|The Grand Canyon
Exerpt from Escape From El Monte
2004 by Benita Bishop
Mr. Quixote was relieved that his two Rio Hondo College van busses arrived at the north rim of the Grand Canyon safely. He had driven the first van, continually pulling over to wait for the student driving the second van.
The second van had a tendency to keep stalling and the driver drove slow, staying in the right lanes, ever ready to pull over when the van stalled out. By the time they reached the Hualapai Hilltop on the Indian reservation, it was evening.
It was November of 1979. They set up their tents on the edge of the Grand Canyon cliff overlooking Havasu Canyon and discussed the trails they would take on the ten-mile hike down into Hualapai Canyon and through Havasupai Canyon. Benita also took notes when Mr. Quixote explained the history of the Havasupai Indians.
"The Havasupai are descendents of the Hohokam culture which is south of the Grand Canyon. They were called the 'People of the blue-green water.' The history books estimated that there were about 300 Havasupai around 1680. Their Yuman dialect has a lot in common with the Hualapai and Yavapai people." Benita wrote in her notebook as the teacher continued,
"The Havasupai Indians once occupied the northern edge of the Tonto basin in central Arizona. During the summer months the Havasupai farmed, ranched, and hunted on the top of the plateau. Then they would move into the canyons during winter months, and grew corn, beans, and squash. They were also known for the Red Ocher they mined. They developed a much sought after ceremonial paint, from the Ochre, for trading. The Hopi were friendly with them, and trade was common between the two tribes. They had the perfect environment to thrive as a nation"
A few of the students asked questions about the tribe now dwelling down in the Canyon. Benita was impressed at how well they once thrived with their hunting, farming and trading economy. But she wondered, "When did the white man start interfering with this perfect life the tribe had?" Realizing that she had spoken this question out loud, she could only look to Mr. Quixote for the answer. He answered, "Sometime around 1840, miners and cattle ranchers moved into Havasupai territory taking over much of the best land. The tribe's economic system was eventually destroyed as their hunting and grazing lands were lost." The group as a whole seemed startled and dismayed by that realization. The teacher added one more fact that seemed to make everyone feel better and calm down. "It was only about five years ago, President Ford signed a new bill into law. This new bill restored the land to the Havasupai, the largest amount of land ever returned to a single tribe in our history."
"So, the tribe owns the Grand Canyon?"
"No,not all of it. Just about 200,000 acres. Route 18, the desert dirt roads we just used to drive here, that land all around is also part of the Havasupai Reservation."
Everyone was up and ready, early the next morning, eager to hike down into the Canyon. A few of the students that had done this last semester warned, "The hike down is easy, it's the hike back up that you'd better be prepared for!"
The first few miles were very steep with a narrow trail that switched back and forth. The morning sunrise view was spectacular. Everyone took pictures often. Once down in the canyon they observed a posted sign that said, "Danger of flash floods." They hurried on into a beautiful narrow canyon. The walls had multiple layers of color, seeming more like a watercolor painting than real. The rivers had eroded the sides of the canyon walls, carving inwards which gave them natural overhanging cliff cave effect, making it seem like the walls were leaning in on you as you passed through. It was tempting to want to get off the trail and explore the narrow side canyons that had refreshing trickles of water flowing through. But you didn't dare waste time exploring when it was eight fast hiking miles into the Indian Village and another two miles to their campground.
Two young men from the class were hiking several yards in front of Benita. She had nicknamed them Abbot and Costello for obvious reasons. She got a kick out of the two when they both stumbled, falling at the same time, on mere pebbles. One of them picked up a small stone that he had supposedly fallen on and yelled jokingly, "Gold! I found gold!" The other guy laughed and grabbed the rock away from him and replied, "No stupid! This is a plain old rock!"
"Old? Like Antique?"
"Yeah, A million year old artifact!"
Benita laughed and felt good about life and she knew how much she really needed this trip. It was an escape from her parents and problems. And it was an escape from El Monte.
Behind her now, she heard the clop of horse hooves. She glanced behind her as a young Indian man approached. His horse was the plain brown sort, tail braided. The Indian was also very nicely brown with his long black hair loosely braided. She smiled and said a friendly "Hello!" He waved as he passed by her.
