Web Text-ues Logo

Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)                                             

Click Here to return to
Highways and Byways of California
Content Page

Kellscraft Studio Logo

Highways and Byways of the Pacific Coast


The Grand Canyon of  Arizona

THE only point where the Grand Canyon is easily accessible to travellers is at the Bright Angel Trail, sixty-five miles north of the main line of the Santa Fé. You take a branch road that strikes off from Williams across the desert — a desert of red earth stained with alkali and supporting a scanty growth of sagebrush and moss, stray bits of grass and sometimes a straggling patch of scrub cedar. As you go on, the cedars become more numerous and larger, and there are also pines which gradually multiply until the country is pretty uniformly wooded, though the forest is never dense nor the trees of imposing size.

In this sober evergreen woods, at the end of the journey, is a settlement, which, with its tents and other rough structures clustering among the trees, is suggestive of a camp meeting village. The only building that does not accord with this idea is a great hotel, supposed to be palatial, but outwardly somewhat suggestive of a factory. The land slopes away from the chasm, and you climb a little hill from the railway station till you suddenly leave the commonplace forest and have before you the world-famous canyon, thirteen miles here from rim to rim as the birds fly, and six thousand feet deep.

The scene is strange and impressive. Everywhere the vast gorge is a mighty tangle of ravines and chasms and sculptured bluffs. Then, too, there is color; but that is secondary to the vastness, for the tints are not gaudy or startling as so often depicted. There is no suggestion of a gay sunset. The strata of colors, as one kind of rock succeeds another, is in soft tones of reddish brown, ochre yellows and light or dull grays that become delicate purples and blues in the shadowed portions.

The day I arrived was perfectly clear, and I could see to the farthest recesses of the intricate furrowings of the chasm; and in the evening the full moon shone down on the tremendous soundless mystery of the canyon, here dimly lighting the grim cliffs, there casting a broad gloom of shadow, while the distance was gray and formless, apparently descending to depths immeasurable. It was a wonderful sight, yet not at the time wholly a pleasure; for the wind was whistling about in fierce gusts that soon chilled and drove me indoors.

I was stopping at one of the older and more rustic hotels which was scarcely ten feet from the verge of the gorge. The office had log walls, and a hot fire burned in the big stove in the center. The room was a gathering-place for the guides. They liked to occupy a row of chairs along the borders of the room and tilt back to smoke and talk. Four Navajo Indians wandered in during the evening. They were genuine children of the desert, stolid and serious, and clad in many-hued blankets and other wild trappings. For an hour they stood about the office counter while the hotel clerks examined and dickered over the price of the rings and bracelets with which the persons of the visitors were adorned.

Another desert dweller who warmed himself at our fire that evening was John Hanse, a gray, vigorous man who long years ago became so ardent a lover of the canyon that he planted his home on its borders and has made the gorge his life companion. He said he was ninety-two his last birthday, but you could always discount his statements. He was a veritable Munchausen for stories, one of which is as follows:

“I had a horse,” said he, “that was a great jumper. Why, he could jump a mile without half tryin’. By and by the thought came to me that my horse could jump across the canyon, and I decided that was something worth doing. So I mounted him and we got a good start, and he sailed up into the air with the most tremendous leap that ever was made. But when we were most half way across, I see we wouldn’t quite make the other crest and I turned the horse around and came back. We’d pretty near reached the ground — in fact, we was within about six foot of it — and I thought we was goin’ to land with such a thump that I jumped off and let the horse go the rest of the way alone.”

The wind thrashed around all night, but quieted somewhat in the morning, though still far from gentle. The sky looked threatening, and we had a squall of sleet. Then the sun glimmered out doubtfully, and I engaged a guide to pilot me down the seven mile trail. I chose to walk, and he followed close behind leading a saddled mule. Our goal was the Colorado River, deep in the chaos of adamantine channels and vast crags on which I had looked from the rim. You would hardly suspicion there was a chance for any trail, the bordering bluffs are so immense and so perpendicular. But at one place is a crevice choked with fragments from the cliffs and a little earth that has washed in. Here has been made a slender zigzag path that crawls gingerly down the incline, always turning and twisting and taking advantage of every chance to make the descent safe and easy. Nevertheless, it is the rudest kind of a highway, and there was too much mud and too many loose stones in the path for comfortable walking. In places a passage had been blasted along the face of a cliff, and the unprotected outer edge dropped away vertically to dizzy depths not at all agreeable to contemplate.

