Ravenous Ravens by Lisa Desnmore
Location: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
As our oversized raft bumped against the shore after our first afternoon traveling down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, Evan, one of our guides, hopped onto a high hoint on a heavy tarp covering a mound of dry bags. “We’ll be camping here for tonight,” said Evan, “Don’t leave anything lying around. The ravens will steal it, and not just food. I once saw a raven unzip a tent!”
Ravens may be clever avians but I doubted they could unzip a tent. I suspected Evan was merely trying to enforce a Leave-No-Trace ethic among us. The campsite was surpisingly pristine considering 24,000 people per year float the Grand Canyon. Ravenous ravens likely scavenged the area after each rafting party departed, which also helped.
At the mention of ravens, I had a flashback to my other far flung adventures over the last decade. Ravens of various persuasions had infiltrated many of the backcountry campsites I had visited, including Thick-billed ravens in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia and White-necked ravens Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I’ve also watched ravens hop around the grounds at the Tower of London. The English say if they ever flew away, the British Empire would collapse.
Native Americans revered the raven as a trickster, a visionary or a keeper of knowledge depending on the tribe. In Sioux lore, a white raven used to warn the buffalo of approaching hunters, causing them to stampede and thus leaving hunters meatless. A medicine man threw the bird into a fire which turned it the black.
I wondered if we might see a crow-like Chihuahuan Raven which inhabits arid regions of the Southwest, but the only visitors to our Grand Canyon campgrounds were Common Ravens, such as this one. As soon as the guides started preparing dinner, two of them appeared, undoubtedly a couple that had staked out this spot as their turf. I kept my tent zipped and checked on it periodically, just in case.