Abbot and Costello were still ahead of her and the horse took them by surprise. They both jumped and seemed to stumble again. One of them smiled at the Indian and held his hand up and said, "HOW!" in a low voice. The other guy just started laughing as the Indian guy, obviously disgusted with them all, reared his horse up and kicked it into full speed, raising a cloud of dust into the faces of the two nut heads.
Benita was ashamed of them acting so childish. "You two up there!" She ran up to them. "If I told Mr. Quixote what you just said, he would fail you for sure!" They just looked at her scratching and wiping their faces of the dust and turned away. "We didn't say anything did we?" "No we didn't say a thing!"
She decided to stay as far away from those two, for the rest of the trip! A little while later those two stopped to smoke, and Benita picked up her pace to get herself way ahead of them. This place was magic to her soul. The air was warm, the water in the stream was cool and refreshing, she purposely stepped into the water at all the stream crossings. She fantasized about living here with the Indians. "Carlos would love it here." She thought to herself. There was a place she came upon, that had a beautiful small cascading waterfall sloping gradually down.
"This must be Heaven." She said to herself. A voice nearby, startled her. "It is Heaven, 'Girl Who Walks Fast.' Benita turned and saw the same Indian guy just a few yards down, sitting by the stream. She couldn't believe that he had just named her 'Girl Who Walks Fast'. "Oh, you scared me! I am so sorry about those two stupid guys. We are all with a History group..."
"Yes, I know Mr. Quixote well. He visits us three times a year. I was just a boy when I met him."
"Oh yes, he said he knew many of the people here. What is your name?"
"I am Joseph. I go to college outside, but I am home for Thanksgiving."
"My name is Benita, but I think you just changed that!" He smiled. "Us Indians, you know, we're practical." They both laughed and he continued with a glint in his eyes. "Do you realize that you are on the wrong trail?"
"What? But I saw no other trail."
"If you want to get to Supai Village, then you better let me give you a ride."
"Well, since you know Mr. Quixote, then I think it would be all right."
On the back of the horse with her backpack still on she had the ride of her life. He informed her that tourists still say ignorant things to the natives and the word 'HOW' is the most common mistake made. Then he warned her to watch out for some of the other Indian men while she was here. They ask for alcohol and joints and they try to trade with a plant called Jimson weed. He was very serious when he spoke. "It is dangerous. We call it 'loco weed'. The Indians have used the weed for asthma and my grandmother used to make a tea with it, but not to drink. To soak her hands in when her arthritis became too painful."
"Well, I don't have any alcohol or joints with me."
They trodded along for awhile quietly, Joseph seemed deep in melancholy. Benita decided not to talk unless he spoke first. Then after awhile he began to say an Indian prayer.
"Sun, my relative, as you rise, be good to me.
Bring good things to us. Give me strength to work,
so that I can be strong in the garden,
so that I can hoe, plant corn, and water my fields.
Sun, my relative, as you go down, be good to me,
as we lay down to sleep, give me peace.
As I sleep, may you come up again.
May you go on your course many times,
Making good things happen for people.
Let me be always the same as I am now."
Then he spoke to her. "Today, with my people, the alcohol is more poisonous than Jimson weed. The Medicine Man knew how to use the Jimson weed. But the people now, do not know how to stop drinking the firewater."
"That is what Mr. Quixote was telling us about this morning. He asked the students not to bring booze into the Canyon. He also said that the Indians did not like to talk to tourists."
"That is true. I like talking with Mr. Quixote, he knows much of our people. I do not speak with most of the tourists, but Girl Who Walks Fast has a spirit that I can see. I see your joy, I see your humbleness, I see your love for mother earth."
"It must be because my mother has some native Indian blood. Her ancestors are called Tarahumara, a large tribe that came from the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico."
"Yes, you have the green eyes of the ones who are mixed blood."
The outskirts of the village lay just ahead and Joseph stopped, helping Benita off the horse. "Girl Who Walks Fast is here before the others. They were on the right trail, but you somehow, knew the shortcut."
