HITCHHIKING THROUGH THE CANYON
By an Adventuring Mouse*
In the Moonlight
Looking out from my rocky home, I saw the shapes of tents, boxes and bags clearly illuminated in silvery moonlight. All was silent, except for the roar of distant rapids. I was eager to inspect this new group of campers who were were visiting my sandy beach. As I scurried along my usual route, I ran right over the top of a sleeping bag. It was like climbing a small hill, for the sleeper inside was lying on his side. I know because I went right up to the head of the bag and looked in. During my lifetime, I have seen a lot of groups come and go on my beach. Most of them stay for only a night. They hike up a trail, they cook the best-smelling food you can imagine, they sit around talking, and they go to bed soon after dark. Some of them wander around a bit during the night, some of them snore, and all of them are up early, before the sun shines in here in the morning. If Iím lucky, I sometimes find a snack during the night. I check their duffel bags, which is easy if theyíre not inside a tent, and I look all over the sand where they have been eating. Too many of these groups are thoughtless. They donít leave much for a curious mouse like me to find.
This group appears to be a little different. From my safe vantagepoint, I watched them form a line near their raft and hand their bags from one person to the next. Before that, they had taken little bags and spread them all over the beach. It turned out they were marking the places they wanted to sleep. After getting all the big bags off the raft, they reached into the biggest one and took out smaller bags holding some sort of mechanical contraption. They pulled here and there and ended up with three legs coming to a point at the top. I heard them call this a tripod. Then they reached into another bag and took out what I recognize as a camera. Although most people just hold their cameras to their eyes, this group put their cameras on top of the tripods and then spent a long time looking through the cameras. I canít figure out why they do this. Can they see better that way? Does it change the view? Perhaps it increases their pleasure or is fun in some way. I hear serious discussions going on, but their words donít make much sense to me. Something about f-stops and exposures, center-weighting and spot metering. However, I can understand when they exclaim, "Look at that light!" for I have lived on this beach all my life and I too have my favorite times of day when the light glows or night when everything looks mystical. Which reminds me, now that itís night, Iíd better get busy. I am determined to explore their raft tonight!
Lucky for me, they stretch a long rope from the raft to a stake on the beach. The rope lies on the sand, and itís easy to scamper along it and get up on the high deck. I could never get up here without their help. Whoops! I almost slid off the side! These great big rounded edges can be hazardous!
Although they took a lot of stuff to the beach, they still left some big heavy boxes. Some of them smell as though there should be food inside, but I canít get in to find out. What I do find are some interesting crevices. A mouse could hide in there all day, which gives me a great idea. I could actually stay onboard and find out where these rafts go! Maybe traveling with these people would help me understand them better. First Iíd better find something to eat. After looking around and finding nothing, I gave up and went back to the beach.
The only food I can find in their camp are some scraps in a big plastic bag. It was twisted shut, but there was a little residue on the edge. Itís a good thing I donít rely on the food these people bring with them. I went back to my hole under the rock, where I have some seeds that I have collected from plants around here. I saw some of my friends and told them I was going to go adventuring. They tried to convince me to forget the idea, but now that I have thought of it, I need to do it.
This time I went more slowly across my rope bridge. Am I making a mistake? Will I ever get back to my beach? Will I ever see my friends again?
In the Daylight
I huddled in my crack between a big fat tube and a hard-sided box. I could see the large round moon sinking toward a golden cliff illuminated by the rising sun. A young woman opened the box next to me and took something to the shore. I shifted my position so I could see her standing at a table. She seems to be the cook for everyone else, although there is a young man who does some of the cooking. Just then, the young man came onboard. I squeezed back in as far as I could go. He went clear to the back and got a small cylinder, then he moved about the entire raft with it making a loud noise. Iím not exactly sure what he is doing, but it seems to have something to do with each of the tubular sections of the raft. Last night I discovered that the raft is made up of separate elongated tubes hooked together. I could walk on them easily, as long as I avoided the rounded sides. This morning the tubes bounced whenever the man or woman walked on them. Maybe they are filled with air, and maybe that noisy cylinder was adding more air.
After a while the man and woman came back to put food boxes away. They spread a big tarp out in the center of the raft, and people on shore formed a line again to hand up the big bags. When the pile was very high, they tucked another tarp over the top and tied it down with ropes that snapped together. This was all done very quickly, and soon everyone had climbed onboard with their little bags that they clipped onto the tiedown ropes. I thought the tubes were bouncy before, but you should have seen them when all those people were milling about! Ouch! The hard-sided box just squeezed me. Maybe I can find a better place.
I saw my chance when no one was looking and I darted under the edge of the tarp. They had tied it down well, but there was a fold I could squeeze through. Now I can choose from several places between some of the big bags. I wonít be able to see as well, but I can hear and I can go out to the edge of the tarp when I want to see. The rest of the time I should be safe and comfortable.
