We Visit Phantom Ranch, I jump Off a Cliff, and Tom Wears Bone… Rafting through the Grand Canyon

Sunset at Zoroaster Campsite on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. (Photo by Don Green.)


Having left Tanner Rapids and my encounter with Mousy at mile 69, we continued on down the Colorado River to Zoroaster Camp at Mile 84.5. The dark inner walls of the Canyon signified we had traveled back a billion years in geological time, back to the very beginnings of life on earth. A rousing game of Bocce Ball served as entertainment in camp that evening.

Whose ball is closest? A game of Bocce Ball entertained our rafters…

And I took care of my groover duty, which is far from being groovy and gives a whole new meaning to port-a-pot. (Photo by Don Green.)

Tom’s objective in camping at Zoroaster had been to put us close to Phantom Ranch, which was located at Mile 88 on our 18-day, 280-mile trip down the Colorado. Built in the 1920s, the facility provides the only lodging beneath the rim in the Grand Canyon. There are three ways to get there: on foot, by mule or by raft. I’d backpacked down twice, once from the North Rim of the Canyon and once from the South. Now I would visit by raft. The Ranch also provides one of the few opportunities along the river for rafters to leave and join trips. Nancy Pape would be leaving and Jonas Minton joining us. I’d known both since the 70s.

A mule welcomed us to Phantom Ranch…

And gave me the eye. I know folks who would kill for those eyelashes.

Don welcomed us well…

As did this bright flower with its bee on a beaver tail cactus.

I took this photo looking up from the ranch.

Nancy Pape, who pretty much spends her life hopping in and out of places, hiked out to the South Rim. I’ve known Nancy since the 70s when she first went with me on one of my hundred mile backpacking trips.

Jonas was supposed to be there early, according to Tom’s plan. We had miles to go before we were to sleep, to paraphrase Robert Frost. But another poet interfered. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” Robert Burns had declared. That had certainly been the case for Mousy who had had no intention of ending up as dinner on the edge of my sleeping pad at Tanner Rapids. And so it was for us.

Jonas had hiked down from the South Rim that morning, traveling some 9 miles and dropping 4600 feet. It was early afternoon when he arrived, exhausted. Like me, he is no youngster. He needed a nap. Tom insisted we make up for lost time, however, and away we went. Peggy and I agreed to ride with Jonas. We immediately found ourselves between a large rock and the shore with no room to maneuver— a situation we barely escaped only to careen across the river and bounce up against the wall. The raft climbed up to its tipping point, like it was eager to escape the river and us. I knew we were going over and could feel the icy waters sucking me under. But we didn’t. Jonas had both experience and adrenaline to counter his exhaustion. The raft kept its messy side up and we avoided a dunking.

Jonas and I had worked on environmental issues in Sacramento during the 70s.

Afterwards, Jonas and the raft agreed to cooperate with each other and we made it into camp without any more challenges. That was the night that Tom decided to wear Bone in his hair. I am not sure whether he was trying to appease or irritate the Canyon gods. Bone, who is quite used to strange encounters, told me later that they don’t get any stranger!

Susan Gishi gives Tom a ‘do.’

And Bone is added as an accessory. “At least,” Bone was heard to say,” Tom didn’t try to turn me into a nose decoration!.

Dinner was good that night…

And the sunset was fabulous. Or maybe the Canyon gods were commenting on Tom’s hairdo.

The next couple of days found us hiking through fast-moving water over slick rocks, maneuvering through one of the Canyon’s most challenging water falls, and jumping off a 20-foot cliff.

Shinumo Creek often provides a lovely wade up to a beautiful falls, hiding on the left.

This time the creek was flowing so fast, we had to help each other to avoid being washed off our feet.

Steve is scouting what I think was Crystal Rapids. He seems to be suggesting we go back the way we came!

Later, we watched one of the commercial raft trips make its way through the rapids. We were on two very different types of trips.

“You have to hike up to these beautiful falls,” Tom urged and off we went on another adventure through a huge boulder field. I’d say we were rock hopping but the rocks were a little big to hop.

The waterfalls were indeed worth it, but I didn’t realize we were expected to jump off!

Jame Wilson provided one approach… (Photo by Don Green.)

And Theresa another…

Let me report that the water was cold. That’s it for the day. I will continue our trip down the Colorado next Monday.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Traveling through the Yukon Territory on the Alaska Highway.

FRIDAY’S POST: Another in the MisAdventure Series: Who shot Tony Pavy’s Pig?


There Is More than One Way to Skin a Mouse… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 8

I took this photo just below the Tanner Rapids, which are seven miles below where we played in the Little Colorado River. While it looks similar to many other Grand Canyon photos included in this series, I was eager to get it. I had camped here once after backpacking down the Tanner Trail. My campsite was to the right of the small tree. Mousy had a nest under the tree…


I’ve just returned from playing for a week while celebrating my 75th birthday. So, I am a bit behind on writing posts and keeping up with comments and fellow bloggers. My apologies. It isn’t going to get much better. (grin) On Wednesday, Peggy and I fly back east to visit with our son and his family in Connecticut. We return from there just in time to fly to North Carolina and see our daughter and her family. After that, we will spend a month exploring several national parks in the southwest on foot.

Then it will be time for another Grand Adventure. I intend to walk out my backdoor in Southern Oregon and backpack 1000 miles to Mt. Whitney in California following the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails. It’s a journey not many people make— especially 75-year-olds. “And what did you do this summer, Grandpa?” Going, of course, will depend on my doctor saying “Why not?” I hope to gain a book contract to write about the trip. Wish me luck on that one. I will be blogging much more about the trek in posts leading up to the adventure.

Since I played last week, I pulled up a previous post that is definitely relevant to the raft trip Peggy and I made down the Colorado with Tom and several other friends. When I left Alaska in 1986 and returned to California, I spent several months backpacking in the west. My first trip was into the Grand Canyon, a decision my body was not happy with! I had just spent the winter holed up in the Far North happily stuffing myself and drinking more beer than I should have…


Looking down from Lipan Point at the start of the Tanner Trail. Then sharp bend in the Colorado River... far away, is where I am heading. (The photos of the trail down I actually took several years later when I backpacked down with Peggy.)

Looking down into the Grand Canyon at the start of the Tanner Trail.  The curve you can see in the Colorado River is the Tanner Rapids, which is where we will be on our next section of our raft trip down the Colorado. Years before I rafted the Canyon I backpacked into it several times. Two of my trips were by the Tanner Trail, once by myself and once with Peggy.

“It’s not too late to make another decision,” my body told my mind as I hoisted my 60-pound pack and eyed the distant Colorado River. “There is a fine lodge with great food and even better beer 30 minutes away. It provides a fantastic view of the Grand Canyon. Much better than anything you will see on the insane hike.” “Shut up and walk,” my mind replied.

