Returning to the Spirits: Ongtupqa – The Omega

I started out thinking of America as highways and state lines. As I got to know it better, I began to think of it as rivers.
Charles Kuralt

I have to say this quote rings true. It resonates with me because I’ve been traveling for the past four years and what I’ve discovered is that the majority of population centers I’ve encountered are centered upon Rivers.  

And it makes sense.  

In the beginnings of our hostile takeover of these lands, Rivers provided the major sources of water and food. They provided the major travel and trading routes of the time.  Those advantages persist, although they may have shifted in form.   

Many of the people whom I’ve met in these towns have lost that historical connection. They no longer see the River or feel its Presence.  They are detached from how these waterways formed the basis of their communities.* 

And more importantly, how the Rivers shaped the land. 


Gazing at this amazing River and Canyon in the silence of the morning, I reflect on their origins.  And of what was spawned from them.  I’m admiring the Stone People and the history they tell in so many layers revealed here.**

I marvel at the Waters before me.  Their subtle but yet powerful forces remind me of a couple of passages in the Tao:

That which offers no resistance, overcomes the hardest substances. That which offers no resistance can enter where there is no space. Few in the world can comprehend the teaching without words,
or understand the value of non-action.

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu

Chapter 43 as translated by J. H. McDonald


Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard; the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true, but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.

Because he has given up helping, he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu

Chapter 78 as translated by Stephen Mitchell

Or as Ovid said:

Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”

Water holds great symbolism.  Water is said to be the first form of matter.  All waters are the “Great Mother,” the “Universal Womb,” the “Fountain of Life.”  The Waters mirror the continual change of the “Manifest World.”

They “dissolve, abolish, wash away, and regenerate.” 

Water is associated with dreams, intuition and journeys.  It is shape-shifting at its finest, as it will adapt to any vessel.  Water can absorb, concentrate, reflect, and transport.  And you can apply these properties to all life, either literally or metaphorically. 

Waters revivify!

To dive into the waters is said to be the search for the secret of life’s ultimate mystery.  The lower waters represent chaos, the higher, reunification.

The Waters of the Earth run through each of us. 

The Ocean preserved in every cell. 



My tent, cot, sleeping bag, and gear all packed it was time to head over to the portable kitchen.  Each morning we would have breakfast, break camp, and merge with River and the Canyonlands once again. 

It becomes a rhythm.

The Ravens are thick this fifth morning of our journey.  Incredibly intelligent, they await our mistakes, what we might drop or leave behind. 

Our crew warned us. 

On a previous trip, one of the travelers lost their camera to a Raven.  It grabbed it by the strap, flew across the River to the other bank, paused on a boulder, and then dropped it into the Colorado.  All much to its owner’s dismay. 

There is a Native American legend that Raven had played so many tricks on the people that the Tribe’s Chief captured it.  The Chief carried the Raven to the top of a mountain in a skin bag and tossed Raven over the side.  Raven was crushed to bits as the bag struck rock outcroppings and finally hit bottom. 

But thereafter, all sources of water vanished. 

The Tribe’s Shaman informed the Chief that he would have to reassemble Raven for the waters to return.   The Chief complied, and once Raven was released into flight the waters did flow freely again. 

Another legend speaks to how the Raven brought life to the Earth, even retrieving the Sun from an evil power that wished to keep the World in darkness.  Raven is magic, a shapeshifter like water, and a creative force. 

Raven can help us all to shapeshift our lives.

This day, there were no tricks, no dramatic creations, instead I was gifted by the Ravens.  A pair had perched on a rock cropping directly above where I had made camp the night before, and the male was preening its partner.  He plucked a beautiful feather from her and tossed it directly down to me.  I accepted it and offered my thanks.  I might have left a morsel of food behind, I can’t say, as that is not allowed. 🙂

Now feathers are symbols of rising above the terrestrial world.  Of having freedom from gravity and the mundane.  They are attributed power, used in healing ceremonies, and a feather bundle above one’s bed can help a person to dream.

And indeed, I was free from that Earthbound world and walking on air as we boarded our rafts for the day’s journey.

Today, we’d conquer Fishtail Rapid, a Class V with a drop of 10 feet; Kanab Rapid, another Class V with a drop of 12 feet, and Upset Rapid, a Class VIII with a drop of 15 feet – you can image how it got its name. And we’d finally arrive at Havasu Creek.

Navigating a stop here was as treacherous as this sacred Creek was beautiful. Havasu Rapid sits immediately down from the pullover point so tying the rafts off was done with great care.

Once moored, we’d take a short hike along the Creek to a point where we could play in its sacred, alluring, shimmering, azure waters. Similar to the Little Colorado River, the calcium carbonate particles in the Creek refract the sunlight to produce what has been described variously as aquamarine, powder, turquoise, morenci, cobalt, cerulean, pastel, ceylon, or angelic blue.

