"Ask that guy over there if he knows where the canyon goats are."
It had been going on like this for perhaps the last hour. Truth be told, it had been going on the entire trip in one way or another, but the last hour was dedicated to the goats.
"Coffee, please shut up for one seven-hundredth of a second," I said wearily, peering through the viewfinder of my camera.
"What for?" he said, giving me a well-timed shove. "So you can take more pictures of rocks? You took pictures of those rocks over there already. This place sucks."
"Those rocks 'over there' weren't rocks. They were petrified trees. And that was yesterday." I deleted the blurred picture and aimed again.
"Oooh, excuse me. So you took some pictures of wussy trees pretending to be rocks. My bad. You know, if you wanted to hang around a bunch of liar trees, we could have just stayed home. This place doesn't even have any skunks. Have you seen any? I haven't seen skunk one."
The sun's disk was perfectly bisected by the horizon. The deep blue sky met the torn edge of the Earth as sunrise chased shadows out of the great canyon and etched its fiery mark on the undersides of the clouds. It was a magnificent sight. The appreciative sighs and snapping shutters of the tourists joined the birdsong and insect noises.
"Hey look! A hobo!" squealed Coffee.
"That's a park ranger," I said.
"He's got a beard."
"Doesn't mean he's a hobo."
"You got anything I can throw into the river down there? I bet that's at least a thousand feet down."
"Right in front of the ranger?"
"Aww, what's the hobo going to do? Splash some bum whiskey on us?"
"Dude. He's armed."
"Seriously. If I don't see any canyon goats or gorge skunks in about two minutes, I'm going to shove some fat kids over the edge."
"As impressive as the Grand Canyon is," the ranger was saying, "The solar system's largest known canyon system is actually on Mars. Its Valles Marineris is over three times deeper than the Grand Canyon..."
"Ask that man if there are any goats in that one," Coffee slapped me on the back, and only the neck strap saved my camera.
"The canyon he's talking about is on Mars."
The ranger led our group along the South Rim, toward Lookout Studio, talking as he went.
"Check this out," said Coffee. "An empty liquor bottle. It's called 'Hot Damn'! Isn't that hilarious?"
"It's kind of sad that some moron just dumped it here."
"It's kind of sad that some meh meh meh!" mocked Coffee in a whiny, singsong voice. "Let's throw it into the river then. I hear that some, like, crabs or something like to live in bottles and cans. You'll be doing them a favor. And here, smell it! It smells like gum!"
I waved away the bottle and its strong cinnamon odor. "How about you throw it in the trash can instead, and I'll let you have another Snickers bar."
Coffee eyed me skeptically. "I think you're just trying to screw with me now. You and whatever protein deficiency is keeping you from being cool want me to shut up so you can keep all the goats to yourself. Ain't happening mister."
I promised Coffee a trip to the Waffle House when the tour was over, and he agreed, but only after I took a few photos of the Hot Damn! bottle. I had close to thirty seconds of silence in which to operate my camera.
"Holy shit! A giant sparrow! Where's that bottle?"
"That's an eagle!" I said, aiming the camera.
"Oh. Never mind then."
"That's our national bird," I explained.
"Unless it poops on those children, I really don't care. You should have brought some bottle rockets. You know what you should do? Eat your lens cap and then fall down."
"Why the hell would I want to do that?"
"Hilarity. Something to take everyone's mind off the total lack of goats in this place. Ask that hobo if we can climb down there and look for some."
I had to admit, Coffee's repeated suggestion that we leave the tour group and climb down into the gorge was starting to sound like a good idea. The sun was well above the horizon now, and it was starting to get hot.
"See? Shade. Cool, refreshing, goat-harboring shade," Coffee said soothingly, tossing a handful of pennies over the edge.
"Okayokayokayokay! We'll climb down. We'll probably break our legs, but we'll climb down."
"Oh, don't be such a hamster. You'll heal up. Hey! A sand salamander!"
"That's a stick."
"You know what your problem is? No imagination at all. And no imagination means a whole backpack full of no fun. That's what you are. Six water bottles full to the brim of liquid dull, and a packet of crackers with lame between them."
"Oh man. Glad you mentioned that. We got our water bottles?"
He said that a little too quickly. I decided to check for myself.
"Whoa, hold on! What're you up to, Captain Killjoy?"
"I'm checking our water bot--"
"So...that's like a mechanical man made of water is it? See! You're making progress on that imagination thing already."
I turned the backpack over and dumped out our six bottles. All of them except one were full of gravel.
"Why," I asked in a measured tone, "are our water bottles full of rocks?"
"Not rocks!" screeched Coffee. "Ammo! Man. I must be giving you too much credit. You saw all those kids back there, right? And what did YOU bring to throw at them? Nothing."
"We're going back to the group."
"Yeah. And let all the goats get away."
"Yes. And give me that band saw. I don't even want to know what you were planning on doing with that."
"I'll tell you if we can go to the Waffle House right now, and skip the rest of this boring skunkless tour."
"Deal," I said.