Friday, October 24, 2008

Day Three

Author & Others Resting In Buck Farm Canyon

The sky began to soften up the starlit night and soon, the canyon wrens were serenading me with their songs. Life just couldn't get any better. I took my gear down to the beach and enjoyed the morning. After a while Jim, a retired mechanical engineer for Lockheed, came down and as the only other mechanical (or otherwise) engineer on the trip, I guess I could appreciate the many stories Jim told. I would have listened all day but pancakes, sausage and fresh fruit for breakfast seemed to interrupt us.

We set off down the river at an easy pace but didn't go far before stopping at Buck Farm Canyon. There we hiked up to the Hermit layer, a harder layer less prone to erosion forces, and where people like myself hiking in the side canyons always seem to get rim rocked. There in a shady bowl of rock, we lounged around before heading back to the river for a lunch of sandwiches and last night's leftovers. On the way back I saw scat from either a bobcat or a coyote but didn't know which. I'm not sure which species or both live in the canyon bottom and will have to research that later.

The Dark Canyon powered by Ote, was my ride for the day and I enjoyed talking with her. As we passed mile 40 and the site of a proposed dam that never got built, our talk shifted to decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam. The scars from several exploratory shafts at the Mile 40 site show how close we came to losing even more.

There weren't any big rapids today and we stopped at around mile 45 for an early afternoon. After unpacking the boats, a half dozen of us, namely me and some of the crew members, hiked up to the Eminence Break trail to above the hermit rock layer via a fault line. It was a real huff and a puff climbing up out of the canyon but the view was a feast for the eyes. We sat around for a while enjoying the afternoon until Heidi the cook needed to start back to begin supper and requested an escort. With lots of good bathing spots back around camp requesting my presence, I volunteered and we set off.

On the way down, a private party of six that we had passed yesterday pulled in at the far end of the sandbar, the very spot that I had picked out as my potential bathtub. Quick flashes of anger swam through my head that off all places to camp in this huge isolated canyon that we had to share our sandbar with others, the private group had to choose that one, less than 1/8th of a mile from ours. But also as quick, I realized how much the isolation that we have enjoyed over the past few days had already begun to take hold of me and put down roots. I quickly suppressed my anger searched downstream among the multitudes of house sized rocks for a bathing spot and was rewarded with a small sand beach at the foot of a nice flat rock to set everything on.
Buck Farm Canyon

Bathing in the canyon is an experience to say the least. First, privacy is hard to come by with an occasional boat drifting by (more so during the regular season and not the two week dory/private party season I was in) and the forced close proximity to camp. Several times during the trip we would surprise people on private trips, especially when we started out in the morning, doing various personal hygiene activities. The unwritten rule of the water was to politely look away if you were in the boat and if you were the one being seen, to realize that they didn't know you from Adam and hopefully thus minimize the embarrassment. Though I certainly didn't set out too, by the time the trip had ended, I had seen most people without their clothes on and most had seen me. It just couldn't be avoided.

But this afternoon, I had a secluded spot to myself for my bath and it went uninterrupted. Because the canyon is an arid climate that receives very little rain, it is recommended that you bathe directly in the river and allow your biodegradable soaps and shampoos to flush downstream. Because of limited spots and little rains to cleanse things, residues like shampoos can quickly accumulate on shore and provide an odorous and unsanitary condition. Generally, I would wade in to my knees, splash water to wet down my skin, quickly soap and shampoo, and then by quickly rinse by submersion. All told, this took about one minute, perhaps two at the tops but by then, my legs and most of my exposed skin would be thoroughly numb in the 46-degree water. That is why the sun kissed flat rock to rest upon while toweling dry was such a nice surprise and I was quickly warmed back up.

Back in camp, I went down to the kitchen area and watched the sunlight chase itself up the cliffs of the next bend down river. I reflected on one of the stories Ote had told me today was of Bert Loper, who in his time was known as the King of the River. In July of 1849 while celebrating his 80th birthday and running 24-1/2 mile Rapid, he had a heart attach, flipped his boat and drowned. Later they would find his boat washed up near Spook's Canyon downstream and to the right of Buck Farm Canyon. Many years after that in the 1975, his bones were found downstream and were removed for reburial with his wife who had died two months earlier. Though most of the boat had been destroyed, the remains were still chained to a tree there and offered up a chilling reminder that the river never sleeps.

Supper consisted of steak, spinach and mushroom salad, mashed potatoes, green beans and from what I saw coming off the stove, fried potatoes. As usual, I let all the other clients rush through the line first and by the time I went right ahead of the crew, the latter item was all gone. Afterwards, we burnt some mesquite that we found on one of our hikes in the barbecue grill and sat around swapping stories until late in the night.
Eminence Break


sage said...

I'm enjoying the journey, Ed. It seems that you and God have at least one thing in common, you both only show your backside! As for bathing in the river, you're right, it's cold! It makes Lake Superior feel warm.

Beau said...

Interesting journey. In some ways, I wonder if the canyons feel oppressive, knowing there are few, or no other ways out besides down the river... Kind of feels that way with the current economic challenges, except we don't know when or where the boat will lead.

Ed Abbey said...

Actually the man in the foreground with his back to the camera is a fellow named Don, one of the few singles (didn't come with someone) on the trip so we often rode together in the dories. I am one of the people in the far background reclining on the rocks. Even in the original picture I can't tell exactly which one due to the black and white nature of the photograph. The German Jorge was really into blaok and white photography and took this picture.

Ed Abbey said...

Beau - I know what you mean and I certainly entertained those thoughts while hiking up some of the side canyons. I kept tabs on places where higher ground could be reached quickly if needed but in the end, I figured if it was my time, it was my time. I might as well go out exploring something as beautiful as the side canyons of the Grand Canyon.

R. Sherman said...

I may not always comment, but I, too, am enjoying riding along.


The Real Mother Hen said...

Can I post an angry comment here? You would probably kick me out after this but I just got to say it: I'm sorry to say that I absolutely hate people who use any chemical (biodegradable soap included) near any water. The soap can only biodegrade when it is in the proper setting - soil, sunlight, oxygen - not in the water!!! Sorry, I get very mad when people need to shower and all the crap when they are out & about in the wild.

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - I'm not going to kick you out anytime soon especially for saying what is on your mind.

In most cases, I would absolutely agree with you but in this case, putting the shampoo residue in the water is the best place for it. It gets diluted and washed downstream and eventually filtered out by the swamps of Mexico where the river ends or the filtration systems of the cities that use it for drinking water. Had it been allowed to accumulate in the sand next to the river, it would have eventually been washed down in rare flood in much larger concentrations because you can't get away from the river far enough for it not too, unlike many streams were it is feasible to get above any flood line.

Although I didn't mention it, there were a few camps where people had urinated over the years in a few places where the man made floods hadn't reached instead of in the river as now recommended. As you can imagine, those places smelled very unpleasant and not somewhere where I would want to camp.

In any other place besides the Grand Canyon, I would agree but down there, the best choice was to put it in the river.

Ed Abbey said...

P.S. Try hiking down one of the trails from the rims that the donkeys use to carry supplies down to Phantom Ranch. It is so bad in places that your eyes water and you gasp for breath.

The Real Mother Hen said...


STILL, if I were God, I would punish whoever that showers/ shampoos/ brushes teeth/ craps without first using a shovel to dig a hole.

The tour groups shouldn't feed people so much food. This way people would crap less. Yeah, let's punish the tour groups too.

Thankfully I'm not God.