A Snowball Fight in the Desert
Whoosh! Smack! Suddenly my shoulder was wet, cold, and stingy; the remains of the exploded snowball lay on my shoulder. My 9-year-old cousin laughed with fairy-tail villain glee as he celebrated his momentary victory taking for granted that I would not defend myself. While preparing to launch a snowball missile of my own, my mind flashed back to another snowball fight from a few years ago.
The performers were two newlyweds on their honeymoon. They had decided to venture forth from their hotel in Las Vegas and go on one of the native van tours with the rest of us. Right now they were standing outside of the van having an impromptu fight. Their weapons of choice: fresh, cold, wet snowballs. This took place while our coachman, and the coachman of the second van, and a few of our fellow excursionists helped fix the second van that had just blown a tire a few minutes before and caused us to make an unscheduled stop on our tour. Or was it?
Our journey began bright and early that December morning in Las Vegas. So early that the sun was still slumbering all cozy in his bed while we awaited the van that was to pick us up from our hotel and begin the first leg of our quest: to visit the western rim of the Grand Canyon (or Grand Canyon West) and meet the Hualapai Tribe that live and own the land in this area of Arizona.
Although it was December, we were in Las Vegas and heading for Arizona; both of which are in desert-like areas. Believing in all the stereotypes of the climates and weather conditions of these areas and not knowing we would have to walk any real distance, my parents and I dressed in light clothes, and, what we later would come to figure out: the wrong shoes. My dad wore regular office-type dress shoes; my mom wore pumps with high narrow heels (not stiletto), and I wore black canvas sneakers with white laces.
The first indication that this was probably going to be a memorable journey was when the van finally pulled up. The coachman had been given orders to only pick up my parents and not me. With the addition of my parents the snowy white van’s passenger section was filled to its 12-count capacity. Where was I to ride? Was I to be a straphanger from the cargo rack on the roof? Fortunately, the coachman had no helper sitting in the front area with him. So I got to ride shotgun. This was a bit of a mixed blessing. I got a great view and didn’t have to share a seat with anybody but the gearshift hub thing in a van (or at least in this van) takes up a lot of space and therefore does not leave that much legroom.
The first length of the trip led us to a small mostly white, square-like building that doubled as the tour headquarters and as a private airstrip for their tour plane; one of those small planes that can carry about 6 people including the pilot. We arrived as the sun having just woken up was beginning to stretch his arms across the vastness of the sky. I am not sure if we were still in Nevada or had already reached Arizona. There was no indication at this point that we would later be encountering snow.
Here everybody had a chance to take care of personal business (a quick snack and a pit stop) and the business portion of the trip – paid the fee, or signed the slip for credit card purchases and so on. After all that was said and done, the group went outside to meet up with the other two vans full of excursionists. Though we were mostly strangers we all had the same it’s-way-too-early-in-the-morning-for-this expressions smeared on our faces. We were refreshed by the stop. Most spirits were high. Imagination was soaring. Expectations were high and full of presumed notions of what awaited us. The first van left, then the second, and finally the third, us. Now we were on our way!
Las Vegas, for anybody who has never been there, lies in the southeastern corner of the state of Nevada; which makes it ideal to go and see one of the rims of the Grand Canyon. Las Vegas is now well known for the casinos and nightclubs that line Fremont Street and the highway section known as the Strip; it was founded in 1905 and received a city charter in 1911. Las Vegas was founded as a station on what is now the Union Pacific Railroad route. The site consisted of fertile grasslands, and the name of the city comes from two Spanish words meaning the meadows. The amusing thing is that a good portion of this part of our daylong excursion was seeing meadows and landscape. At one point you could even see the grooves made by the covered wagons of the Native Americans or first nations that traveled along that route. I think the coachman said it dated back to the Trail of Tears (circa 1830).
The roads and landscapes went through a gradual metamorphosis, as did our spirits and imaginations. At first there was a flat dusty road with desert all around. The desert sand started to get redder and redder the more we drove. Shrubs, cacti and even a few tumbleweeds made up the landscape. At one point our coachman turned left into the middle of the red sandy desert and drove along a path of cacti. There was not even a hint of a road. Where are we going? Aren’t cars supposed to stay on the road?
The cacti and sand slowly gave way to meadows and hillier land. The soil became redder and muddier and finally the first dabs of glistening white peek-a-booed all around us. Snow! Snow? Snow in Arizona? Snow in the desert? Well, actually the desert seemed to have disappeared with the red soil and the bright sun. The sunny sky slowly dissolved into a grayish-white backdrop for snow covered grassy land and snow wrapped pine trees.
We turned to our coachman for enlightenment. He explained that we had entered through the “backdoor” of one of the local ranches belonging to a big – time local rancher with millions of acres. The rancher had given permission to the tour company to take shortcuts through his land. Our coachman said that there were free – roaming cattle and rabbits in this area. He was also going through the rest of our itinerary, which included a traditional Hualapai bar-be-cue.
Swoosh! Plop! Rustle! A black tire whizzed passed and flew up and hung itself on the limb of a nearby snow-covered pine tree. The tire had blown off the van in front of us. That van and our van both stopped to see what could be done about this situation. The first van was nowhere in sight, it had left us behind long ago in its self-imposed, hare and tortoise race to our main tour destination.
