Once the officials took over  the canyon accident, and the severely injured were on their way to help, the rest of us gave a collective sigh of relief, and finally felt like we could sit down, except,there was no place to sit without encountering cactus thorns.

The last person to be removed from the ravine was Richard Crowe.  The crew bowed their heads in prayer  before placing him in the helicopter.

I slowly made my way to the road and found it jammed  with vehicles.  Everything seemed chaotic  and I wondered how I was going to get out of the canyon?

Jim had been helped to the top and lay on a rock  waiting for the  helicopter to return and move  he and Bill Repshur  to an ambulance waiting on the overlook. From there, the ambulance took them to the Chinle Medical Center.

Jean, Chris, myself and Anita, the walking wounded,  were asked if we wanted to ride out with a volunteer family from the canyon.  The Bia family had come into the canyon that day to water their squash and corn plants with their children.  When they saw many emergency vehicles driving by, and heard the helicopters, they knew something terrible had happened and drove over to offer help. The kids gave up their back seat in the truck and stayed at the site with friends, (I assume), so  Jean, Chris and I took their place in the back of the pick-up.  We met Albert and Cecilia Bia, and Virginia (Bia) Lee, a brother and two sisters.  This wonderful family  turned to us after introductions and asked if we would like to pray with them. We all clasped hands on the back of their bench seat and the family prayed for us, and for all of those in trouble, in Navajo. A very touching gesture I will never forget.

Albert drove as quickly as he could, navigating the rough, bumpy road. He told us the canyon had been closed to traffic so we would meet very little traffic on the way out on the narrow roads.

As we bumped along, I realized something was wrong with my back. Sitting against the back seat, made my back burn. I was able to hook my toes under the front seat and sit upright enough so my back wouldn’t touch. It was wonderfully distracting to have Albert, Cecilia and Virginia tell us about their lives.

Families from their clan,  who farm in the canyon, where there is no electricity or running water and sewer, live “on top”. It would be more difficult  to get their children to school each day, and take care of daily life,  than to haul water down into the canyon to water their plants. He had driven in with the children.  He pointed out their farm lands as we  passed. And his cattle we met on the road.


(My second camera is now not working properly. And, it was bumpy and difficult to take pictures out the window, though I tried.)

Later in the day, Virginia and Cecilia climbed down into the canyon on the one of the Twin Trails.

(This is a very skewed picture of Twin Trails visible in the far right of the picture where Cecilia and Virginia walked down from the ridge.)

They are three of 12 siblings.  Navajo families work together on the land, and benefit together. Ned Bia, their grandfather, knew enough English to translate  paperwork when the government Bureau of Indian Affairs was parceling out their ancestral lands back to the families. Navajo families are divided into clans and traditionally have no last name. He became known as Ned Bia, for Bureau of Indian Affairs. The government wanted them to take last names and they often took the names of what they were doing. Like one man hauled wood. His name became Hollawood. (Not sure of spelling.)

When meeting other Navajo, they always ask, “What’s your clan”, because they cannot inter-marry within their own clan. The clans have very descriptive names like Two Walking People, Or Salt By The River Clan. (These may not be accurate.)

The Bias, like all families,  are concerned about the next generation. Will their children love the land? Will they appreciate the simple life and  the ability to  lead a self-sustaining lifestyle as they do?  The Bias  have cattle and gardens. Horses run wild in the canyon and do a lot of damage besides over-grazing. A currently unsolved problem. Some Navajo are opposed fencing them. Others feel each family should be responsible for their horses and keep them contained.  The families hunt deer in the canyon, as well.

Whenever we passed a place of interest, the Bias would explain it to us and answer our questions.  They pointed out Baby Trail. It was a narrow, vertical crevice in a huge rock edifice. Baby trail looked anything but baby trail to us. Named for  a woman with a baby on her back who was being chased by the Spanish. She managed to get up into a crevice to hide and she squeezed her way up and out to escape the Spaniards.  From then on, it was called Baby Trail. No one could understand how she made it up the crevice, including us.

When we arrived in Chinle, the Bias took Jean and Chris to the Thunderbird Hotel. Jim and I had our packs and took no money with us. The Bias refused gas money from Jean and Chris, then drove us on to the medical center. We can’t thank the Bias enough for their timely assistance and prayers.

I was examined and released to wait with Jim while they got the results of his chest scan. I had several abrasions, possible broken ribs, a huge lump on my head, a bruised eye and jaw, and a painfully bruised breast. He had a massive bruise on his rib cage, no internal injuries. His severe pain was due to gas bubbles in his intestines that would put him right down on the floor. The nurse offered to take our picture and I look at it and think how could I look so normal?  I was  tired, hungry, feeling dizzy and disoriented and exhausted. I wanted a hot bath, a bowl of soup and my bed. It was 9:00 p.m. by the time we returned to the motor home. Inexplicably, my camera worked for this picture, only to fail again later.