"I thank you very much, and I hope you get a chance to see Mr. Quixote today." He said nothing as he walked his horse away.
Benita watched the Supai Indian as he walked down another path towards a simple house with a small squash garden growing in front of it. Her path led past the Rodeo grounds, into downtown Supai. She thought about Joseph, he was average built, not tall, and he was such a nice person, he was intelligent and had a sad heart for his tribe. He talked about the weakness of his people with openness and honesty, and he had willingly helped a tourist. She had met very few humans in her lifetime that displayed this type of true compassion.
Benita walked into the Café. There were about five students from her History group there. The smell of food cooking invited her, her stomach growling, she needed some food real bad just now. The Indian woman behind the counter silently waited for her order. "I would like to order the Indian Fry bread?" The lady nodded and said, "One Fifty."
Benita dished out the cash and sat down to wait. The Indian people sitting in the Café did not care to talk when some of the students greeted them. The children who ran past her on her way in, had candy in their hands and just glanced at her and kept running. Most of the Indians she saw except for Joseph, seemed to be overweight. She assumed that it meant they were healthy and well fed.
She would find out later that day when her teacher planned on telling his class about the problem with junk food, diabetes, and the general Indian health crisis.
Also, she thought that Joseph seemed just a little bit different than the rest of the tribe. Most of the tribe had slanted eyes and very round faces. Joseph looked Indian but could also pass for Mexican. Perhaps he was not full-blooded Havasupai Indian. Maybe one of his parents was from another Indian tribe.
The entire group assembled at the Tourist office for a head count and instructions. It was only two more miles to the campground. Spirits were joyful and Benita fell in line close to the front with Mr. Quixote. Towards the back was Abbot and Costello. She was hoping not to even have to look at them.
The two mile path to camp was gorgeous in it's own sweet way. The trail wound alongside Havasu Creek and the vegetation was lush with ferns, thick trees and water cress. It didn't take long to get to the campground.
Everyone cheered as they arrived. This was a hidden paradise in the middle of a desert canyon. There was a spring with fresh water sprouting right out of the cliff. The campers knew that the blue-green waters were too high in mineral content to drink. So everyone filled their containers from the spring in the cliff.
After Mr. Quixote's lecture, everyone hiked down to Mooney's Mine. It was a cave just below camp, that went quite deep into the side of the cliff. Benita was in awe! The walls of the cave were thickly lined with calcite crystals. It was like something out of a movie, too perfect to be real.
At the end of the tunnel were some broken glass bottles and a shriveled up old mattress. It ruined that magical feeling. Some said it was the teenage Indians partying. Some thought it was the backpackers. How the mattress got carried in was a mystery at first. Parts of the cave were very narrow. Benita thought that maybe they folded the mattress and shoved it through using two people.
The next day would be the most spectacular of them all. They were going to hike downstream to explore Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls. They had all seen pictures of bright blue pools with huge waterfalls. The pools of water at the base of the falls were popular for swimming in.
That night, around the campfire, Mr. Quixote told the dramatic story of Mooney Falls. "It is said the first prospectors let themselves down the Canyon with ropes. Pack animals had to be lowered over the cliffs of Mooney Falls by means of ropes and a derrick. But let me start at the beginning. D.W. Mooney was down in this canyon prospecting for valuable metals. Though he was an ex-sailor, he volunteered to be the first to descend own the cliff face by means of a rope lowered from the top. He paid for this attempt with his life, losing his hold on the rope only a few feet over the cliff, falling to the rocks below. His companions finally reached and buried Mooney's body eleven months later."
The teacher stopped and took a sip of his coffee. A student then asked what was lingering on everyone's mind. "How did they finally get down the cliff?"
