Skiing over tracks left days before by a snowmobile, we couldn't talk; our skis scraped and clattered too loudly on the icy surfaces. The mixed conifer forest, filled with five feet of snow, was silent. Once we glimpsed the pure white tail of a Kaibab squirrel. Its entire range is the plateau north of the canyon.
As the sun came above the trees the snow got mushy and soaked our boots. At a stop I asked Babbitt what had happened here in years past. The thing that came to his mind was the survey of the area in 1880 by a team of geologists, cartographers and illustrators directed by John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Union major who had first taken a party of boats through the Grand Canyon in 1869.
"The 1880 survey led to the most beautiful book ever published on this side of the Atlantic," he said. This was Clarence Dutton's Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District. "It's a kind of Jeffersonian blend of all kinds of disciplines," Babbitt continued. "They came to subsume this part of the country. And that was the golden age of the illustrator." Later Babbitt would show me his copy of the book at his home in Phoenix. The great, four-foot-wide folio woodcuts by William Henry Holmes, muted in tone, excruciating in detail, have a force entirely different from photographs. "They're more real than photos," said Babbitt, "because Holmes had an eye that stripped away the extraneous stuff. He saw the skeleton of the earth, undistracted by the shreds of flesh."
The drawings were accompanied by Dutton's prose, which was charged with an unscientific amount of emotion. "As the mind strives to realize [the canyon's] proportions," Dutton wrote, "its spirit is broken and its imagination completely crushed." This just wasn't true. Dutton's imagination went on feverishly, naming the great landmarks of the canyon. He began the practice of calling the canyon's buttes and towers after deities, so today we gaze upon an ecumenical assembly of, among many others, Brahma Temple, Wotan's Throne, Isis Temple, Hindu Amphitheater, Cheops Pyramid and Zoroaster Temple.
"I don't care what you call them," said Kluetmeier. "I just hope they're worth the trek."
We snow-camped near Crane Lake, on a slope above our first small meadow. Nine hours of slogging had brought us only 16 miles. Babbitt, as tired as the rest of us, didn't lament being six miles short of his goal. His metabolism is that of a natural ultramarathoner, producing great volumes of energy that pour out slowly, but endlessly.
We went to bed at 7 p.m. There was nothing else to do. It was dark and cold. We were tired, but we didn't go to sleep. The Babbitts had taken me into their tent, along with boots and water bottle, to keep these crucial items from freezing. Wrapped almost claustrophobically in our down bags, we chatted. The Babbitts discussed the ski trip they had made last year. It was shorter but had included a march right into a blizzard. "You can't see anything," said Bruce Babbitt. "And when you fall, you don't know you're falling. The collision with the ground comes as a complete surprise."
He explained the delicate nature of the meadows that we would cross the next day. "We are on a limestone cap on the plateau," he said. "There are no streams. All the water sinks in and reemerges four or five thousand feet down as springs. The meadows stay marshy in the summer, though, and become a riot of color and vegetation and deer."
Until we got within 12 miles of the rim, we would be in the Kaibab National Forest. "The Forest Service is the dominant manager of the land," said Babbitt. "Its plan to keep this road open in the winter is symptomatic of a larger issue that touches the whole West. The forest lands by law are to be managed with the idea of allowing multiple use. In recent decades, multiple use has stressed timber, mining and grazing, but has basically checked out of the recreation business.
"For example, there has been no national forest campground improvement in Arizona in 20 years. So, in short, I'd like to stop this road improvement, which is being lobbied for by logging companies and southern Utah people who are flailing their congressional delegation to provide year-round tourist access. And I'd like to agitate for a broader interpretation of multiple use." One inclusive of what we were doing now.