Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It’s sometimes difficult for oar boaters to work out their trip through Upper Granite Gorge and Adrenaline Alley because potential campsites in the area are inconveniently located and there aren’t enough of them. Although Crystal liked the Cardenas Creek stop, she knew it was better to camp a little further down if she could, although that might mean having to run Hance the first thing in the morning like the White Team had to do the previous trip. It could easily mean a long day, and if they didn’t get an early start they might face unappealing spots below Phantom Ranch or an extremely long day.
The best thing that could be done, indeed the only thing that could be done, was to get an early start and keep moving along steadily, then grab the first decent campsite below Phantom. Even that didn’t simplify things much, since the motor rig trips usually started from about the same place. While the baloney boaters ran both sections in the same day, they usually stopped as soon as they could below Adrenaline Alley, which meant that the oar boat parties had to compete with them the next day. That meant that on occasion the Canyon Tours trips had very long days just trying to find a place to stop on either part of the run.
“We’ll stop at Phantom,” she told the group before they started, while the sun was barely over the rim of the Canyon, “but we won’t stay for long. Someone from the crew, usually me, will run up to the ranger station to check our mailbox and call the office, but we’ll want to get going again as soon as we can. If you want to make a phone call, you can, but I ask that you keep the time to a minimum.” She was fully expecting that Barber would want to make some calls and tie the line up for half a day, which could screw things up royally.
In hopes of controlling that, at least a little, she had Barber and his wife ride in the raft with her. If he delayed things too much, at least there was the option of having Preach take the group downstream to grab a campsite while she stayed behind to push the complaining Barber. It was not a bright idea; in fact, for safety reasons it was a rather stupid one since it was not a smart idea to run the rapids below Bright Angel with a single boat. If push came right down to shove, she decided she’d have a second boat stay back to try and cut down the hazard.
After a prayer and a brief thought for the day by Preach, they got out on the river. There were six major rapids to run in the next few miles, Unkar, Nevills, Hance, Sockdolager, Grapevine and Zoroaster, most of them more challenging than House Rock back on the second day. They stopped and scouted them all except Nevills briefly, and they were all wet, thrilling runs, although there were no major incidents.
Even with the early start and running more quickly than they would like through one of the more spectacular areas of the Grand Canyon, it was still well after lunch time before they pulled into the Boatman’s Beach at Phantom. Having lunch there while someone made the run up to the ranger station was a way to use their time efficiently, so it was where Canyon Tours rafts usually stopped.
Sure enough, Barber wanted to use the phone, so he and Crystal started up the trail. He was no runner, and as heavy as he was couldn’t even walk fast, so it seemed to Crystal that it was taking close to forever to go the half-mile distance. She let him get on the phone first, though, reasoning that he could at least get started back while she made the usually brief phone call to the office.
It turned out he made three phone calls; from what she could make out while listening from not far away, none of them were to an attorney. Twice he only left voicemail messages stating that he would be out of touch until the end of the following week. He actually talked to someone on the third, but the message was pretty much the same. “All right, Crystal,” he said after the third. “That’s all I have.”
“No more than that?”
“It would be best if I could stay in better touch,” he replied with a little bit of huffiness in his voice, then lightened up. “But I have to admit that being away from the telephone is a little relaxing, too.”
“That’s how it usually works for me,” she grinned, thinking that Barber was really getting into the trip a little bit. It had taken him long enough. “Why don’t you get started back for the rafts? I’ll only be a few minutes, and then I’ll catch up with you.”
As he started back down the trail, she quickly called the office. As it turned out, Al answered the phone. “So how’s the trip going?” he asked.
“Can I say that it’s not quite as bad as I expected? We’ve got one guy and one couple who are proving to be pains in the neck, but it hasn’t gotten out of hand yet. I honestly expected it would be worse than it is.”
“That guy who was being such a pain in the ass up at Lee’s?”