Most of the excursionists reacted in true if-life-hands-you-lemons-make-lemonade fashion. Some were walking around stretching their legs and taking photographs of the scenery and the vans as if they had actually paid to see snow. Others stood by watching the tire being changed. A few unprepared individuals like me stayed put in the van. It wasn’t so much the temperature (it wasn’t very cold – a jacket would have been enough) as the wetness of the snow. Even with rubber soles, black canvas sneakers were not allies of Jack Frost’s artistry with frozen water.
And then there were those who totally abandoned themselves to the moment and the environment. After having been cooped up inside these vans for a while the young newlywed couple alighted from their van. They started to tease and play a sort of tag-like game. They started laughing and getting more into their little game. I new what was going to happen before it did. The young woman pretended to trip and fall on the snow. Swoosh! A few moments later the young man had been formally introduced to the white snow that engulfed us. He returned the gesture with great enthusiasm. They continued back and forth a little while longer. Some of the snowballs hit the vans and hit some of the other people. A few of the children were inspired to engage in a snowball fight of their own. And so they waged war and laughed as the van was being tended too. The antics of this young couple broke the tension and acted as a reminder to stop and smell the roses – or snow in this case.
Turns out that the van that blew a tire had not brought a spare with them. So our coachman valiantly donated our spare tire to his colleague. Okay, tire changed. Everybody back in the two vans. The other van takes off and uselessly tries to catch up with the first van. Finally, it was our turn to depart and pursue the other two vans, or so we thought!
Our van would not start. Here we were in the middle of snow-covered meadows full of pine trees and no other people in sight. The other vans have already disappeared from sight. Spirits are not soaring so high right now but imagination was very strong. Suddenly, our coachman slithers out a 6-inch jagged dagger. Oh oh! A traditional Native American bar-be-cue huh? Were we the main course? Or was he going to go hunt a rabbit and skin it for us and cook it on an open fire like in the movies? He disappeared under the van for a few minutes. When he popped back up he stated that he had to fix the starter line or something like that. Whatever he did with that knife worked. With renewed hope for an uneventful rest of the trip now, we were finally on our way.
All the vans met up at another square building that was actually the Hualapai tribe’s airport – the 5th busiest in Arizona. We were now on the Hualapai’s land. The ground all around the low square main building, and the smaller buildings around it, was all covered with slippery slush. It wasn’t that cold just very messy. It was here during a pit stop that my father met one of the Hualapai chiefs – Chief Surefoot. My father said that the chief entered the men’s room with moccasins on his feet. The chief took one step and slipped and fell and slid across the floor on his back.
It was here where our coachmen were to leave us as we boarded the Hualapai’s yellow wooden school bus that was to take us the rest of the way. The bus drove through some more slushy roads. We were in a flat-topped rugged-terrain area. On either side of this road was the Grand Canyon. However, fog or mist was covering most of the views of the canyon. We had gone about 20 minutes when the bus reached a spot from which it could no longer proceed forward; I think it was for safety reasons or something like that. This is where the shoes come into play.
My mom is not really the outdoorsy type to begin with as is evident by the decision to wear high-heeled pumps for a trip. Well, she had had enough at the moment. She did not want to walk the rest of the way on foot. Understandable since mostly snow, and red dirt and red mud areas surrounded us. So she and my dad stayed on the bus. The bus, however, no longer balanced by the weight of the excursionists slipped backwards until it came to rest (gently) against a tree that was at the end of the length of road we still had to walk to reach the designated meeting point – an old cable car station. I don’t recall if it was broken or if it just was not working at this time of the year. But this is where we were to have our bar-be-cue. My parents were okay. The Hualapai took pity on my parents and gave them and a lady who was about 8 months pregnant a ride to the station in a rusty brown dusty pickup truck.
Well I proceeded on foot with a handful of people that were still around. The surrounding area was very quiet. Except for some rustling amongst the shrubbery. I know that in this area there are snakes, coyotes, mountain lions and other wildlife. Now snakes, I had studied them and was not afraid of them. Besides it was way too cold and snowy for a snake to be around. Coyotes and mountain lions were a different story. I could just imagine a coyote slinking along on the sidelines hiding behind the shrubbery just awaiting a chance to catch a meal. Realistically, it was probably nothing more than a rabbit and had nothing to worry about. The mind can really play tricks on people.
Although the stretch that we had to walk was probably less then 1 or 2 miles, the monotony of the landscape covered with snow and fog made for a dreary, boring environment. My canvas shoes had a rubber sole so as long as I did not walk in deep snow then I was okay. But one spot that seemed hard was not and my foot plunged into red mud covered with snow. Now, I had a problem. And so I proceeded on with a handful of other people.
A brief tension buster came when the small group of people behind me burst into their rendition of the song “Climb Every Mountain” from the ending of the movie “Sound of Music”. The similarity of the two scenes was uncanny and funny. We finally reached the cable car station. The fog had lifted a bit in this area and we were rewarded by a breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon. The Hualapai had prepared a meal consisting of coyote (how ironic) cooked in snow (which they said was good for you), beans, corn, and a few vegetables. I don’t recall dessert. They also had postcards, souvenirs, jewelry, and other handmade items for sale.
Whoosh! Smack! Suddenly a cold, wet, stingy sensation on my cheek teleported me back to the snowball fight with my cousin. Once again he laughed with Vauldermort-like glee as he again celebrated his presumed victory. “Hey, did I ever tell you about this couple that had a snowball fight…” I yelled to my cousin as I bombarded him with my snowballs and unexpectedly won the battle. One must never assume or take anything for granted. I learned that well on that trip to Las Vegas.