Tanner Trail dropped away under my feet as I made my first steps down the steep, poorly maintained path and descended through millions of years of earth history. About a half of a mile down, the trail disappeared, having been washed away by winter rains. “I told you so,” my body whispered loudly as I mentally and physically hugged the side of the Canyon and tentatively made my way around the washout with its thousand foot drop.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Although this photo is a little blurry and from another non-maintained Grand Canyon trail, I included it because it provides a perspective on the trails into the Canyon that receive minimal attention from the Park Service. Main tourist trails are like freeways in comparison.

Steep drop offs are a common factor in all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones.

Steep drop offs are a common factor with all trails leading into the Grand Canyon. The first trails were created by Native Americans. Later miners, rustlers, and companies interested in promoting tourism would enhance the original trails and create new ones.

I am not sure when my legs started shaking. Given the stair-step nature of the trail and the weight on my back, not to mention an extra 20 pounds of winter fat, my downhill muscles were not having a lot of fun. Fortunately, Mother Nature provided a reprieve. The erosive forces of wind and water that have sculpted the mesas and canyon lands of the Southwest are less challenged by some types of rocks than others.

Somewhere between two and three miles down I came upon the gentle lower slopes of the Escalante and Cardenas Buttes, which allowed me to lollygag along and enjoy the scenery. I escaped from the sun beneath the shadow of a large rock, drank some of my precious water, nibbled on trail food, and took a brief nap. It would have made a good place to camp. Others had obviously taken advantage of the shade and flat surface, but the Colorado River was calling.

Ignoring the screams of my disgruntled body parts, I headed on. At mile five or so my idyllic stroll came to a dramatic halt as the trail dropped out of sight down what is known as the Red Wall. (It received this imaginative name because it is red and looks like a wall.) Some fifty million years, or 625,000 Curtis life spans, of shallow seas had patiently worked to deposit the lime that makes up its 500-foot sheer cliff. It is one of the most distinctive features of the Grand Canyon.

My trail guide recommended I store water before heading down so I could retrieve it when I was dying of thirst on the way out. I could see where people had scratched out exposed campsites here as an excuse to stop for the night. The accommodations weren’t much but the view was spectacular.

The rest of the five-mile/five month journey was something of a blur. (It was closer to five hours but time was moving very slowly.) I do remember a blooming prickly pear cactus. I grumbled at it for looking so cheerful. I also remember a long, gravelly slope toward the bottom. My downhill muscles had totally given out and the only way I could get down was to sidestep. I cackled insanely when I finally reached the bottom.

As tired as I was, I enjoyed the beauty of the inner Canyon.

I was so tired, I could hardly enjoy the beauty of the inner Canyon. (These photos are from a later trip I took down with Peggy. I waited until after she said “I do” before introducing her to the Tanner Trail. Otherwise she might have said “I don’t.”)

I smiled at the Prickly Pear Flowers on my way out of the Canyon that I had growled at coming in.

I growled at a prickly pear for looking so cheerful.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower.

Looking back up the trail provided a perspective on how far I had come. The small, needle-like structure is Desert View Tower, about a mile away from the Tanner trailhead. You can see the trail on the right.

Setting up camp that night was simple. I threw out my ground cloth, Thermarest mattress, and sleeping bag on a sandy beach. Then I stumbled down to the river’s edge and retrieved a bucket of brown Colorado River water that appeared to be two parts liquid and one part mud. I could have waited for the mud to settle but used up a year of my water filter’s life to provide an instant two quarts of potable water.

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip

My old yellow bucket, a veteran of dozens of backpacking adventures, holding Colorado River water. It retired after my second trip down the Tanner Trail.

All I had left to do was take care of my food. Since people camped here frequently, four-legged critters looked on backpackers as a major source of meals. I could almost here them yelling, “Dinnertime!” when I stumbled into sight. Not seeing a convenient limb to hang my food from, i.e. something I wouldn’t have to move more than 10 feet to find, I buried my food bag in the sand next to me. Theoretically, anything digging it up would wake me. Just the top was peeking out so I could find it in the morning.

As the sun went down, so did I. Faster than I could fall asleep, I heard myself snoring. I was brought back to full consciousness by the pitter-patter of tiny feet crossing over the top of me. A mouse was worrying the top of my food bag and going for the peanuts I had placed there to cover my more serious food.

“Hey Mousy,” I yelled, “Get away from my food!” My small companion of the night dashed back over me as if I were no more than a noisy obstacle between dinner and home. I was drifting off again when I once more felt the little feet. “The hell with it,” I thought in my semi-comatose state. How many peanuts could the mouse eat anyway?

The river water I had consumed the night before pulled me from my sleep. Predawn light bathed the Canyon in a gentle glow. I lay in my sleeping bag for several minutes and admired the vastness and beauty of my temporary home. The Canyon rim, my truck and the hoards of tourists were far away, existing in another world. My thoughts turned to my visitor of the previous evening.

I finished my last blog with a picture of the view across the Colorado River from my camp near Tanner Rapids. This and the photo below demonstrate how much colors change depending on the time of day.

The early morning view from my camp site near Tanner Rapids on the Colorado River.

Out of curiosity, I reached over for my food and extracted the bag of peanuts. A neat little hole had been chewed through the plastic but it appeared that most of my peanuts were present and accounted for. My small contribution had been well worth my solid sleep. I then looked over to the right to see if I could spot where the mouse had carried its treasure. Something on the edge of my ground cloth caught my eye. It was three inches long, grey, round and fuzzy.

It was Mousy’s tail!

Something had sat on the edge of my sleeping bag during the night and dined on peanut stuffed mouse. Thoughts of a coyote, or worse, using my ground cloth as a dinner table sent a shiver down my spine. I ate a peanut in honor of Mousy’s memory and threw a few over near his house in case he had left behind a family to feed. I also figured that the peanuts would serve as an offering to whatever Canyon spirits had sent the night predator on its way.

Then it was time to find a bush, cook up my morning gruel, and plan my day’s backpack trip up to the Little Colorado River. But my legs had another idea. They refused to move. I backpacked for about a hundred feet, set up camp in a small cave, and spent my day recovering while watching rafters yell their way through Tanner Rapids. I wondered what it might be like to raft down the Canyon…

Next Monday’s Post: I return to our raft trip down the Colorado.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Driving on the Alaska Highway through the Yukon!

FRIDAY’S POST: It’s back to MisAdventures. It was almost a mantra in Diamond Springs where I grew up: If there was mischief in the town, the Mekemson Kids Did It.