The woman-who-cooks asked if everyone has fastened his or her life jacket. All the people are wearing puffy orange vests with a floppy pillow behind the neck. I guess they want to keep warm on the river, and maybe the floppy pillow is a bug-chaser, although there are no bugs around here now.
The man started up another noisy thing he called a motor. I looked this object over last night. It has a bulbous top and a shaft of some sort going down into the water. I could barely make out in the clear water that there is a sort of pinwheel on the bottom. Someone once brought a pinwheel to my beach and I heard them talking about the wind making it go around. Maybe somehow water makes this pinwheel go around, which in turn makes the noise. It isnít terribly noisy like some I heard a long time ago, but the man canít hear when people speak to him. I like it better when the man shuts the noise off, stopping the pinwheel, and we drift.
"Oh! Look at that! Whereís my camera?" These people seem to be obsessed with their cameras. They rustle around in their little bags often, and they stand up and sit down quite often. I wonder why they canít just look at the view quietly. Maybe they really do need a camera to see well. I creep to the edge of the tarp and look out on the calm river, with a beautiful orange reflection of a towering butte and shimmering green blotches mirroring the tamarisk trees along the shore. It looks very peaceful
Suddenly the man in back said, "Everyone sit down. Hold on tight and have a nice day." The people all sat down, the noise started again, and the raft moved faster. Iím guessing the man in back steers the raft, making it go wherever he wants. This time he is heading for some white, frothing water ahead of us. I dart back to my comfortable perch and brace myself. Itís a good thing I did, because that boat rocked and each part of it seemed to be moving in a different direction than any other part. I was tossed around and barely missed being squashed by one of the heavy bags. Whoa! Does this happen very often? A mouse could get killed in here! On top of that, some water splashed right through my fold in the tarp. A mouse could even get wet!
An excited voice said, "That was a fun rapid!" Iím beginning to sense that their idea of fun might not be the same as mine. First they have to view the world through a camera, and now they like being tossed all around. I was relieved when they stopped on shore and everyone got off. Of course, they had to get their cameras first, and someone opened the huge duffel so they could get their tripods. Apparently they need these items to get a closer look at the rapid we just went through. I took advantage of the quiet time to find a better niche in case they find another rapid.
When everyone was back on the raft, the man-who-steers started the noise again. I could hear people close to me talking about the clear cold water and how they could see rocks below the surface. I hope the man-who-steers can see the rocks too. That pinwheel looks little compared to a big boulder, and I guess we couldnít go anywhere if the pinwheel got smashed.
Someone said, "Weíll soon know if the Little Colorado is clear or muddy." What are they talking about? Our river is always clear, except when there has been rain and the side streams bring in a lot of silt. There were thunderstorms last week, so perhaps the Little Colorado is a side stream.
I found out that the Little Colorado is a river, not a side stream. It came in on the left, bringing thick brown water into our lovely clear water. The swirling currents mixed the two rivers into one, making pretty patterns as they mixed but leaving our river a greenish-brown that we couldnít see into. Now how can the man-who-steers see the rocks? Someone observed, "Well, we no longer can wash our hair and get it clean." The speaker is a man who seems to know answers, so people ask him all kinds of questions. The man-who-knows spends a lot of his time gazing at the cliffs as we travel. Maybe he is wishing he were out there walking.
These people have an interesting custom. Many of them clip a mug on the front of their orange vests. Every once-in-awhile one of them passes his or her mug to the next person, who passes it on, and finally it reaches the back of the raft, where there are two cylindrical containers. Someone there fills the mug and passes it back. The odd thing is that each person seems to want the mug filled differently: "half-and-half," "full-octane," "all water," "30-70" are some of the things I hear. Water must be in one jug, but what is in the other? The second odd thing is that whenever anyone asks to have a mug filled, all the other people decide they need to pass their mugs too. It surprises me that they can do this passing back and forth without spilling.
The man-who-steers stopped the raft on a sandy beach. Everyone got off and the woman-who-cooks rummaged around in the boxes. I moved a little closer to see what she was going to do. Suddenly she saw me. "A mouse!" The man-who-steers bounced over quickly, but I jumped back out of sight. Whew! Wonder what they would do if they caught me? Maybe hitchhiking isnít allowed on this boat.
The man-who-steers balanced a tray of food on his hand and stepped off the front of the raft onto the sand. While everyone was gone, I found a few crumbs on the deck. Perhaps the woman-who-cooks left them there for me. After everyone came back, they were talking about a rattlesnake they saw on the beach. I wondered if any mice like me lived there. They need to be very careful when there is a rattlesnake near.
