A River Runs Through It

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The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and varies in width from 5 miles to 18 miles. The Colorado River averages about a hundred yards across as it runs through the canyon. The river is 1,450 miles long and runs from its source in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado to the Gulf of California in Mexico. Riding the rapids of the Colorado River is the trip of a lifetime.

Colorado River trip is the ride of a lifetime through the Grand Canyon

By David R. Blackhurst

If you’ve spent time in the red rocks of the West, you know that water is the life force. It is the power that creates and shapes the way canyons are formed.

When I got a chance to ride the “life force” for six days in the heart of the Grand Canyon, I knew I was in for the trip of a lifetime, where time is recorded on canyon walls as the Colorado River winds through the rocky terrain.

This adventure would take me on six days of what Wilderness River Adventures calls “the best of the canyon.” Pushing off the shores of Lee’s Ferry, I thought of the adventures John Wesley Powell had down this same stretch of river. I imagined the feeling of being one of the first to navigate these waters, and the sick feeling in his stomach of not knowing if the next corner would bring a mild rapid or 100-foot waterfall.

Fortunately, I did not have to deal with the same problems Powell had. This trip was as close to four-star hotel camping as you can get. From the start, the guides of Wilderness River Adventures made our group feel right at home. They also prepared everyone on the trip for the good and the bad by being upfront with the challenges we would face and the incredible things we would see.

We climbed aboard the extremely comfortable pontoons, which were the most well-designed of any guide service I saw in the canyon. A few miles from Lee’s Ferry we hit our first rapids, and for the rookie rafter these were a good warm-up.

All of the rapids in the canyon have a name, a rating and a story to be told. Rapids include Separation Rapid, Lava Falls, Hance Rapid, Crystal Rapid and more. We encountered 140 rapids over 198 miles of water in six days. Many of the rapids are class IV.

After a long day on the river, we’d tie up the boats and have a relaxing evening. After setting up our camp, the river guides would spoil us with hors d’oeuvres such as hot soups, crackers, meats and anything you could ever want to drink. And this was just the start. Next was the main course, such as prime rib, lemon chicken, potatoes, pastas and all the Mexican food you could eat. Then there’s the fresh cakes and cobblers. You won’t starve on this trip. The guides are as good at cooking as they are at rafting.

The first half of the adventure is spent in Marble Canyon with its towering cliffs and huge alcoves. After mile 32 you come to Vasey’s Paradise, with incredible lush greenery and a large spring that gushes from the canyon wall. Powell named this after his friend and botanist G.W. Vasey.

As you pass through the canyon the remnants of ancient people are visible. There are numerous places to stop and view graineries, petroglyphs and many more ruins. The canyon is full of history both modern and ancient.

After 60 miles, we hit the Little Colorado River, which marks the end of Marble Canyon and the beginning of the Grand Canyon with beauty that is tough to describe. Many have written about the things you will see and experience, but nothing can do this canyon justice. A magic combination of mineral deposits, spring water and light refraction make the Little Colorado appear turquoise. We stop here before going on down “the great unknown.”

The next few days brought my favorite stretch of the river. The canyon opened up a little to show incredible geologic formations.

But soon after this stretch it closes back up to plunge into the black unforgiving bedrock of the upper granite gorge. These are the stretches of water that make the guides earn their money. Rapid after rapid the boats take a beating, and so do the passengers.

Be ready to hold on tight because this is the day of some of the most famous Grand Canyon rapids. We start with Unkar Rapid and continue to Hance Rapid, which is named for a famed miner and storyteller from the canyon history.

Then there is Horn Creek, Granite Rapid and the famous Crystal Rapid, which wasn’t much to talk about until a flash flood in 1966 turned it into a nightmare. This is a rapid that no boatman enjoys — it is “freight train” fast.

The following days are full of more incredible scenery in the gorge along with hikes into lush waterfalls where the water is crystal clear and the vegetation looks like an island in the pacific.

This river adventure is just that — an adventure for those who love the West, the water, good food and hanging on for dear life.

For information about guided river trips down the Colorado River, contact Wilderness River Adventures at www.riveradventures.com

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