"When they saw an Indian wearing the dead Mooney's boots. They asked the Indian to show them how he got down there. The Indian showed them some natural caves in the cliff next to the falls. They were formed by thousands of years of calcium carbonate water dripping off the top, and the travertine dissipating from it, leaving the open space behind it. They finally got down there and found his bootless body, encrusted with the lime and minerals of the water and buried Mooney on the Island just below Mooney Falls. Later on, the cliff tunnels under the travertine deposits were modified and made more descendible by the Indians who cut steps in the rock and embedded pieces of steel set alongside the steps for hand holds. These steps and hand irons are still used. I could spend hours describing the great obstacles the early prospectors had to overcome, in their efforts to mine the mineral deposits of this region. There are many more mineshafts downstream, many of them are considered too dangerous to explore. They found a good amount of lead down there but I do not recommend any of you going in those tunnels without the proper climbing ropes and hardware. It is obvious that we brought no mining equipment with us." The group laughed at that, trying to imagine the hassle of carrying ropes, hooks, picks, axes and shovels down these canyons, camping here for months at a time. Four days was enough for most of the group. Not for Benita though. She felt that she would love to stay here for a week at the least. She knew that she would return someday, maybe with Carlos, maybe just by herself.
That night in her tent, she wrote a poem about the Canyon. It was her hope to someday, make that poem into a song.
Traveling alone in a punchbowl of gold
Looking for Indians who live here, I'm told
I stumble on pebbles a million years old
And I walk in a desert once rich in gold.
Great river changed courses, is no longer here
The sad sky above has no longer shed tears
But the path that I tread on grows wider and strong
And deeper and deeper, the path does go on
The mornings are sweetened by the spring in the cliff
Whose water is crystal with sweet watercress
It grows clean and crisp, how I wish I could be
Back there in the canyon, beside my lost dream
If ever to go back to that canyon so long
To not find the river - The water is gone
The people are family; they'll show you the way
Just follow the rhythm, the drumbeat they play
Look back to the past Back when I was free
I lived like an Indian and did what I pleased
Look back to the past
Look back to the past Back when you lived for me
I'll go back to find you and finish our dream
Look back to the past
She then wrote the poem on the back of an official Havasupai postcard that she purchased at the General store. She planned to mail it directly from the Supai Post Office addressed to her home in El Monte, California.
The Indian at the post office informed her earlier that day that the Supai Post Office was the only one in the United States that still used a mule-train to pack out the mail. This postcard would be priceless to her. Just before sleeping she decided to write the poem once again on another sheet of notepaper and give it to Mr. Quixote when they arrived home. She was afraid that if she gave it to him now, he would read it to all the students out loud. What if some of the students were expert poetry writers. They would mock and laugh at her attempt at poetry.
The next day they Had a big breakfast, cleaned up, and started hiking towards the top of a nearby mesa. Mr. Quixote knew it was best for everyone to endure the harder hiking first. The reward would be the second hike to Havasu Falls, where they would cool off, swimming in the turquoise pool at the base of the falls.
At the top of the mesa they viewed evidence of old Indian campsites. Fire pits, broken pieces of pottery, bones from animals they had eaten while camped up there, and most interesting of all, beer bottles. Beer bottles? Yes Beer bottles of all shapes and sizes, some of them quite old. Brands that were no longer around.
It was all quite interesting. The campground below, viewable from the side of this mesa, looked small and lost among trees and greenery. The picturesque view of the river was spectacular and well worth the hike up here.
There was evidence on the mesa that the Indians still hunted and camped up here, from the abundance of newer brands of beer.
They then hiked back down stopping at camp to pack their lunches and swim suits. The Hike up to Havasu was short, not even a mile, but they were hot, sweaty, and ready to jump right in.
On one side of the swimming hole was a huge thick branched tree. It had a rope hanging out on a strong limb, suspended over the deep part of the water. There was a line attached to that rope that was used to pull the rope up into the tree. The trick was to climb onto a well worn lower branch of the tree, grab on to the rope and swing like Tarzan toward the center of the pool, letting go at just the right moment, sending you flying through the air and into the cold water below. Everyone stood in line as one by one, they braved the rope swing. The two Abbot and Costello guys both yelled the Tarzan yell but Benita laughed spitefully when the second guy lost his tennis shoes in mid air! If she had the chance to speak with him later, she will ask him, "So, HOW did you lose your shoes?"
