The Raft Trip Through the Grand Canyon… Conclusion, and Happy Earth Day

We were nearing the end of our 18-day journey down the Colorado River and had left the Grand Canyon behind. There were still spectacular views, however.

The river was slowing down, backing up as it approached Lake Mead. The rapids were behind us. We formed a flotilla and leisurely made our way toward take-out. We were ending our 18-day raft trip that had taken us through the Grand Canyon. Today’s photo essay reflects our final three days.

It is Earth Day tomorrow, and few things remind us better than the Grand Canyon that there are beautiful, wild places on earth that deserve our love and protection. I bumped up my normal Monday post to Saturday in honor of those who have fought so hard to save the Grand Canyon— and the earth. Enjoy.

The flotilla of rafts only required gentle corrections. Jame demonstrates just how gentle those corrections were…

And then lines up with several of our women rafters for a photo op.

Our adventures weren’t completely over. A sandbar that had been dry the night before provided an interesting challenge in the morning, as it had the night before for those who had chosen to sleep on the sand bar. (I’d picked a site above the river for Peggy and me. Grin.)

Our journey had been about several things, but certainly the people were central to the experience.

We had a whole cast of characters, including Yours Truly, looking like I had just spent 18-days on the river.

Peggy balances on the end of a raft and assumes a Titanic pose, which is something she likes to do. I have another photo of her like this poised above the piranha infested waters of the Amazon River.

Susan shows off by hoisting a five gallon propane canister! Strong woman, eh. 🙂

And Bone, of course, who found a prickly seat for this photo.

More than anything else, our trip was about rafting through the Grand Canyon. I took this photo of Hance Rapids from the rim after the trip. Each set of rapids was unique, and some were massive. Boatmen live for the challenges these rapids provide and our boatmen proved to be experts at negotiating them.

For me, the journey was more about the incredible beauty and natural history of the Canyon.

The beauty continued even as we approached Lake Mead and our take-out.

The Canyon walls were particularly beautiful in early morning and evening light.

But there was beauty any time of the day, and along every mile we traveled.

The Hualapai Indians provide a different perspective from their Skywalk, which is perched 4000 feet above the river.

And our eyes were always searching for wildlife along the river, such as these Big Horn Sheep.

A final reminder of the beauty along the way…

Eventually all great adventures come to an end. Here we are deflating the rafts that it seemed like we had filled ever-so-long before, literally lying down on the job!

A special thank you to Tom Lovering for organizing and leading our adventure. As you may very well imagine, a great deal of effort and expertise goes into planning a trip like ours. BTW, this may be the only time you ever see Tom with a halo.

And a special thanks to Don Green who so generously allowed me to use some of his excellent photos from along the way.

Bone, whose vest has now been signed by all of the rafters, looks down on Tanner Rapids, which we had made our way through a couple of weeks earlier. In addition to rafting through this section of the river I’ve backpacked into it twice and Peggy has backpacked into it once.

I hope you have enjoyed this trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon along with Peggy, me and our friends. Thanks for joining us! The Canyon is a very special place. And it is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Happy Earth Day!

Curt and Peggy

Rowing Against the Wind… The Grand Canyon Series

Peggy captures Dave Stalheim and me as we begin our journey on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Note my clean and shaved look. It’s the last time you will see it.

 

With thoughts of facing headwind gusts up to 60 MPH, we began our journey down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park.

Peggy and I performed the ritual of asking a boatman if we could ride with him. It seems like a strange practice to me, designed to remind us who’s in charge. But we have entered the world where each boatman/woman is the captain of his or her ship, even if the ship is a 16-foot raft with two or three passengers.

“May I have permission to come aboard, sir?” Although it’s more like “Can we ride with you today?” It is courteous but I would prefer to be assigned and have the assignment changed each day.

The tradition is so old that it fades into history. Democracy is not an option on a raging sea or, for that matter, in the middle of a roaring rapid. When the captain yells jump, you jump.

Most boatmen are mellow people, however; good folks. There are few Captain Blighs. If they are slightly more than equal, it goes with the territory. We are committed to riding with each boatman. First up is David Stalheim. He makes his living as a city and county planner in Washington.

“I’ve been applying for a permit to go on the Colorado River for 15 years,” he tells us. Our ten-minute effort of obtaining a permit seems grossly unfair.

We push-off from shore, excited and nervous. The wind strikes immediately, like it was waiting in ambush. “Are we moving at all?” Dave asks plaintively.

An old rock road makes its way tortuously down from the canyon rim on river left. (Left and right are determined by direction of travel.) They are important for giving directions as in “There is a raft ripping rock on river right!” Since boatmen often row with their backs facing downriver, they appreciate such information.

Up until 1929, this is how travelers made their way to Lees Ferry. It would have been a bumpy ride.

The old road is how people once made their way to Lee’s Ferry, which was one of the few ways to cross the Colorado River between 1858 and 1929. The infamous Mormon, John Doyle Lee, established the Ferry. Brigham Young assigned him the job. Later, Lee was executed by firing squad for his role in the Mountain Meadow Massacre where Mormons and Paiute Indians murdered a wagon train of immigrants near St. George, Utah. For awhile, my brother and I thought some of our ancestors had been involved, had ended up dead. But it wasn’t so.