It’s definitely Angelic.

It’s hard to label these waters, surrounded by taupe, orange, ivory, blue-green, and red strata, with just a single word. In fact, it’s difficult to label the beguiling tributary canyon with its rainbow of granites. A crystallized soup of quartz, feldspar, biotite, muscovite, amphilbole and hornblende.

A combination of the mutable and congealed that satisfies all of the aesthetic senses.

We would not hike the Creek the four miles to Supai. The village of the Havasupai Tribe that has lived among these waters for at least 800 years. Their Tribal name derived from these magical waters – Havasu meaning “blue-green waters” and pai meaning “people,” thus, the “people of the blue-green waters.” ****

The Havasupai are the Keepers and Guardians of the Canyon, and are the only First Nations Tribe that still lives below the Rim. Supai can only be reached from the waters where we stopped, or from a distant trailhead via an 8-mile hike descending into the Canyon. Otherwise, by helicopter or a horse. But if you are able to make that trek, you’ll be blessed with the magical visions of Havasu Falls, Navajo Falls, Mooney Falls, and Beaver Falls.

The water feeding this tributary is the Red Wall Mojave aquifer, which is under threat of contamination from the mining of Uranium. The Havasupai people know their “hearts are buried beneath the land” and their ancestors walked land as a lineage of Protectors. They are actively trying to protect these sacred waters from further environmental contamination.

We were momentarily saddened when our rollicking in the electric, azure waters came to an end, but back on the River our enthusiasm rose as we headed to our final camp for the trip. First, we had to surmount some more rapids, including Gateway Rapid, just a Class III, but with a drop of 10 feet. The biggest drops were always the fastest and guaranteed to give you a wild ride.

We camped somewhere between Tuckup (MM 165) and Cove Canyons (MM 175). Possibly near Fern Glen Rapid. (MM168 – 169) And anticipation would build all evening. We celebrated our past five days’ survival and our future River challenges with a Toga Party ! For in the morning, we’d tackle the Big One.

Lava Falls.

Like other visions in this wilderness, it is hard to fully describe the Sunrises, the Sunsets, and the night Skies. When the sun rises and sets, its direct views are obscured by the many high walls of the Canyon. We see filtered light or light illuminating the rock walls with an ever changing sequence of colors.

The night skies hold billions of stars as there is no light pollution here. It’s a twenty-four-hour cycle of colors, shadows, and brilliant radiance. A vibrant luminescence is emitted everywhere, and onto everyone.

We slept. We dreamt. We arose. Reborn for another day.

Our sixth and last day would represent the shortest time on the River, after which, we’d be airborne.

We slowly drifted by Vulcan’s Anvil (MM178-179), a fifty-foot lava plug, the remains of a volcano that erupted about 200,000 years ago. It now serves as a warning marker to the approaching Lava Falls. (I described the physical characteristics of Lava Falls that produce its deadly hydraulics in part three of this series, Ongtupqa – The Mu.)

As we approached the Falls, its deep, menacing roar grew ever louder. The run through it would take a mere 25 or 30 seconds, but once in that white water, anything can happen. Its been known to flip or trap boats that had veered just a little too far towards the ledge hole or the pourover.

With waves crashing into us from both sides, agitating us like being in a washing machine, we finally bridged the Hump Wave and hit our main target, the V Wave. We had missed the evil ledge hole, the pourover, and the “Cheese-Grater,” but those of us “Riding the Bull,” on the front of the pontoons had the thrill of being completely submerged for a few crucial seconds.

While under the waves, I was pushed down in between two of the pontoons, but I never lost my grip on the ropes to become what rafters affectionately call a “Pinball Wizard” – that’s someone who is thrown from the boat only to bounce off of every possible rock and obstruction in the water.

I obviously didn’t take any pics going through the rapids, but here is a nice perspective from a Kayak-eyes-view that is posted on You Tube. Be sure to watch it through the end for the slow-mo takeouts.

After making it through, we continued our trek, but it’s my understanding that many rafters, successful or unsuccessful, stop on the beach immediately below the Falls to have a celebratory drink. Because of that, the beach is now nick-named “Tequila Beach.”

For us, it was on to Whitmore Rapid and Whitmore Wash (MM 188), our take out point. From here, we would helicopter out to the Bar 10 Ranch, where our paths would diverge further. Some took a small plane to Vegas as they flew in for the trip, others of us returned to Marble Canyon, having driven to our initial meeting point.

It was hard to say goodbye to all of the new friends I had made, but even harder to say goodbye to Ongtupqa and the Ancestors . . .