A Guide on the Bright Angel Trail

My guide’s name was Tom, and I was told that his last name had originally been Catt, but that this surname had been changed by an act of the legislature, as it was not to his liking to pass through life known always as Thomas Catt. He was a jolly fellow, voluble and humorous. His language was, however, inclined to the sulphurous and we were constantly encountering places or objects along the trail that, according to his tell, the Almighty had had something to do with, and hadn’t blessed, either. He had served on the Bright Angel Trail for years, but he said this was his last season there. “I’ve looked at the Grand Canyon until I’m gettin’ cross-eyed,” he declared.

The views as we went on were no longer confined to the downlook, but the gigantic, many-tinted bluffs and pyramided masses loomed far above and made a ragged and ever-changing sky-line. The rocks were often quite architectural in appearance and suggested vast and solemn cathedrals, or church organs that would perhaps break forth into the mightiest music the world had ever heard.

Tom presently stopped to light his pipe. “You’ll be tired by night,” said he, “if you walk the whole distance down and back. Still, a good many do it. They’re apt to get pretty well tuckered though, especially in hot weather. Once I was coming out of the canyon with a party, and down below, where the path is very twisted, at what we call Jacob’s Ladder, a woman was settin’. She’d walked to the river and was on her way back; but she said she couldn’t go no farther nohow, and unless she could get a ride she was goin’ to die right thar. So I let her get on my horse and I followed on foot. Well, sir, when we got to the top and she was off the horse she turned to me and said, ‘If I had any way of reporting you and the whole outfit that manage this trail I would sure do it.’

“‘What for?’ I asked.

“‘Because,’ says she, ‘you are the most ignorant and inconsiderate lot of people I ever see. You got no business to have any such rough trail, and you got no business to allow a person to walk down it. You ought to be prosecuted!’ and she walked off, and never even said, ‘Thank you,’ for the use of my horse.”

A little farther on, the guide pointed to a slide of loose rock at the foot of the cliff we were edging along, and said, “Do you see that dead burro down thar? It tumbled off here the other day. It was in a pack train, and the kid who had charge rushed the burros up in a bunch, and while he was trying to straighten ‘em out this one was crowded off. We lose an animal about every year that way. But thar never has been a human life lost, though eight or ten thousand people go over the trail now each year. It’s a wonder to me that some of the women haven’t come to grief before this.

You never know what a woman will do. They’re always screechin’ at you, ‘Oh, guide, my saddle is loose!’ and, ‘Oh, guide, I can’t stay on any longer!’

“We have to keep jollyin’ ‘em to make ‘em forget what sort of a road they’re travellin’. You can manage ‘em that way very well, but if a man gets nervous thar ain’t no use. You can’t work on his mind in any such fashion, and he gives you no end of trouble. Thar was one fellow recently that another guide and I got to joshing as we went down the trail about its dangers, and how if a man started to fall he’d go quarter of a mile without stoppin’. We didn’t think but that he was takin’ it all right when suddenly he slid off his horse and said he wa’n’t goin’ no farther. We tried to reason with him, but he was plumb scared out of his senses, and he struck the back trail. He wouldn’t even mount his horse, and he crawled all the way on his hands and knees, clinging to the inner wall. I reckon he was on the verge of snakes.

“Everybody takes pride in the trip after it’s over, especially the women, no matter how much discomfort they’ve suffered. ‘Why, I went way down thar and back, the whole distance, fourteen miles,’ a woman will say afterward to her friends, ‘and I rode a mule — think of it!’

“Yes, the women consider they’ve done a big thing; but they’re like an Irishman I know of who had charge of a squad workin’ on the railroad. One morning he hustled his men around and scolded ‘em so, they begun to conclude something was the matter. At last one of ‘em said, ‘Mike, what the divil makes you so peppery today?’

“‘I’m not,’ says he.

“‘Yes ye are!’ says the other. ‘Ye been swearin’ at us the whole mornin’.’

“‘Well, Jimmy,’ says Mike, ‘ye know I’ve a wife and children to support, and only these two hands of mine to earn a living. It’s been none too aisy in the past; and last night the ould woman brought me twins. Haven’t I good raison for bein’ out of timper?’