After fighting the wind for what seems like hours, we finally come to the Navajo Bridge, which replaced Lee’s Ferry in 1929. It towers some 467 feet above the river and reminds us that we are already miles behind our planned itinerary.

Navajo Bridge by Don Green

A view of the Navajo Bridge. The first is the old one and is now used as a walkway. The second is used by cars and other vehicles. (Photo by Don Green.)

Just beyond the bridge we catch our first glimpse of Coconino Sandstone. Its geologic history dates back some 250 million years when a huge desert covered the area and the world’s landmasses were all part of the large continent named Pangaea— before the divorce, before plate tectonics demanded that the continents go their own way.

During our journey down the river we will travel through over a billion years of the earth’s history.

The wind continues to beat against us as we make our way down the Colorado River. Only Dave’s strenuous effort at the oars keeps us from being blown up-stream. “Go that way,” I suggest and point down the river.

The group pulls in at a tiny beach in hopes our mini-hurricane will die down. It doesn’t. Dave develops blisters and I develop guilt. A manly man would offer to take over at the oars.

An option floats by. Dave’s niece, Megan Stalheim, is also one of our boatmen. Don Green, a retired Probate Judge out of Martinez, California, is sitting opposite her and pushing on the oars while she pulls. It inspires me. I join the push-pull brigade. Peggy also takes a turn.

The push-pull approach to rowing where Don Green was helping Megan. Peggy and I have been friends with Don for over two decades. He belongs to the same book club we do and joins us on our annual journey to Burning Man (as does Tom). Don is also quite generous in sharing his photos, which was particularly helpful on our first day since neither Peggy nor I took many.

Word passes back to us that Tom wants to scout Badger Creek Rapids. In boatman terminology this means figuring out the best way to get through without flipping. Badger isn’t a particularly big rapid for the Colorado, but it is our first. We are allowed to be nervous. It’s labeled a 4-6 out of 10 in the method used in the Grand Canyon for determining difficulty. Ten is reserved for only the most dangerous. Badger involves a 15 foot drop from the top to bottom.

Badger Creek Rapids by Don Green

Photo of Badger Creek Rapids by Don Green.

There is good news included in the message. We will stop for the night at Jackass Camp just below the rapids on the left. We’ve only gone 8 miles but are eager to escape the wind.

Dave is a cautious boatman. He takes his time to study Badger Creek Rapids from shore and then stands up in his raft for a second opinion as the river sucks us in. Time runs out. Icy waves splash over the boat and soak us. Our hands grasp the safety lines with a death grip as we are tossed about like leaves in the wind. Mere seconds become an eternity. And then it is over.

Badger Creek Rapids Google photo

The view from above using a Google photo. Our camp would be on the right (river left)  at the bottom of the photo, in the shade here. Our raft came out on the left (river right) side of the river.

“Quick, Curt, I need your help,” Dave shouts. We have come out of the rapids on the opposite side of the river from the camp. The powerful current is pushing us down stream. If we don’t get across we will be camping by ourselves. Adrenaline pumping, I jump up and push the oars with all my strength while Dave pulls. Ever so slowly the boat makes its way to camp.

Jackass campsite on Colorado River by Don Green

Not the world’s most attractive campsite. We scatter out to find places for our tents after emptying the boats. (Photo by Don Green.)

Jackass Camp Area by Don Green

Boats tethered at Jackass Camp. (Photo by Don Green.)

View from Jackass camp on Colorado River by Don Green

View from camp. (Photo by Don Green.)

Grand Canyon evening primrose by Don Green

I liked this primrose captured by Don the next morning…

Grand Canyon floers and tracks by Don Green

And found the tracks under it even more interesting. It’s like the lizard was sidestepping. Its tracks and tail trail can be seen coming down from the right. The hole on the right was made by an ant lion that uses the hole as a trap for insects. They fall in, can’t get out, and become lunch. Next Monday, we will continue our journey down the river.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: I begin my series on the Alaska Highway. We make our way to the start of the highway in Dawson Creek by traveling through British Columbia. Great wood carvings and dog agility trials entertain us along the way.

FRIDAY’S MisAdventures POST: I graduate from playing in the Graveyard to playing on a pond and discover a magical world.

MONDAY’S Grand Canyon Series POST: Beautiful waterfalls, a huge cavern, and ancient Native American ruins are featured.

Jackass campsite on Colorado River by Don GreenJackass campsite on Colorado River by Don GreenSaveSave

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Homeland Security Goes Searching for a Bomb… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 3

Essential Grand Canyon supplies DG

All of my wilderness experiences have been motivated by a go-light philosophy when it comes to food, which makes sense if you carry it on your backs. River runners, on the other hand, have rafts to carry everything. Other rules apply. Extra pounds don’t matter. And if you are going to carry all of these oranges, you might as well carry some alcohol to mix with your orange juice. (Photo by Don Green.)