Rivers are magnets for the imagination, for conscious pondering and subconscious dreams, thrills and fears. People stare into the moving water, captivated, as they are when gazing into a fire. What is it that draws and holds us? The rivers’ reflections of our lives and experiences are endless. The water calls up our own ambitions of flowing with ease, of navigating the unknown. Streams represent constant rebirth. The waters flow in, forever new, yet forever the same; they complete a journey from beginning to end, and then they embark on the journey again.

– From Lifelines by Tim Palmer

To trace the history of a river or a raindrop…is also to trace the history of the soul, the history of the mind descending and arising in the body. In both, we constantly seek and stumble upon divinity, which like feeding the lake, and the spring becoming a waterfall, feeds, spills, falls, and feeds itself all over again.

– From Islands, The Universe, Home, 1991 Gretel Ehrlich

In Metta

Photos: I think most of the pics are self explanatory, but I will mention that the feature pic was one of our glorious campsites. How could they not be incredible. And for any of you who are enthralled by Lava Falls, as much as we were, there are tons of videos images on the Net if you’d like more views.

Prior Posts in this Series Include:

Returning to the Spirits: Ongtupqa – The Alpha.

Returning to the Spirits: Ongtupqa – Zeta

Returning to the Spirits: Ongtupqa – The Mu*

Returning to the Spirits: Ongtupqa – Sigma

Postscript 1: I wanted to take a moment to mention our little Tribe. Everyone on this adventure was amazing in their own way. Some were here to scratch an item off of their bucket list; others for a family adventure; one couple comes back every year for this thrilling beauty. At least one was there as an extension of pure living. By that I mean, they were incorporating what I’d call “true living,” walking the Earth, as part of their life, not just a momentary blip on their screen of existence. All were good soles, and I was fortunate to meet them.

As for the crew, there are not enough good words to shower them with. They took care of us and ensured we’d have the most amazing trip. And if you’re thinking about taking such a trip, I high recommend Western Rivers for your outfitter.

Postscript 2: When it comes to composing a blog post, I not only try to describe my own first-hand experience as best as I can, but I do engage in some background research. I often end up with just way too much material. Now, that is not to say that this material isn’t good, it’s just a stretch to include it all because readers will naturally tire out at some point. Rather than throw that material out, I’ve included it as footnotes below. No one is required to keep reading, but if you wish too, there is more. 🙂

Left Overs

*Footnote 1: Exceptions to those Blind to the Rivers

Some are detached from Nature in its entirety. To them, Water comes from a faucet. There are exceptions. Bend Oregon is a great exception to this as the town embraces the Deschuetes River and all of the water activities it provides.

**Footnote 2: The Stone People

Two-billion years ago this entire area was submerged under a shallow ancient sea.  That sea advanced and retreated several times leaving behind sedimentary layers – the Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation, and the blood-red scree of Hermit Shale.

Fossil animals and plants appear dating back to 525 million years ago including: Trilobites, Crinoids, Brachiopods, Bryozoans, Corals, and Sponges. Around 280 million years ago, terrestrial life fossils begin to appear – leaves, Dragonflies, and various animal tracks.

There are three types of desert converging here, the Sonoran, the Mojave, and the Great Basin; and five life zones – the Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian, and Hudsonian. The Upper Sonoran Life Zone includes most of the inner Canyon.

The part of the Canyon that is Mojave Desert supports countless desert plants such as cacti, the desert lily, Mojave sage, and prairie clover. While the higher Kaibab Plateau is composed of conifer forests providing habitat for bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk.

***Footnote 3: The Water Spirits

My biggest danger with the water, as it would turn out, was researching the Water Spirits. Where I was hit with a barrage of unsecure websites, malware, ransomware, etc. But here’s what I wrote.


I marvel at the Water Spirits. 

There are, of course, many North and South American legends about beings living in or controlling the waters. There are those beings having supernatural and hypnotic powers, or those that control the weather, or those who lure people to their demise.  Classic to North America is the Water Panther, a cross between a cougar and a dragon, who causes people to drown. 

In Meso America, we have Ahuizotl, the Water Dog, a spiny creature luring people to their deaths, but also Chalchiuhtlicue, the “She of the Jade Skirt,” who is the Aztec deity of water, rivers, seas, streams, storms and baptism.  She could be both a life-giver and life-ender.

Water babies are mysterious and dangerous water spirits from the folklore of California and other Western Native American tribes. Water-babies are said to inhabit springs and sometimes ponds or streams. Water babies usually take the form of beautiful human infants (although in some tribes they have fish tails, or appear as reptilian beings). In many tribal traditions, simply the cry of a water baby is an omen of death. While in others, picking it up results in catastrophe.

Footnote 4: The Creation Legends of the Havasupai

If you’d like some additional info, here are a few good, quick reads. Enjoy!

Indigenous Voices of the Colorado Plateau: Havasupai Legends

Grand Canyon’s Native American Tribes and Indian Nations

Grand Canyon Legend: Havasupai Indians

Indian Legends About the Grand Canyon

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