Friday, March 16, 2018


The park's bus driver let out an audible gasp when I told her I was 72 (almost). I was the only passenger on her pre-sunrise shuttle and we were sharing Grand Canyon experiences, including my plan to "swamp" on a commercial raft trip in June.

"Swamper" is a fancy name for the gopher on Colorado River raft trips. Helping load and unload, set up camp kitchens, cook, haul the toilet, tie up rafts, and on and on. Apparently, swamping didn't seem like the kind of job for someone of my advanced age. Or perhaps, and this is the explanation I prefer, my bus driver was simply amazed that I don’t look my age.

She dropped me at the end of the park's road -- Hermit's Rest. I shouldered my day pack and dropped over the Canyon rim and headed down Hermit Trail. Three hours and some three miles later, I'd dropped 1,500 feet and arrived at Dripping Spring, a tiny oasis tucked at the head of a remote canyon. All around, canyon wrens serenaded me with their calls that sound like water trickling though the air.

What brought me to this trail, however, was fossils, not birds. I wanted to feel with my own fingers the pictures I'd seen of tracks frozen in sandstone. And there they were, critter tracks as clear as the day the lizard (or whatever creature made them) scurried across the desert sand dunes 275 million years ago.

My hike had everything: fossils, geology, clear skies, spectacular views, pinon jays, and drops off the edge of the trail so sheer that often I couldn't look down. It also had that rare Grand Canyon quality -- solitude. Not until I was halfway back did I see another hiker.

Tonight, pooped from my 6.5-mile hike, I'm in Flagstaff staying with the boatman that I'll be swamping for. I don't know if I'll be the "oldest swamper on the Colorado River," but it would make a good tee-shirt.