picture of tadpoles
image © Robert Luis Chavez

Often you could see hundreds of tadpoles in a single small pool.


On the fourth day of our trip we broke camp and continued down the canyon. Hiking this part of the river, and in fact from the Buckskin Gulch to Bushhead Canyon we never used the water filter: We refilled our water bottles from cool springs flowing right out of the canyon walls.

Fed by the springs, both visible and invisible, the river had steadily grown from a trickle. It was now a five to ten foot wide flow in the center of the canyon and impossible to cross without getting wet. In deeper parts you could lie down and almost submerge yourself, quite refreshing in the heat of the day. Now, in the quieter side pools of the river below Many Springs, I could see large schools of tadpoles. Hundreds and even thousands of tadpoles activated the water in wriggling clusters. Looking up the canyon walls, we could see the giant blooms of century plants on ledges and higher areas that appeared safer from floods. The large agaves take 15 to 25 years to grow, bloom once, and then die. The ones that were in bloom, were abuzz with hummingbirds and bees.

Drifting my way in the canyon was an overheard conversation, Kent Bowser was talking about using the native plants for a tadpole soup recipe. He was telling Xronda: "Look, they can't all survive, otherwise we would have a plague of frogs in the river, so if you're here in the spring - tadpole soup". I chuckled and quickly butted into the conversation, "use one of your mesh bags to scoop 'em up". Suddenly fired up Xronda told me, "One better Bobo," and she was already searching through her pack, "I can use my fishnets to catch you guy's are gonna' eat some soup with me then?" and then she looks at me and Kent so that I didn't know if she was serious at this point. You never know with her, but I really didn't want to eat any tadpole soup anyway - and right after breakfast?. But Kent, going with the flow of the outrageous, just happily said "Oh yeah, if your cooking them, I'm eatin' 'em".

With Kent you never know either, he once drank several cups of Luwak Coffee. Now it sounds weird as heck, but it's real, if you don't know, Luwak Coffee beans are collected from the uh..droppings.. of a raccoon-like animal called a palm civet. Well, that's another story, let's get back to the soup at hand...

Xronda, to my horror, now had her fishnet stockings out of her pack and was scanning the pools along the river. I was relieved when, before anything could happen, one of the scientists came up to her, and gently explained that it wasn't a good idea to start catching animals in the Paria to eat: "I personally wouldn't mind the soup idea, but some of the others in the group would be offended at the idea of people eating the wildlife in the river." "Right," Xronda said sadly, the en-stockinged hands dropping with the sudden comic droop of her arms, shoulders, head and facial expressions. In a sad low girl-imitating-a-guy voice she said "Can't be eating the wildlife". In a move that made her look possessed, she snapped her posture and voice right back into her usual defiant self and angrily said, "Just like lab rats isn't it?" Then, forgetting or not caring that we were with nuclear scientists not biologists, she went on so that others could hear: "they put damn cancer in the Easter Bunny, but they won't let us eat surplus tadpoles...well I'll be t#t tied!" By this point Kent is trying to distract Xronda from the developing rant that he got her going on in the first place. He mock-seriously asks, "So, Xronda, why'd you bring your fishnets?"

Before I could hear the reason for Xronda bringing her fishnet stockings on a backpacking trip, I heard a buzz from the rest of the group that we were going up a side canyon to see an arch there. Here was my chance to get away from the group and Xronda's flatulence punctuated pontifications on art, politics, religion, science and so on. I told Kent and Xronda my plan and and that I'd wait for them a mile or so down the river. Immediately one group member became concerned that I might get lost, so it took some reassuring on my part before I could get away. Finally, I wandered solo down the river relishing the thought of being alone for an hour or more. I never thought it would be so hard to find some tranquility in the middle of the wilderness.