“Do you want to see something really cool?” Raven Longbow, Indian Guide, had crept up on us making us jump just like an Indian should while we’d been admiring the view of Palm Springs from the Andreas Canyon lookout point at Indian Canyons.
“Many years ago, a young Indian had his heart broken, so he came out to these hills . . . ,” he said, indicating, “Oh! I’m not even pointing in the right direction. Don’t believe what you hear about Indians’ sense of direction and never getting lost.” He turned 180 degrees, as did we, pointed at a far mountain and continued, “. . . and laid down to sleep to wait for his love to come back to him. Do you see his nose? And there is his chin. You can see the curve of his mouth.”
“I’m not with you,” I had to admit. I really wanted to ‘see.’
“There are his hands folded on his chest.”
“Ah! Yes! I can see his knuckles,” I said excitedly with more imagination than clear vision of the peaks in the distance. As I nodded knowingly he smiled, satisfied.
“Of course you have to take all Indian stories with a pinch of salt and a pound of sugar.”
As I admired his spikey, fearsome Mohawk-type hair, with the sides of his head shaved and long pigtail down to his waist I asked, “What tribe are you?”
“Apache. I grew up in Arizona where that means ‘filthy enemy’ in Mexican.” His friendly granddad’s face did not match this description.
“Raven Longbow (as displayed on his badge) is a great name,” I said.
“No. My brothers got the cool names – Grey Wolf and Great Hawk. Raven was okay in Arizona but when we moved to California it was a girl’s name. You try growing up with a girl’s name. Apache names are always macho, never ‘short fat bald man.’ I coped with it until I got put in girl’s PE because of my name. Still, I’m glad my mother wasn’t drunk when she named me. She would have called me Chickenshit.”
Without further explanation Raven continued, “Do you want to see something else?” He was in his stride now. We weren’t sure how much, if anything, to believe but he was entertaining. “Look at that rock.” A plinth of jagged rock jutted out above us. “Does it remind you of anything?” It did. I wasn’t sure what but yes seemed the right answer to perpetuate his commentary. “It’s the Lion King rock. A Hollywood producer visited our canyon and decided to use our rock for that famous scene.”
“Oh, yes. It is, isn’t it?”
Is it? I took the obligatory photograph which came in handy for comparison purposes. Depending on who you ask, that rock is in Chile, Norway, New Zealand, The Serengeti, Appalachia, some woman’s back yard in Austin, Texas or right there just a few miles from Palm Springs.
Before I could cast doubt on his last story he carried on, “Do you see those holes in the rock?” Smooth, perfectly round depressions in the boulders, rock mortars the size of a cereal bowl and others as large as a mixing bowl were used for grinding food and medicine we were told.
“The recipes for medicines are handed down through the female line in our tribe but I used to hang out with my grandmother and she taught me everything she knew so I am the medicine man for our family. We hardly ever go to the doctor.” Now you’re talking, I thought.
“What ingredients do you use?”
Raven gave me the Apache version of an inscrutable look and that ended our conversation.
Either I’d crossed a line or he’d run out of stories.