They Say that Tom Operates with One Oar… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 6

We started with an icy cold rapid. Peggy and I are in the first boat with Tom Lovering rowing— just before he lost his oar. (Photo by Don Green)

Day two starts as day one did: early.

Even the birds are sound asleep. Tom argues it’s six a.m., not the five my watch is showing. “Arizona does not honor Daylight Savings Time,” he primly informs us. He’s right. Adjusting my watch adjusts my attitude— a little.

Adding injury to insult, something akin to Folgers has been sewn up in burlap, thrown in boiling water, and called coffee.  Oh well, it’s hot, it’s brown, and we have a beautiful day of floating down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon ahead.

For those of you who like facts, here are a few about the river. At its widest point it reaches 750 feet from one bank to the other; at its deepest, it plunges down 90 feet. It flows along at a decent 3-4 mile clip but can speed up to 15 miles per hour in rapids. Since the water comes out of the base of Glen Canyon Dam, it is cold: somewhere around a frigid 46 degrees Fahrenheit during the upper part of our trip. Over the course of our adventure the river will drop 1700 feet in altitude, which is an average 8 feet per mile… 25 times that of the Mississippi River.

Our boatman for the day, Tom Lovering, with his wild, Canyon hairdo.

Bone on edge of Sotar Raft in Grand Canyon

Bone decides that it is time for a photo-op on the Sotar raft in the Grand Canyon. Having learned from his experience on the Amazon River, he quickly moved away from the edge…

Tom Lovering and Bone

And snuggled up with Tom.

Tom is our boatman for the day. He checks to make sure our toenails are painted and then lets us board. The wind is still blowing but it has lost its ferocious bite. A mile down the river we pass Ten Mile Rock, a prominent landmark that has fallen from the cliffs above and now juts up out of the river. Made of Toroweap Sandstone, it was laid down in shallow seas that covered the area some 250 million years ago.

Rafters pass Ten Mile Rock on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

Floating by Ten Mile Rock. You wouldn’t have wanted to be near here when this massive chunk of sandstone broke off from the Grand Canyon walls high above the river.

Shortly afterwards we hear our first rapid of the day, Soap Creek. You always hear rapids before you see them; it builds anticipation. Soap Creek roars like a teenage lion. Tom maneuvers through it like the excellent boatman he is but makes sure we get suitably wet. It’s like taking a cold shower outside on a frosty morning with a 15 mile per hour wind blowing.

“I love rowing,” Tom tells us— and it is obvious he does. It is more than the heart-stopping, adrenaline-pumping moments of major rapids where the boatman’s knowledge and skill is matched against the tremendous power of the river with its dangerous rocks and grasping holes. And it is more than the opportunity to enjoy incredible beauty of the Grand Canyon that rowing provides. Tom enjoys the rhythm and the hard work. He even liked the backbreaking challenge of rowing against the wind the day before.

Don Greens ducks along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

Nature, like this family of ducks, also adds to the experience of rafting through the Grand Canyon. (Photo by Don Green.)

Century Plant in Grand Canyon

As do plants and flowers. This is a century plant. (Photo by Don Green.)

Grand Canyon canyon

Keeping a sharp eye out will reward you with views of canyons within the Canyon. Don’t you want to go exploring?

Beauty of Grand Canyon

And almost any view up or down the river is a treat.

At mile 17 we come on our first, and only, major challenge of the day, House Rock Rapid, where we learn another fact about rafting through the Canyon: water levels depend on electricity needs in the West. Peak demands require large releases of water from Glen Canyon Dam to run its huge generators. Eventually, these releases catch up with rafters. The fluctuations in water levels have significant impacts.

House Rock Rapid demonstrates one of the more serious. The river is at its low point. More rocks are exposed and a massive hole lurks downstream from the largest rock. Even the most skilled boatman will be challenged to avoid it. We all land and climb off our boats to scout the rapid. Tom is eager to move on. Steve is adamant about waiting for more water. After a long discussion between the boatmen, a decision is made to take the more cautious approach. All of our boatmen are experienced, and Steve and Tom have been down the river many times. They respect each others opinions. As with most aspects of dealing with natural forces, it is best to error on the side of caution when you have the opportunity. There are plenty of times when you don’t.

Our group worriedly scouts House Rock Rapid. Peggy shows more enthusiasm than may be called for.

We have lunch, take naps, go for walks and watch as three large boats of commercial rafters chug through the rapids with their large engines. It is mid afternoon when the boatmen finally decide that enough water is flowing to reduce the hazard to a barely acceptable risk.

Tom’s fist knocks me on the head when we are halfway through. One of his oars has popped out. I look left and all I can see is churning, raft-eating hole. We are poised on the edge— about to be sucked in! Tom becomes a virtuoso of one-armed madness.  Ever so slowly, like about a thousand years, the boat decides to go where he wants. We land, and for one of the few times in his life, my ever-talkative friend is silent.

We looked to the left and saw that we were poised on the edge of a massive hole with a rock in the middle.

The next day, Eggin Stalheim, Dave’s niece, is our boat woman. This is Eggin’s first time rowing a raft and her first time rowing through the Grand Canyon. It would seem insane except Eggin is a world-class kayaker. She is an expert at reading water. The problem is that our large, fully loaded rafts do not move like feather-light kayaks—picture driving an 18-wheel Mack Truck with a Ferrari 458 attitude. We have some adventures.

This shot of Jamie’s raft provides a perspective on what our fully loaded rafts looked like.

Eggin keeps the messy side up, however, as rafters say. (The non-messy side is the smooth bottom of the raft.) So it’s all good. Eggin, like me, has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. When she gets off the river she is heading for Tanzania where she will work with a women’s craft co-op.

Beyond our “kayaking” experience with Eggin, the big news on day three is that we began our side-trips. Almost all journeys down the Canyon include stopping off to see the sights. Some are quite beautiful and others provide unique challenges, as if our daily challenges of negotiating rapids aren’t enough.

Our first stop at mile 29 is the Silver Grotto, which includes both beauty and challenge. Wanting a little downtime and solitude, I opt out and take photos. Peggy tells me, “We climbed an 8 foot wall, repelled down a rock face, slogged through a murky, cold pool and slid down a 20 foot rock slide.” The rock slide was more like free-fall.

As the group disappeared into the Silver grotto, I took some much needed Curt-time.

Raven arrives on raft in Colorado

One of the Grand Canyon’s large ravens stopped by for a chat. Note how the ammunition cans were arranged on the side of the boat. This is so we could have ready access to things we might need during the day: cameras, sun block, snacks, etc.

Raven visits on the Colorado in the Grand Canyon

Having determined that I was harmless, the raven settled in on the captain’s chair. I’m sure it would have preferred that I not be there and that we had left some food unprotected.

