Fun with Water!

Trip Start May 17, 2008
Trip End May 30, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, May 18, 2008

The beauty of the river and canyon is realistically only part of the trip - albeit a very big one!  Another part of this adventure is the day hikes in the canyon tributaries.  On our first hike, we realized why they had us sign a waiver. There were times during our hikes that I fully expected to see Sir Edmund Hillary and a couple Sherpa leading the way!  Although distance wasn't the issue, verticality was what most of these "breathtaking" hikes were all about. There were times when it looked like a long line of little Gollums climbing up the steps of Ephel Duath toward Shelob's lair.  The hikes truly are a contradiction:  the journey and the destination are equals.  Early in the trip, Whalen warned that each one of us would "leave at least one drop of blood" before the trip would end.  Some of us indeed left more than a drop of blood, but it was worth it.  You just haven't lived unless you've eaten SPAM at the top of "Martha's Crack", gone swimming in the milky blue waters of the Little Colorado, sat in the shade and enjoyed the refreshing beauty of the carved sandstone canyons in Deer Creek, or taken a bath in the sandy 52-degree water of the Colorado -- where regardless of scenery, it's no place for a leisurely soak!
Then there are the nights and those beautiful, wonderful stars!  I hadn't seen that many stars (and falling stars) since I was a kid.  And whether it was the lack of light pollution, or the reflection from the water and sandy beaches, the canyon absolutely glowed during the full moon. After living in Alaska for 25 years, perhaps we had forgotten what it was like to roll out a sleeping bag and lay under the stars.  That view alone [almost] every night was worth the trip!
Most nights we camped on a sandbar next to the river, usually by a rapid we would run the next morning.  If sand wasn't your friend at the beginning of the trip, you would soon become intimately familiar with it since you eat it, breathe it, wear it, and find it everywhere imaginable -- and a few places you would never imagine sand would get!
The first several nights were magnificent; we lay out under the stars enjoying the show.  Soon, however, the wind arrived and we chose to sleep in our tent, which turned out to be a good thing since, besides pelting sand, we had some sprinkles.  If it rained during the day, it was barely noticeable.  After all, the rapids kept us wet enough that rain was just a minor inconvenience.  We had rain three nights in a row, just as we were about to have dinner. So our guides hurriedly put up a tarp over the kitchen while all 23 of us huddled under it to stay dry while we ate. We'd have to make a run back to our tents to make sure everything that we had lying out drying was put safely away in the tent -- not that anything ever got dry anyway.  And if it did get dry, once we were on the river, it was bound to be wet again with the first splash.  So this may not sound like fun ... but it was!  It was probably one of the best vacations we've had.  And I haven't even mentioned the rapids yet!!!  

...What can I say about the rapids other than I was scared to death, and absolutely loved it!  I started out nervous, especially going through the first rapid in the paddle boat (teach me to look at YouTube videos of people going through Lava rapid before I go!).  But, after a couple of good size rapids, I realized I would survive, and I thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of the ride.  Lynn was so good, we joked he could have taken fourth-graders through most of those rapids; he taught us well.  In fact, riding the rapids in the paddle boat is the best way to experience them. 
One of our best memories was a full day of some of the best big water on the river:  Hance, Horn, Granite, Hermit, Boucher, Crystal, the gems, and Serpentine.  Each rapid is different; some it's the sheer volume of water, others the drop, or the hole, then there are the ones where you would swear you were inside of a washing machine with water coming at you from every direction.  The water was bitter cold and you would get absolutely drenched; sometimes the waves would hit you with a forceful blow or a one-two punch.  Still, it was so much fun we couldn't get enough.  We were like little kids, each of us screaming with delight through every wave and bounce of the boat!
As much as the river brings sheer excitement from some of the largest white water in America, it also has a calm serenity.  Floating the Colorado River provides both ends of the spectrum. Between the exhilaration of rapids is the tranquility and quietude of calm water.  It's during these moments when you can fully take in the grandeur of the canyon as you slowly drift by.  It's a time to take it all in ... if you possibly can. 
After a full day of hiking and river-running, our Alaska six group settled in to a nightly ritual:  once the gear was unloaded -- dry bags, mattress pads, and tents hauled to our camping spot -- we'd raid our drag bag and settle down, usually on the nearest rock, with a beer in hand to relax and discuss the day's events ... all while admiring the magnificent evening view that surrounded us.  That's if we didn't go for an evening hike!  Once finished, we'd set up camp and maybe enjoy a quick brisk bath in the river.  It wasn't long before our guides would have a fantastic dinner ready.  Like everything else on the trip, they have this down to an art form!  Menus were varied, and the food was excellent - we had steak a couple of nights and, toward the end of the trip, we even had ice!  By the time we finished eating and doing our dishes, it would be getting dark and time for bed.  In the mornings the sound of the conch shell would signal first call for coffee.  The second call breakfast, and soon after that we'd fill our water bottles, breakdown camp, load up the boats, have a morning briefing on the day's events, and shove off for another fun-filled adventure on the river. 
It wasn't long before everyone figured out how fun the paddleboat was - unless it was a day with few rapids or we had a dreaded headwind!  Sometimes the wind would blow so hard on the river, that we felt we were barely making any progress; it would make for a long day of paddling ... just ask our sore muscles!  

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