“‘Ah, Mike,’ says Jimmy, ‘ye may talk; but I’ll guarantee ye wouldn’t take tin thousand dollars for thim twins.’

“‘Perhaps not,’ said Mike slowly, thinkin’ it over; ‘perhaps not, but I wouldn’t give tin cints for another pair.’

“That’s the way with a woman who goes over this trail. One trip does for a lifetime. She wouldn’t take ten thousand dollars for the experience after it is over; but she wouldn’t give ten cents to repeat it.”

Among the upper cliffs the snow streaks lingered. However, we had soon descended to where the fresh leafage of spring was bursting the buds, and the flowers were in bloom, and later got down to where the sturdy century plants flourished. Our surroundings were in the main a rocky wilderness, yet wherever there was a slope of broken fragments, or a niche or hollow to retain a little sod, some form of plant life was sure to get a foothold. Along the higher portion of the trail grew occasional tall, handsome firs; but most of the canyon trees were dwarfed and twisted cedars and pines. Rabbit brush, greasewood, Mormon tea and squaw-bush were the common shrubs, and there were thickets of oak bushes, and numerous clusters of soap-weed. “You dry the roots of that soap-weed,” said Tom, “and then put them in water and they make a foam right off.”

He informed me that later in the season, “flowers of all kinds known” bloomed in the canyon, and that then there would be an “awful lot of birds.” At present, though we sometimes heard the cry of a blue jay, or the cheerful twitter of wrens, the valley was rather silent. We were still on the upper portion of the trail when we heard a pack train approaching on the zigzag path from far below. Tom gave a halloo that roused the echoes and brought a response from the driver of the pack train. We met him at length. He had four burros in his charge moving in single file ahead of him, each loaded with a pair of five gallon cans filled with water from a spring half-way down to the river. The water was for the use of one of the hotels at the summit.

The fellow urged the beasts on by a shrill whistling and by calling out, “Bobby!” “Sandy!” etc., according as this one or that one lagged.

“Those burros are foxy creatures,” remarked my guide as they went on up the trail. “See ‘em stop and look. They’ll go anywhere a goat will. Now I’ll mount my mule. I would have rode before, but yesterday it carried a fat Dutchman who made its back sore. He was so fat and round that when you got him on mule-back he looked just like a punkin. Do you see this side trail that branches off here? That goes around the bluff a mile and a half to the Hogan mine. The mine ain’t worked now, and I don’t think it ever paid. I’ve never been thar, and if I could have a deed of it just for goin’ to see it I wouldn’t take the trouble.”

Half-way down we came to a comparative level where a little stream wandered among some green willows, and where a cluster of tents had been erected for the sojourning of persons who wished to stay in the valley over night. Here by the stream there was, until the middle of the last century, a colony of Indians. They irrigated some of the surrounding land and raised patches of corn, watermelons and wheat. No doubt they could supply practically all their wants right in the canyon and only climbed out at long intervals. The fact that they lived there did not help to make the place more accessible. Indians never improve a trail of their own volition, and the ravines and slopes up which they climbed continued to be as formed by nature. Far back in prehistoric times the cliff-dwellers knew this same trail, and they had homes under the shelving overlap of the cliffs. Ruins of their strange habitations are still to be seen only a little aside from the route to the river.

Descending the Corkscrew

A mile or two beyond the half-way camp we descended a cliff by the “corkscrew,” where the path doubles on itself in short turns for a long distance and is alarmingly steep and fraught with direful possibilities. Then we entered a narrow gorge bounded by wild crags of barren red granite that looked as if they had been burned to an unyielding hardness by subterranean fires. We followed a small stream that coursed down the hollow, often crossing it, and sometimes passing through a thicket of willows.

At last the crags suddenly ended and we came out on a beach of clean yellow sand, that bordered the river. All around towered the cliffs, and the swift muddy stream was dwarfed by its tremendous surroundings to insignificance. It had no charm of size or color. Was it this dirty creek I had come down that seven miles of rough, tortuous path to see? But one could not gainsay the impressiveness of the environment, and it was a satisfaction to behold the power that had done the mighty carving.