I didn’t get a photo of our group members leaping but this is what they slid off of into the muddy water below. Water was splashed on the rock slide from a pool behind the lip to make the slide more smooth. Or so they said.

Next we stopped off at Paradise, as in Vasey’s Paradise. A beautiful waterfall shot out of a redwall cliff and created a Garden of Eden at its base. It was worthy of the name.

The waterfall shooting out of the redwall at Vasey’s Paradise, Mile 32. It’s named after a botanist that was part of John Wesley Powell’s exploration of the Grand Canyon.  The water for the falls is made up of ground water that seeps down from above and shoots out of holes in the canyon’s wall.

Dave Stalheim and his niece Eggin perched on a rock at Vasey’s Paradise.

Peggy Mekemson at Vasey's Paradise in the Grand Canyon

Peggy enjoys our rest stop at the falls…

Retrieving water on the Colorado

And Jamie retrieves some of the icy fresh water. Whatever work needed to be done, Jamie was always in the middle of it— a good man.

Our final stop of the day is at Redwall Cavern. Major John Wesley Powell was the first non Native American to admire the Cavern’s unique beauty. Powell was a Civil War Veteran who had lost his right arm at Shiloh. His exploratory expedition through the Grand Canyon took place in 1869. Powell thought Redwall Cavern could accommodate up to 50,000 people. Modern estimates are closer to 5000, but it is still big…

Coming around a bend in the Colorado River, we saw our first view of Redwall Cavern.

This photo provides a perspective on the sheer size and beauty of Redwall Cavern.

Redwall Cavern on Colorado River with rafters

As does this photo.

Cool dip in Colorado River

Several folks, including Eggin, took advantage of the river here for a cool dip.

A view of the Grand Canyon looking upriver from the Redwall Cavern for my last photo today. (A note on photos: all pictures are taken by either Peggy or me unless attributed to Don.)

Next Monday in my Grand Canyon series we will visit an ancient Anasazi storage facility high on the cliffs above the river and play in the beautiful Little Colorado River.

Wednesday’s Photo Essay POST: We begin our journey up the Alaska Highway with beautiful views and abundant wildlife.

FRIDAY’S Blog-A-Book POST: The Woods, a ten minute walk from my childhood home, teach me a love of the wilderness that exists up until today.









Rowing Against the Wind… The Grand Canyon Series

Peggy captures Dave Stalheim and me as we begin our journey on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Note my clean and shaved look. It’s the last time you will see it.


With thoughts of facing headwind gusts up to 60 MPH, we began our journey down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park.

Peggy and I performed the ritual of asking a boatman if we could ride with him. It seems like a strange practice to me, designed to remind us who’s in charge. But we have entered the world where each boatman/woman is the captain of his or her ship, even if the ship is a 16-foot raft with two or three passengers.

“May I have permission to come aboard, sir?” Although it’s more like “Can we ride with you today?” It is courteous but I would prefer to be assigned and have the assignment changed each day.

The tradition is so old that it fades into history. Democracy is not an option on a raging sea or, for that matter, in the middle of a roaring rapid. When the captain yells jump, you jump.

Most boatmen are mellow people, however; good folks. There are few Captain Blighs. If they are slightly more than equal, it goes with the territory. We are committed to riding with each boatman. First up is David Stalheim. He makes his living as a city and county planner in Washington.

“I’ve been applying for a permit to go on the Colorado River for 15 years,” he tells us. Our ten-minute effort of obtaining a permit seems grossly unfair.

We push-off from shore, excited and nervous. The wind strikes immediately, like it was waiting in ambush. “Are we moving at all?” Dave asks plaintively.

An old rock road makes its way tortuously down from the canyon rim on river left. (Left and right are determined by direction of travel.) They are important for giving directions as in “There is a raft ripping rock on river right!” Since boatmen often row with their backs facing downriver, they appreciate such information.

Up until 1929, this is how travelers made their way to Lees Ferry. It would have been a bumpy ride.

The old road is how people once made their way to Lee’s Ferry, which was one of the few ways to cross the Colorado River between 1858 and 1929. The infamous Mormon, John Doyle Lee, established the Ferry. Brigham Young assigned him the job. Later, Lee was executed by firing squad for his role in the Mountain Meadow Massacre where Mormons and Paiute Indians murdered a wagon train of immigrants near St. George, Utah. For awhile, my brother and I thought some of our ancestors had been involved, had ended up dead. But it wasn’t so.

After fighting the wind for what seems like hours, we finally come to the Navajo Bridge, which replaced Lee’s Ferry in 1929. It towers some 467 feet above the river and reminds us that we are already miles behind our planned itinerary.

Navajo Bridge by Don Green

A view of the Navajo Bridge. The first is the old one and is now used as a walkway. The second is used by cars and other vehicles. (Photo by Don Green.)

Just beyond the bridge we catch our first glimpse of Coconino Sandstone. Its geologic history dates back some 250 million years when a huge desert covered the area and the world’s landmasses were all part of the large continent named Pangaea— before the divorce, before plate tectonics demanded that the continents go their own way.

During our journey down the river we will travel through over a billion years of the earth’s history.

The wind continues to beat against us as we make our way down the Colorado River. Only Dave’s strenuous effort at the oars keeps us from being blown up-stream. “Go that way,” I suggest and point down the river.

The group pulls in at a tiny beach in hopes our mini-hurricane will die down. It doesn’t. Dave develops blisters and I develop guilt. A manly man would offer to take over at the oars.

An option floats by. Dave’s niece, Megan Stalheim, is also one of our boatmen. Don Green, a retired Probate Judge out of Martinez, California, is sitting opposite her and pushing on the oars while she pulls. It inspires me. I join the push-pull brigade. Peggy also takes a turn.

The push-pull approach to rowing where Don Green was helping Megan. Peggy and I have been friends with Don for over two decades. He belongs to the same book club we do and joins us on our annual journey to Burning Man (as does Tom). Don is also quite generous in sharing his photos, which was particularly helpful on our first day since neither Peggy nor I took many.

Word passes back to us that Tom wants to scout Badger Creek Rapids. In boatman terminology this means figuring out the best way to get through without flipping. Badger isn’t a particularly big rapid for the Colorado, but it is our first. We are allowed to be nervous. It’s labeled a 4-6 out of 10 in the method used in the Grand Canyon for determining difficulty. Ten is reserved for only the most dangerous. Badger involves a 15 foot drop from the top to bottom.

Badger Creek Rapids by Don Green

Photo of Badger Creek Rapids by Don Green.

There is good news included in the message. We will stop for the night at Jackass Camp just below the rapids on the left. We’ve only gone 8 miles but are eager to escape the wind.

