Hiawatha Watahamagee

cowboy-in-desertPhoto:  High Wild & Lonesome


November 1968, eleven months after we were married, my husband the pharmacist working for the Public Health Service in Parker, AZ so he doesn’t have to go to Vietnam, decides that it would be an adventure to check out the drug cabinet at the base of the Grand Canyon.   Where the Havasupai Indians live on a reservation of several hundred people next to the Colorado River.  Philip loved adventures.  “Ever been on a horse,” asks Hubby? 


“Oh sure, lot’s of times,” I respond.  (Once when I was 12 but who’s counting.)


It’s November 1st, we wake at 2 am, drive for two hours mostly over rocks to get to a dirt road, with even more rocks to arrive at a hilltop in Peach Springs (not far from Kingman).  Violá we are somewhere on a knoll at the top of the canyon in the dark.  It’s five degrees.  I’m wearing several layers of clothing, including a red wool car coat with a hood and gloves.  There is no getting warm.  The only place to pee is one of those blue porta potties.  It’s so cold that inside the outhouse you can hear the wind whistle.


There’s a Havasupai guide waiting for us holding the reins of three large horses.  “Ever ridden before,” asks Hiawatha Watahamagee our guide?  (I swear I’m not making this up.) 


“Oh sure, I ride all the time,” says the 23 year old idiot with oatmeal for brains.  Moron is actually a much better word, but I digress. 


The horse steps off the cliff’s edge and we are on a dirt trail that is probably less that 30 inches wide with a 3000 ft drop straight down on my left with no railing.  I am either too young or too stupid to realize how grave the danger.  Hiawatha is in front of me and Philip in back.  If I fall it will likely be sideways. 


Three hours later we finally arrive at the bottom of the switchback trail at the base of the canyon.  My very independent horse decides he knows a short cut to his stable.  Trigger is in a huge hurry to get home.  He takes off at full gallop with me lying on top fiercely grasping his mane, the horn of the saddle, and anything else I could cling to for dear life.  We are on the shores of the Colorado River and there are boulders the size of VWs everywhere I look, which was easy from my angle of lying on top of the horse with the reins in my hands, my feet desperately trying to stay in the stirrups, in my Little Red Riding Hood jacket blowing behind me, hearing my hubby screaming “Sara hold on!” 


Yup, that’s me the experienced horse woman.  I’m going to do one of them Lone Ranger jump from one side to the other tricks at 45 miles an hour with rocks on either side.  An eternity later we arrive at the ranch and Trigger stops to get a drink.  I don’t have a scratch anywhere.


That’s when you hear the angel on your right shoulder holding on to the hair on the back of your neck, shaking his head, “Wait till God hears about this!  Moron, did I bring you from Tashkent to the bottom of the Grand Canyon so you could kill yourself?”  Hey, what do you want?  My angel has an attitude and sounds like my Mother. 


Other people’s children merely shave their heads, get a tattoo, dye their hair a ridiculous color of orange or purple.  Then there’s me.  I can be talked into almost anything by almost anyone.  At least once, if they come bringing Hershey kisses.   


My son once asked in high school how come I let him make so many of his own mistakes and didn’t intervene the way most of his friend’s Mothers did.  Hopefully this story many years later answers that question.  When you do stuff in your youth that would scare your Mother to death if she knew, you have to give your children the gift of learning lessons they need to learn as well.


As for Moms, pray a lot and hang on!


9 thoughts on “Hiawatha Watahamagee

  1. From what I can tell we have to hold on for a very long time. I pray my hands don’t get tired and loosen my lips. I wish I would have done something like this instead of the purple hair. Maybe I will now?


  2. Great story. I have not lived an adventurous life, except in my thoughts, but I love hearing of the adventuress of others with me safely setting back and listening. I have seen the Grand canyon, but what I remember most is my Grandmother’s tails of small children who wandered too close to the edge and fell to their early death, I don’t wonder why I have missed so much adventure. I miss her, my grandmother. (Sorry, just using the opportunity to write coherent sentences, they say “practice makes perfect.”) Great story!


  3. Good story but you wouldn’t catch me on a horse there. When i was a kid i fell off a donkey and that was enough for me


  4. OMG, that was great! I would have done the very same thing and my thighs would have hurt for a month. Also, some other parts.

    But I’m a klutz. I probably would have fallen off.


  5. Oh My Word, Sara!! What a great story and I just love the way you tell it! Adventurous souls usually have great stories to tell. Thanks for sharing!!


  6. Each time I visit your site I find myself pasued – enjoying what language can do in the presence of a skills wide as sky and deep at that canyon ride. Could feel the fearful ride and the rushing flap of the red blur headed toward the barn. At home inside her skin, this woman, I am thinking. So we readers always feel we are where we belong – even on a horse.


  7. Sara I’m sorry, but I am laughing so hard with this story. It’s written most wonderful! But I was the kid that was Daddy’s baby, still am. He taught me to take chances and go for all the adventures, you only live once. Of course I had pulled all 4 limbs out of socket before I was 4 because I kept trying to “fly” off people’s shoulders. 😉


  8. You have me laughing out loud! This was a fantastic story, expertly told. Why doesn’t this adventure surprise me though? Maybe it’s because I read your Flamenco adventure yesterday…hmmmm…;)


Comments are closed.