon. Must do it some day.

    • Prior to the River trip I had backpacked in and out of the Canyon several times, Peggy. I’d also been in by Mule and Helicopter! It’s an incredible experience. Heck, it’s an incredible experience to drive up and look over the edge. 🙂 –Curt

  4. I was happy to see the tsunami warnings downgraded this morning. Just because of your wanderings, it’s not impossible that you’ll meet up with one some day!

    The best line in this post? “The man who straightens misplaced rocks stopped by to chat with us this morning.” That just has to be expanded somehow: story, poem, or whatever. That’s the funniest and most evocative thing I’ve come across in some time. If I end up using the phrase, I’ll be sure to credit you!

    • Me too, Linda. The Kodiak Coast Guard Station where our son Tony flew helicopters out of until two years ago is at ground zero. And you never know when I’ll be on the coast. (Not to mention all of the other people who live and play there.)
      As for the rock man, it definitely reflects our specialized society. 🙂 –Curt

  5. Reading your post reminded me of an early love affair. Totally one-sided. The man in question — Colin Fletcher — never met me but I read his book — The Man Who Walked Through Time — and I fell in love with his writing. He was the first (white) man to walk the entire length of the Grand Canyon. I still have the copy I bought on July 9,1975. The first lines of the first chapter caught me and propelled me through the adventure: “My journey began at Hualpai Hilltop, at sunset. It began in wind and dust and emptiness. It is always lurking there, this emptiness, at the threshold of a journey that will start something … .”

    • The first time I went backpacking, Sally, was in 1969. To prepare, I read Colin Fletcher’s “The Complete Walker.” Then I stopped off in Seattle at the first (and only at the time) REI store and outfitted myself before heading off into the Canadian Rocky’s to go backpacking. Since then, I think I have read every book Fletcher wrote. Like you I am a big fan, not love affair type, however. 🙂 I truly enjoyed the “Man Who Walked Through Time,” which would lead me into backpacking in the Canyon long before my river trip. –Curt

  6. I remember doing an exhausting day hike into and out of the canyon back in ’77, but haven’t been back since. With an 18 day trip I bet you have a lot of stories.

  7. Seems like Bone sent me down a rabbit hole until your next post brought me back to fully appreciate your adventure in the Grand Canyon. It’s always fun to look back at the meaningful trips we’ve enjoyed. This one looks to be pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest.

  8. Had to pull the post up to figure out who Alice was. Eventually got down through all the comments before I figured out I had conjured up Alice from the rabbit hole. Oh my! seems the memory is slipping a tad these days. I’m happy to have pleased Bone!

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