Dave is a cautious boatman. He takes his time to study Badger Creek Rapids from shore and then stands up in his raft for a second opinion as the river sucks us in. Time runs out. Icy waves splash over the boat and soak us. Our hands grasp the safety lines with a death grip as we are tossed about like leaves in the wind. Mere seconds become an eternity. And then it is over.

Badger Creek Rapids Google photo

The view from above using a Google photo. Our camp would be on the right (river left)  at the bottom of the photo, in the shade here. Our raft came out on the left (river right) side of the river.

“Quick, Curt, I need your help,” Dave shouts. We have come out of the rapids on the opposite side of the river from the camp. The powerful current is pushing us down stream. If we don’t get across we will be camping by ourselves. Adrenaline pumping, I jump up and push the oars with all my strength while Dave pulls. Ever so slowly the boat makes its way to camp.

Jackass campsite on Colorado River by Don Green

Not the world’s most attractive campsite. We scatter out to find places for our tents after emptying the boats. (Photo by Don Green.)

Jackass Camp Area by Don Green

Boats tethered at Jackass Camp. (Photo by Don Green.)

View from Jackass camp on Colorado River by Don Green

View from camp. (Photo by Don Green.)

Grand Canyon evening primrose by Don Green

I liked this primrose captured by Don the next morning…

Grand Canyon floers and tracks by Don Green

And found the tracks under it even more interesting. It’s like the lizard was sidestepping. Its tracks and tail trail can be seen coming down from the right. The hole on the right was made by an ant lion that uses the hole as a trap for insects. They fall in, can’t get out, and become lunch. Next Monday, we will continue our journey down the river.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: I begin my series on the Alaska Highway. We make our way to the start of the highway in Dawson Creek by traveling through British Columbia. Great wood carvings and dog agility trials entertain us along the way.

FRIDAY’S MisAdventures POST: I graduate from playing in the Graveyard to playing on a pond and discover a magical world.

MONDAY’S Grand Canyon Series POST: Beautiful waterfalls, a huge cavern, and ancient Native American ruins are featured.

Jackass campsite on Colorado River by Don GreenJackass campsite on Colorado River by Don GreenSaveSave








I Discover I Am No Longer 30, or 40, or 50, or even 60… Rafting Through the Grand Canyon: Part 4

On a private trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon National Park, everyone pitches into help. Here we are learning to rig the rafts. Straps and more straps! The  aluminum frame provided stability for the raft and held the heavy food containers. (Photo by Don Green)


It was time to make the leap from life on the road to life on the river. Laptops, cell phones, good clothes and the other accoutrements of modern civilization were stuffed into bags and dumped into our transport van.

Plus I had to paint my toenails. It was a virgin experience. Grand Canyon boatmen are a superstitious bunch. Many believe their boats will flip if a person is on board with naked toes. And it’s true— boats have flipped under such circumstances. It makes no difference if the opposite is also true. Tom lectured me. “I will not let you on my boat unless your toenails are painted.” In addition to being obnoxious, he was serious. Peggy dutifully applied blue polish on four of my toes. Did this mean we would only half flip?

Two acres of paved boat ramp greeted us when we arrived at Lee’s Ferry, some 130 miles from Flagstaff. It is the take off point for trips down the Canyon and the only bridge across the river in some 700 miles. The Mormons originally discovered the potential for the crossing and sent John Lee to set up a ferry, which began operation in 1873. Brigham Young was also hiding Lee. He had been a key player in the Mountain Meadows Massacre where some 120 eastern emigrants had been murdered. A practicing polygamist, Lee and his wives ran the ferry up until his execution in 1877.

The transport van disgorged us as the gear truck made a quick turn around and backed down the ramp. Another private party was busy rigging boats. People, gear and boats were scattered everywhere.

From off to the right, a longhaired, 50-something man had emerged. I had thought 60’s hippie or possibly the model for a Harlequin Romance cover. The pirate flag on his boat suggested otherwise. A ‘roll your own’ cigarette dangled from his lips. It was Steve Van Dore, the last member of our group and a boatman out of Colorado.  No one in our group had met him, but he came highly recommended.

Steve, a week or two into the trip.

“Please let this be the truck driver,” Steve later admitted was his first thought when he met our green and purple haired trip leader. He also confided that Tom hadn’t told him we were a smoke-free group. “On the other hand,” Steve confessed, “I didn’t tell him I was on probation.” Somehow this balanced out in Steve’s mind. There was no time to become acquainted; we had work to do.

There is an unwritten 11th Commandment on private river trips: Thou Shall Do Your Share. No one is paid to pamper you. Not helping will lead to bad things, like banishment from the tribe. The truck we had loaded in Flagstaff demanded unloading. Everybody did everything. There were no assignments. Peggy and I became stevedores. Piles of beer and soda and wine and food and personal gear and ammo cans and hefty ice chests quickly accumulated around the truck. There was no shade and the desert sun beat down ferociously. It was sucked up by the black asphalt and thrown back at us. We slathered on sun block and gulped down water.

The rafts were unloaded last. Rigging them was technical but relatively easy, assuming of course that you knew what you were doing and were mechanically inclined. I made no such claims. Steve’s Cat (catamaran) was already set up and in the water, its pirate flag was flapping in the breeze. Our other four boats were self-bailing Sotar Rafts with aluminum frames. Tom owned his own, a blue 14 footer named Peanut after the Jeff Dunham character. The three we had rented were yellow, 16 feet long and nameless.

Work also required that we get our feet wet. (Photo by Don Green)

Tom was the last to rig his boat. It was approaching dusk when he finished— the end of a very long day. I hiked down the river to find a campsite for our group while the rest boated down. Peggy and I struggled to set up our new tent in 30 MPH winds. A van was coming to pick us up for dinner at a nearby restaurant and we were late.

The walls of the restaurant were covered with photos of rafts and rafters being trashed by massive rapids. I walked around and admired them with more than a little awe and trepidation. I would have preferred to see photos that emphasized the beauty of the Canyon, but this was a rafters’ hangout.

The wind storm had changed to a dust storm when we arrived back at camp. Finding our tent in the dark proved to be a challenge, and the tent provided little protection when we crawled in. I was reminded of Burning Man as the dust assailed my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. I pulled out a handkerchief to cover my face. Exhausted, I finally fell asleep with the wind ripping at our tent.

I had underestimated the amount of work involved. We were floating down a river, weren’t we? I was out of shape and had a generous belly. Peggy and I had been traveling extensively, mainly helping our kids with their babies. I’d been over-eating and under-exercising. I might have gotten away with it at 30, or 40, or 50— and had. But now I was 67, and my body had some serious words for me. Mainly unprintable. A few years earlier I had undertaken a much more difficult task, backpacking for 360 miles between Lake Tahoe and Mt. Whitney. But I knew how tough that was and had spent a few months hiking 5-10 miles per day before hitting the trail. Now my only excuse was ignorance. And that is not a very good excuse.

