Not long before the raven caper more boats had landed on the beaches around us. A large group of photographers and their crew were setting up camp for the night about a hundred yards downstream. Life on a river boat is certainly different than that of the hiker. Cots, tables, lamps, and stoves were set up by the crew. A flirtatious, young woman set up horseshoes for a group of men who had gathered around her. She threw the first shoe and the eager men let out a loud cheer of approval for her.
It was right after the fifth or sixth cheer for her that the ravens made their move. The boaters heard Karl's lament as he swore at the last of the black-bird bandits. We started a conversation with our new neighbors, shouting at first as we walked towards their camp. We soon found the crew leader, a young, shirtless and friendly man.
"Those ravens live 40 years," the crew leader said. "Some of these very birds have been here before the boats started coming. They know all of us. They know our habits. They work as a team; some will distract you while others will make off with your food. We've seen them open zippers on backpacks. Gotta watch out for the ravens." He laughed knowingly.
"We were planning on thick, ham sandwiches for dinner," Karl said.
"Well, come on over at dinnertime. We have plenty of food. Lasagna tonight. And we have cold beer. We also have a ton of water. We'll be refilling at Phantom Ranch so take as much as you'd like." The young woman nodded and then returned to the horseshoe tournament with her clients.
We walked back to our own camp. "I really like these river people," I said to Karl. "Every one of them has offered to feed us, haul out our trash, give us something to drink." I thought, at that moment, that I'd like to take a river trip someday.
Soon, a procession of photographers with heavy, expensive gear was marching past us, working its way up to the ancient granaries. The granaries were far up the cliff, at least 500 feet in elevation from the river. While the trail was no Nankoweap, it was still rigorous and a bit perilous. Soon about forty people were perched at various posts along the way up. Some were up at the top, adjacent to the granaries. We decided to go up to take a look.
The view from the granaries is one of the most photographed spots in the canyon. "They're making a postage stamp of the view from up there," the crew leader had told us earlier. "There's a photographer from Arizona Highways with us who will be setting up a shot at sunset." I made it about 3/4 of the way and, thinking of my imminent climb to the rim, lost my desire, made a few images and went back down to camp. Karl went all the way up.
Going back down I pondered the thought of forty people (forty one, if you include me) all looking at the same scene and making the same images. It seemed silly. The scene was sublime, to be sure. But, how does one deal with the cliché shot, one seen a million times? Sometimes a photographer just needs to get the shot so that he or she can move onward to more personal images. Those money shots are like pots of gold at the end of rainbows. In any case, I made the shot and ended up liking it. Sometimes a photo is just a photo.
Sunset and dinner came. The crew leader brought over some lasagna and bread for us. As we ate it in the dark, we could hear the young, horseshoe woman singing campfire songs (without a campfire) with her guitar in accompaniment. A group of photographers had formed a circle around her. Applause followed each tune.
Soon, quiet returned to the river as the performance played itself out. Bedtime comes early to the canyon. Alone with my thoughts, I tried to sleep but it's hard dozing off at 8:00 PM. Instead I thought about the next day. I thought about the long hike that would begin in the morning. We'd head back to the creek to spend the next night there. Then we'd work our way back to the rim. We'd revisit the place where we lost trail. Then we'd have to renegotiate the long red-rock traverse. If it were still there, we'd find our cached water at Marion Point. And along the way we'd find our old friend, the Scary Spot.
Sleep didn't come for hours as I thought about the steepness of the climb. Nankoweap was the steepest trail I'd ever encountered. Sleep didn't come when pictures of the thousand-foot drop flashed before my closed eyes. Being in the bottom of the canyon is being in a detached, remote, subterranean world. Its beauty is attached to the pervasive thought that one must, at some point, climb up and out to the rim. The rim equals survival. I thought about survival and I thought about the rim during that during our still, long night by the Colorado River. Sleep did not come as I thought about the devil, the devil named Nankoweap Trail.
To be continued…