Hopi Copper Mine
The storm intensified as they drove back to Grandview point.
“Someone’s waving Rory, pull over.” They were just past the turnoff to Grandview Point. “Backup.”
Rory rolled his window down to better see the man who had stopped them. He appeared to be a hiker in distress. He was wearing khaki shorts, hiking boots, sunglasses, and a dirty white straw cowboy hat. Rory rolled his window down.
“What’s wrong?” he yelled.
“A terrible accident! My wife is down there; she fell off the ridge. I need help!”
“She fell over the edge? Where?”
Rory saw the distraught, weeping man nod and point to the parking lot behind him.
“I was setting up my tripod to take a picture…”
“In the rain? Weren’t you worried about the storm?”
“It was the final picture of a grand day. I turned my back to Donna and when I turned around she disappeared over the edge.”
“Get in; it's safer to be in a car right now.” Rory glanced at the man in his rear view mirror as he climbed into the back seat, water dripping from him. He looked like a wet puppy.
“You say your wife disappeared over the edge. Is she okay?”
“No.” His voice was flat and expressionless. He had his sunglasses on, and he kept moving his head back and forth.
“Where is she, your wife?”
“On the trail at the bottom. After she fell I scrambled down, but she was dead.” He hesitated, choking up. “I washed the blood from her face. Then I came up for help.”
“How far down is she?
“At the mining camp on Horseshoe Mesa. We were photographing the mine.”
Rory pulled into the lot at the trailhead. There was a lone car parked there. “Oh someone else is here. We can ask them to help.”
“That’s my car.”
“Why didn’t you drive it to the road? It’s safer to be in a car in this lightning.”
“I’m not thinking. I didn’t know what to do.”
Rory looked to Katie for help or a clue. “Have you been here hiking off Grandview, Katie?” he asked her.
“A long time ago with Ellen. There is an old mine halfway down. The trail is well marked and well worked because it was built to bring copper ore up here to the trailhead. There used to be an ore crusher right here.”
“What do you want to do?” He looked at Randy. “Maybe you should take us down there.”
“Why? She’s dead I'm sure of it. I don’t want to go down again not with the lightning and the wind.”
“What about your stuff?”
“Later.” Leaving the car, he dug for keys in his pocket and dropped them before his fingers could coordinate. He picked them back up and hurried to his vehicle.
“He’s gone crazy Rory.” They watched the man start the car and drive off. “At least he turned right towards the village.” Katie grabbed her hat and stepped out of the car.
“What are you doing Katie?”
“I’m getting my hair up in a ponytail; the wind is bugging me.”
“Are we going down? What about the lightning?”
“It's moving north. It will be far enough away in a few minutes. Let’s get water bottles from the trunk. Oh, here we’ll wear these ponchos and take this backpack.” She grabbed one of their day bags.
“Maybe we should wait, Katie.”
“For what? Do you want to chase the fellow down? Why? He’ll either be back, or he won’t.”
“What about the horse camp?”
“A human body is more important Rory. Let’s go.”
“Should we leave a note?” Rory asked her.
“Sure and phone numbers for our next of kin. I’m joking, but I want to make sure this person is dead. The mining camp is a three-mile hike so we can do it in less than an hour. Ready?”
A jagged lightning bolt zapped to the earth on the mesa to their right. Katie started at a fast walk and quickly gained distance from him. They were walking the same cadence, but she was working her legs, long striding herself, and exaggerating her upward thrust to push into a bounce. She was skipping downhill fast enough to outpace his distance a staggering two to one with each stride. He was impressed.
The trail became steep almost immediately with staircase switchbacks, so he refocused and pushed himself to keep up with her. He managed to catch up on the occasional level section especially around Coconino Saddle.
“Big cobblestones ahead!” She warned him. “Slow down. They’re getting slippery. Here’s the mine area.” They came to the Mesa. “Look around for where they were Rory. Oh, this way.” She was near Page Springs Trail on the way to the mineshaft. “There see that? Right near the edge, there's a hiking pole. And there’s something a little ways down too.”