Though the river is narrow it is very deep, and is in reality one of the great rivers of North America. Traced back to the source of its principal tributary it is two thousand miles long, and it drains an enormous amount of territory. Yet for the most part its course is in the heart of a region of arid plains, wild forests and rugged mountains, far from settlements or the common routes of travel, and until recent years it has remained practically unknown.

The first whites to obtain a view of the big canyon were the members of a Spanish expedition in 1540, but they failed in all efforts to descend into the chasm. For three centuries afterward it was only seen at long intervals by occasional travellers, herdsmen or trappers who happened to wander into the region. Even after 1850 when surveying parties began to investigate portions of the river, its course for the hundreds of miles that it flows in the depths of the monstrous chasm continued to be a matter of conjecture. It was believed that not only were there impassable rapids and falls, but that in places the stream flowed along under ground. Thus, to attempt its navigation was to court death.

Yet in spite of all this, Major J. W. Powell in 1869 undertook its exploration by going down it with nine men and four boats. He started on the Green River in Utah. One of the men presently left and returned to civilization, and three others, after holding out against the terrors of the trip for many weeks, decided they would prefer to encounter the perils of the unknown desert. Unfortunately, they fell in with hostile savages when they climbed out on the plateau, and they were ambushed and killed. Their comrades completed the trip with safety, though after many capsizings in the rapids, and narrow escapes from drowning, and the loss of two boats.

Nearly opposite where I then was, Major Powell discovered a little stream of clear water joining the muddy current of the river. Because of the purity of the water he called the stream Bright Angel Creek, and this name has been appropriated for the trail on the other side of the Colorado.

The canyon began to be known to tourists soon after the Santa Fé railroad was completed in 1882, but the long rough ride to get to the rim, and the expense made the visitors few. Facilities gradually improved, yet nothing like crowds came till 1901 when the branch railroad to the Bright Angel Trail superseded the old stages.

Trails which offer a descent to the river are very few. This particular one was discovered by the two Cameron brothers in 1889. They were prospecting for minerals and had a boat by means of which they explored the river for a hundred miles in this vicinity. One day they chanced to observe the crevice where the trail now is and followed it to the upland. They found some veins of copper near by that they hoped might prove profitable; but they also, as my guide said, “were a-figuring on this as a sight-seeing place.” Two years later they dug and blasted a rude path up the ravine, and by right of discovery and the work they did, they became owners of the property, though at the time, to quote my guide again, “They were poor men and had come here with almost nothin’. They had no more than the butt end of a shoestring, you might say.”

Tom and I presently turned back. When we reached the half-way camp the western walls of the canyon were obscured by shreds of showers, and the sun had disappeared in dark and threatening clouds. I secured a horse and rode the rest of the journey. A drenching rain soon began to fall, and the water poured off my hat brim, and the trail got muddy and slippery. It was hard work for the creatures. We let them have free rein and they climbed with their noses lowered almost to the ground. The landscape in the mists was more imposing than ever. All the wild medley of buttressed cliffs and lonely pinnacles became vague and evanescent. Much of what would usually have been in view was hidden altogether or came and went with the shifting of the storm. There was no beginning or end to the world roundabout. The only solid portion was that under our feet. The rest was a mystery of cloud and fog and a dreamland of half-discerned titanic crags. Even the near trees were softened into an aspect unknown before, and the shrubbery twinkled with water drops.

In the depths of the canyon

As we neared the top we could hear a roaring sound as of surf along the seashore. It was the wind in the trees at the crest. Now the rain turned to snow, and when we climbed out of the canyon we came into a world of white with a wild wind whirling the flakes and buffeting the fog that rose in weird, baffled masses from the yawning valley depths. Our beasts huddled in the shelter of a shed, and I stiffly dismounted and ran off to warm myself and dry my wet clothing before the hotel fire.

The wind howled and banged about without ceasing through the night. “Jingoes!” commented one of the guides in the morning, “it tore around so I couldn’t help a-thinking it might lift the old hotel off its base and send it down into the canyon.”

The air outside was full of flying flakes and the rocks and trees on the windward side were coated with clinging snow. The great gorge was a vacancy of gray mist, and some new arrivals inquired where the canyon was, anyway. One man after looking down into the void and trying vainly to penetrate its vapors said, “I and my two daughters come here yesterday to see the canyon, and the trip has cost me a lot of money. I must go away by the next train and I hain’t seen a durn thing but snow and fog. I had no business to have come at this time of year. March is a mean month. It ought not to be allowed.”

