On Friday evening, Sept. 7, 2001 twenty eight people met in the conference room of the La Quinta Hotel in Las Vegas Nevada. The purpose of this meeting was to receive an orientation for an eight day raft trip down the Colorado River. The expedition would run the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.
This expedition was being conducted by Grand Canyon Expedition Co. They are considered the premier company providing this service.
In order to keep these river expeditions in the Canyon a special experience the National Park Service regulates the number of people allowed on the river at any given time. Those of us on this trip booked from a year to a year and a half in advance.
Our group included people from across the United States and from Canada.
This was a great trip. The scenery, the exploration, the white water, the food and not least of all the camaraderie were outstanding.
This is a record of our trip as seen by one person. I make no claim to have recorded everything worthwhile about this journey. Simply add this to your own recollections of the trip.
The reader will become aware that this record is slanted toward those of us from Michigan who came together on this trip. As time went by on our trip a number of us decided to share information and pictures. I hope you will all find something worthwhile here.
The Michigan eight.
|Mary Kenny, Sue Hodge and Irene Estelle above Deer Creek Falls.|
|Orientation and Day one|
Our orientation at the La Quinta was handled by an employee of Grand Canyon Expedition Co. Jack was a tall, wiry man who was a retired university professor. To me he could have easily passed for a real cowboy.
Jack explained our personal housekeeping procedures. When we reached the rafts we each would be given a numbered waterproof gray bag that would have the shape of a duffel bag. This would hold our sleeping bag, a not too effective air mattress and a plastic throw sheet. At this meeting tonight we each received a waterproof brown bag, to which we affixed our name tag, and an Army surplus ammo can. In the brown bag we would each carry our personal belongings, none of which we would be able to get at until we stopped for camp each night. In the ammo can we would put anything we might need during the day.
Jack answered a few questions, not all of them accurately, before the meeting broke up. He said not to bring a flashlight, it would be of no use. Wrong! He said the river was running a muddy brown now and thus it would not be worth taking any fishing gear. Wrong again. The river was a rich, clear green color. The fishing was good. Fortunately no one followed his advice on these two subjects.
With a serious warning from Jack to "be on the bus at 5:00 A.M., not loading at 5:00 A.M.", we went to our rooms and packed for the trip.
One thing Jack was certainly right about was when he advised us to leave our wallets, coins, watches, rings and cell phones in the La Quinta's safe. For the next eight days we would be lost from the time and space of the real world. No t.v., radio, newspapers, magazines or telephones. And yet despite this, part way through our journey, we would be made sketchily aware that something had gone wrong in our country.
In the morning we take the five hour bus ride to the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry. Our four couples from Michigan are:
Lyle and Shirley Albrant from Brighton. Lyle is retired from Ford Motor Co. Lyle worked in personnel where, among other things, he represented the company in contract negotiations with the U.A.W. and the Teamsters Union. As a retiree he has been a real trooper. He and Shirley have already been to a few places overseas and they get around the country nicely in their Ford fifth wheel. Shirley is not totally retired. She still works as a contingent in what was her full time career as a medical technologist at the Henry Ford Hospital clinic in West Bloomfield. Shirley is the one that put this trip together.
Jim and Judy Shipley from Highland. Jim is a spanking brand new retiree from his maintenance supervision position in the Highland school system. Judy works for the Henry Ford Health System at the main hospital in Detroit. She is the Regional Laboratory Manager, doing her part to keep her department afloat during the ongoing financial crisis in the health care industry.
Joe and Janet Miesle of Cohactah Township. Joe and Janet are owners and hands on operators of Hunter's Ridge Golf Course north of Howell. They built the golf course on their farm. Janet was raised on this property. She spent a thirty seven year career in the banking business. Joe ran a successful farm all those years and they both continue to work hard in the golf course business.
Jim and Sue Hodge from Hartland. Jim retired three years ago after thirty years as a bread route salesman and now works for the State of Michigan in the highway department. Sue, like Shirley and Judy, works for the Henry Ford Health System. She manages the blood lab at the West Bloomfield clinic as well as supervising ten other of the system's labs in the Detroit area.