We were awakened at five a.m. the next morning, as we would be on every day of our trip. There was personal gear to pack, breakfast to prepare, and boats to load. Any thoughts of a leisurely trip down the river were dashed in the cold reality of the early morning’s light.

We also had a lecture on the Grand Canyon’s numerous rules by Ranger Peggy. Somewhere in the middle of rigging boats the previous day she had stopped by to check our equipment. Life vests had been dutifully piled up; stoves and bar-b-que were unpacked. Even the groovers, which I will describe later, stood at attention. You don’t mess with Ranger Peggy.

She knew Tom from other river trips and was amused by his hair-do. He introduced me as the permit holder. “Tom’s in charge,” I noted. The smile dropped from her face. “You are responsible,” she said icily. “I’ll try to keep Tom under control,” I replied meekly. Yeah, fat chance that.

Bells, whistles and alarms started going off in my head. I would face heavy fines if any of our party misbehaved.

Our second encounter with Ranger Peggy began after the boats were packed for our first day on the river. Tom started off with a discussion on river safety. Naturally we were required to wear our PFD’s (Personal Flotation Devices) any time we were on the boat.

Tom, with his interesting hairdo, and Ranger Peggy check their lists to see which of the many rules they have forgotten to inform us about.

What’s the first rule if you fall overboard: Hang onto the boat. What’s the second rule? “Hang onto the boat,” we chanted in unison. And so it went. Tom saw his wife, Beth, go flying by him the year before as he bounced through a rapid. He caught up with her down river.

If the raft flips, what do you do? Hang onto the boat! “Easier said than done,” I think.

“Your head is the best tool you have in an emergency,” Ranger Peggy lectured. Right. When the river grabs you, sucks you under the water, and beats you against a rock— stay cool.

For all of the concern about safety on the river, the Park Service seemed more concerned about our behavior on shore.

Over 20,000 people float down the river annually. And 20,000 people can do a lot of damage to a sensitive desert environment. Campsites are few and far between and the major ones may have to accommodate several thousand people over the year.

Picture this: 20,000 people pooping and peeing in your back yard without bathroom facilities. It isn’t pretty. So we pack out the poop. And we pee in the river…

Packing out poop makes sense. But peeing in the river, no way! I’d led wilderness trips for 36 years and for 36 years I’ve preached a thousand times you never, never pee in the water. Bathroom chores are carried out at least 100 yards away from water and preferably farther.

The first time I lined up with the guys, I could barely dribble out of dismay.

The rules went on and on. Mainly they had to do with leaving a pristine campsite and washing our hands. Normally, I am not a rules type of guy but most of what Ranger Peggy preached made sense. Sixteen people with diarrhea is, um, shitty.

And few things disturb me more than a trashy campsite in the wilderness. The least we could do was to leave our campsites sparkling clean.

Finally, we were ready to launch. Eighteen days and 279 miles of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon stretched out ahead. Ranger Peggy checked our IDs against her list. We were who we claimed to be. The boatmen strapped down the gear. It was time to climb aboard and Tom was anxious to get going.

The same up-canyon winds that whipped dust into our tent were threatening to create a Herculean task of rowing. Headwinds of up to 60 MPH were predicted.

The group, ready to launch. Wife Peggy, as opposed to Ranger Peggy, is holding her and my purple PFDs. I’m second from the left, looking chunky.


WEDNESDAY’S POST: It’s back to the Amazon and monkey business. While Peggy gets the ‘good’ monkey, I get the ‘bad’ monkey.

FRIDAY’S POST: I learn a bit about cross cultural relations as a second grader— on a queen sized bed.

MONDAY’S POST: Fighting ferocious headwinds, we begin our journey through the Grand Canyon.










Homeland Security Goes Searching for a Bomb… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 3

Essential Grand Canyon supplies DG

All of my wilderness experiences have been motivated by a go-light philosophy when it comes to food, which makes sense if you carry it on your backs. River runners, on the other hand, have rafts to carry everything. Other rules apply. Extra pounds don’t matter. And if you are going to carry all of these oranges, you might as well carry some alcohol to mix with your orange juice. (Photo by Don Green.)


The fact that we were full-time travelers made our Grand Canyon trip easier. There was no house, mail, job, pet or the other factors of normal life to worry about. We just pointed our van toward Flagstaff and drove, stopping along the way at places like Arches and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Bryce Canyon

While our fellow rafters were scurrying to wrap up business to prepare for our 18-day raft trip though the Grand Canyon, Peggy and I were visiting Nationals Parks in Utah. This is Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon 1

Another view of Bryce.

Great adventures usually start with mundane tasks, as most of you know. For example, did you cancel the paper? Common sense, travel pundits, (and probably your mother) admonish you that devious burglars have nothing better to do than to cruise the streets looking for rolled newspapers in front of your home.

More importantly, what about the cat?

Once upon a time Peggy and I had a cat named FE. Vacations meant I would carefully measure out twice as much food and water as she could possibly eat or drink and four times the kitty litter she might use. The likelihood of her using our house as a litter box was much greater that the likelihood of her starving. As a reward for my thoughtfulness, she would shed enough fur in our absence to fill a dump truck. For weeks after we arrived home, she would also pad into our bedroom in the wee hours each night and meow loudly to make sure we hadn’t abandoned her again. Or possibly it was punishment…

FE and Sylvester dressed for Christmas

FE and her buddy, Sylvester, dressed for Christmas. Note FE’s Rudolph-red nose. I recall that a bit of photoshopping was required to get her ready for the Christmas letter.

We weren’t getting off scot-free on preparation for the river trip, however. In Flagstaff, we had food to worry about. Lots of it. Tom Lovering, his wife Beth and their friend Jamie Wilson arrived in Flagstaff three days in advance of our Colorado River trip. Their car was packed to the brim with empty ammo cans for things like cameras and huge ice chests for food. They were late.

The Department of Homeland Security had delayed their journey at Hoover Dam. The Agency is paranoid about mad bombers, rightfully so. And this was before the new bridge across the river had been completed; people still had to drive across the dam. A vehicle packed with C-4 could conceivably blow a big hole. Stern faced agents carrying guns were posted at each entrance. No smiling was allowed. Homeland Security’s normally low sense of humor (have you ever joked about a bomb during a security check at an airport) dropped to zero when the agents saw all the ammo cans Tom had packed in his vehicle. Rafters love these containers because they are waterproof and easily obtainable at Army Surplus stores. You can imagine what went through the minds of the agents. The whole car had to be unpacked and each ammo can carefully checked out.

