The Mekemson Kids Did It: Who Shot Pavy’s Pig?… The MisAdventure Series

Who Shot the Pig?

Like the gunslingers of the Old West, our reputations far exceeded the reality of our actions. Take Tony Pavy’s pig for example. Tony had a large pond with bullfrogs, a hundred or so acres of scrubland, and a wooded hillside that housed a number of gray squirrels. He also had an attitude similar to Jimmy Pagonni’s: children were not to be heard or seen, particularly on his property. As with Pagonni, we didn’t allow Pavy to keep us from our appointed rounds. We would slip in at night to harvest his bullfrogs and during the day to bring down a squirrel. Tony had a very effective way of getting rid of us. In a very loud voice he would yell, “Mama, get my gun!” and we would streak out of there.

A couple of friends and I were hunting for the squirrels on his hillside when the unfortunate incident with the pig took place. But before I tell the story, I need to digress and provide some background information.

Growing up in Diamond in the 50s meant having a gun and shooting things. At least it did if you were a boy. We graduated from BB guns and 22s to deer rifles and shotguns. Obtaining your first rifle was an experience similar in importance to obtaining your driver’s license, except you could get one a lot earlier. Before we were allowed to hunt, however, certain rules were pounded into our heads. First, it was important to know exactly what you were shooting.

This might seem obvious but flatlanders out of Sacramento often had trouble making the distinction between a cow and a deer. Of a much more serious nature, at least to me, Allen shot my dog. Tickle had been clearing out an old abandoned mine shack of pack rats and Allen shot through the wall thinking he was a rat. Tickle survived; Allen almost didn’t. There were other things we weren’t supposed to shoot as well. Robins were high on the list. They ate their weight daily in bugs. It was okay to shoot ‘vermin’ such as ground squirrels, jackrabbits and coyotes.

My usual preference was for watching wildlife, not killing it. I made an exception for gray squirrels. The thrill of the hunt combined with my appetite for a delicious squirrel and dumpling stew my mother whipped up overcame any reservations I had. All of which brings me back to the pig. Gray squirrels have about the same appreciation for being shot that you or I might. To avoid this unhappy circumstance, they take off leaping through the trees. The one we had marked for dinner was jumping from limb to limb in a live oak tree on the hill above Pavy’s with all three of us shooting at it when we heard a bellow from the barnyard.

“Mama, get my gun! They shot my pig! They shot my pig! Hurry Mama!”

 

I don’t know how fast Mama moved but we flew. By the time Ernie Carlson, the County Sheriff, caught up with us we were far away from Pavy’s and about as innocent as newborn piglets.

“Excuse me boys,” the Sheriff remarked when he pulled over in his car and rolled down his window, “I don’t suppose you know anything about Tony Pavy’s pig being shot.”

“No, sir,” we replied respectfully in unison. We had rehearsed.  Besides, we were technically correct. We hadn’t shot Pavy’s pig; we hadn’t even shot the squirrel. It was a ricocheting bullet that did in the pig.

Ernie looked at us dubiously.

“Pavy described three kids that fit your description,” the Sheriff said as he continued to build pressure, hoping that one of us would break. The fact that there were no other kids in town that looked like us was a rather significant clue.

“We’ve been out in back of Ot Jones pond,” I argued indignantly. And we had been; so what if we had arrived there out of breath.

“Well, you kids behave yourselves,” the Sheriff said with an ominous I know you’re lying tone. We breathed a joint sigh of relief as he rolled up his window and drove off. Once more we had avoided a fate we probably deserved. I suspect now that Ernie was not one hundred percent dedicated to finding the alleged pig murderers. Tony was not universally loved in the community for several reasons, of which regularly threatening to shoot little kids was only one.

For example, my father did some electrical work for him once for free. As he was leaving, Tony asked, “Would you like one of my geese for dinner?”

“Sure,” Pop had replied assuming Pavy was offering it as thanks for his four hours of work.

“Good,” Tony had replied, “that will be five dollars.” Pop was more than a little irritated. He had a hearty laugh years later when I told him about our adventure with the pig. I wisely avoided telling him at the time, however. His perspective on our miscreant behavior softened substantially with distance and age.

The end. It was a twisted tale.

The Mekemson Kids Did It: Part 1… The MisAdventure Series

There were two Gold Rush era buildings from the 1800s near our house. One was the old jail across the road where Jimmy Pagonni stored his wine. Unfortunately, it was knocked down for a fast-food joint. The other was one house away from ours and is the one shown above.

Sweet Cherries

Up until around eight or nine I spent most of my wandering time with Marshall and our friends Allen and Lee. What I remember about these adventures in Diamond Springs  was that we were skating on the thin edge of trouble. Gradually, we developed a reputation. I am convinced that a whole generation of little kids in Diamond blamed their misbehavior on us. “I didn’t do it Mama, the Mekemson kids did.” And Mama probably believed them. My friend Bob Bray’s mother refused to let him play with me. I was a bad influence, guaranteed to lead her son straight into the arms of the law.