“Don’t try to get it Katie; it's too steep. It looks like a hat. Maybe it’s his wife’s hat. Leave it alone; we need to find her.”
“Look further down there's another pole. And on the ledge fifty feet down there I see a brown thing maybe a shoe. See it? Now follow that down. See that rock chute; that extended slide dumping onto the pile there? At the bottom where the brush and rocks are, I bet she’s there. Here let’s go down. She has to be there.”
“Unless she moved.”
“Stop it. If you don’t focus, you’re gonna get freaked out. Now focus.”
It took them a full forty minutes of careful picking and choosing to descend the slippery, rocky slope.
“Yep, there’s a body here.” A woman lay lifeless in the trail ahead of her, clothed in brown shorts, a cherry colored pullover, and hiking boots. She was on her left side. Katie touched her face. It was cold and gray colored. She rolled the body onto it’s back. The woman's eyes stayed closed, that was a good thing, and the body remained lifeless. But now the arm was laying across the torso in an unnaturally weird way, and the legs flipped over when the body settled onto its back. The image stuck in her head; the way the broken arms and legs came along like a puppet's limbs.
Katie stood back, closed her eyes, and took a breath, removing herself to another place. The man was right; his wife was very dead, her bones broken in multiple places.
“Is she dead?” Rory yelled. He was higher above the grotto where she stood.
“Yes, how far do you think she fell?” She yelled up.
“At least a hundred feet. Oh look.” He pointed to the top of the canyon. The sky was turning an ominous gray. A small sliver of blue sky peeked through between the cliff walls and the thunderclouds above.
“The lightning is back Katie. We’d better go.”
“Wait for me Rory let me catch up to you.”
The rain started in earnest. The ceiling of black clouds burst open with an intense ferocity hurling down a steady stream of raindrops. The noise level soared with cannons of thunder as ten million volt electrical jolts struck directly above them. It was scary. Rory looked to the one who lived here. She was looking for protection for them.
“Rory! Run inside the cave. We need to sit this out!” She said as they reached a place where the ancients had carved a cave in the canyon wall.
They moved into the grotto supported from cave-ins with timbers on the sides and the ceiling. The old rotten wood was failing, and scattered piles of rocky debris clogged much of the passageway.
“How are you doing Rory? Here we can sit here.” Katie found the perfect spot to wait. They were able to scan the entrance and still be protected from the rain and lightening outside. We can watch the entrance.”
“Watch for what?”
“Rory, I just touched a dead person. I thought anatomy lab prepared me, but not so much. I want to watch the front while we sit, put your arms around me.”
“Was Ellen here for a study when you were here with her?”
“No, just a hike.”
“Was this an Indian cave?”
“Yep, the Hopi were here. They used the copper ore for blue and green pigment and took it to the Havasupai to trade for red ochre. They called the Havasupai ‘People of the Ladders’.”
“I can relate.” He chuckled remembering the metal rungs on the cliff sides they scurried up and down on two summers ago during their Supai trip. “How did the Hopi make paint from the copper mineral?”
“The copper carbonate ore found around this cave has 70% copper in it. After crushing the copper ore in a mortar and pestle, it was boiled with pinion gum and dried into blocks. That’s what they traded, hardened resin blocks of blue copper.”
“I never knew that. How did they make it into the paint from a block of resin?”
“You break off a piece of the block and chew it with saliva and seeds.”
“Are these rare magic seeds?”
“Not always, but they do change depending on the magic and power you're going for, and the glaze for the pigment comes from egg whites of eagle eggs.”
Zap! Crash! A close lightning strike startled them when it reverberated off the rock and through their bodies. They could smell the ionization as the electricity ripped the molecules, rearranging atoms, vaporizing compounds into oblivion.
“That was close.” Katie smiled. “I’m glad I’m here with you Rory.” She moved closer to him and focused on calming herself to take her away from the mess outside. “It's times like this when legends are remembered, and traditions reinforced to find explanations for the chaos.”