On our bus ride to the canyon we stop to pick up three of the men who will be part of the crew of four who will be our boatmen on the river. Shortly after I 1:00A.M. we reach Lee's Ferry, where our rafts await us. Lee's Ferry itself is nothing more than a spot where Mr. John Lee ran a ferry operation across the river in the 1870's. All that is there now is a parking area and a toilet facility.
We are soon on board our two rafts. We drift out into the river where our guides introduce themselves. More accurately we are under the care of two boatmen, Bob Skinner and Roger Patterson and the two men that work with them, their swampers, Mattie Schiller and Matt Strong. Both Mattie and Matt are unpaid on this trip. The experience they gain will go a long way in helping them obtain their own guide licenses. Mattie, in fact, had just received his license on the eve of this trip.
We are under way! The temperature is around 80 degrees, the sky a cloudless blue and the water temperature a chilling 54 degrees. We are soon reminded that when the Glen Canyon Dam, just seven miles above Lee's Ferry, releases water into the river the water is released from the bottom of the dam where it is nice and cold.
We soon see some fishermen along the shore. These will be the last people we see along the shore as we begin the river's long descent into the canyon. Within an hour or so we go under Navajo Bridge. This is the only automobile bridge and one of only three bridges we will encounter in our eight days. We see a condor cruising above the bridge.
Just before breaking for our first lunch we encounter our first real rapid. This is at the Badger Creek confluence. Six of our Michigan group have taken up positions at the forward section of the raft. They and the others up front receive their baptism from the cold Colorado.
The rafts are divided into three distinct sections. The forward section allows for as many as eight or nine people. Those in this section receive the brunt of the water which crashes over the raft while going through a rapid. The front bucks up and down, Countless times the frothing wall of water encountered is a visual and physical thrill.
In the center section, which is greatly protected by the lashed down gray bags, six people can comfortably sit in relative dryness. For the most part we rotate positions so that everyone has plenty of time getting soaked up front and being relaxed and dry in the middle. Wherever a person finds himself he hangs on dearly when going through a rapid. The back section of the raft belong to the boatmen. Here they operate the four stroke outboard motor, carry spare parts, tools, a spare engine and their personal gear.
We stop for our first lunch. Each day -we pull In on one of the sand bars we encounter and Bob, Roger, Mattie and Matt set up lunch. Bread, meat, cheese, veggies, chips and beverages are put-on a table. We each go through and build our own sandwich. No plates are used for lunch. Just hold your sandwich, grab a canned beverage and park it on the sand or a friendly rock. The beverages are kept cool throughout the week in "drag bags" that are tied to the rafts while they run submerged in the water,
After lunch we encounter Ten Mile Rock, a spectacular vertical slab that towers over us. It fell from the canyon wall high above and knifed itself into the ground. Its great mass seems to teeter as we pass it.
Most rapids and formations that we encounter carry their own names. The names come from either its location on the river, a prominent feature or for a person that history has a story to tell about. Sometimes the name is for a person that died at that spot. Sometimes it is for a miner who toiled here. The feat of building a trail, extracting material and getting to the rim by mule, wagon and sweat seems beyond possibility.
We hit a substantial series of rapids this afternoon. Our boatman, Bob Skinner, seems to be able to negotiate the rapids so that we receive the maximum wash of water. By mid afternoon Lyle, Jim, Judy, Joe, Janet and the others up front have been pulverized with plenty of cold water. Understandably there is a bit of teeth chattering going on up front.
Bobby and Roger bring the rafts along side each other. Matt and Mattie lash them together. We have our first on the water get together. As we float leisurely down river we each introduce ourselves, sometimes accompanied by a bit of humor.
While lashed together Bobby and Roger give us an orientation on various housekeeping procedures. This includes toilet routine. Each evening the porta-john, which is a metal box with a toilet seat and lid on it, is set up for use in an inconspicuous spot. In the morning it is the last thing loaded before we cast off. For simple urination it is a straight forward procedure. Do it in the river. Whenever we put in to shore the women have the option to go in the direction that offers the most privacy. I am told the men were not always sensitive to this.
