“Sipapu!” I’ve had the word stuck in my head for days now. Most people get songs stuck in their head, I get words. Once, in India, I had the Sanskrit word Patanjalim on replay in my brain for a full week, and for hundred of the PCT miles I had duress pop up several times an hour for no obvious reason. In most cases, I have no idea where I originally pick up these sticky words, but I do know where Sipapu comes from, and this post is that story, and yes, it does have spirits in it.
Do you remember, if you even paid attention, this post I wrote on Facebook a few months ago?
January 20th, 2013: “Wow. I know I’ve been updating my status everyday with stories of how amazing my move to the desert has been, and I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but, wow, this takes the cake. Camped several miles down a dirt road on the straight down steep rim of the Little Colorado river canyon, far from any light pollution. I even got Google sky map out. The silence here is intense. About to crawl into my bag with a book of Grand Canyon lore. Love ya.XO”
This is what happened that night: I had gone to the Grand Canyon to familiarize myself with the lay of the land and hike down to the Colorado River. On the way out, I decided to go East, through the Navajo and Hopi reservations, to link up to I89 south to Flagstaff. I left the Desert View, in Grand Canyon around 5 pm, which placed me along the Little Colorado River canyon right at sunset. The vast expense of gold, pink, orange desert was surreal and well beyond the abilities of any camera I own. I passed several side-of-the-road stands destined to become Indian Jewelry tourist traps when the season kicks in. Back in January, they were nothing but empty low tables under thatched roofs, dirt and tumble weeds.
I had intended to drive straight to Flagstaff that night, but the desert was so inviting and serene that I decided to make it my home for the night. I took a dirt road behind one of the empty native jewelry stands and aimed straight for the Little Colorado River. I drove a few miles, went past what looked like abandoned ceremonial structures, and found a pullout within walking distance of the canyon. The Grand Canyon might be grand, but I think the canyon of the Little Colorado is just as beautiful, and much more intimate. I could see the water at the bottom, a dark emerald green shade surrounded by a low fog. The canyon edge were steep, the sun had already set and I was hungry, so I didn’t linger.
I cooked myself a meal on my little fuel stove, sat on the tailgate of the truck looking at the desert in the last dusk glow, checked Facebook and talked to my friend Ana on the phone until well past dark. Nothing unusual. By then I had been living in the back of my truck for months, I am comfortable with being alone far from civilization. In fact, I prefer it.
A beautiful starry silent night fell on me, the truck and the Little Colorado. I crawled in my deliciously warm bag and got myself ready to sleep like a log, as I usually do in the truck. But something was not quite right. The wind had picked up, but not to any alarming extent. This was not my first windy night in the truck. For no immediately obvious reason, I felt compelled to sit up and check on the desert. I couldn’t see anything worrisome so I laid back down. A few minutes later, I again wanted to check, and still, nothing there. I repeated this maneuver every couple of minutes for about half hour and started to get the feeling that something was seriously not right despite the lack of evidence. I sent a prayer out to the Universe, “Please protect me from fear and harm, especially fear”. That has always worked well enough for me, but this time, I couldn’t shake the uneasiness. I crawled back out of the truck to check the desert in person and pee. I usually love peeing under the stars, it’s a treat, but that time, I pee with my back to a tire, so that the truck protected my blind side. On the way back, the hair on the back of my neck suddenly stood up. I didn’t know what was there, but I didn’t question it. With my back to the truck, I side-stepped to the cab, sat at the wheel, locked all the doors and drove the hell out of there.
I figured I’d drive a little further down, but the “fight or flight” feeling stuck with me for a good hour. I ended up driving into a national monument and camping illegally under the perched citadel ruins of ancient Puebloans people.
This was the comment I wrote below my own Facebook post the next morning:
” So , this is how that went … after I wrote the above post, the night got darker, and the whole place started to feel creepy. I’ve been sleeping in the back of the truck in a different location for 3-some months now and never felt so uncomfortable. I had no reason to feel so, but I didn’t argue with it. By 9:30 pm, with the hair on the back of my neck raised, I got out of there. No idea what that was about. I drove several hours and finally crashed in what looked like a parking lot, no one around. I woke up this morning RIGHT underneath some ancient Puebloans ruins surrounded by infinite golden grass field. I actually think it was even more beautiful than where I was last night. What a weird life I’m having, seriously.”
Fast forward two months. I get hired by Pink Jeep Tours, I move to Tusayan, just south of Grand Canyon and I start the guides training (side note: I have already quit Pink Jeep. Wait, what!? True story … read my next post when I write it. )
One day, while visiting the ruins of an Anasazi (of which the Hopis are the descendants) village with the group of trainees, one of the current guides tells us: “You can always find a little portal covered by a rock in Anasazis’ ceremonial rooms, usually a few feet from the main fire in the center. It is called the Sipapuni, and its function is to prevent spirits from entering this world, the 4th world. Not to be confused with the Sipapu, which is an actual place in the Little Colorado River canyon. The Sipapu, according to the Hopis, is the portal into the underworld and the place where spirits enter our world. It’s an actual place. There is a hot spring there, and a vent with steam. The water is very green, almost emerald color”.
It didn’t register right away because I was busy taking notes, then suddenly it dawned on me. Holy smokes! That’s where I was. What I took to be fog was steam, I remembered the dark emerald water. So, I must have camped RIGHT above the portal between the 4th world and the underworld, the specific place where spirits emerge. No wonder I was spooked out of there.
When I got back to the hotel, this is what I dug up on the internet:
“The story of the Ancestral Puebloans lives on in the mythology of the Hopi, considered by many to be the most mysterious and mystical of all Native Americans. It begins with the claim that their ancestors emerged from the Third World through a crack, into this, the Fourth World, in a placed known as Sipapu. Their Sipapu – other Native Americans have such places of emergence elsewhere – is located near Desert View, 25 miles of Grand Canyon Village, near the confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado Rivers. The Sipapu itself is a natural salt dome, six to eight meters high, topped by a permanent spring”.
I didn’t actually see the Sipapu because it was too deep in the Canyon. Apparently, accessing it requires a seven hour trek along the Salt Trail Canyon. I’m not sure I have the guts to go there. Certainly, I would not want to be there at night ever again.
There you have it. Sipapu.
I live in such a magical land. Arizona, I love you.
XO – Roaming Bobcat.