We made a couple of other stops, during which the people all had to take their cameras so they could see well. I heard them talking about Anasazi writing and ruins, but none of this made any sense to me. The only ruins I know about were high on the cliff above my home on the sandy beach, and I had never had any reason to go up there. Near the end of the afternoon we approached another rapid. This one was even worse! It was longer and splashier. I could really like this river rafting if only we could leave out the twisting and squeezing of going through rapids.
The man-who-steers stopped the raft at the steep edge of a sandbar and said, "Weíre home, folks." Everyone grabbed their little bags and jumped off. Soon they returned to unload the big bags. When the man-who-steers and the woman-who-cooks took the top tarp off, I was very careful to stay hidden. I think they may have glimpsed me once, because I heard the woman-who-cooks say, "We DO have a mouse!" as I wiggled deeper under the bags. I guess Iíll spend my night back in the space by the tube and the big box.
My Second Night
The man-who-steers and the woman-who-cooks sleep on the boat, lulled by the whispering of the water around the tubes. When the brilliant moonlight once again made the cliffs silvery, I decided to check out this new camp. It was on a large beach, reminding me of the camp back home. While some people slept without tents, others were zipped up in their tents on the sandy ledge near tamarisk trees. The kitchen was on the sand close to the raft. Nearby a low rocky ledge supported the two big coolers. I checked the spout on one. It definitely contained water. I checked the other. The spout was sugary sweet, with a tartness I recognized as lemon from my explorations in garbage bags.
Suddenly I saw a small shadow dart out from under the rocky ledge. I jumped back a little and watched a second figure join the first. As they moved towards the garbage sack, I realized they were pocket mice. Maybe I could make some new friends. I moved forward slowly, letting them see me. Instead of running away, they stood still and watched me approach. We wiggled our whiskers at each other, then began to move around the beach together, sniffing here and there. It wasnít long before we started frolicking in a kind of dance. It was great fun, and I felt sorry for those people who were sleeping and missing the best part of the night. They never saw us at play, and they never even knew that a ringtail cat visited their camp at midnight. We scurried back under the rocky ledge and watched it jump up on the tables. It even went out on the raft, but the woman-who-cooks heard it and got up to chase it away. Finally I had to bid my new friends goodbye, cross back over my rope bridge and stow away in my crevice, for the sun was starting to color the sky and the bright moon was fading.
My Second Day as a River-Runner
This morning I learned the names of the leaders. The man-who-steers is called JP, the woman-who-cooks is Meg, and the man-who-knows is Gary. JP advised everyone this was going to be a big rapid day. Although the sky was clear, most of the people put on pants and jackets they called rainsuits. Meg told everyone to be silent as JP maneuvered into position for a really big rapid. He said, "Sit down, hold on tight and have a nice day," then we all hung on as our raft tilted into the froth. I could see rocks and the passage was narrow, but we went right through. Of course, everything bounced around again, but I am learning the best place to be and how to avoid being mashed by the big bags. JP told the group that we were coming to a big rapid named Sockdolager, which means "knockout punch." We got through safely, and I was sure glad it didnít knock me out.
I no longer see the red walls I am used to. The cliffs are now very black, although there are occasional pink stripes. Before the sunlight reached the river the canyon seemed dark and forbidding, but the people seemed to like it. They stopped along the shore several times to peer through their cameras, though Gary said they couldnít stay long. Both Gary and JP tell us things about the river, its history and interesting places to see. Gary helps people look through their cameras.
One time the people left the boat for awhile and returned talking about a sideways waterfall. I also heard them saying it is strange to call this area the Upper Granite Gorge, when it isnít granite at all. It is fishnew and nice. (Editor's note: Vishnu Schist and gneiss) Some of the shiny black rocks right at the riverís edge have interesting fluted shapes. I might enjoy exploring some of those crevices, even though they look a little spooky.
Several times the people got very excited about seeing bighorn sheep. They grabbed their cameras, and some of them put bigger eyes on their cameras. JP stopped the motor and drifted while everyone peered towards shore. Usually the ewes were down near the water, while the rams posed on high ledges, possibly to show off their fine horns or maybe to enjoy the view.
The other big thing I remember about this day is that we came to an area where two bridges, one black and the other silver, crossed the river. A person on the raft told about once walking across one of the bridges very early in the morning, watching the sunrise. These people seem to like doing unusual things. I guess that makes two things we have in common. They like special light on the rocks and they like to go on adventures.
JP selected a broad, level beach for our camp. The most interesting thing I found there was a ribbon of driftwood all along the rear of the beach. The people liked it too. They searched for branches they stuck upright in the sand near their sleeping bags and tents. They draped their orange vests and other items on the poles, making them look like flags. I noticed that they were careful to take the sticks down in the morning, so the beach looked unused except for the multitude of footprints, which would be erased by the next big wind. Of course, mixed in with all the people prints were my tiny pawprints. Although I conducted a thorough exploration of the camp that night, I didnít meet any new friends for moonlight dancing. The people slept soundly, except for the usual middle of the night strolls.