By 5:00 P.M. we are on shore for our first night of bivouac. We are on a long sandy area with the canyon wall behind us. Cloud cover and a breeze make things a bit cool by sundown. It appears that only one brave soul braves the river to bathe. Dinner is spaghetti and meatballs, gilled french bread and salad. Desert is cake freshly baked dutch oven style. Our boatmen seem to perform their kitchen duties effortlessly.
While dinner is being set up everyone stakes out their sleeping location. Those with wet clothes find a stick of driftwood, jam it into the canyon wall and hang their clothes to dry.
Tents are stowed away on the rafts in case they are needed. They are not needed on this first night or any night. Countless stars fill the night sky. The only sound during the night is the moving water. Midway through the night the moon appears over the canyon wall and seems to bathe our camp in light.
Just before dawn we can here the thumps and clangs as our boatmen set up for breakfast. Even above the steady noise of the river we can here the propane burner as it ignites.
People begin rising and organizing themselves. Soon one of the boatmen yells loudly and slowly, “Coffee.....” Coffee lovers make their way down to the water's edge. The canyon is just showing the very first stages of daylight. People compare notes on how well they slept.
Soon breakfast is ready. Scrambled eggs, bacon, muff-ins, jam and an assortment of fresh fruit. In addition, one of our party, Ed Logg, has caught a few trout which our boatmen have pan fried and are offering as breakfast appetizers.
Within an hour our fire line --I forms and the gear is loaded, The toilet is stowed below deck and we are off.
One can not help but notice that most everyone has dressed a little warmer than yesterday - especially those that had been up front.
Jim and Sue, who had been warm and dry in the chicken coop yesterday, take positions up front. Tony and Chris Sexton, who are on this trip with their father Jack, volunteer to stay up front as they did yesterday. Because Tony and Chris are always willing to take the brunt of the water in the very front, especially at those times when no one else has a burning desire to be there, they become known as the "Blocker Brothers". They two people up front are charged with the job of taking it on the chin. They are supposed to keep those behind them dry. This, of course, is an impossible task and the blockers are always good naturedly chastised for failing to do their Job.
We take a few rapids (not nearly as rough as yesterday according to some of those who had been up front yesterday) before Bobby comes up from the back to tell us about old Bert Loper. Old Bert had made his wooden boat solo run through the canyon at age 69 in 1939. Ten years later he tried it again and died at this spot on the river. His boat was found fifteen miles downstream.
When Bobby, Roger, Matt or Mattie passes on a story, reads poetry or explains canyon geology they cut the engine and stand on one of the raft's pontoons, just a microslip from falling backwards into the water. These chats often have some extra suspense because ahead we can hear the roar and see the frothing white of a rapid as they speak. They always return to their position in the rear in time. I do believe it is a little showmanship on their part,
We come upon a cave opening about thirty feet up the canyon wall. Here Indians had, at one time, created a home.
Just five hundred feet downstream, at Cave Spring Rapid, we come upon our first waterfall. It is small, appearing more like a spring gurgling out of the rock. Both boats pull in, Bobby clambers up slippery rocks to the rushing water. He lays on his back, allowing the water to gush over him. Lyle is right there to try this also.
We soon come to Redwall Cavern. This is a recess in the canyon wall that has eroded into a huge amphitheater. Although from a distance this cavern looks like a small slit in the wall of the canyon we soon see that it is huge. We are told that 50,000 people could sit in here on bleachers. The guys break out a bat and ball as well as horseshoes. We spend about as hour here.
After lunch we pass through Marble Canyon. A dam was proposed here a number of years ago. The proposal was beaten back.
We stop for the night at Kwagunt Creek Canyon. This is at mile 56 of our journey. While our pork chops are cooking Bobby leads a number of us on a hike up this side canyon. We walk about a mile. Although this canyon is bone dry now we can see the powerful forces of rain runoff where the water rushes down the wash in a storm. This land does not have the ability to absorb water. When it rains, even only moderately, rivers of water drain to the Colorado.