“Yeah, him and a couple who seem to think we’re all a bunch of immoral sinners because everything isn’t up to their obviously superior Christian standards,” she replied sarcastically. “They pitched a fit because people put on swimsuits to fool around in the water when we were up at the Little Colorado yesterday. Barber is starting to get into the trip a little, I think, but it ain’t gonna happen with the other couple.”
“Takes all kinds, I guess. Anyway, I don’t have anything for you, except to say that the weather is going to get warmer for the next few days, and thunderstorms wouldn’t be surprising toward the end of the week.”
“I sort of figured that from looking at the sky, but it’s nice to know the weatherman agrees with me. Any word from Jon and Tanisha?”
“She’s still pregnant, at least she was a couple of hours ago, if that’s what you’re asking. Your mother is starting to get a little antsy about it, so who knows what she’ll be like this time next month.”
“Since the odds are that I’ll be down here rather than up there when it happens, I think I’m just as happy that you’re going to have to be the one to put up with her.”
“I think I figured that much out,” he laughed. “Actually, I’m discovering it’s a little strange to think of myself as a step-grandfather after all these years.”
“Well, I’d say to let us know if anything happens, but I know you can’t. If that’s all you have for me, see you a week from Thursday.”
As almost always, the phone call to the office had been a waste of time, Crystal thought as she turned back toward the landing. However she knew there had been just enough times over the years when it had been important that they had not quit doing it.
Crystal caught up with Barber about a third of the way back to the boats, reflecting that it was strange that she didn’t think of him by his first name yet, and probably never would. But maybe the Canyon really was working its magic on him a little. Now if it would just loosen the Fletchers up a little . . . but no, there didn’t seem to be any chance of that happening.
They got back on the river and got going, still early enough that Crystal could, with a little bit of luck, get to the campsite she had been aiming for. The group was in a good mood, since it had been an exciting day and there was another one to come. The next morning, they got going fairly early again, and ran the rest of Adrenaline Alley, had lunch at a favored spot well below the daunting Crystal Rapids, then drifted on downstream to see even more wonders of the Grand Canyon.
It got progressively hotter as the week moved on. It could get very oppressive in the afternoons, especially with the sun beating down. About the only thing they could do was to stop a little more frequently, and the stops often involved dips in the still-cold river to cool off. Even the Fletchers, who had seemed to eschew swimsuits, took to wearing them under their clothes and taking brief dips in the river to cool off when stops like that were made.
Nanci had switched over to wearing her gi, and said she was comfortable with it. Even with it soaking from a dip in the river, in the parched air it only took a few minutes for it to dry out, and sometimes she mentioned that it got a little cool while the water was evaporating. While it looked a little odd to the other boatman, they all conceded quietly that the kid might have something there.
One of the popular spots to stop in the lower Canyon is Havasu Creek, where there’s a challenging but beautiful trail up to a series of waterfalls. Crystal knew they were gorgeous indeed, even though she’d only been up there once, on a strenuous hike with a friend who she’d walked part of the Appalachian Trail with years before. However, it’s not an easy place to reach, since it falls in a part of the Canyon where there are few places to camp, and many of those are cramped for a party their size. While motor rigs can run farther each day, if oar boat parties want to stop there they needed to plan ahead.
Crystal had been angling to accomplish this for several days. On Thursday night they’d stopped near Helicopter Eddy, about 135 river miles below Lee’s Ferry; the group was back to about the overall daily average Crystal had hoped to achieve, after falling behind early in the trip. After only a short time on the river, they made an extended stop at the spectacular Deer Creek Falls, and had taken the time for a brief hike. There were no power hikers like Crystal in the group, so an hour had been long enough, but a lot of photos were taken.
Back on the river, they drifted on downstream to Fishtail Canyon, where they made a quick lunch stop, then got back on the river. From the parties that had passed, and when they passed, Crystal figured she had a good chance of being able to camp roughly where she wanted to that evening, either above or below Upset Rapids.