The weather did not encourage wandering, and I went to visit a Hopi Indian house erected not far from the hotel for the benefit of tourists. It was a flat-roofed, terraced building of stone, with rough ladders set up against it to give access to the upper stories. Most of the interior was devoted to the display and sale of curios; but in one room were a number of Indian women squatted on the floor shaping pottery, and in a second apartment were both men and women carding wool, spinning thread and weaving blankets.

Back of the Hopi house were two Navajo wigwams, dome-shaped, with a stout framework of heavy sticks daubed over with mud. The huts looked as if they attained the acme of crowded discomfort, but I was told that their occupants were suited. “There was a time,” said my informant, “when the government built some good frame houses for the Navajoes, and they were much pleased, but they put their stock into the new dwellings and continued to live themselves as before.”

I spent most of the day at a small two-story hotel owned by the Cameron brothers, the discoverers and owners of the Bright Angel Trail. We had an open fire of pitch pine, and it flamed up vigorously and threw out a fine volume of heat. The company included Ralph Cameron, Tom Catt and two or three other guides, and a German artist named Wix.

“You’ve got to work on the trail all the time in order to keep it in good shape,” remarked Ralph between puffs at his pipe. “It’ll have to be gone over after this storm. The stones slide in and the earth washes away. If the trail was neglected for a year it would be impassable to horses. We have our worst rains in July — regular cloudbursts with terrific thunder and lightning. In an hour, or perhaps a quarter of an hour, the trail will be so gutted that the expense of repairing it is three or four hundred dollars. You never can tell when the storms are coming. I’ve seen the weather clear as a bell, and in five minutes it would be raining pitchforks.

“My cook has just told me he was going to quit tomorrow. I don’t know but I shall have to find a Chinaman. The Chinese make the best help in the world. They never try to be fresh with you, they’re clean, and they won’t go off and leave you in the lurch. They always give fair warning. There was a time when I was living at Flagstaff that we ran ‘em out of there — made ‘em git. But we were sorry for it afterward. They’d owned most of the restaurants, and you could get a good meal for two bits (twenty-five cents), while after they left prices jumped up and you had to pay six bits for the same food. In fact, the eating-house people got so independent a really good meal wasn’t to be had at any price. There was such a lot of trouble that finally we let the Chinese back. They’re the most industrious class I’ve ever seen. You never come across a broke Chinaman around begging, and it’s very seldom they need any attention from the police, because if they have any rows it’s among themselves.

“Did you hear the coyotes last night? They were howling when I went to bed at ten o’clock.”

“The wind made such a racket,” said I, “that I couldn’t hear anything else.”

“Oh, yes, you could,” declared Tom, the guide. “The coyotes got more wind than the elements. You could have heard them above the gale well enough, and you can hear ‘em at some time every night. It’s like a lot of kids hollerin’, and one coyote will make as much noise as twenty dogs. They come to eat the refuse the hotels dump out in the woods, and they clean it all up, too.”

“They’re a cowardly animal,” remarked Ralph, “and they won’t attack anything bigger than a lamb unless they get very hungry. Then they may kill a full-grown sheep if they get it separate from the flock. They’re nothing like as bad as the lobo wolves. There’s a bounty of a dollar on coyotes, while on wolves it’s twenty dollars. If a wolf gets in among the sheep it won’t stop short of killing a dozen or two. Then it stays around there to eat ‘em till the bodies are all gone. It don’t mind the flesh getting putrid. Its appetite ain’t in the least delicate and it cleans up practically everything. It even crunches and makes way with nearly all the bones. So there’s little left but the wool. They ain’t numerous. I s’pose, if they were, President Roosevelt would come here and chase ‘em out or kill ‘em off.”

“Well,” said another of the party, “I hope his hunting would have a little less of the show-off in it than the ride he took from here to Grand View. It’s sixteen miles, and he galloped there in an hour and twelve minutes. A man ought not to attempt it over our roads in much less than twice that time. He rode away from all his attendants, and it was only luck that he didn’t ruin his horse.”