My Third Day on the Water
Again JP announced that this would be a big rapids day. Not everyone wanted to put on rainsuits, because they said they got too hot in them, but most decided they might as well cover up while it was still cool. Some of the people decided to ride on the outer tubes as we splashed through the milder rapids. Although they got very wet, they seemed exhilarated by the waves and the rough water. I got excited too, but not because it was fun. I was more worried than ever about the shifting bags possibly hurting me as we bounced through the rapids. I bumped my forehead hard on something I never saw. It was difficult to stay in my place as everything rocked wildly about me. Twice I was tossed completely out from under the tarp, and when I finally found a toehold, I discovered I had landed on a person, the same one each time. She seemed more amused than frightened by me, but the raft was pitching and I quickly left. In the calm between the rapids, I heard people say names like Granite, Hermit and Crystal. These were really humongous rapids!
I was glad when we stopped and all the people hiked up a stream. I rested and tried to stop worrying. Maybe there wouldnít be any more big rapids. When the people came back, they looked happy and relaxed. They also looked very wet. I heard one say, "I havenít played like that since I was a kid. That was a great waterfall! Such fun to get right under it!" I heard others practice saying the name of the creek, "Shin-na-moe."
We saw more fantastic shapes in the black rocks. There was one place where everyone had to go ashore, again taking the cameras. I wish I could look through one of their cameras. It must do something miraculous to the view, or why would these people drag such awkward things around with them?
My favorite time of the day arrivedólunchtime. There always seems to be a crumb for me, sometimes bread and sometimes cheese. I eagerly moved closer. Meg exclaimed, "There he is!" Before I knew it, JP clamped me between two pieces of metal and raised me high into the air. I couldnít squirm free, and the smell of burned charcoal was very strong. With some bouncy steps on the outer tube, he dropped me over the front of the raft, where I landed on soft sand, not water, and quickly scrambled under a shallow ledge in a rock. I wasnít trembling, but I was so frightened I clung to the rock as if I were paralyzed. I heard a voice say, "Isnít he cute!" A face leaned over me, then I saw the person bring up a camera to look through it. Scared as I was, I looked right back. I couldnít see a thing in the camera from my side, except a big black circle. I wondered how I looked from the other side. Suddenly there was a bright flash. Was that lightning? I kept right on staring, and the face and camera moved closer. There was another bright flash; I didnít flinch and the face moved away. Finally I looked around and saw that no one was near. This was my chance. I scurried to a safer hiding place, then stayed very still watching to see what might happen next. Perhaps I could get back on the boat. On the other hand, did I really want to go back to those rapids? I had learned a lot about these people, and maybe I had learned enough.
I kept very quiet and waited while the people ate. Their cheese and bread was good, but suddenly I thought longingly of my seeds. The people all came back to the raft and were snapping on their orange vests. As I watched in disbelief, one man sitting on the outer tube grabbed at his hat, then suddenly made a backwards somersault right off the rounded edge. The water splashed as he hit it. He was doing what I had feared I would do! Man overboard! Several people jumped in, but he was already standing up in waist-deep water. Luckily he had not bumped his head on the big rock nearby. Meg ducked underwater and came up with his glasses. By now everyone was laughing and joking. Apparently they all thought this was something funny. I donít understand their humor, but maybe they were just relieved that he wasnít hurt. Iím glad it wasnít me making that splash. Mouse overboard! I donít ever want to hear that call.
I think Iíll stay right here on this sandy beach. Iíve had enough adventure, at least for awhile. It seems strange to watch the boat swing out into the current without me. It would be interesting to know whatís around the next bend, and they were really nice people. Well, maybe there will be another boat later. Iíll have to think about that, but now I bet there are some new friends for me to meet right here, maybe up in that rock pile.
*My tale is a true account, to the best of my ability, of events that occurred September 12 to 15, 2000 during a ten day Photography Workshop sponsored by the Friends of Arizona Highways. Gary Ladd, a professional photographer who specializes in the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, led the Workshop. His most recent book, co-authored with Craig Childs, is Grand Canyon, Time Below the Rim (1999, an Arizona Highways Book, ISBN 0-916179-78-8). The river runners were Meg and J.P., who are employed by Hatch River Expeditions. I told my story to Darlene Ward, one of the participants, who has attached photographs she and her husband, Jim Ward, took during the trip. There were thirteen photographers, Gary, the two river guides and myself, which makes seventeen of us. As far as we can tell, I traveled with the group from Mile 53.5 at Nankoweap, to Mile 116.5 near Elves Chasm. Sixty-three miles by river in three days is quite a trip for a little mouse, but Iím already looking forward to my next adventure.
Copyright © 2000 Darlene B. Ward