They were barely back after lunch when she could see the sky ahead of them was starting to look threatening. It didn’t look like thunderstorms yet, but the clouds were building and looking dark. There was no sign that they were going to be hit by one, but it was certainly possible.
As the afternoon progressed it seemed more and more likely; the sky was getting darker and more threatening, but thunderstorms in the region were often spotty, hitting one place hard and missing the next. When they pulled in for their next break to cool off, Crystal told the group to make sure they had their rain suits handy since it seemed likely they were going to use them – they hadn’t for several days considering the heat. “You may think the rain will cool you off, but if it hits it will probably be hard, and you’ll be glad your skin has the extra protection. Besides, you can cool off a little too much, since if it happens, it’ll be thunderstorm rain and cold.”
She went on to say that if it did look like they were going to get stormed on, they’d try to pull off to the side of the river and hunker down, rather than trying to row through it. “The one good thing,” she added, “is that if we get rain, it probably won’t last too long.”
They were still a couple of miles or so above the first of the campsites she was aiming for when it became clear that they were going to be hit by a dark wall of rain. “Oh, boy, here it comes,” she muttered, and yelled to the people in the other boats, “There’s a tiny little beach just ahead. Let’s pull in there and ride this thing out.”
The beach was tiny indeed, too small for camping, not even large enough for a lunch stop, but it was better than being out on the river when lightning was flying. They barely got the boats tied off to whatever was available on the beach, and people were still pulling on their rain suits when the first drops came, and then the deluge.
As the rain was pouring down, Nanci dug out a small tarp – actually, just an extra ground cloth – she carried for just such an emergency, or to sometimes provide a little relief from the sun on the raft for the customers. It wasn’t big enough to cover the whole boat, but at least the people on her raft could huddle under it to be a little more protected. “Does this happen very often?” Doug Willit asked as he looked out at the rain crashing into the river.
“Now and then,” Nanci told him. “We got hit twice last summer, but neither one was as bad as this. It probably isn’t going to last long, and it’ll be cooler when it passes. The bad thing about thunderstorms is that it usually sets up flash floods in the side canyons. Sometimes it can be raining miles away, so far away you don’t even know it, and all of a sudden, here comes a wall of water. That’s why we’re pretty careful about hiking some places this time of year.”
Nanci was right in predicting that the rain wouldn’t last very long, and it didn’t; in perhaps fifteen minutes it had quit, and the air was refreshingly cool – so cool that many people left their rain suits on for comfort.
As the party reorganized itself, Crystal commented that while they’d been hit hard, it looked to her as if it had been worse to the south. “We might as well get moving,” she told everyone. “But I think we’ll pull into the first good place we find so we can have plenty of time to wring out and dry out before dark.”
It only took a couple minutes to get back on the water. It was cool and pleasant after the long hot days, and it was interesting to watch the tiny waterfalls that seemed to spring up everywhere. Although things were drying out rapidly, the Canyon seemed a little unfamiliar compared to what it had been an hour before.
Not much farther along, they came to Matkatamiba Canyon, which had a small and usually dry streambed running through it. Not this time; it was roaring, throwing a steady stream of muddy water out into the river. “That’s rolling along pretty good,” Preach commented from the oars of his raft. “It’s always interesting to see God building and shaping His Canyon.”
“It’s pretty awesome,” Crystal agreed from a few feet across the water. “But I’ll tell you what, I’ll bet Havasu Creek will be roaring tomorrow. That probably will shoot a hike there in the foot.”
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” Preach shrugged. “Depending on where the storm hit, it may be no higher than normal. But even if it is normal, I’m not sure how much I’d be willing to trust it.”
About half a mile below Matkatamiba Canyon they found a small campsite on river left that looked like it wouldn’t be affected by a flash flood, which wasn’t always true for the few campsites in the area. There wasn’t a great deal of beach, although there was enough, even though everyone had to be crammed in more tightly than they had been used to. It was rocky behind the beach, and a small cliff made hiking out of there a difficult proposition. Still, it was off the river in a tough place to find camp sites, and things were damp and needed drying. There were a few tamarisk trees, which normally provided welcome shade on a hot afternoon; now they were welcome as places to hang wet things.