They enjoyed the crisp waters of Havasu Falls for several hours on that warm afternoon, having a picnic lunch in the warm sun, next to the river.
They had spent all afternoon at Havasu Falls and Mr. Quixote decided to wait until the next day to hike down to Mooney Falls. He knew his group would want to picnic and spend the day there. Several of the students expressed an interest in hiking further down river to Beaver Falls and maybe even to where Havasu Creek ran into the Colorado River. A group of about six would trek down that trail while the rest lounged around Mooney Falls, swimming and snacking.
The next day came and there were clouds overhead, a threat of rain for the hikers. The temperature was considerably cooler. They all headed down the trail leading to Mooney Falls, which would be a little over a mile. If it rained, the climb down the cliff to the base of Mooney Falls would become very dangerous.
Benita was with the first group, heading down the steep path towards the cave like travertine deposits. Sure enough there were steel hand holds and even some cable stretched along the steepest places. It hadn't rained yet and hopes were high that mother sky would wait until later to weep.
There were spots where you had to get on hands and knees climbing and sliding down backwards, as if on a ladder, to reach the safety of the flat land below. This waterfall was just as spectacular as Havasu Falls and had a more adventurous appeal, due to the story behind the name, Mooney Falls.
Benita was sure that the story was on everyone's mind as they looked towards the island area in the middle of the base pool. Mooney was buried on that island. All but his boots.
There was another tree rope swing here, next to one of the lower pools. They all let out a whoop of joy upon it's discovery.
Benita decided to stay by Mooney Falls and relax for the day. Tomorrow they would leave and have the strenuous ten mile hike up the canyon to deal with. She was not looking forward to that. The trick was to leave very early in the morning, before the suns heat became it's strongest. If it rained tomorrow, they would have to be extra careful of flash-flooding. The other reason for leaving early was Mr. Quixote's favorite. Breakfast was served at the Supai Café at six in the morning and according to Mr. Quixote, the homemade pancakes were the size of Frisbees!
The water seemed chillier, probably because the hikers never got hot from their hike in. The sun was fighting to peek through the clouds but the day was quite a bit cooler than yesterday had been. Still Benita tried the rope with almost everyone else. Five people kept their plans to hike down to Beaver Falls. Mr. Quixote stayed with the Mooney Falls group but he told the Beaver Falls group to turn back if it started raining.
By later in the afternoon, it still had not rained and the sun did manage to peek out and warm them for a few hours. Some of the group were actually sunburned, something that will add more pain to the hike out tomorrow. They would soon regret worshipping the sun so.
Benita felt refreshed as she hiked back up to the campground. There were a few Indian men milling around. One man on a horse approached Benita and she thought he was saying something in Yuman language, the Supai dialect. "Ah-rep-a-choi."
Her ears were still full of water and he spoke so softly that she wasn't sure if what he said was in English or Yuman.
"I didn't understand what you said." She was trying to be respectable by not saying "WHAT!" like most people would say.
"Light up a joint!" He spoke louder and she then realized why his voice was softer before. He was trying to be discreet. Benita shook her head "No, I an sorry, I don't have any."
He said nothing then but rode up to one of the other guys and repeated the same question. He shook his head no and the Indian went off to find some other camper who might have a joint.
Joseph was right. She thought of his prayer, she had a knack for memorizing dialog on the spot, having to develop that skill in Drama class and College Theatre Arts classes. She sat on the bench, closed her eyes, and began to recite the last part aloud.
"Sun, my relative, as you go down, be good to me, as we lay down to sleep, give me peace. As I sleep, may you come up again. May you go on your course many times, Making good things happen for people. Let me be always the same as I am now."
When she opened her eyes, the Indian man was standing before her, still perched on his horse. He seemed confused. She could smell liquor on his breath.
"How do you know Grandmothers prayer?"
"You can be like Grandmother and return to the ways...without the firewater."
"You must be Girl Who Walks Fast."
"I am." He didn't introduce himself. He did not say anything. He just turned and rode away.
By this time, Mr.Quixote had wandered by and overheard the last part of the prayer, recognizing it as a Havasupai prayer for a long and prosperous life. He wondered how she had known it. When Benita walked by him on her way to the spring in the cliff, he questioned her.