Tom Lovering

This was the face that Tom greeted the Homeland Security agents with— furry but friendly. His looks were about to change…

Tom getting a do

Tom getting a ‘do’ in Flagstaff…

Tom Lovering with horns

What if Tom would have met the agents looking like this with green horns? We still might be waiting for him in Flagstaff.

Tom is even more paranoid about food than DHS is about terrorists. In addition to being a highly experienced rafter and trip leader, he’s an old restaurateur who had spent months planning the menu.  Each dish had been tested several times and quantities had been measured down to the teaspoon. Recipes were spelled out in minute detail. We would eat gourmet on the trip and cook it Tom’s way— or die. The options were clear.

Beth, Peggy and I were dispatched to Sam’s Club with marching orders. We filled seven large shopping carts with food. Think of it this way. There were 16 people going on an 18-day trip and eating three meals a day. This equaled 864 individual meals.

When we arrived back at the motel, Tom and Jamie had set up a staging area. Food needed to be organized by meal and day and then stuffed in the appropriate containers. The containers would then be assigned to rafts. It was important that we knew where to find the beer.

Large food containers for Grand Canyon trip

Large food chests waited for us when we got back to our motel. Each would be filled with food. Dry ice would be added to keep our food fresh for 18-days.

We still had to shop for perishables and more food was also coming from Sacramento. Our room, we discovered, was to be the recipient of most of the food. Apparently, it was written into the fine print of being ‘permit holder.’ There was barely space to sleep. Not that we slept much. Soon, we would be on the river! But first, Bone had to be appropriately dressed for his trip.

Supplies for Grand Canyon trip

We went to Safeway to purchase our perishable goods, and once more our small RV was filled to the brim.

Gear and food Grand Canyon trip

We discovered that the majority of the large food containers would be stowed in our room. With our own gear spread out on the bed, it was questionable if we would have room to sleep! Tom provides a perspective on the size of the ice chests. The yellow container is an ammunition can.

Bone in life vest

One of our final responsibilities was to make sure that Bone was adequately dressed for the trip in his PFD. Once, he almost fell off a boat in the piranha infested water of the Amazon. It would not do to lose him in the roaring rapids of the Colorado. Next Saturday and Sunday, I will provide background on Bone since he was an active participant on the river trip.

Loading truck for Grand Canyon trip DG

Finally, it was time to load our food and gear on this truck for transport down to Lee’s Ferry and the beginning of the trip. The truck was completely stuffed by the time we were finished. We were finally on our way! (Photo by Don Green.)


WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: A river boat trip on the Amazon River. The piranhas are biting and we bite back.

FRIDAY’S MisAdventure’s POST: There is nothing like reading to seduce you into becoming a wanderer.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: We start our raft journey through the Grand Canyon with 30 MPH headwinds. So much for a peaceful (between rapids) float down the Colorado!





Peggy Wins the Lottery… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 2

Mule trip into Grand Canyon

I have journeyed into the Grand Canyon several times over the years. The first was in the late 60s. That’s me, second from the top on Charlie the mule. I was heavier than Charlie liked, so he kept trying to bite me. He also walked as close to the thousand foot drop off as he could. His ultimate revenge, however, was that I was sore for a week afterwards!


Having reported on being in Flagstaff for the beginning of our raft trip down the Colorado River on last Monday’s travel blog, I thought I should back up a step and tell you how we got there.

It started with a strange phone call.

Peggy and I were in the middle of a three-year trip around North American in our small RV when the phone rang late one night. It was 10:00 p.m., far past the time I normally accept calls. They make me grumpy. Usually they are from a Nigerian Prince who wants to make me incredibly wealthy. All I have to do is send him a thousand bucks. But this was from my old friend Tom Lovering. I’m used to him calling at weird hours. He has zero sense of what constitutes a normal day and fervently believes that no one else should either.

He wanted me to immediately stop whatever I was doing (sleeping), jump on-line, and apply for a private permit to raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Permits are scarce and the number of people who apply could fill a rock concert. So the Park Service does an open lottery for interested folks. Odds of getting a permit are small— teeny tiny— and Tom wanted to increase his. He’d been scrolling through his list of friends and had already talked a number of people into applying. The clock was ticking; the lottery closed at midnight. Given the late hour, I must have been near the end of Tom’s likely candidates, which isn’t surprising. I know zilch about running rapids.

Thrill sports aren’t my thing. I have always figured that the type of outdoor things I do (like bicycling 10,000 miles around North America by myself, or disappearing into grizzly bear country alone) have enough inherent danger without my challenging raft-eating, people swallowing rapids, or climbing up the sheer face of a thousand-foot rock. Not that I have any problem with the sports. In fact, I have nothing but admiration for people who have the skill and temerity to pursue them and make a career out of flipping off the old guy in a hoodie who carries a big scythe.

My normal response would have been, “Sure, Tom, I’ll get right on it,” followed by promptly rolling over and going back to sleep. But this wasn’t accounting for the love of my life, Peggy, who actually likes water sports and enjoys jumping off cliffs. During college, she had actually attended a session of the Nantahala White Water School in North Carolina where you learn to maneuver rafts through raging rapids. She followed up on Tom’s request immediately: jumping on-line and putting in for a permit— in my name.

I was checking my E-mail the next morning when I came across the note from the National Park Service: “Congratulations you have won a permit for you and 15 other people to raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon! We will be sending you a 5000-page document (slight exaggeration) that outlines your responsibilities.” Oh joy. I called Tom immediately. He was the experienced river runner. He had promised the night before that if, by some miracle I did win, he would take full responsibility for organizing and leading the event. It’s a huge job that takes considerable knowledge about white water rafting.

At first, Tom didn’t believe me. He thought I was joking. Neither he nor any of his rafting buddies had won a Canyon permit in several years. And then he was ecstatic. Yes, he would recruit experienced boat people and their boats for the trip! Yes, he would make all necessary arrangements. Yes, he would plan the menus and organize the food! Yes, he would lead the adventure!

Then the other shoe dropped. Doesn’t it always? I was, after all, “the permit holder.” It was my job to turn in paperwork. But I also had serious responsibilities. If anything went wrong; it was on my shoulders. This ranged from people pooping in the wrong places, to how we washed our dishes, to more serious things. The Park Service had a long list of safety and environmental concerns. I’d be signing on the dotted line. There would be an inspection before we left!

I admit I had concerns. But these were countered by the fact that I love the Grand Canyon. I have returned to it numerous times over the years. I have both hiked and backpacked into it. One time I rode mules into the Canyon. Another time I flew in by helicopter. And I am perfectly happy just sitting on the edge and staring out into the vast space at the incredible rock formations. I did that for Christmas one year (and many other times). Floating down the Colorado would give me a totally new perspective. I was almost as excited as Tom and Peggy. Almost.

