A poem to the Grand Canyon:
Your 115 degree heat may have seared me,
Your sun may have scalded me,
Your rapids may have pummeled me,
And your frigid waters may have chilled me,
But your timeless beauty has forever shaped me.
Six days, 188 miles, 28 rafters, 2 boats, 3 guides. From mile 0 at Lee’s Ferry to mile 188 at Whitmore Wash, we rafted down the Colorado River between the massive walls of the Grand Canyon. The whole expedition was unforgettable.
We drove the 6 hour drive to Marble Canyon the day before our white water rafting trip began. On Saturday, we met the rest of the river rats before loading two buses down to Lee’s Ferry where our rafts beckoned us. As we loaded onto our behemoth of a raft, our guides gave us the run down on what to expect over the next few days. There would be nights sleeping under the stars on open cots, gourmet meals, loads of river stories, and of course, plenty of white water.
We donned our life jackets, each bearing the name of famous river runners, rapids, or trails of the canyon. We quickly learned the typical “two hand hold” for rapids, and sunk in for a long day on the river. The first day was a gentle introduction to white water. We glided through the roaring 20’s rapids gracefully, made a pit stop at the red wall cavern seen below, and before we knew it, we were setting up camp for the night.
The Grand Canyon boasts countless plant and animal species and is a geologist’s haven. Our guides taught us about the various rock layers and geologic formations as we coasted down the river. We witnessed the transition from the uppermost Kaibab Limestone to the Toroweap Formation to Coconino Sandstone all the way down to Tapeats Sandstone and Vishnu Schist. The Schist is an onyx color with veins of pink and white granite that permeate the rock layer. It was both Whitney and I’s favorite rock layer.
Throughout the week on the river, we saw many bighorn sheep, a few mule deer, and hundreds of bats every night. The canyon wren serenaded us through slot canyons and ravens taunted us with their potential for theft. One blue heron graced us with its presence and countless lizards scurried past our feet. We thankfully saw no snakes but I did miss seeing any scorpions.
The Little Colorado River was the highlight of day two. We spent a good chunk of the afternoon soaking in the cool blue waters of the side canyon. There were rapids small enough for us to float through freely on our backs like a water slide. We also learned about the Nankoweap Granaries and how Native Americans stored seeds in small caves sealed with fire to extract the last bits of oxygen for better preservation.
Day three was our BIG rapid day! All day long we roared through white water. The Hance and Granite rapids soaked the entire raft. But nothing could prepare us for Hermit. Whitney and I rode up front for the monster rapids. The waves formed an enormous wall that pummeled the raft so hard I lost my second hand hold and ended up sprawled over Whitney like a starfish as she grabbed my life jacket. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.
We spent most of the fourth day on short hiking excursions just off the river. We jumped off the waterfall at Elves Chasm, snaked through the Blacktail slot canyon, and cat napped at the base of Deer Creek Falls.
The vegetation along the river provided ample learning as well. We counted barrel cacti, prickly pear cacti, and tamarisks. Sagebrush lined ridges and one fellow rafter collected watercress near a waterfall.
On our fifth day on the river, two major rapids book ended a long stop at Havasu Falls. The first major rapid, Upset, created large rolling waves that pounded the raft with gallons of water. After we recovered from the onslaught, we hiked into Havasu Falls where crystal clear water rolled off rocks to form small pools perfect for soaking up the sun. After we enjoyed our zen filled afternoon, we pushed on to Lava Falls. Lava Falls is just that, a fall calculated to be a 30 foot drop. Luckily I rode in the middle of the raft and avoided most of the brunt. After Hermit, I was slightly traumatized and didn’t want any more excitement than needed. Once we made it out alive below Lava Falls, we headed on to our last camp of the trip.
On our last night, we camped at Whitmore Wash. After dinner, we all circled up our camp chairs and listened to a few tall boatmen tales of their days running rapids. As the night fell, the canyon walls to one side were illuminated by the moon’s rays. Because the opposing canyon wall hid the moon face, we glimpsed the most stars we had seen all week. We woke the next morning to one last call for “COOOOOFFFFFEEEEEE” that signaled time to start the day and packed our bags one last time. After many goodbyes and farewells, we boarded the helicopter that whisked us away to Bar 10 Ranch above the canyon rim where we met a small prop plane that took us back to Marble Canyon.
Nothing I say can fully capture the magnificence of the Grand Canyon. The sheer force of wind and water, geological activity, and the grace of time are apparent. We spent a week unplugged, fully immersed in nature, and are the better for it. The white water rafting was new for both of us and pushed us outside of our comfort zones, something that always spawns growth and joy. We learned so much about desert life from plants and animals to native peoples who have thrived in the area for thousands of years. The whole expedition challenged us, from the temperature extremes to the rapids. It was unlike anything we have ever done. We are now proud river rats and have an even more profound appreciation for Mother Earth.