It is Monday morning (we think). We awake to Spanish style scrambled eggs. We know that this is day three but we have all kind of forgotten what day of the week it is. Down here we are without the trappings of a schedule, a calendar and the constant beat of the media.
After a day up front Sue Hodge says she is going back to the "chicken coop". With the "Blocker Brothers- up at the nose of the raft the rest of us up front feel confident of a relatively dry morning. Ha! Ha! Mary Kenny, one of our new friends from California, as come over from the other raft just to get to know everyone better. She is fine company and we are glad to have her.
Sometimes the things that can be the most memorable do not involve the awesome beauty of the canyon or the excitement of finding a new waterfall. Sometimes just a little incident where the human spirit finds something to laugh about is worth remembering. Such is the case when Fran Burrows, our new friend from Calgary, gets an unexpected blasting from the river. Fran is enjoying a warm and dry morning in the raft's midsection when she decides she needs something from her ammo can. When things look calm she makes her way up front, finds her ammo can and pries it open. With an unexpected suddenness we hit a small rapid that provides a big over wash. Like the rest of us Fran gets soaked. She let's out a gasp and hurriedly gets what she needs out of her can. Before she can snap the lid shut we are hit with another over wash. Fran has gotten it twice. Soaking wet she scrambles back to the mid section as the rest of us get a great chuckle out of the whole thing.
About 9:30 we beach our rafts where the Little Colorado River joins the Colorado. We are told to keep our life jackets with us. We follow Mattie up the Little Colorado. We walk along the rock ledges that flank this tributary. The stream is a beautiful milky turquoise color. About a quarter mile upstream we stop at a rapid just made for floating down. Mattie makes the first run and the rest of us follow. A number of people make the run two, even three, times. We wear our life jackets between our legs and upside down. This protects our tailbones. The ride is swift, wet and exhilarating. Approximately sixteen people form a chain and go down together. This is a great spot!
After an hour and a half at the Little Colorado we are on the river again. We stop above Unkar Rapid for lunch. From here we will begin our steepest descent in the Canyon. Unkar is a twenty five foot drop, second steepest on our trip.
A steep drop does not necessarily result in the wettest ride. However the ride is faster and trickier at Unkar than any we have yet experienced.
Unkar is followed soon by Nevills Rapid. Two or three minutes after Nevills we are going down the mighty Hance Rapid. Hance is a thirty foot drop, the steepest on our trip.
By 2:30 we encounter our second bridge spanning the river. This is the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. Unlike Navajo Bridge. which was high above us, this bridge is only 50 feet above the river. The bridge is only six feet wide. It was built to take hikers across the river. An interesting bit of information attends our stop here. While most everyone else climbs the embankment and, bearing to the right, takes the short, steep trail to the bridge, Sue Hodge has other things on her mind. Sue knows that close by somewhere is Phantom Ranch, a modest facility that is used as an overnight sleeping spot for those hikers going from rim to rim on the Bright Angel Trail.
Going left instead of right Sue soon runs into Bobby Skinner coming from the other direction. Bob confirms Sue's wish by saying that "yes" there is a toilet facility just ahead. She soon comes upon the facility that Bobby had so secretively used - a sturdy building with a quarry tile floor, ceramic -walls, mirrors, two sinks with running water and three flush toilets.
When she finishes her business Sue opens the door to leave the facility and there she is startled to be face to face with an incoming Judy Shipley. Judy had seen Sue head off in this direction and had decided to do the same, hoping that she was on the trail of something good. She was!
Sue's best guess is that the toilet facility is there for overnight hikers that stay at an overnight campground that is part of the Phantom Ranch location. This is her best guess since she saw neither a campground or the Phantom Ranch Lodge.
As for our leader, Bobby Skinner, we now know that there are some secrets of the Grand Canyon that he does not intend to share with his clients!
We leave our landing at the Kaibab Bridge, immediately taking a rapid at a bend in the river. After the rapid we come upon a small foot bridge suspended over the river. This is the Bright Angel Suspension Midge. Those leaving or coming to Phantom Ranch cross the river here.