“I made better time than he did once,” observed Tom, “and over a longer distance. I rode twenty-two miles in an hour and a half. But I was runnin’ away from the sheriff, and was obliged to git over the line.”

“The speech the president made here has always struck me as funny,” said Ralph. “He told us to save the canyon for our children and our children’s children. It’ll be here. What under heaven does he think we were going to do with a gorge thirteen miles across and a mile deep — fill it up?”

“The things you have speak of wild animals,” said the artist, “remind me of an experience in Canada. I was tell there about hunting bears, and how many there be, and how savage. When I was out in the forest sketching I was very much scare and think what I might do. If I do as I feel, no tree too high for me to climb up, and when I get to the top I would make some yells for papa and mama. But it seem to me that the best would be to point my umbrella at the bear and open and shut it in his face. He not know the meaning of that and go away.

“Nothing happen till one day just as I was finish sketching and am packing up I see a bear sure enough. He was a little fellow, and he was snuffle around to get something. He did not see me yet, and I says to myself, ‘Dis is a cub, and I need not be frighten of him, but I shall have soon to hurry, or the whole family will be here, and then they will make me all kind of trouble.’

“So I grab my things and was starting to run when I met a man. Get away from here!’ I say. Dere’s a bear back behind me!’

“‘Where?’ he ask.

“I point at it.

“‘Ho!’ he say, dat is a porcupine;’ and it was, and I have all my scare for nothing.”

“About the funniest creature we’ve got in this country,” said Ralph, “is the trade rat. It lives in the canyon and builds its nest in cracks of the cliffs out of sticks and rubbish; and it puts cactus thorns and all sorts of sharp instruments on the outside for a defence. The way the rats get their name is that when they take anything of yours they always put something in its place — a stick or burr or whatever comes handy. They will take anything they can carry whether the thing is of any use to them or not. I’ve known ‘em to steal knives and forks.”

“Yes,” said one of the guides whom the others called “Bill,” “I lost a spoon over a foot long, one night; and after hunting all around I found it where a trade rat had drug it, two hundred yards away. Another time there was a feller in camp with me who put down his hat when he got ready to go to sleep and laid his pipe and tobacco pouch in it. Next morning the pipe and tobacco were gone, and in their place were two lumps of dirt.”

“The most remarkable thing I know of,” said Tom, “is the different color of rattlesnakes here in Arizona. Over in the Graham Mountains I’ve seen ‘em as black as soot, and that’s the only place I ever did see them right black. Down in the canyon they’re grayish, and there’s some places in the desert where they’re bright yellow. They take their color pretty much from the earth they’re in.”

“There’s just one thing I like about rattlesnakes,” said Ralph. “They give you warnin’ before they attempt to bite.”

“Unless you step on ‘em,” said Tom. “Then they don’t waste any time; but none of our snakes will go out of their way to attack a man.”

“There’s seldom anyone dies from a snake bite,” remarked Bill. “Whiskey is the best remedy, and ammonia is good, rubbed on and taken internally. I tell you the most infamous little snake is the side-winder.”

“He is a vicious beggar,” said Cameron, “and it’s lucky he is a desert snake and small. I’ve never seen one over eighteen inches long. There’s millions of ‘em down below Yuma. Their tracks are as thick in the sand there as if the ground had been gone over with a rake. When you get near one it moves off sideways a-watchin’ you all the time.”

“Rattlesnakes are great hands to live in prairie-dog holes,” said Bill, “and there’s often owls in the same holes, too. Them prairie dogs are a curse to lots of country. Their mounds and holes are a nuisance in the first place, and the dogs eat every green thing around. Where there’s a whole town of them they make a regular waste.”

“Still storming,” said Tom, looking out of the window “I suppose the water train won’t be comin’ up today.”

Indian blanket weaving

“No,” responded Ralph, “and I wish we had that spring up here at the top.”

The thin surface soil and underlying porous limestone do not hold water any more than would a sieve, and the nearest spring on the upland is forty-five miles distant. Even when found, the desert water is often of doubtful character. It may be tainted with alkali or other substances. As a result it is perhaps poisonous, or possibly it is simply bitter, or puckers the mouth.