Most of our mischief was relatively innocent. For example, Jimmy Pagonni lived across the street and had a zero-tolerance policy for us.  We lusted after his cherries. He transformed them into wine and every drop was precious. He turned his dogs loose on us if we came anywhere near his orchard. Naturally his insistence on keeping us out only guaranteed our presence.  Raids were carefully planned. Few adventures come with such sweet rewards.

We would invite two or three little friends over and make a party out of it. The cover was sleeping out in the back yard, but sleep was secondary. Somewhere around one o’clock in the morning we would slip out of our yard, cross a very lonely Highway 49, climb over Jimmy’s rickety gate, and disappear up into the trees. It was all very hush-hush and cherries have never tasted more delicious. We would stuff our stomachs and then fill up bags for take-out. It was pure greed.

Jimmy’s dogs never caught us before we were able to scramble over the fence but they did catch my cocker spaniel once and almost killed him. Tickle had been out on the town visiting a lady friend and was returning home. We were infuriated. Marshall retaliated by shooting Jimmy’s bull in the balls with a BB gun. (If not fair to the bull, it was at least alliteration.) Jimmy never knew Marshall committed the heinous act but I am sure he had his suspicions.

Red, Red Wine, Makes You Feel Fine— or Not

Another Marshall story is appropriate to tell here because it reflects the theme. In this incident, Marshall’s skinniness got him into hot water, or at least wine. Jimmy Pagonni stored his fermented cherry juice in an old Gold Rush era building that may have served as a jail in its youth. It was located right in the middle of his well-guarded cherry orchard and featured a very stout locked door and one barred window. I am sure Jimmy considered it impregnable but he failed to consider just how skinny my brother was. With help from an accomplice, Marshall managed to slip through the bars and pinch a gallon of Italian Red.

He and his friend Art then headed for our treehouse in the Graveyard to do some serious imbibing. Considering that a gallon of Jimmy’s Italian Red would have knocked out two grown men, it almost killed Marshall. He told me how he and Art were lying in the dirt and peddling their bikes upside down above them when one of our teachers walked by. I remember him slipping in the back door and trying to get to our bedroom before Mother and Pop noticed. It didn’t work. In addition to stumbling and mumbling and heaving, he smelled like a three-week gutter drunk. He was one sick kid. Both parents hurried to the bedroom out of concern and I moved back outside to sleep in the cool, but fresh fall air. It was one of those crimes that incorporates its own punishment.

MONDAY’S POST: In the next section of our trip down the Colorado River, I jump off a cliff and Tom wears Bone.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: We finish our journey through the Yukon Territory.

FRIDAY’S POST: The next chapter in the Mekemson Kids Did It. Who shot Tony Pavy’s pig?

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

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.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

How Brunhilda the Cat Became Rasputin… A Tale from The Bush Devil Ate Sam

Liberian Peace Corps photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A fading black and white photo shows children in Gbarnga, Liberia mugging for my camera in 1965. Life wasn’t easy– check out the head loads.

In 1965, my first wife, Jo Ann, and I joined the Peace Corps, graduated from UC Berkeley, and flew off to the country of Liberia where we were assigned as elementary school teachers in the upcountry town of Gbarnga. My book, “The Bush Devil Ate Sam” relates our experiences at Berkeley and in Liberia.

January was the Liberian school equivalent of summer vacation and second year Peace Corps Volunteers took full advantage of it by chartering a jet airplane and flying off to East Africa. First year Volunteers were left behind and had to take on a ‘summer’ project.

I decided to write a second-grade reader while JoAnn worked with a blind student.

I had spent my first semester teaching a second-grade class where the children were expected to learn to read out of well-used 1950’s era California readers. It was hard for the kids to relate. The world of Dick and Jane in their big houses with white picket fences and white playmates in no way resembled the life of my kids in Gbarnga, as demonstrated by the photo above. As for Spot, he bore a striking resemblance to food.

I had plunged into my project: researching elementary school readers, gathering African folk tales, and putting together stories about the children that reflected their lives, not those of Dick and Jane. The country Peace Corps staff liked the book I submitted. They agreed to assign me an editor, an expert in elementary school education, and an illustrator. But it wasn’t to be. The government decided that my book on African Folk tales and Liberian children was somehow dangerous, a threat to its one-party state. Peace Corps told me to forget the book and not even bring it up in conversations. I might be kicked out of the country.

Fortunately, I had other things to occupy my mind. Jo and I had been assigned to teach at Gboveh High School our second semester and were moving across town. There were classes to prepare for and our ‘new’ house was in desperate need of a paint job. We had also assumed in loco parentis status. One of the second-year Peace Corps couples, Dick and Sandy Robb, had left four little female kittens to live with us while they flew off to East Africa. Our pay was to have the pick of the litter. Whoopee.