Within two miles we come upon one of the river's most suspenseful rapid's Horn Creek Rapid. Our boatmen tell us it is named for the two distinct crests of water that rise up like the menacing horns of a bull. For a few minutes this is the only sign we see that we are coming upon a rapid because of the sharp drop right at the horns. We are told that the rafts must go between the horns to successfully negotiate the rapid. We knife through the horns and take the bucking, soaking ride through Horn Rapids.
At mile 92 we stop for the night. We are in the Grand Canyon's deepest Spot. They call it the Inner Gorge. Halibut steaks for dinner.
Clear skies and what seems to be our warmest morning. The first thing I see when I get up is Lyle bathing in the river. As always it is a cold bath, but Lyle is a pretty crafty guy. He and Shirley have brought a solar water heater bag on this trip. He rinses in the warm water he had heated the previous day.
After fried eggs we are off on the river. Soon we stop the motor and Matt and Mattie lash the rafts together. Matt takes a few minutes to pass along some geology information. He is very knowledgeable in this area.
We hit a series of rapids - Salt Creek, Granite, Hermit, Boucher, Crystal and others. Once- through Crystal we are told that we are ABC - alive below Crystal. In 1983 Crystal was so badly swollen that the National Park Service asked passengers to walk around it.
We stop for lunch at Shinumo Creek. While lunch is being set up we make the short walk up the creek bed to a relatively warm waterfall. Everyone is amazed at this wonderful spot. Lots of camera clicking here.
Later in the day, at mile 116 we stop at the Royal Arch Creek. The creek descends through a boulder strewn chasm. This is known as Elves Chasm. We are told a pool of water awaits us if we make a fifteen minute trip up the chasm. We help pull each other up, over and alongside boulders and the chasm wall. The creek runs modestly to our right and below us. Soon we are rewarded with a level spot where the stream has formed a pool. It is green, deep and nearly as cold as the Colorado. A great spot for a cool swim. The rock ledge above the pool offers a spot where one can jump off into the pool. It is not as easy as it looks to the onlookers, however. The jumpers have no view of the water below the ledge they are jumping from. They feel as though they are jumping off into nowhere. Four or five brave souls make the jump. Among the women Mary Kenny makes the jump.
We press on another four miles before stopping for the night at a spot called Conquistador Aisle. While Roger, Mattie and Matt prepare dinner (stir fry with egg rolls) Bob takes a group across the river and back upstream about an eighth of a mile to a narrow slit canyon called Blacktail Canyon.
This canyon is quite dark. The walls are so close together that they seem to canopy - like the trees on a narrow country road. A gentle trickle of water runs through this mysterious, echoing place.
This was the end of our fourth day. By now each person had established his own housekeeping routine. Everyone seemed to be right at home sleeping between the canyon walls and under the star studded sky.
Pancakes get us started this morning. We leave Conquistador Aisle. The weather continues to be just perfect. For the first time small white clouds dot the blue sky.
We go through ten rapids before reaching Stone Creek tributary at about 9:30. We put in here and make a short, easy walk to a pleasant, full bodied waterfall. This falls is about twenty feet high. Here everyone gets a good soaking. Group pictures are taken.
We travel another four miles and pull in for lunch in the area called the Granite Narrows. Here the river is narrow and the canyon walls towering. Just a few yards from where Bob, Roger, Mat and Mattie are setting up lunch is the tallest waterfall we encounter on our trip through the canyon. This is Deer Creek Falls. We are warned not to go under this one. The long fall of the water is too much for the human body to deal with. As we wade in the pool at the base of the falls we feel the strong wind that the falling water creates.
After lunch a number of us, with Bob Skinner in the lead, decide to ascend the rocky trail that leads to the area above the falls. This walk is no piece of cake for those without a lot of confidence in their balance, Near the top the trail flattens out but at this point it is a narrow ledge that runs along a steep wall with a mighty drop over which it is unwise to look. Three times the ledge is narrow enough that, with hands holding tightly to cracks in the rock, one's midsection feels as though it is out over the chasm.
When we reach the top we are rewarded with a mini waterfall above the big waterfall. Here is a spot to once again get a natural massage under the water. Who knows where Deer Creek leads to if we were to follow it even farther up. The vastness of this land is amazing.