 

The fact that we were full-time travelers made our Grand Canyon trip easier. There was no house, mail, job, pet or the other factors of normal life to worry about. We just pointed our van toward Flagstaff and drove, stopping along the way at places like Arches and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Bryce Canyon

While our fellow rafters were scurrying to wrap up business to prepare for our 18-day raft trip though the Grand Canyon, Peggy and I were visiting Nationals Parks in Utah. This is Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon 1

Another view of Bryce.

Great adventures usually start with mundane tasks, as most of you know. For example, did you cancel the paper? Common sense, travel pundits, (and probably your mother) admonish you that devious burglars have nothing better to do than to cruise the streets looking for rolled newspapers in front of your home.

More importantly, what about the cat?

Once upon a time Peggy and I had a cat named FE. Vacations meant I would carefully measure out twice as much food and water as she could possibly eat or drink and four times the kitty litter she might use. The likelihood of her using our house as a litter box was much greater that the likelihood of her starving. As a reward for my thoughtfulness, she would shed enough fur in our absence to fill a dump truck. For weeks after we arrived home, she would also pad into our bedroom in the wee hours each night and meow loudly to make sure we hadn’t abandoned her again. Or possibly it was punishment…

FE and Sylvester dressed for Christmas

FE and her buddy, Sylvester, dressed for Christmas. Note FE’s Rudolph-red nose. I recall that a bit of photoshopping was required to get her ready for the Christmas letter.

We weren’t getting off scot-free on preparation for the river trip, however. In Flagstaff, we had food to worry about. Lots of it. Tom Lovering, his wife Beth and their friend Jamie Wilson arrived in Flagstaff three days in advance of our Colorado River trip. Their car was packed to the brim with empty ammo cans for things like cameras and huge ice chests for food. They were late.

The Department of Homeland Security had delayed their journey at Hoover Dam. The Agency is paranoid about mad bombers, rightfully so. And this was before the new bridge across the river had been completed; people still had to drive across the dam. A vehicle packed with C-4 could conceivably blow a big hole. Stern faced agents carrying guns were posted at each entrance. No smiling was allowed. Homeland Security’s normally low sense of humor (have you ever joked about a bomb during a security check at an airport) dropped to zero when the agents saw all the ammo cans Tom had packed in his vehicle. Rafters love these containers because they are waterproof and easily obtainable at Army Surplus stores. You can imagine what went through the minds of the agents. The whole car had to be unpacked and each ammo can carefully checked out.

Tom Lovering

This was the face that Tom greeted the Homeland Security agents with— furry but friendly. His looks were about to change…

Tom getting a do

Tom getting a ‘do’ in Flagstaff…

Tom Lovering with horns

What if Tom would have met the agents looking like this with green horns? We still might be waiting for him in Flagstaff.

Tom is even more paranoid about food than DHS is about terrorists. In addition to being a highly experienced rafter and trip leader, he’s an old restaurateur who had spent months planning the menu.  Each dish had been tested several times and quantities had been measured down to the teaspoon. Recipes were spelled out in minute detail. We would eat gourmet on the trip and cook it Tom’s way— or die. The options were clear.

Beth, Peggy and I were dispatched to Sam’s Club with marching orders. We filled seven large shopping carts with food. Think of it this way. There were 16 people going on an 18-day trip and eating three meals a day. This equaled 864 individual meals.

When we arrived back at the motel, Tom and Jamie had set up a staging area. Food needed to be organized by meal and day and then stuffed in the appropriate containers. The containers would then be assigned to rafts. It was important that we knew where to find the beer.

Large food containers for Grand Canyon trip

Large food chests waited for us when we got back to our motel. Each would be filled with food. Dry ice would be added to keep our food fresh for 18-days.

We still had to shop for perishables and more food was also coming from Sacramento. Our room, we discovered, was to be the recipient of most of the food. Apparently, it was written into the fine print of being ‘permit holder.’ There was barely space to sleep. Not that we slept much. Soon, we would be on the river! But first, Bone had to be appropriately dressed for his trip.

Supplies for Grand Canyon trip

We went to Safeway to purchase our perishable goods, and once more our small RV was filled to the brim.

Gear and food Grand Canyon trip

We discovered that the majority of the large food containers would be stowed in our room. With our own gear spread out on the bed, it was questionable if we would have room to sleep! Tom provides a perspective on the size of the ice chests. The yellow container is an ammunition can.

Bone in life vest

One of our final responsibilities was to make sure that Bone was adequately dressed for the trip in his PFD. Once, he almost fell off a boat in the piranha infested water of the Amazon. It would not do to lose him in the roaring rapids of the Colorado. Next Saturday and Sunday, I will provide background on Bone since he was an active participant on the river trip.

Loading truck for Grand Canyon trip DG

Finally, it was time to load our food and gear on this truck for transport down to Lee’s Ferry and the beginning of the trip. The truck was completely stuffed by the time we were finished. We were finally on our way! (Photo by Don Green.)

 

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: A river boat trip on the Amazon River. The piranhas are biting and we bite back.

FRIDAY’S MisAdventure’s POST: There is nothing like reading to seduce you into becoming a wanderer.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: We start our raft journey through the Grand Canyon with 30 MPH headwinds. So much for a peaceful (between rapids) float down the Colorado!

 

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