Dinner was good; it usually was. While they were all gathered around before they got started with the evening program, Crystal called for the group’s attention. “If you’ve been keeping track, tomorrow is Sunday, and we will be having a Sunday service somewhere. I was originally planning on stopping for lunch, the service, and a short hike up Havasu Creek, but after the rain this afternoon it wouldn’t surprise me if the hike is shot down. We may be able to go a few hundred yards up the canyon, but if the stream is running hard we may not even want to do that. If it’s running real hard, we may not even want to stop there at all since it can be a tough place to land if the creek is high. All I can tell you is that we’ll know when we get there. Tomorrow is going to be a long day however we do it, so let’s plan on getting up early and getting on the river so we can keep our options open.”
The next morning dawned bright, clear, and quiet, with no sign of the storm from the day before, except that the river seemed muddier than normal; from the distance of perhaps half a mile they could see that Matkatamiba Creek was still running pretty hard. It did not bode well for the stop at Havasu Creek.
But all didn’t go well that morning. It was no big thing, just a collection of little things, but they were much later than normal getting finished with breakfast, and some things were still damp and needed to be dried out some before they were packed away. With a pretty healthy distance to run, it was very late before things were packed up and Crystal called for the duffel line.
That was the signal for Mark and Bethany to go and pack up the portable toilet – it was normal practice to let it go until the end in case there was some last-minute user. The rafts all got packed up, except for the spot on Larry’s raft where the toilet would go, but there was still no sign of the kids.
“Where could they be?” Cassie Fletcher fumed. “I’ll bet they’re up there doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I’m of half a mind to go up and find out, and if they’re doing what I think they’re doing, that young man is going to get a piece of my mind.” She went on ranting like that for several minutes, until finally Deb Carter appeared from the general direction of where the toilet had been set up out of sight of the group.
By then Cassie was just about fit to be tied. “Have you seen those kids?” she asked Deb.
“They’ll be along in a minute,” Deb said. “They’re just getting the toilet packed up now. I was still using it.”
“Yes, but what were they doing while they were waiting?” Cassie said angrily. “That boy has been sniffing around her the whole trip, and when you leave two kids alone like that, there’s no telling what they could have been doing.”
“They were probably just talking about this and that,” Nanci said in an effort to make a little peace. She was not looking forward to having the Fletchers in the raft with her today, but that was the way it had worked out.
“And what would you know about it, young lady?” Cassie snorted. “After all, you weren’t brought up in a Christian home, so what would a new Christian like you know about the proper way for boys and girls to be together?”
“Give the kids some slack. There was no reason for them to come back here and then have to go up there again two minutes later just so you could be sure nothing terrible was happening,” Nanci said. She was trying to keep the peace, trying very hard to turn the other cheek and keep from slapping the woman who had been on her nerves most of the way down the river. Cassie had complained about how it wasn’t proper for a woman to be doing the things Nanci was doing, how she ought to have a husband and be raising babies. She’d ranted about the clothes she wore – actually more conservative than most of the women in the party – and how a new Christian like her didn’t have any right to have any opinions about religion since she obviously hadn’t been one long enough to know anything about it.
Nanci had put up with it for the sake of the trip, for the sake of presenting a good Christian image to the rest of the party on this special trip, but she had more than had her fill of this woman. Thursday and getting off the river couldn’t come soon enough for her.
“I’m her mother,” Cassie growled. “And I’m the one who should make decisions like that, not a sinner like you.”
Even when she’d been a kid, Nanci had been low-key when it came to confrontations, unlike Crystal, who didn’t have a history of backing away from such things, but now even Nanci could see that Crystal had about had her fill of this woman, too. Preach was also heading in that general direction, if for no more reason than to be sure Crystal didn’t use her black belt skills on the woman.
