A true ghost story collected by folklorist S.E. Schlosser
There is a story the Colorado River guides sometimes tell about a haunted canyon deep inside the Grand Canyon National Park. According to the boatmen, Blacktail Canyon is a great place to visit during the day, but at night… well, the spirits don’t like intruders after dark.
A while back, a group of college students set up camp near Blacktail Canyon one cloudy night. Shortly after everyone went to bed, it started to rain. Now the students had set up tents on the beach in anticipation of such an event, but the guides had just laid their sleeping bags out under the stars. To avoid getting soaked, the guides grabbed their sleeping bags and made their way to a sandstone ledge near the mouth of Blacktail Canyon where they could shelter from the rain.
In the darkness, one of the guides thought he heard the sound of a drum beating in the canyon, but when he paused to listen, the night was dead quiet, save for the quiet hiss of the falling rain. Deciding he was mistaken, the guide settled into his sleeping bag and fell into a restless, dream-filled sleep filled with the sound of drumming.
Suddenly, an elderly, silver-haired Native American man wearing an ornament around his neck came to the guide in a dream. The elderly man carried a stone knife in his hand and the guide sensed that the man wanted to show him something bad – something related to death. Though he spoke no word, the Native American conveyed a message to the guide: You should not be here. The spirit wanted the group to leave. The guide snapped awake, his body frozen with fear. All around him, he could clearly hear the sound of drumming. Turning to his companion, the guide found his friend awake and trembling. They elderly Native American had appeared to both of them!
The spirit wanted the guides to leave the canyon and that is just what they did. Sweeping up their sleeping bags with shaking hands, the two guides raced out into the rain to set up a tent on the beach. As soon as they left, the mysterious drumming ceased.
The whole encampment made haste to leave the following morning, and the river guides never again attempted to camp in Blacktail Canyon at night. Once was enough!
S.E. Schlosser’s personal encounter with ghosts in the Blacktail Canyon is related in the expanded edition of Spooky Southwest.
Author retelling: This is a unique author retelling of this folktale. This version of the story is copyrighted to S.E. Schlosser. See the Permissions page for information on reprints.