On one side of Canyon View Drive, the Little Colorado River flows out of sight, at the bottom of a deep canyon. On the other side of the road, the terrain rises steeply, rough and rocky. Glenn Peaches steers his silver truck off the highway onto the remains of an old road, barely visible. He and his partner, Arizona state Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, are heading to the top of Gray Mountain to see if their neighbor, Phillip Yellow, is tending to his herd of cattle.
The two-and-one-half mile trip is slow and harrowing. With the two of them bouncing in their seats, Glenn picks his way around ruts and rocks, inching along at a walking pace. As they climb higher, they can see trucks trailing dust in the distance. The East entrance to the Grand Canyon is closed to visitors today, due to COVID-related restrictions on the reservation, but some people are determined to get there, using roads much like the one Glenn is navigating now. Still rising, Glenn keeps close to a rock face as he rounds another hairpin turn. Someone has sawed off the wooden guardrails.
Phillip Yellow. (Photo by David Kidd)
Reaching the top, the road flattens out and Phillip’s gray pickup comes into view. With his window down, he is behind the wheel, wearing a heavy green mask and blue baseball cap. A lone bull slowly approaches the visitors and Phillip suggests they stay in their vehicle. His herd is roaming out of site, presumably foraging for whatever they can find to eat on this parched mountaintop. Phillip makes the treacherous trip every day, carrying 500 gallons of water up the mountain to this plot of land that’s been in the family for years. “We’ve been here quite a while,” he says. “My wife’s mom lived up here.”
Despite his remote life, Phillip has not escaped the pandemic. A brother recently died of COVID-19. “We didn’t get a chance to see him,” he says. “He was doing OK until all of a sudden, he was gone. I never did see him again.” Phillip watches his bull saunter off into a thicket of scrub. “There he goes,” he says, and points his truck back down the mountain.