But just then, Bethany and Mark came out of the trees, obviously struggling a little with the heavy toilet; the box that held the waste was obviously getting pretty full, and Cassie turned her anger toward them. “Where have you two been? What’s been keeping you?”
“There were a couple of people waiting, Mom,” Bethany replied innocently. “We were watching a beaver swim up the river. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Mark was telling me they don’t build dams like they do other places, but dig their nests in the banks.”
“You shouldn’t have been alone with him for so long, young lady,” Cassie snapped. “You could have been doing just about anything. You are getting much too headstrong and independent for your own good.”
It was with some difficulty that Preach was able to restore some semblance of order, although Cassie also managed to sneer at him for being a dirty boatman rather than preaching in a church on Sunday morning like she thought he should have been doing. There were still some rather hot heads when they got onto the river, and it didn’t help matters much when Cassie got severely splashed when they went through Upset Rapids a mile or so below the camp. The river was very muddy that morning from the rain of the previous day, and it didn’t help her attitude one bit.
Of course, that was all Nanci’s fault, too, even though Cassie hadn’t been wearing her rain suit like she had been told, and was sitting at a place on the raft that normally got wet in heavy water. It made Nanci fondly remember a time long before where her big sister had knocked her brother out of a different raft on a different river. She also remembered a trip the previous year where a somewhat similar pain in the neck woman had fallen off a rock while ranting, and had to be flown by helicopter out of the Canyon. It couldn’t happen here; there was no place for a helicopter to land since the Canyon was deep and narrow here.
It wasn’t Bethany’s fault, either; she was just a kid, doing what she was told and used to it being that way; it was clear that her mother wanted something to rant about, and she happened to be in the way.
They made a stop on the way down the Canyon to Havasu Creek, partly to allow Cassie to dry out a bit – not that it helped any – and to let the passengers have some snacks and stretch their legs a little. It was well after noon before they were approaching the mouth of Havasu Creek, and the narrow canyon the creek ran through – and even from a distance they could see that the creek was running hard.
Rather than try to land without scouting, Crystal pulled into a spot across the river and just upstream. While they waited, she climbed up to where she had a little better view, and studied the landing with binoculars. When she came back down to the rafts, she told them “It’s bad, but not all that bad. The current is ripping right along the shore in the creek mouth, so we’re going to land along the river bank, and we’ll have to be careful since it’s moving along pretty fast there, too. I think we can make it, but let’s sit here and go one at a time. Larry, you go down first, and have Mark and Rob right up in the bow. If they can scramble over the bow and get you tied off, then we’ll have people on shore to help the rest of us with the landing.”
“All right,” Larry said. “You want me to land a little long so we can bring people in above us?”
“That ought to work,” she said. “If somebody misses a landing, we’ll all just have to skip it and head on downstream. Let’s head ’em up and move ’em out.”
Crystal was right; the current was moving pretty fast at the landing, and it was hard rowing to just get across the river and set up to make the attempt. It took some doing, but all of them made it to shore, with no little relief.
“All right, we made it,” Crystal said. “With the creek that high there’s not going to be any long hikes out of here, but this is a good place for lunch and our church service. Let’s just take one table and what we need for sandwiches and chips since we’re going to have to scramble up a bit, but it’s a little flatter if we go up a few feet. It’s not a normal Sunday dinner, folks, but it will have to do.”
Since it had been a while since breakfast, they concentrated on lunch first. “Why don’t some of you find some seats over on those ledges?” Preach said, pointing. “That’ll make a little bit of an amphitheater for our service.”
People started drifting in that direction, some carrying sandwiches and cans of soft drinks, Preach was standing out in front of them, ready to get started with the service. As the last people got settled down, Nanci got a feeling she couldn’t describe floating over her; it may not have been proper, but it seemed right.
Before Preach could get started, Nanci got up and stepped up to him. “Reverend Whittaker,” she said, “if you don’t mind, before you get started I’ve got something I think I need to say.”