That afternoon on the river we learn sketchy details from another boat party that a serious terrorist attack involving an airplane crash into the World Trade Center building has taken place. Bobby leads us in a short prayer.
A mile below tricky Upset Rapid we pull in for the Might. The canyon walls go straight up from the water on the other side while the side we camp on has a steep embankment that must be negotiated before we come to a narrow ledge. This ledge is only 12 to 15 feet wide, but it is nice and sandy. It will do nicely for sleeping.
Our fire line proves invaluable here. We not only unload our personal gear and sleeping bags as we always do but we use the fire line to help our boatmen unload the gear necessary to cook.
It is worth noting that our porta-potty is in a special spot this night. Our boatmen always do their best to put the porta-potty in an inconspicuous spot at one end of the camp. Here on the ledge there is no vegetation to establish a private spot but we are pleased to find that a previous party here had built a semi-cubicle out of rocks to create a private spot. Sort of a porta-potty castle.
For dinner? It is Mexican Might on the ledge.
As we rise at dawn flashes of lightning appear in the narrow opening of the canyon walls. The sound of thunder seems very distant, probably because the sound has little chance to penetrate this area.
Most everyone makes their first priority packing their sleeping bag up. This is one item we want to keep dry. A very few drops of rain fall, not enough to cause any disruption.
We eat breakfast and we each also pack a lunch in a zip lock bag. This is because we will be stopping at Havasu Creek this morning. We will spend a few hours there, each person deciding for himself how far up this beautiful tributary he will go.
When we pull in at our landing at Havasu Creek it is a bit of tricky business. We run Havasu Rapid, not even noticing the narrow slit between the canyon wall where the creek enters the Colorado. Immediately after exiting the rapid Roger and Bobby must turn their rafts back upstream and catch the eddy that allows them to pull up along the rock ledge for dockage. No sandbar here. In our raft Mattie is up standing up front, ropes in hand, ready to climb onto the ledge rock and secure our raft. Even though we are in an eddy there is enough water swirling here that the raft bucks and Mattie is overboard, headfirst into the deep water. For a few anxious moments those up front who see him go in just hope that he didn't hit his head on a submerged part of the ledge. He pops up no worse for wear.
Havasu Creek is a spot of special significance for Jim and Sue Hodge. In April of 1999 Jim and Sue and Sue's brother and his wife hiked from the canyon rim down to Havasupai Village on Havasu Creek. Just below the village the creek desends through a series of four waterfalls. Three of these falls are quite high and have beautiful pools at their base to reward the hikers, We knew that seven miles below the last of these falls, Moony Falls, lay the creek's confluence with the Colorado. Now we were here.
We all walk about a quarter of a mile along a sometimes tricky ledge trail with the creek below us. With our lunches in hand we soon come down to water level and cross the swift moving, waist high water. We soon come to a spot where the water has formed into two adjacent pools. Some of the group, led by Bobby Skinner, continues the rugged hike up the creek's trail, but for most of us this spot at the pools was too great not to stop and enjoy. We have found our spot!
The water tumbles into these pools over ledges dropping about eight feet. The water is a rich, sparkling green color. It is a bracing and refreshing cool temperature. The water is about neck deep at it's deepest. In one of the pools a large boulder, rising to just below the surface, can be climbed onto to sit. It can easily accommodate four people. The sun beats down between the canyon walls. Havasu Creek is great.
After a while at the pools Lyle and Jim decide to explore up the creek. We go no more than a quarter of a mile, crisscrossing the stream a couple of times. We soon find boulders to sit on in midstream. With our legs dangling in the water we break out our lunches.
On our way back to the gang at the pools Lyle has to do a bit of a Tarzan move. Jim walks the trail back but Lyle walks along the stream on the opposite side. He comes to an impasse at a huge boulder around which he cannot see. On the other side and at a higher elevation Jim can easily see that Lyle is within fifty yards of our return to the two pools. He yells encouragement to Lyle to go forward. The water is deep and swift right where Lyle needs to jump in at the boulder. His only other choice is to walk back upstream and cross the creek.