I had built our temporarily adopted cat family a three-story mansion out of cardboard. It was a maze of rooms, hanging toys, hallways and ramps. It even had a carpeted floor and a bathroom— a kitty litter box. The kittens would disappear inside and play for long periods. We could hear them banging around as they stalked each other and attacked the hanging toys.

In a creative moment inspired by the evening cocktail hour, we decided to use the house as an intelligence test to determine which kitten we would keep. First, we waited until the kittens were appropriately hungry, and then we brewed up their favorite meal, fish head stew. Here’s the recipe: Take several ripe fish heads and throw them in a pan of boiling water. When their eyes pop out, they’re done.

Next, we encouraged the kittens to sniff their gourmet dinner and showed them that the meal would be located just outside the ground floor door of their mansion. Now we were ready for the test. Each kitten would be placed inside the third story door and given a nudge. We would then close the door and time how long it took the kitten to reach the banquet. Our theory was that the kitten with the quickest time through the maze of hallways and ramps would be the brightest.

Grey Kitten # 1 was a pudgy little character that never missed a meal. My money was riding on her. She breezed through the maze in three minutes sharp and set the time to beat. There was a chance that the sound of her munching away on fish heads might inspire the other kittens on to even greater glory, however.

Grey Kitten #2 was one of those ‘whatever it is you want me to do I am going to do the opposite’ type cats. Not surprisingly, she strolled out of the door seven minutes later and ignored the food altogether. (Afterwards, we were to speculate that she was the most intelligent cat and blew the race because she had no intention of living with someone who made her go through a maze for dinner.)

Grey Kitten #3 was the lean and mean version. Scrawny might be a better description. She obviously needed dinner the most and proved her mettle by blazing through the house in two minutes. The contest was all but over.

Kitten # 4 was what pollsters normally classify as ‘other.’ To start with, she was yellow instead of grey. She was also loud. In honor of her operatic qualities, Jo had named her Brunhilda, after the Wagnerian opera star. By the time her turn came up, she was impatiently scratching the hand that was about to feed her and growling in a demonic way. I gladly shoved the little monster in the third story door and closed it. We heard a scrabbling on the other side as tiny claws dug into the cardboard floor. Her race down the first hall was punctuated by a loud crash on the other end. Brake problems.

Then she was up and running again, but it sounded like toward us. Had her crash disoriented her? Suddenly the third story door burst open and one highly focused yellow kitty went flying through the air. She made a perfect four-point landing and dashed to the dinner dish. Her time? Ten seconds.

And that is how Brunhilda came to be our cat. Our decision to keep her led us to turn her over and check out her brunhildahood a little more closely. Turns out she had a couple of furry little protuberances where there shouldn’t have been any. She was a he. In honor of Brunhilda’s demonic growl and generally obnoxious behavior, we renamed the kitten Rasputin after the nefarious Russian monk.

Rasputin surrounded by Rhinoceros beetles.

 

If you have enjoyed this story and the many other tales I share, you might also enjoy “The Bush Devil Ate Sam.” It’s available in both Kindle and paperback form here on Amazon. For other sources such as Apple, click on the book cover top right.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Anasazi Ruins and the Hopi Entrance to Another World… Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon

Beautiful views like this along the Colorado River would have been lost if efforts in the 50s and 60s to dam the Grand Canyon had succeeded.

In our journey down the Colorado River today, we visit an ancient Native American granary that is located high up on the cliffs above the water, and stop off to play in the Little Colorado River.

Steve Van Dore and Jamie Wilson serve as our boatmen for the two days we are on the river travelling from our camp at Redbud Alcove (mile 39) to our camp at Upper Rattlesnake (mile 74). Jamie is a delight. First of all, he is funny and positive. Second, whenever a chore needs to be done, he is first in line. Finally, he is incredibly strong, which is a valuable asset when you get in a tight spot on the river. Jamie has his own business as a contractor in the Woodland/Davis area of California.

Jamie

Jamie Wilson

Peggy and I hitch a ride on Steve’s Cat. Not too many Colorado River boatmen are outfitted with sun umbrellas!

Steve, I’ve already introduced. Like Tom, he is an experienced Colorado River boatman and loves the Canyon. He is also a specialist. His catamaran is outfitted with groovers: large ammo cans that have been modified to serve as portable potties.  Before toilet seats were added as a convenience, you sat on the rim of the can. It left grooves in your behind— hence the name.

We are all given training in setting up, taking down, and using the groovers. One of the first chores in arriving camp is to find the perfect place for the port-a-pot: a secluded location with a view. One time I found myself sitting on the pot and waving at rafters as they went by. The site received an A for the view and a C for the seclusion.

Steve is very knowledgeable about the Grand Canyon and readily shares his knowledge. Almost immediately he points out a site that was once proposed for a dam that would have covered much of the upper Canyon’s beautiful scenery, geological wonders and archeological treasures with water.

A similar effort was planned for downstream. Fortunately, the Sierra Club was able to stop the dam from being built. Otherwise, one of the world’s greatest natural wonders would have been lost.

Views of the Grand Canyon along the Colorado River between Redbud Alcove and the Little Colorado.