“Poison waters are usually as clear and nice to look at as any you ever see,” explained Bill. “One time me ‘n’ another feller was goin’ ‘cross country, and we got awful thirsty. So when we come to a sparklin’ pretty stream — say, we just lit into it; but the water made us dreadful sick; and I been willin’ to leave alkali waters and such on as that alone since then.”

“Have you seen that new girl who’s workin’ in the sales department at the Hopi house?” asked Tom. “Her name is Mrs. Wells, and she’s about as bright as they make ‘em. Last week I thought I’d play a joke on her. I was takin’ a party there to show ‘em the Indians and things, and I said to ‘em, ‘Now I wish you’d be very particular how you speak before these Indians and not say anything to hurt their feelin’s. Some of ‘em understand English. Then, too, there’s some who are very light complected so’t you might not know they was Indians. One girl in particular I want you to notice. She waits on customers, and she’s lighter complected than most white folks, but she’s a full-blooded Hopi squaw.’

“‘Ah!’  they said, ‘is that so? How remarkable!’

“We went in and Mrs. Wells came forward with her head cocked up and all smiles and says, ‘How do you do,’ to my party in her finest manner; and one whispered to another, ‘Ain’t it strange? I would never have believed that she was a squaw.’

“But she overheard, and she knew I’d been playin’ a trick, and she looked fierce at me. However, she never let on to the visitors, and pretty soon one of them said to her, ‘Is it really true that you are a squaw?’

“‘Certainly I am,’ she replied. ‘I don’t deny my nationality.’

“‘And can you talk the language?’ the other asked.

“‘Skee-dee, skee-dee!’ she says, and they kept watchin’ her the whole time and come away believin’ that she was a white squaw.”

I saw this lady myself, later in the day. She was mentioning to some crony that her “father’s father was the darndest old toper that ever was. He was a Southern man,” she added, “and it was the fashion to drink then. Besides, his home was in a region near the Tennessee Mountains that was full of blind pigs — illicit distilleries, you know. Say, you ought to travel in those mountains. It beats all, the way they live there. Mr. Wells and I took a trip into them soon after we was married, and toward dark one day we come to the only house we’d seen for a long distance. It didn’t look very inviting, but it seemed like our last chance and we asked if we could get lodging. The mountain people are very hospitable, and they made us welcome, though the house was a one-room log cabin, and the man had ten children. There was only a single bed, and we wondered how they’d manage. After supper they put the youngest children into the bed, and when they were sound asleep they lifted them out and laid them down in a corner. Then the next older children got into bed and were disposed of in the same manner. Finally the last of the ten had been transferred to the floor, and we were told we might have the bed. Pretty soon we were asleep, and we never woke up till the next morning. Then to our surprise, we found ourselves on the floor with the kids, and the man and his wife were in the bed.”

When I left the Hopi house I found that the storm showed signs of breaking, and gleams of sunshine and scuds of sleet and rain alternated. These changes were not such as to stir one especially, when viewed in the sober woodland at the crest of the canyon; but looking into the gorge with its valleys within valleys and its heights piled on heights they worked miracles. I doubt if anywhere else on the globe could be witnessed so astonishing a play of light and shade. The mountains of the chasm seemed to be engaged in a game of hide and seek in the mists, now peering forth, now disappearing in the darkling shadows. The light constantly varied; sometimes dim and tender; sometimes clear, gleaming on the many-tinted crags with marvelous purity, and glancing along from buttress to buttress, yet always drifting on and shifting to new shapes and making fresh combinations. Presently there appeared a rainbow glorifying one of the retreating showers, and it was so vivid it glowed as if it were of fire and not a mere reflection. The shower moved off, the rainbow faded, the sunlight shimmered over the nearer portion of the valley while the farther recesses of the great chasm reposed in a blue gloom under the cloud shadows. It was a wondrous vision.

On my last evening at the Grand Canyon there was a raffle. A young half-breed guide, whom the others knew as “Jess Bearclaws” was going away, and he wanted to turn his silver-mounted saddle into money. It had cost him forty-five dollars, but he was willing to dispose of it for thirty, and for a day or two had been wandering around with a paper getting signers for fifteen chances at two dollars a chance. The guides, drivers and clerks were mostly quite ready to help him out, though one clerk refused on the ground that he had no more use for a saddle than for a balloon. Now the chances were all sold and the time had come to determine who was to win the prize. The investors with a few exceptions were on hand early and paid their dues and chaffed and chewed and smoked and discussed the raffle with great seriousness. Meanwhile the absentees were sent for and someone went to hunt up three dice.