Between three tours of duty as a Marine helicopter pilot in Iraq and then serving as a Coast Guard pilot flying rescue missions, our son Tony did a brief stint of flying tourists over the Grand Canyon and into the Havasupai Indian village in the canyon.  When he flew Peggy and me into the village, he was playing the theme song from Star Wars as he swooped down past the steep cliffs.

Waterfalls at Havusupai

This gorgeous waterfall was the main attraction at the Havasupai Village.

I am sitting on the edge of the Colorado River, red with mud.  Peggy and I had backpacked down the Tanner Trail retracing a solo trip I had made several years earlier. Our raft trip would bring us through this section of the Canyon and over the Tanner Rapids. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Occasionally, backpacking through the Canyon requires a bit of scrambling.

But you don’t have to hike or backpack into the canyon, or raft, or fly, or ride grouchy mules to enjoy the beauty of the Canyon. You can drive up, and enjoy numerous pull-offs that give you incredible views. Short walks provide many more. Be sure to include early morning and late afternoon to capture the full beauty.

Grand Canyon 38

The rocks come in a seemingly infinite number of shapes and colors.

A final view.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: We travel to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

FRIDAY’S POST: I learn that there is more to life than dead people.

MONDAY’S POST: And why is Homeland Security checking out our food containers for a bomb on the our Grand Canyon rafting adventure?



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.













Rock Art, a Civil War Veteran, and Magnificent Mountains… The Arches National Park Series: Conclusion

The La Sal Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for Arches National Park.

The first people came wandering through Arches some 10,000 years ago as the last of the glaciers were retreating north or scooting up mountains, seeking colder climates. The nomads were hunter-gatherers, killing wild animals for food and seeking out edible plants where they grew naturally. They must have been impressed with the magnificent rock sculptures they saw. Possibly they even gave the soaring arches, spires and fins spiritual significance. What caught their attention from a practical point of view, however, were the chert and chalcedony rocks that could be chipped into stone tools such as knives and scrapers. Left over debris piles can still be seen by those trained to look for them.

The wandering hunters and gatherers were replaced by farmers some 2,000 years ago. The Arches area was on the northern edge of the Puebloan culture, which was known for its cliff dwellings. A lack of such abodes in the area, however, suggest that Arches was more of a place to visit than occupy. About 700 years ago, the Puebloans apparently abandoned the area altogether for whatever reason they were disappearing from their homes throughout the Southwest. Drought, disease, or invasion are among the causes normally given.

When the first Europeans entered the area, they found it occupied by the Utes, a Native American tribe from which Utah took its name. It is assumed that the rock art panel shown below was created by the Utes since the Indians were riding horses and there weren’t any in North America prior to the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. Interestingly, a section of the Old Spanish Trail that was used by Spaniards to travel between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Los Angeles in the late 1700s/early 1800s actually runs in front of the park headquarters following Highway 191.

Utes on horses hunt big horn sheep on the petroglyph panel found at Arches National Park.

A closer look suggests that the Utes were waving their arms and driving the sheep with the help of dogs. Native Americans were known to drive buffalo but I have never heard of the technique in relation to sheep.

In hopes that the arid climate of the region would be good for an old Civil War war wound, 69-year-old John Wesley Wolfe left his wife in Ohio in 1898 and settled near Delicate Arch and the Ute rock art north of the town of Moab. He brought his son with him and built a primitive cabin. There was enough space to raise a few head of cattle and vegetables. More sophisticated needs were met by shopping out of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. When his daughter, her husband, and two children arrived a few years later, she insisted that Wolfe provide more modern accommodations. He complied by building the 11 by 17 foot one room cabin that still stands today. It must have been cozy.

The Wolfe’s cabin as it looks today. Delicate Arch is off to the right. The Ute rock art is located on the cliffs behind the cabin.

A closeup of the cabin rendered in black and white.

While the Colorado River forms the southeastern border to Arches National Park, it is the La Sal Mountains that provide a dramatic backdrop for many of the rock sculptures found in the park. Towering over 12,000 feet in height, the La Sal’s are part of the Rocky Mountain chain. I’ll conclude my series on Arches with several photos that Peggy and I took of the mountains as seen from Arches.

I liked the contrast between the red rocks, green brush and blue mountains.

La Sal Mountains framed by pillars in Arches.

Clouds, mountains and red rocks.

I’ll conclude with this tree that was set off by the red rocks.

NEXT POSTS: Hot off the press: Peggy and I are on a two-week trip up the coast of northern Oregon and southern Washington to celebrate our 25th Anniversary. Expect crashing waves, tumbling waterfalls, rainforests, a picturesque lighthouse, towering ocean rocks and quaint towns.











The Arches of Arches…. Arches National Park: Part 3

Photo of Double Arch at Arches national Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

I can pretty well guarantee that you will see Double Arch on any trip to Arches National Park. It’s just off the road… and impressive.


“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” Edward Abby from his book about Arches NP, “Desert Solitaire.”


Arches is renowned for its arches, as it should be, given its name. They come in all shapes and sizes ranging from three feet across to 306 feet. I noted in my first post that there are some 2,000 of them at the park. Forces of erosion, including water, ice and wind, break out chunks of rocks from softer sandstone beneath harder layers above and eventually work through fins.  New arches are constantly being created while older ones fall.

Arch in progress at Arches NP

A new arch in the process of being born at Arches National Park.

Several arches are located along the road and are easily reached by short hikes. Others require longer hikes and more work. When Peggy and I were at Arches last time, we were rushing through on our way to our Grand Canyon raft trip. We could hardly begin to do the arches justice, but we did photograph three that I will share with you today: Delicate Arch, Skyline Arch, and Double Arch.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

While Peggy and I didn’t have time to visit Delicate Arch, we were able to snap its photo from a distance. It is the most famous arch in the park and possibly in the world.

Skyline Arch in Arches National Park

Skyline Arch is also easily seen from the road.

Skyline Arch and tree at Arches NP

Here it is with a tree to help set it off.

Skyline Arch close up at Arches NP

A close up of the arch.

Double Arch at Arches National Park. Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

People in the lower right hand corner provide perspective on the size of Double Arch.

Double Arches and green brush

Double Arch seen from a distance.

Double Arches up close, Arches NP

One of the arches of Double Arch up close.

Arch in Double Arch, Arches NP

And closer.

Curt Mekemson at Arches NP

I was up climbing around on the Double Arch to get photos when Peggy snapped my picture, which will serve as the last of this post.


NEXT POST:  We will explore the surrounding country, petroglyphs and settler history.