When we arrived at Nankoweap (mile 53), Steve pointed out the granaries used by the Anasazi Indians somewhere between 1000 and 1150 CE (Common Era) or AD, if you prefer. The granaries are located high up on the cliff for protection from animals and insects. Tom had scheduled a hike up and I willingly went along.  I was curious about the granaries and thought that there would be spectacular views from the cliff.

The climb was definitely worth it. Unfortunately, I sprained my knee on the way back down.

Our intrepid group hikes up the steep trail to the Granaries at Nankoweap in the Grand Canyon.

The granaries are located high up on the cliff.

They were  built by the Anasazi Indians between 1000 and 1150 CE.

Tom, Eggin and I next to the granary.

Looking down the Colorado River from the Nankoweap Granaries.

Jamie Wilson was our boatman on the fifth day. When we arrived at the Little Colorado River, it was time to play. The Little Colorado has two colors. First is a muddy reddish-brown. The River drains over 25,000 square miles. When it rains upriver, it carries tons of red topsoil.  The second color is a beautiful turquoise blue. When it doesn’t rain, much of the water comes from springs and is loaded with minerals that provide the color and very interesting deposits. We were fortunate to experience it without rain.

The entrance to the Little Colorado River.

Its almost surreal look. (Photo by Don Green.)

Looking up the Little Colorado River just above where if flows into the Colorado River. Note the mineral deposits.

A close up.

Vegetation on the Little Colorado.

A biologist was doing a study of the fish population in the Little Colorado and showed us this fellow.

We also found a lizard as we were walking up the river. It looked smug.

When we reached our destination, we donned our life vests upside down over our legs.  It looked like we had put on huge diapers. We were to float down the river feet first. After carrying out my photographer responsibilities, I too donned my diaper and jumped in. Just as I went over a small waterfall my life vest slipped down to my feet. My feet floated fine but my head bobbed along under the water. Breathing was not an option!

Peggy models the life vest diaper look. The latest in fashion statements.

Hanging on to each other, the group formed a Conga Line—Little Colorado River style— and made its way through the rapids.

Tim Spann calmly floated over a small waterfall.

Peggy looked a little less in control…

And I looked totally out of control (actually I was), as my life vest slipped up around my feet and my head dipped under the water.

According to their mythology, the Hopi Indians came into this world through a cave, which is located just up the Little Colorado from where we were playing in the water. The legend states that this is the fourth world they have occupied. People had become bad in the previous three by doing things like being disobedient and having too much sex. The good were saved and moved up to the next world while the bad were left behind, or destroyed. Maybe their diapers slipped and they drowned.

That night Theresa Mulder whipped up a delicious carrot and raisin salad. As I’ve noted, Tom had planned out an excellent menu for the trip and we ate very well. I also noted that Tom was something of a tyrant in the kitchen…

This is what you could expect if you didn’t cut the lettuce right. (grin) I decided to appoint myself to permanent groover duty and stay out of Tom’s kitchen.

I’ll close today’s post with some views of the sun setting from camp.

A different perspective…

Another view. Next Monday we will continue to make our way down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.

Also TODAY: The photographic essay trip up the Alaska Highway continues.

FRIDAY’S POST: A chapter from book on my Peace Corps experience, The Bush Devil Ate Sam. How Rasputin the Cat beat out his sisters to become our cat.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

The Skull with the Vacant Stare— The Woods… The MisAdventure Series

Woods in Diamond Springs, CA

While I don’t have any pictures from the Woods growing up, this and the other photos here are of more recent vintage from Diamond Springs.

 

Even more than the Pond, the Woods introduced me to the beauty and magic of nature. It, too, earned a capital letter.

To get there, I walked out the back door, down the alley and through a pasture Jimmy Pagonni rented for his cattle. Tackling the pasture involved crawling through a rusty barbed wire fence, avoiding fresh cow pies, climbing a hill and jumping an irrigation ditch. The journey was fraught with danger.

Black oak and woods

This black oak stood over the ditch I had to jump, and it still stands today.

Hungry barbed wire consumed several of my shirts and occasionally went for my back. Torn clothing and bleeding scratches were a minor irritation in comparison to stepping in fresh cow poop though. A thousand-pound, grass-eating machine produces acres of the stuff. Deep piles sneak up your foot and slosh over into your shoes. Toes hate this. Even more treacherous are the little piles that hide out in the grass. A well-placed patty can send you sliding faster than black ice. The real danger here is ending up with your butt in the pile. I did that, once. “Oh, shit,” I had exclaimed. Happily, no one was around to witness my misfortune, or hear my language— except Tickle the dog. And he was sworn to secrecy.

