Colorado River (1973): Jackass Rapids/Jackass in the Rapids *
In the summer of 1973, one of my former eighth grade students (from Page, AZ) invited me to hike down to the Colorado River from near the Bitter Springs Arizona Highway Department outpost where she lived. This would be a walk down to the first rapids within what is generally considered the beginning of the Grand Canyon, not far below Navajo Bridge that spans Marble Canyon. My student said the locals called the area Jackass Rapids. I was a fair-to-middling red rock hiker back then, but it took fancy footwork to keep up with the sure-footed young girl. As my memory of the day comes into clearer focus, I think this trip might have been the girl’s answer to the environmental living elective (see Grand Staircase to Heaven, Part 1). She had not participated in the class, perhaps because, being of local pioneer stock, she already knew much more than I did about the local environment, or maybe it was just that she was already in band during the elective hour.
In any case, the sky was perfect blue and the sun was scorching and I already had sunburn from some recent hikes in Zion National Park. When we finally got down to the Colorado River, I did what I always did back then—I jumped in the water. The air temperature was probably in the mid-90s, the river was around 40°, and my back was already burnt. The resulting pain was intense and I felt like I was the jackass the place was named after. For several years afterwards my arms carried the marks of the sunburn and nowadays in the shower, I wince at cold water on my back. My memories of those Arizona and Utah times, though, remain bright: sky blue, rock red, pine green, and Colorado River brown.
*(adapted from Losing It: Deconstructing a Life, unpublished work © Lynda Terrill, all rights reserved)