"Girl who walks ... fast?" He raised an eyebrow.
"Joseph gave me that name."
"Well... speaking of HOW..."
She explained how she had met Joseph and what those two idiots said to him. He shook his head in wonder.
"It's a good thing it was Joseph that they did that to, if it were one of the others... no telling what would happen."
"But Joseph said that tourists commonly say 'HOW' not knowing the stupidity of it."
"But those two wise cracks, probably said it in a knowing, mocking way that would have deeply insulted any Indian down here." "Yes, you are right. They did."
Everyone went to sleep early that evening, needing the rest in preparation for the ten mile uphill torture hike. At five in the morning it was becoming even colder then the day before. People emerged from their tents shivering in the cold as they packed their tents and sleeping bags. Benita couldn't wait for the pancake breakfast and fresh hot coffee awaiting them at the Supai Café.
When they arrived in the Village, it seemed that everyone was still asleep. At six sharp, the same Indian woman showed up to open her Café. She prepared the coffee first, put on her apron, and started taking orders for breakfast. Almost everyone ordered pancakes and she went back behind the counter and started to mix ingredients in a huge bowl.
The freshly brewed coffee was like heaven in the cold morning, and the aroma of the pancakes cooking had everyone humming with "Mmmmmmmmmm"
Mr. Quixote warned everyone that too much of a good thing might make it more difficult to hike out. If they became too full, the hike would be a heavier load to carry.
The pancakes were the size of the plate they were served on. Just one pancake was all you needed, if that. Benita devoured every crumb of hers. She would regret that later on she knew but it was just too tasty. The post office was not open yet when they headed out, but if you had a stamp, you could just drop your letters in the box outside. One of the girls had stamps and everyone was giving her coins in exchange. Benita got her stamp and dropped her postcard into the mailbox. Little did she know, it would take three weeks for that postcard to reach her home address in El Monte.
It was a very difficult hike out for all, but to Benita it was a time to reflect on her experiences. Then during the last two miles of steep switchbacks, it started to snow. Fresh snow made a pleasing crunch sound as you hiked up. It also made the going easier.
If you ask anyone who ever attempted to hike a steep uphill trail in the blaring sun for two miles, it is a hell beyond hell. The best time to backpack into Havasupai was during the colder months. In the summer the temperature climbs well over one hundred.
The drive home in the College Van was silent. Everyone was too tired to talk. Some students snored. Benita thought of everything that had happened to her in the last year. She had become a Disco dancer, trying Punk and other crazy Hollywood oddities. She attended two proms, one of them great, the other one disappointing. She was given the honor to sing at her High School Graduation ceremony, then she sang and danced in the Roaring Twenties Musical that summer. She had experienced her share of heartbreak, with players like the hitchhiker dude and that guy from Hollywood.
She learned many new lessons dealing with her first job, her car, partying too much, being broke, being used as a taxi and being honest when you have to.
It took a romantic person like Carlos, the guy she Argued with about scholarships,but eventually came to love, to help her get over the unpredictable Mickey Lord! She was so glad Carlos Diaz came along when he did, or she would be drowning in her depression over Mickey and all the other disappointments that had come her way. The other life saver in her life was her new dog Rex. He was smart, loyal and always eager to spend time with her.
This trip to Havasupai would be the best Thanksgiving weekend she had ever had. Because she finally managed to... Escape from El Monte
Benita is a 'Stay at home Mom' and in her spare time,
she loves to write about her experiences in High School and College. Digging
through boxes of junk, stored away in her parents garage for over twenty
years, she came upon her Diaries, once thought lost. She was delighted
to re-discover her youth by reading her diaries and documenting them in
the computer. Then after self publishing a book titled, 'The Lost Girl
From El Monte' about her Diary adventures, she continued writing those
remembered memories that were not told of in her Diary. Thus, the new book
titled 'Escape From El Monte'. a novel. She has self-published the book
for now, until she finds a publisher who believes in her story. You can
order the book in it's entirety from www.lulu.com/benitabishop or, www.barriogirl.com.
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