I want to say, that given all that happened, I would gladly take another trip in  the other six wheel drive truck  like the one we rode in,  open to the wide and glorious views of this beautiful, spiritual place. The beauty remains and the spirits keep watch.  Jim and I hope to feel well enough by Saturday to continue the rim overlooks.  In the last two days we’ve been visited by several officials from the park, the hotel, and the Sheriff’s Department. We gave our statements and pictures to the Sheriff’s Department for their investigation. Tanya, a canyon family member, stopped in for a visit.  Jean and Chris had purchased a painted rock from a young boy in the canyon from Tanya’s family.  During our drive out of the canyon,  Jean over and over said, please,please tell that young boy that we are uninjured and we saved his beautiful rock from the wreckage to take back to Wisconsin with us.


Categories: Uncategorized | 9 Comments

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  1. Thank you for sharing the events and photos of the accident. We’re still in shock here at UH Hilo and wish the very best to everyone touched by this tragedy–particularly those affected by Richard’s passing. If you’d like to know more about who Richard was in the academic setting, please read

    The article does not express how wonderful a person Richard was, however. He will be dearly missed.

    • 2gadabout

      Thank you for your prayers, Yolanda. And Sunny, the article is a very good one and we have many comments attesting to the many lives he touched. Thank you for sending us this tribute to a wonderful man.

  2. Yolanda

    i am so glad that you both are recovering well..i hadnt heard about this accident until days heart, sympathy, prayers and condolences go out to all that were involved in this so grateful to the Bia Family that stopped to assist..may you all be blessed by the creator and continue to have respect for the sacred area despite the accident/ so thankful to the emergency personnel that assisted and hope that the staff from Thunderbird Lodge are able to continue to move forward and overcome this accident/tragedy..may you wak in beauty with beauty before you, above you, behind you and beside you..

  3. Carrie Bolden

    Jim and Mary: My husband and I have been following your blog with interest for several months. We were shocked to read about your accident and so relieved to find you are going to be alright. The tragic events and all those involved have been on my mind ever since…sending prayers your way. So glad to hear the spirit of the Navajo people and the beauty of their sacred land is giving you strength.

    • Natalie

      After this weekends events, I (along with many of my family) are following your blog. It seems as if it was truly a day of strangers coming together, to care for each other.Mary your writing is beautifully detailed, generous with affection, and compelling. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Chris and Jeanne Booher

    Dear Mary and Jim,

    First, thank you for covering the details over the days that not only capture the event, but also of those involved (victims, rescuers and well-wishers). Sorry for our delay in reply… we have been following the blogs and replies on my phone, until finally able to contact via computer today.

    I cannot say enough how much this blog has helped Jeanne and me cope with the situation. While physically escaping with abrasions, bruises and very sore muscles, it is the mental healing from the accident that is going to take a while. We haven’t slept well, as the day’s events have consumed our thoughts.

    Jeanne and I extend our gratitude to the heroic rescuers that responded to the scene, digging ferociously to get the victims freed from the hell of the upside down vehicle, and then comforting them during painfully long wait. This includes the other tour party, the first responders/authorities/paramedics, and finally the Canyon residents that you so preciously captured in your most recent update. The Bia family (Albert, Cecelia and Virginia Lee) will remain in our memory for life.

    Before the accident, we were enjoying the new friendships being established… learning of where froms, and even some pet nicknames (Yobo). It was a special group from the beginning, and this tragedy will likely draw us together even moreso.

    I wish to share further thoughts that Jeanne and I openly discussed over the past few days, and as you can likely agree, the emotions go full circle through recovery process. During our lunch break before the accident, Jeanne pointed out a pattern on the canyon wall (she likes to find images in patterns whether it be the clouds in the sky or stucco on a wall). The image was that of an angel. Sometimes I will just agree, not seeing what she sees and kinda chuckle, other times I really do see the imagery as she describes. It’s that whimsical trait about her that I love as we celebrate our 21st Anniversary on this vacation trip. As we left the picnic and were driving off, she said, “Goodbye angel”. Perhaps that was a guardian angel that protected us. I keep thinking over the days thoughts of guilt… why were we unharmed while others severly injured or lost their life? I know it’s a natural feeling after such an event, but it helps to talk/write about it.

    We are thankful for Jim’s shout out of, “We’re going over!” , enabling us to hit the floor for protection. We are thankful for the help received. We are thankful for the new friends met in happier times of the tour, as well as the new friends met in rescue from the canyon. We offer our condolences to Richard’s wife, family and vast extension of friends. We wish a speedy and full recovery for the rest of the victims as well as the rescuers (both physically and mentally). Let us not forget our driver, Davison, as he did everything he could to avoid the situation, was also injured, and hopefully can cope well with the situation. We hope to hear more about how everyone is doing through replies to this blog.

    For now, we count our blessings and offer our thoughts and prayers to everyone involved.


    Chris and Jeanne Booher
    Sherwood, WI

    • 2gadabout

      Jeanne and Chris,
      I’m so glad to hear from you. I worried that you declined medical help and then woke up with injuries you didn’t know you had, like I did. It’s good to hear you are alright. As you so adroitly say, the emotions go full circle. Your guardian angel brought me to tears, as so many things these past days. Congratulations on your 21 years. Clearly you are very special people and are meant to have many more.

  5. Natalie

    The Bia family sounds wonderful, I’m so happy there were so many helping hands for the rescue effort.

  6. Lots of tears and gratefullness that you survived and made a special, VERY special effort to document the event. What a memory for everyone. Including the helpers. Looking forward to hearing “the REST of the story.”

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