Misery Camp to the Rio Urique and Return - December 30, 1986
When I was 18, was a member of a volunteer fire company. I completed Maryland's EMT program and I think that was probably why Dan asked me what it meant when your resting pulse is 100 when you haven't even gotten up yet. I cold see very little of him but for his shaggy head sticking out of the sleeping bag. I told him it meant he was sick and that he needed to make sure he did not dehydrate. I asked of his knee and he said he wanted no part of going any further into the canyon, this day or any other day in the foreseable future. I knew that he needed a rest day and, after that, our best bet was to get to the rim and make the best of the remainder of the trip on the train. But that was not going to happen today and the real need was to get some water for him to have later in the day, for us to use for dinner and for tomorrow's likely climb out.
We had four quart bottles each so he kept two full ones and I took a full one and five empties to go and get water. Neither of us wanted too much to do with the poo pool that we'd used the day before so I elected to take the trail to the bottom of the canyon and hopefully get some water of less questionable quality. Dan agreed to stay at the camp and take it easy and I figured I had the better part of a day's hike to the bottom and back. After we all (5) had breakfast, I was off on the water run and Dan settled in for a long day at trail side.
The route to the bottom was steep but clear and I was not alone. Copper Canyon may be back country but it is by no means devoid of people. The Tarahumara live in shelters constructed beneath rock overhangs and I'd pass a local here and there as I descended. We'd exchange a friendly nod and "buenos dias" and go on our way, guys only of course. As I neared the bottom I came across a grove of orange trees, full of fruit but I figured this was someone's crop for trading with the train passengers, so I didn't even think about snagging one. However, the fellow who tended the grove came over to me and indeed traded some gringo food for some oranges. He had a large sack of fresh pickings and told me he was headed up to sell them at Divisidero. I gave him a few other items and managed to communicate that Dan was up trail, that we were together and he ws sick . . . would he drop off a few oranges to him on his way up?
I continued to the bottom of Copper Canyon and eventually stood on the bank of the Rio Urique. No roaring Colorado River but a lazy stream connecting deep pools nestled among huge boulders, huge water smoothed boulders. There was no doubt that the Rio Urique is no calm stream but a true desert tempest not afraid to show its strength in the right season or rain storm. I also talked with an anglo couple where were camped at the bottom and had started one day ahead of us. They too muddled their way to the river,picking and choosing the same descending trails that Dan and I did. Really nice folks, both teachers from Flagstaff, AZ, who by menas of their anti-mining activism, knew some of the same folks that I had worked with during my stint in the uranium business. They had been on a life tour of the western US, teaching in key towns for a few years before moving on to sample a new topography . . . Missoula, MT, Durango, CO and now Flagstaff . . . not a bad game plan.
I filled all the water containers after a short lunch and the four of us headed back up to Dan. I guess I had more promise for a day's entertainment than Dan . . . so the dogs decided to accompany me for the day. Now came the hard part, I'd made it to the bottom, hence it was now time to head back up to the camp, about 2000 vertical feet of ascent lying between me and Dan. It took it slowly, using the rest step that a wise fellow once showed me on a trail in Colorado. I passed the orange grove with its myriad of shallow irrigation ditches running from the trunk of one tree to another before disappearing down a steep cleft in the canyon wall. I filled the six water bottles and took my time climbing back to Dan and dinner. We made it back at about 4 in the afternoon and Dan was nursing the last of a hand full oranges that he told me some local fellow stopped by and insisted that he take. Dan tried to trade him for the fruit but the fellow was oddly insistent that he just wanted Dan to take it. Imagine that?
We had a communal dinner and opted for another night under the stars. Another night sharing my pad with a black dog, another night sharing my pillow with another hound and yes, another night interrupted by the flash of angry canines running to and fro in defense of our meager camp. They were a hell of a crew and in hindsight I'm glad they were on our side as they seemed to be poorly tempered hounds in the face of outsiders.