“I take a chance on everything that comes along,” said a bleary-looking fellow known as “Yellowstone Jack.” “It’s only a dollar or two, and what does that matter?”

Presently Jess Bearclaws accosted a tall chap named Buckland and said, “I bet you five dollars I’ve got more money in my pocket than you have.”

Everyone was aghast, for Buckland was a nabob among his fellows and reputed to be worth one hundred thousand dollars.

“I take that bet,” said he.

“Well,” said Jess, “you ain’t got any money in my pocket, have you?”

“I didn’t say I had,” retorted Buckland, and then followed a long discussion as to what that ambiguous bet of the half-breed amounted to.

My guide Tom came in late, paid his two dollars, and remarked, “Now I’m happy — for I’m just as free of money as a fish is of feathers.”

Presently the gang adjourned to an inner room, and when they reappeared Buckland had won the saddle. “I knew he would!” exclaimed Tom. “There never was such a fellow for luck. He could go down and fall in the Colorado River and come out with his pockets full of trout.”

Everybody laughed, and the joke was appreciated the more because there are no trout in the river.

ARIZONA NOTES. — On my way across “Sunset Land,” as Arizona would be called if we used the English equivalent for its name, an old lady who sat in the next seat ahead remarked to her companion, “I think we must be somewhere near that putrified forest I’ve heard tell about.”

She looked out of the window, and pointed at some bare, ragged-sloped mesas we were passing. “Seems to me,” she said, “these hills look kind o’ putrified — yes, the rocks certainly do look just like putrified mud.”

She had not hit quite the word she wanted, but a petrified forest covering thousands of acres is one of the wonderful features of Arizona. This is most readily reached from Adamana, whence one portion of the forest is only 6 miles distant. The ground is carpeted with agate chips, and strewn with agate trunks from two to four feet in diameter. One of the stone trees is 110 feet long and forms a natural bridge over a ravine.

From Holbrook, about 20 miles west of Adamana, 7 Hopi villages can be visited. If possible, visit them in the latter part of August when the famous “Snake Dances” occur.

Near Flagstaff is the Lowell Observatory, to which visitors are welcomed. A little to the north of Flagstaff rise the San Francisco Mountains — extinct volcanoes surrounded by a district of cinder cones and lava beds. A road has been constructed up Humphrey’s Peak. At the summit you are nearly 13,000 feet above the sea, and get an extensive view of the Painted Desert and other features of the region.

Long before it was discovered by white men, Arizona was inhabited by a superior race, whose ruined cities, aqueducts, and fortifications are numerous in the valleys and canyons, and show that the population must have been large. Eight miles south of Flagstaff are scores of cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon, and nine miles to the north some of the ruins of cave dwellings can be seen on Coconino Butte.

The Grand Canyon can be reached from Flagstaff by automobile. The road is for the most part in the forest. It is a dirt road that is rough and rutted in places, and that sometimes has to cross steep-sided gullies and wide stretches of lava beds. The distance is 87 miles.

Usually, travellers prefer to go by railroad. They leave the main line at Williams, a town named after “Bill” Williams, a famous scout who was killed by the Indians. April and May, and October and November are the best months for cultivating an acquaintance with the Canyon. In summer, although the heat at the rim of the chasm is not often oppressive, the depths get very hot. The winter weather is bleak and disagreeable, but the effects given by clouds and snow under the brilliant skies are enchanting. It is especially desirable to see the Canyon when there is a full moon.

One can get fairly varied and satisfactory impressions of the Canyon in a two days’ interruption of the main line journey, but a week is better. If you plan to do much tramping, your shoes should be stout and thick-soled. Ladies will find short walking-skirts a convenience, and a broad-brimmed straw hat, which can be rented at the hotels, is a comfort in summer. A vigorous person, accustomed to rough walking, can descend to the river and return on foot, but most people will find a horse a necessity, particularly for the upward climb.

There are several outjutting points within easy riding or walking distance of the Bright Angel Trail that are well worth visiting.

Of the other trails that descend into the Canyon, the most notable is the Grand View Trail, 13 miles to the east.

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.