For all of its hazards, the total hike to the Woods took about 10 minutes. Digger pines with drunken windmill limbs guarded the borders while gnarly manzanita and spiked chaparral dared the casual visitor to venture off the trail. Poison oak proved more subtle but effective in discouraging exploration. I could count on raucous California jays to announce my presence, especially if I was stalking a band of notorious outlaws. Ground squirrels were also quick to whistle their displeasure. Less talkative jackrabbits merely ambled off upon spotting me, put on a little speed for a hyper Cocker, and became bounding blurs in the presence of a hungry greyhound. Flickers, California quail and acorn woodpeckers held discussions in distinctive voices I soon learned to recognize.

Woods in Diamond Springs

A trailer park now occupies the woods where I once played. It’s pleasant but no substitute. Even then, power lines cut through the woods. The tree reaching for the sky is a digger pine. Its large pine cones were filled with nuts that the squirrels harvested.

From the beginning, I felt at home in the Woods, like I belonged. I quickly learned that its hidden recesses contained a multitude of secrets. I was eager to learn what they had to teach me, but the process seemed glacial. It required patience and I hardly knew how to spell the word. I did know how to sit quietly, however. This was a skill I had picked up from the hours I spent with my nose buried in books. The woodland creatures prefer their people noisy. A Curt stomping down the trail, snapping dead twigs, and talking to himself about nefarious evil-doers was easy to avoid while a Curt being quiet might surprise them.

One gray squirrel was particularly loud in his objections. He lived in the top branches of a digger pine beside the trail and maintained an observation post on an overhanging limb. When he heard me coming, he would adopt his ‘you can’t see me gray squirrel playing statue pose.’ But I knew where to look. I would find a comfortable seat and stare at him. It drove him crazy. Soon he would start to thump the limb madly with his foot and chirr loudly. He had pine nuts to gather, a stick home to remodel, and a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed lady to woo. I was blocking progress. Eventually, if I didn’t move, his irritation would bring him scrambling down the trunk for a much more personal scolding.

After about 15 minutes of continuous haranguing, he’d decide I was a harmless, if obnoxious aberration and go about his business. That’s when I begin to learn valuable secrets, like where he hid his nuts. It was also a sign for the rest of the wildlife to come out of hiding. A western fence lizard might work its way to the top of the dead log next to me and start doing push-ups. Why, I couldn’t imagine. Or perhaps a thrush would begin to scratch up the leaves under the manzanita in search of creepy tidbits. The first time I heard one, it sounded like a very large animal interested in little boy flesh.

Occasionally there were special treats: a band of teenage gray squirrels playing tag and demonstrating their incredible acrobatics; a doe leading its shy, speckled fawn out to drink in the small stream that graced the Wood’s meadow; a coyote sneaking up on a ground squirrel hole with an intensity I could almost feel.

I also began to play at stalking animals. Sometime during the time period between childhood and becoming a teenager, I read James Fennimore Cooper and began to think I was a reincarnation of Natty Bumppo. Looking back, I can’t say I was particularly skilled, but no one could have told me so at the time. At least I learned to avoid dry twigs, walk slowly, and stop frequently. Occasionally, I even managed to sneak up on some unsuspecting animal.

If the birds and the animals weren’t present, they left signs for me. There was always the helter-skelter pack rat nest to explore. Tickle made it a specialty, quickly sending twigs flying in all directions. There were also numerous tracks to figure out. Was it a dog or coyote that had stopped for a drink out of the stream the night before? My greyhound knew instantly, but I had to piece it together. A sinuous trail left by a slithery serpent was guaranteed to catch my attention. This was rattlesnake country. Who’d been eating whom or what was another question? The dismantled pine cone was easy to figure out but who considered the bark on a young white fir a delicacy? And what about the quail feathers scattered haphazardly beside the trail?

Scat, I learned, was the tracker’s word for poop. It offered a multitude of clues for what animals had been ambling down the trail and what they had been eating. There were deer droppings and rabbit droppings and mouse droppings descending in size. Coyotes and foxes left their distinctive dog-like scat but the presence of fur and berries suggested that something other than dog food had been on the menu. Some scat was particularly fascinating, at least to me. Burped up owl pellets provided a treasure chest of bones— little feet, little legs and little skulls that grinned back with the vacant stare of slow mice.

While Tarzan hung out in the Graveyard and pirates infested the Pond, mountain men, cowboys, Indians, Robin Hood and various bad guys roamed the Woods. Each bush hid a potential enemy that I would indubitably vanquish. I had the fastest two fingers in the West and I could split a pine nut with an arrow at 50 yards.  I never lost. How could I— it was my fantasy. But daydreams were only a part of the picture.

I fell in love with wandering in the Woods and playing on the Pond. There was an encyclopedia of knowledge available and a multitude of lessons about life. Learning wasn’t a conscious effort, though; it was more like absorption. The world shifted for me when I entered the Woods and time slowed down. A spider with an egg sack was worth ten minutes, a gopher pushing dirt out of its hole an hour, and a deer with a fawn a lifetime.

Next Friday I will offer a slight diversion from MisAdventures tales for a week and include a chapter from my book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Capital P is for Pond— Or Is that Pirates… The MisAdventure Series

 

Resting on top of tombstone in Diamond Springs, CA

There came a time when the Graveyard was too small to accommodate my wandering ways, about 65 years before this photo was taken. Both the Graveyard and I have changed a bit.