With the remains of his lunch in hand Lyle decides to go for it. He takes the plunge. In a few seconds he is around the boulder and swims across a large eddy of water toward one of the two pools.
We leave wonderful Havasu Creek by mid afternoon. Ahead lay the rapid considered the Grand Canyon's most exciting - Lava Falls. Our rafts buck and the over wash is major but Lava Falls Rapid proves to be no tougher than three or four other rapids we have encountered. There is no doubt, however, that the suspense as we approach Lava is a real barn burner.
Another eight miles and we pull in for the night at Whitmore Wash. The sandbar here is more than ample enough for our party.
What should be an overnight stay without incident proves to be an interesting one for Jim Hodge.
At about 1:00 A.M. I get up to urinate. It is probably fourty yards from the sleeping area that Sue and I have to the river's edge, I take care of my business and turn at a slightly wrong angle on the way back to my sleeping bag. I have my flashlight on but it does little more than illuminate the ground immediately in front of my feet.
I here a voice. "Jim, is that you?" I thank Lyle for giving me a heads up and turn, or so I thought, to the left toward my own sleeping area. The next thing I know I am in scrub brush. I can see none of our party. In fact, I do not know in which direction to walk to get back to our campsite, let alone to my own sleeping bag. All of this has happened in a matter of thirty seconds or so. I have to be only a few yards from other people, yet I have become quite disoriented. I walk a little bit more and become aware that I am probably getting farther away.
Because we camped on a curve on the river the rushing water of Whitmore Rapid seemed to be coming at me from any and all directions. I move a few more feet and come upon a narrow wash. I determine that if I follow this dry stream bed it will lead me to the river (I hope). After a couple of minutes I come to the river. At this point I am so turned around that I do not know whether I should go upstream or downstream to get back to camp. The shoreline where I am at is strewn with boulders. There is no sandbar in sight.
Since the terrain is very rocky and slow going I know that if I go the wrong way along the shore things could really get frustrating. I manage to find a small sandy spot on the edge of the wash so I park it. Had this spot been dry I would have slept here the rest of the night. Since it is damp I just sit and laugh at myself. About fifteen minutes pass when I see the flicker of a flashlight off to my left. Someone is visiting the porta-potty which I know to be at the downstream end of the camp. I walk upstream along the rocky shore for on more then a hundred feet.
I come upon our sandbar. I see the outline of our rafts just ahead. I'm back!
Right there at the shoreline I come upon the ice chest full of cold beverages. Before walking carefully to my sleeping bag I celebrate my return with a cold cranberry juice!
Our boatmen wear berets as they prepare a french toast breakfast for us. This will be our last full day on the river.
As we form a fire line to load the rafts Fran decides to take charge of the cushion situation. Depending on where you sit on the raft a cushion can be a very useful comfort pad. It seems that each day we have not distributed the cushions equally between the rafts. Fran counts off fourteen cushions for each raft. She has taken command of the situation and some of us have fun commending her for take charge leadership.
We continue to encounter a steady diet of rapids during the morning hours. We stop for a break at what first appears to be a small, uninviting spot on the right hand shore. Soon someone has walked back upstream a few yards and discovered a large sandy beach with a large calm backwater area just perfect for a swim. A number of our Group do just that.
Later that morning we stop for our last lunch. There is no doubt in our minds that the food and our boatmen's ability to present it have been top notch. Breakfast, lunch and dinner have been brought to us with the best of care.
Shortly after lunch we stop where Travertine Canyon comes down to the river. Here we visit our last waterfall - Travertine Falls. The trail to the falls is short but steep. Mattie and Matt take the lead. They secure pitons is the canyon wall so that they may run a rope down for the rest of us. The only way up to the falls at one point is to negotiate a smooth rock face that is at about a 40' angle. Because the canyon wall at this spot offers no hand gripping spots the rope is essential.
About half of our group make their way to this falls. The others enjoy the tumbling water of the creek well below the falls.
Actually the falls is not visible unless one makes the trip all the way up to them because the falls is hidden in a cavern like location. It is another amazing spot.
