I had an amazing experience; five days rafting through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. Many thanks to Gary Hart (http://www.garyhartphotography.com/), who organized the trip, and to Western River Outfitters (http://www.westernriver.com/), who conducted it. Their professionalism, efficiency, and energy made the trip great fun, great adventure, and an unforgettable experience.
The trip began with a flight over the Colorado Plateau to Marble Canyon, AZ where we packed up and entered the river at a spot called Lee’s Ferry. We traveled 180 miles through Marble Canyon and the Grand Canyon. At Whitmore Wash we were helicoptered out to Bar 10 ranch then back to Las Vegas by small plane. After spending time on the river, the return flight gave me an opportunity to connect some dots: I could see the relief of the canyon and view the beds of the feeder rivers as they travelled to the slot canyons and into the Colorado. We travelled on motorized rafts that were 5 heavy duty vinyl pontoons lashed together with ropes. Each of the pontoons was about 25 feet long and 3 feet in diameter. Our food, camping gear, and personal items were piled on, covered, and tied down on 2 platforms lashed to the pontoons. We camped on sandbars along the river; some under the stars, others in tents.
My first impression took me back to adventure stories where a team of intrepid explorers entered an unknown and unexplored area looking for the fabled lost city and its people. The narrow gorge through weathered, high walled canyons, felt imposing. The patterns on the rock reminded me of ancient statuary that weathered away. It left me wondering where the door to the ancient city, the one that is only revealed at sunset on the summer solstice, is located.
The geology was fascinating. Over the course of our trip, our elevation changed by 1,700 feet. When we entered Marble Canyon, we were between walls of the red-orange limestone layer that forms the roof top of the canyons. As we travelled through the canyon, progressively deeper layers were exposed until we came to the basement layer of granite which underlies the canyon. At places, nearly 2 billion years of earth’s history lay exposed for us to see.
To top off all of this beauty we even got to have fun running the rapids. There were many rapids. Most of them were small ripples. Two of them were really wild rides. Several more were big enough to be exciting. As we approached the rapids, you could see choppy white water ahead. The swells that had already broken smoothed out to a jello-like surface and reflected gold on top of the green river. As the driver turned the raft into the swells the swells would lift the raft and drop it down or the raft would nose dive and dig into the swell. Sometimes a wave would hit from the side. Regardless, water sprayed up, soaking us. As we held on, braving the bucking and twisting, we laughed like little kids. I was anxious about this part of the trip, not really knowing what to expect. Having done it, I wouldn’t trade the experience.
Visiting the rim or flying over the canyon will give you an appreciation of its magnificence. But running the river brings it up close and personal. Look up and see cliff walls rising thousands of feet or see the layers set back, one upon the other, rising into the sky. Look at the walls and see swirls of fossilized sand dunes or rock walls that look like layers of stacked stone; some horizontal, some tilted at an angle. Vegetation invaded the weathered red-orange limestone giving the appearance of terraced gardens. In other places cacti and brush dotted hillsides of black and brown in no particular pattern. Still other areas were painted in earth tones of tan, brown, pink and green. We hiked back slot canyons to see running streams and waterfalls that have carved the sidewalls and brought debris to the canyon floor. We were even lucky enough to see some of the wildlife that inhabits the canyon: condors flying high above, big horn sheep climbing canyon walls, swallows swooping over the rapids to catch bugs and even a heron. I have difficulty finding words to describe how it felt to be among those ancient walls. Walls that were created by the deposition of silt and the remains of creatures at the bottom of a great sea, uplifted when plates of the earth’s crust crashed into each other and finally sculpted by the forces of wind and rain into the natural wonder that was presented to me each day of the trip. Wonder and awe aren’t expressive enough.
I hope the images I’ve included give you sense of what I felt as I traveled through the natural wonder that is the Grand Canyon.
(Note: Click on images to see enlarged)