 

There came a time when the Graveyard wasn’t large enough to satisfy my wandering urges. I had crawled under the lilac bushes, climbed all of trees, found most of the downed tombstones— and even visited the new graves on the opposite side of the Graveyard. It was time to expand my horizons.

All of Diamond and its environs were fair game. I started close to home and gradually worked outward. At first I tagged along behind Marshall and our friends; later I spent a great deal of time alone with only the dogs for company. It was a Capital World. For example, there were a number of ponds in the area. Oscar ‘Ot’ Jones had one on his ranch for cattle; Caldor had one where logs waited for their appointment with the buzz saw; Forni had one over the hill from his slaughterhouse, and Tony Pavy had one that was supposedly off-limits. But there was only one Capital P Pond, the one next to the Community Hall. If I told Marshall, my parents or my friends I was going to the Pond, they knew immediately where I would be.

Mill pond

This was one of our ponds, the mill-pond where logs waited for their appointment with the buzzsaw. Sadly, I don’t have a picture of the Capital P Pond. But it was fed by water from here. Neither of the ponds exist today. Marshall liked to walk out on the logs.

It was a magical place filled with catfish, mud turtles, bullfrogs and pirates. Although the Pond was small, it had a peninsula, island, deep channel, cattails and shallows. In spring, Redwing Blackbirds nested in the cattails and filled the air with melodic sound. Mallards took advantage of the island’s safety to set up housekeeping. Catfish used holes in the bank of the peninsula to deposit hundreds of eggs that eventually turned into large schools of small black torpedoes dashing about in frenetic unison. Momma bullfrogs laid eggs in strings that grew into chubby pollywogs. When they reached walnut size, tiny legs sprouted in one of nature’s miracles of transformation. Water snakes slithered though the water with the sole purpose of thinning out the burgeoning frog population and I quickly learned to recognize the piteous cry of a frog being consumed whole. Turtles liked to hang out in the shallows where any log or board provided a convenient sunning spot. They always slid off at our appearance but a few quiet minutes would find them surfacing to reclaim lost territory.

By mid-summer the Pond would start to evaporate. The shallow areas surrendered first, sopped up by the burning sun. Life became concentrated in a few square yards of thick, tepid water, only inches deep and supported by a foot of squishy mud. All too soon the Pond was bone-dry with mud cracked and curled. Turtles, snakes and frogs crawled, slithered and hopped away to other nearby water. Catfish dug their way into the mud and entered a deep sleep, waiting for the princely kiss of winter rains. Ducks flew away quacking loudly, leaving only silence behind. Fall and winter rains found the pond refilling and then brimming. Cloudy, gray, wind-swept days rippled the water and created a sense of melancholy that even an eight-year old could feel.

But melancholy was a rare emotion for the Pond.  To us, it was a playground with more options than an amusement park. A few railroad ties borrowed from Caldor and nailed together with varying sized boards made great rafts for exploring the furthest, most secret corners of the Pond. Imagination turned the rafts into ferocious pirate ships that ravaged and pillaged the far shores or primitive bumper cars guaranteed to dunk someone, usually me. In late spring, the Pond became a swimming hole, inviting us to test still cold waters. One spring, thin ice required a double and then triple-dare before we plunged in. It was a short swim. Swimsuits were always optional and rarely worn. I took my first swimming lessons there and mastered dog paddling with my dog Tickle providing instructions. More sophisticated strokes would wait for more sophisticated lakes.

Tickle as a pup with my sister Nancy Jo.

Frogs and catfish were for catching and adding to the family larder. During the day, a long pole with a fishing line attached to a three-pronged hook and decorated with red cloth became irresistible bait for bullfrogs. At night, a flashlight and a spear-like gig provided an even more primitive means of earning dinner. The deep chug-a-rums so prominent from a distance became silent as we approached. Both patience and stealth were required. A splash signified failure as our quarry decided that sitting on the bottom of the Pond was preferable to joining us for dinner. Victory meant a gourmet treat, frog legs. Preparation involved amputating the frog’s legs at the hips and then pealing the skin off like tights. It was a lesson I learned early; if you catch it, you clean it. We were required to chop off the big feet as well. Mother didn’t like being reminded that a happy frog had been attached hours earlier. She also insisted on delayed gratification. Cooking the frog legs on the same day they were caught encouraged them to jump around in the frying pan. “Too creepy!” she declared.

Catching catfish required nerves of steel. We caught them by hand as they lurked with heads protruding from their holes in the banks. Nerves were required because the catfish had serious weapons, needle sharp fins tipped with stingers that packed a wallop. They had to be caught exactly right and held firmly, which was not easy when dealing with a slimy fish trying to avoid the frying pan. But their taste was out of this world and had the slightly exotic quality of something that ate anything that couldn’t eat them.