Back in the rafts we soon run through Bridge Canyon Rapid at mile 235. We have just gone through our last rapid.
We soon lash the rafts together and Roger tells us of the exploits of Buzz Holstrom. He became the first man to run the Grand Canyon alone in 1937. Bobby reads another excerpt from Major Powell's journal. What he reads is about the three men from the Major's party who elected to try and hike out of the canyon rather than to continue on in what seemed like an endless journey. The place where the men left the expedition is just ahead of us. It is known as Separation Canyon. The three men were never seen again.
While lashed together we passengers become a bit reflective. A couple of jokes are told and then Joe Measlie delights everyone with a song he has put together. In a strong, clear voice he puts the following words to "Cruising Down the River".
Cruising down the Canyon on an eight day river trip,
We also offer some tongue in cheek awards of recognition.
The blocker brothers and dad.
We motor the rest of the afternoon and the pull in for the evening, our last evening, at mile 251. It hardly seems we have gone that far. Each day has been fresh and interesting in its own unique way.
While everyone is getting their gear settled in for their final night's sleep Bobby, Roger, Mattie and Matt suddenly take off back upstream and out of sight in one of the raft's. None of us know what they are up to.
They soon return, each dressed in black shorts, white shirts, bow ties and colorful paisley vests. They each open a bottle of champagne. We drink from our Grand Canyon mugs while a number of toasts are given.
Roger says that at times the canyon will talk back to you if you talk to it. In unison we offer a few hip hip hoorays. Our voices echo loudly in the canyon.
Our farewell dinner is very special. Filet mignon and scalloped potatoes. For dessert it is black forest cake with a cherry glaze. We finish eating in the dark of the canyon. Many of us then gather around Suzanne's guitar. Our singing ranges from semi spiritual to American traditional. We ask Joe to do an encore of his "Cruising Down the Canyon".
Our last full day on the river is another great day.
For breakfast on our last day morning we haveIlighter fare - bagels, fruit, coffee and juice. This simpler breakfast is more than ample and it allows us to embark on the river a little quicker.
Our objective this morning is to cover as much distance as possible. We will be meeting the jet boat that will be coming upstream to take us to a wating bus on the shore of Lake Mead.
Our last hours on the raft find us all in a relatively quiet mood. Looking back I do believe it was a combination of taking stock of a great trip and wondering just how serious the terrorist attack was that we had been told about three days before. By mid morning we rendezvous with the jet boat in mid stream, Both rafts come along side the boat. We transfer our belongings and ourselves for the ride to and across Lake Mead. We leave our great boatmen. They have also become great friends in these last eight days. We invite them to join us at the restaurant across from the La Quinta tonight if they can make it. They have much work left to do today but say they will join us if they can.Our skipper on the jet boat is a man named Jim. He first asks us if we want to know about the terrorist attacks of last Tuesday. We say yes and we hear the terrible news. For the first time we begin to hear just how horrific the situation is.
The ride to the boat ramp on Lake Mead takes about an hour. At the bus we are given large plastic garbage bags in which we put our belongings from our brown bags and ammo cans. The sleeping bags had been left on the rafts.
As a courtesy Grand Canyon Expeditions provides newspapers for us to read on the way back to Las Vegas. Our route back to Vegas has been changed. Hoover Dam has been closed to large vehicles, including buses, as a security measure against terrorism. Our country is a little different than it was when we entered the Grand Canyon eight days before.
That night a number of us have the opportunity to meet for dinner as planned. We seem to be able to put aside thoughts of the terrorist attacks long enough to enjoy recollections of our trip, as well as continuing to learn a little more about those we have shared this trip with.
Soon Bob, Roger, Mattie and Matt show up. We all have some good laughs.
Each of us came to this journey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon from different backgrounds. Some were experienced campers, others were not. For some it was an adventure vacation to add to others they have had, while others were doing this type of vacation for the first time. Ages in our group ranged from the mid twenties into the seventies.
For my wife and I this trip exceeded our already high expectations. We hope you had a great time also.
Our four great boatmen and friends.
Most of our group. September 2001.