Next Friday in MisAdventures, we will visit the other great ‘wilderness’ of my childhood: The Woods.

TOMORROW (Saturday): It snowed here. Join Peggy and me on a walk through our winter-wonderland.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: Dropping into the depths of the Grand Canyon we find a huge sandstone cavern and an ancient Native American granary.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: We leave Dawson Creek and begin our journey up the Alaska Highway.

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

Learning About Cross-Cultural Relations as a Second Grader… The MisAdventure Series

Caldor train

Caldor Lumber Company was one of two major places of employment in Diamond Springs. My dad worked as an electrician for the company. Logs were brought into Caldor by train on a narrow gauge railway up until the early 50s. Note the size of the logs! (Photo from newspaper archives.)

 

I was fortunate early in life to have close Mexican-American friends and experience some of the richness of cross-cultural experiences. The strength of America has always been in the diversity of the people who have come here from all over the world with dreams of improving their lives. That they retain a bit of their ‘home-country’ is a strength, whether that home country is Ireland, or Mexico, or China, or Nigeria. The mixing of cultures has almost always been the dynamism that drives humanity’s great leaps leap forward, that leads us to question old ways, and helps us find new solutions to seemingly intractable problems. 

 

My entry into the world of education also introduced me to a whole new set of friends. Up until that point in time, the kids I had hung out with had consisted of my brother and his buddies. We had roamed the country doing little boy things with me as a tag along. Mainly we got into mischief. I could look forward to a life of crime, or at least to becoming a world-class juvenile delinquent. I’m not sure that much changed during my first grade, but I started to make new friends. In the second grade, I became particularly close to Rudy (Raul) and Robert Rangel, a pair of Mexican-American brothers who lived in a small house in East Diamond Springs.

Raul Rangel

Rudy.

Robert Rangel

Robert.

We hit it off immediately and on a Saturday toward the end of the school year, the boys and their parents had invited me up to their house to spend the night. It was my first official play date and my first ever sleep-over. I was nervous. My mother took me up and dropped me off to a royal greeting by the boys, their parents and their siblings.

“Quick, “the boys had urged,” We have to go stand by the railroad tracks.” We could hear the train’s whistle a mile or so out of town.

The tracks were part of a narrow-gauge railway used by Caldor Lumber Company to bring logs from its forest operation 30 miles up in the mountains to its lumber mill in Diamond Springs. The company had been established in the early 1900s and at first used mules for hauling the logs. It had then switched to oxen followed by a giant steam tractor. The tractor made so much noise that the company was required to use outriders a quarter of a mile in front and behind to warn people so their horses wouldn’t be spooked.

Understandably, the company soon switched to a narrow-gauge railway. The trains had recently been converted to diesel engines, a task my father had helped with as one of Caldor’s two electricians. Soon the railroad would lose out to logging trucks but, for the time being, little kids still had the joy of watching these massive engines and their long line of rail cars carrying large logs out of the forest. More to the point, the engineers on the train carried an ample supply of candies that they would distribute to the boys and girls standing along the track.

The train was near; we could now hear it chugging along. Rudy and Robert, their siblings and I sprinted the hundred or so yards over the tracks. I leaned over and put my ear to the track, a trick I had learned from the Lone Ranger and his side-kick, Tonto. You can actually hear the vibrations and supposedly judge how far away the train is. It was an important skill for early train robbers. I needn’t have bothered since the train came into view when my head was on the track. I’m sure the engineers saw me. I jumped back at the urging of my buddies and we started waving madly. One of the engineers dutifully leaned out of the cab and tossed us candy, lots of it. We scrambled around picking it up.

Since dinner was an hour or so off, I suggested that we head out to the woods behind Rudy and Robert’s house and ride trees. Who needed horses? My brother, Alan, Lee and I had learned that we could climb up to the top of young, skinny pines and make them sway back and forth by leaning way out. It offered a free carnival-like ride 10-15 feet up in the air. If the tree was skinny enough, we could actually make it bend all of the way down to the ground, where we would drop off and allow it to snap back up. I suspect the trees didn’t enjoy the experience nearly as much as we did.

“It’s dinner time!” came the call so we rushed back to the house and made use of an outside water faucet to semi-wash the pitch off our hands. It can be quite stubborn.

“You have to try this,” Rudy enthused, dashing into the house and coming out with a red pepper. I should have been suspicious when the rest of the family followed him outside. But what does a second grader know? I gamely bit into the pepper and was introduced to habanero-hot. The whole family roared as I made a mad sprint for the faucet and glued my mouth to it, becoming a major part of the evening’s entertainment. The Mexican food that followed more than made up for the joke, however. I’ve been a fan ever since. The hot pepper became a dim memory when it became time to go to bed.

All of the boys slept on the same one. The family didn’t have a lot of money and space was limited. Admittedly it was much bigger than my small single at home. And, as you may recall, I had a number of animal companions that slept with me outside to scare the ghosts away. But I had never slept in a bed with another person, much less 3 or 4, or maybe it was 10. That’s what it felt like. I was mortified, but I tried. I really did. Ten came and there I was, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling, body frozen in place— and midnight, and two, and four. At 5:30, I gently nudged Robert.

“I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept all night,” I confessed. “I have to go home.”

“Ummm,” the half-awake Robert had moaned. I got up, dressed, and slipped out of the house, careful not to wake anyone else. It was close to dark, with only a dim light announcing the morning. Home wasn’t that far away, maybe a mile, but I still remember the journey as long and spooky. Halfway there, I passed Murphy’s grocery store. Sodas were stacked in wood boxes in front. I looked around furtively— nobody was around. I was totally alone. So, I helped myself to a Coke. I carefully hid it outside when I arrived home. It wouldn’t do to have overly inquisitive parents discover it and ask questions. I happily enjoyed it later in the day, feeling much less guilty about stealing  the soda than I did about abandoning my friends.

Curt

My second grade photo.

 

MONDAY’S POST: The Grand Canyon trip begins. I help paddle the raft to keep it floating downriver.  The headwinds were insisting that we go in the opposite direction.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Part 1 of a new photo essay on driving the Alaska Highway.

FRIDAY’S POST: My cocker spaniel, Tickle, teaches me how to swim and other tales of the magical Pond.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

Good Monkey; Bad Monkey… A Visit to an Eco-Tourist Lodge in the Amazon

Spider Monkey hug

This spider monkey adopted Peggy. Here it gives Peggy a monkey hug. Later, Peggy wondered where all of her flea bites came from…

Spider monkey hitches a ride

Monkey hug from the back.

 

“The war of the future will be between those who defend nature and those who destroy it. The Amazon will be in the eye of the hurricane. Scientists, politicians, and artists will land here to see what is being done to the forest.” —Jacques Cousteau

 

Cousteau’s statement to Dr. Francisco Bernardino inspired him to erect the Ariau Amazon Tower Lodge in the mid 80s to accommodate the expected influx of ‘artists, scientists and politicians,’  which it did up until it was closed in 2015, attracting such luminaries as Bill Gates, Prince Charles and Jimmy Carter, not to mention the Mekemsons.

Since it was located a mere 30 miles outside of Manaus on the Rio Negro River, Peggy and I decided to visit. We ended up staying in the same room that Jimmy Carter had occupied. Today’s photo essay reflects our stay there and how we hung out with the monkeys…

Amazon jungle lodges

The Ariau is located at number 3 on the map. We took a boat out of Manaus to get there.

Map of Ariau Amazon Tower

This is a map of the complex with its long walkways that wander throughout the rainforest.

Jungle walkway in Brazil

A view of the walkways. Peggy and I had a lot of fun hiking on them, whether we were accompanied by our monkey friends or not.

Peggy Mekemson on jungle walkway

Peggy on one of the walkways in the tree canopy.

Jungle walkway at Ariau Lodge in Brazil

Another view.

View from Ariau Lodge walkway

Looking out at one of the sights along the walkway.

Boat on Rio Negro River

We arrived from Manaus on this double-decker boat.

Ariau Lodge pickup stick look

You didn’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about the structure. I doubt that it would meet earthquake standards. Pickup sticks come to mind.

Our room at the Ariau Lodge

We stayed in the Jimmy Carter room. The eel reminded me of current politics. You don’t want to be a small fish.

Treehouse room at Ariau Lodge

Not to disparage Carter, who I really like, but I would have preferred to stay in the Tarzan suite shown here. It was nestled up in the top of a tall ebony tree.

Snake tongue and Bone

Bone put in an appearance.

Wooley Amazon monkey

Wooly and Spider Monkeys were found around the lodge and out on the walkways. This Wooly Monkey was behaving how monkeys are supposed to behave, dangling by his tail from a tree.

Wooly monkey hat

And this one wasn’t. It isn’t my best photo. (grin) I was not happy about having a monkey for a hat!

Monkey rear view

When I suggested that he go play with an anaconda out in the jungle, he wrapped his tail around my arm and treated me to this view.

Scary monkey

And then gave me the evil monkey look…

a handful of monkey

Before threatening to take a chunk out of my hand.

Spider monkey near Manaus

Peggy got the good monkey. Given its heart-shaped face and adoring look, this seems an appropriate time to wish everyone a Happy Valentines Day!

Spider Monkey mouth

I will note that the spider monkey had an impressive set of choppers.

Peggy with spider monkey

When Peggy sat down, it settled into her lap and hammed it up for the camera..

Spider monkey in lap

Before deciding to take a nap.

Spider monkey on Peggy's lap

Monkey feet

I decided its feet and our “Travelers’ Tales of Brazil” would make a fitting photo to close my posts on the Amazon.

 

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

MONDAY’S POST: We finally start to make our way down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon while fighting a strong headwind.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: Peggy and I begin a trip up the Alaska-Canada Highway, one of the world’s premier adventure-travel roads.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

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.

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave