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  1. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    Phoenix, Arizona
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    336

    Default DAY 7: Pumpkin Springs, Travertine Falls, and the best drink of water ever



    Day Seven! COFFEE! And another beautiful morning in the Grand Canyon. This day started out a bit differently. We had our breakfast, broke down the camp, loaded the rafts, suited up, and climbed aboard. But instead of firing up the outboard and motoring away downriver, John pulled out a well-worn copy of Desert Solitaire, a book by the late Edward Abbey, one of my own favorite authors. Abbey was passionate about the sanctity of the environment, and he had a special affection for the desert southwest. John read several passages from the book of essays, read to us for at least half an hour, and we all listened with rapt attention.



    The text was perfect for the setting, and after our experiences over the last few days, we all had a newfound appreciation for the sentiments so eloquently expressed in Abbey's writings.

    Our first order of business, once we got moving, was 209 Mile Rapid, not all that rough, but longish, with an 8 foot drop. Next came 212 Mile Rapid (also known as the Little Bastard), and a mile or so beyond that, Pumpkin Springs.



    The reason for the name was immediately obvious: a rounded, gourd-shaped travertine bowl extended out from the bank and down into the river, and the smooth sides of the formation were stained an orange color by the minerals in the water. We pulled over and scrambled up the slope for a closer look, and it was quite interesting. This was a thermal spring, with the appearance of a perfect, natural hot tub, but this was not a place where a good soak would be therapeutic. The water, a sickly green in color, was loaded with floating clots of minerals that looked a whole lot like sewage.



    Worse: the water in this spring is chock-full of arsenic, around 1100 ppm. (Anything above 50 ppm is considered toxic). Not the most inviting feature on the river. We stayed just long enough to see it, then climbed back aboard the rafts and motored the heck out of there.

    At mile 215 we hit Three Springs Rapid, and at mile 216 we entered Lower Granite Gorge. We were back to the basement rocks, dark black stone, and further evidence of the Great Unconformity that we’d observed so graphically in Blacktail Canyon. In fairly rapid succession we hit 217 Mile Rapid, a Class 5 with a whopping 16 foot drop, then Granite Spring Rapid, and finally 224 Mile Rapid. A formation known as Diamond Peak loomed on the horizon directly ahead of us, a cone shaped mountain, topped by a narrower cone that looked a whole lot like a nipple—which of course gives rise to an alternate name for the mountain, which I won’t repeat here.



    Beyond Diamond Peak we passed a broad, flat area on river left, and were a bit shocked to see several vehicles parked near the riverbank. There were at least a half dozen rafts pulled over, and a ramada-like permanent shelter. This was Diamond Creek, the only place along the river below Lee’s Ferry that’s accessible by road. The road itself isn’t much. It follows the course of Diamond Creek all the way down to the river from Peach Springs, on the Hualapai reservation. The final stretch is actually in the bed of the creek, so the road is heavily prone to washouts, and the washboard surface will rattle your teeth. Even still, some rafting trips take out at this spot, exiting the canyon in trucks or vans that travel up that rough track to the rim, ending up on Route 66, and from there to Kingman or Flagstaff.

    Immediately below that beach we hit Diamond Creek Rapid, then Travertine Rapid, where we pulled over to the bank at Travertine Canyon. The creek that entered the river here flowed across huge, slippery boulders in a series of small waterfalls, and we had great fun taking turns standing in the flow, almost like a natural shower.



    If only the water had been warm, I would have broken out a bar of soap and lathered up! We took a short hike up the slope, climbed around a bit, and then trudged back to the rafts. On river left we passed an extraordinary formation known as Travertine Falls, which is exactly what it sounds like: a waterfall cast in stone, layer upon layer of minerals deposited by water flowing over a cliff, built up into the perfect shape of a cascade, frozen in time.


    Travertine Falls

    The rest of the afternoon was a long series of small rapids: 231 Mile. 232 Mile, 234 Mile, Bridge Canyon, Gneiss Canyon, 237 Mile, Separation Rapid, 241 Mile, and finally Lava Cliff Rapid.



    A couple of those were Class 7, the rest a bit smaller, but it made for a heck of a joyful ride on this, our last afternoon in the canyon, and the last rapids we’d be seeing, because the last thirty miles of river, from here to Pearce Ferry, is nothing but flat calm water. We pulled over at mile 248, Surprise Canyon, and that’s where we made our last camp. It was a beautiful spot, surrounded by blue-black rock, and because it was our last night, the crew broke out a special treat for us: the last of the ice from the food storage lockers. There was just enough to go around, and by chipping off some small pieces and inserting them into our water bottles, we had the exquisite luxury of a truly COLD drink of water for the first time in days. Pleasure is obviously a relative concept, and highly subjective, but I think we were all in agreement on this one: that cold ice water was heavenly—probably the most supremely satisfying drink of water I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting.


    One last sunset in the Grand Canyon

    It was a bittersweet sensation, knowing that this amazing trip was so close to ending. In my memory, that last night is little more than a blur.

    Next up: Day 8: Back to civilization

  2. #12
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    11,266

    Default Wow !

    What an amazing experience !! I would have loved to have done this in my younger days, but I don't think my dodgy back would survive it for too long these days. Your photos are amazing and I can only imagine how it must of felt floating down between the canyon walls and looking up. I remember flying over the canyon in a helicopter and noticing the differing colours where the Little Colorado joined. It was hard to absorb the sheer scale of the canyon until we saw some rafts below that looked like tiny dots in the Colorado river. Great report !!

    Dave.

  3. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    336

    Default It's the best way to experience the Grand Canyon (without a doubt)

    Thanks, Dave! A river trip through the canyon was something that had always been on my bucket list, but it was never anywhere near the top. Not even in the top ten! It was too expensive! Too hot, too wet, and the thought of hurtling through boiling rapids on a rubber raft was the sort of thing that had less and less appeal, the more miles I accumulated on my personal odometer. (Ahem). Like you, I have a very dodgy bad back (I'm sure we could trade horror stories into the wee hours; mine has been a big problem for more than 25 years now). In any case, I quite naturally assumed that ANY activity involving bouncing, bucking, or violent motion of any kind was quite simply out of the question for me; I had accepted that fact, and I was okay with it. But then, along came my friend Rick. He extolled the glories of his two previous river trips, and it was fairly obvious that my interest was real. Sensing weak spots in my wall of denial, he kept pressing, and he ultimately shamed me into signing on. In essence: he wasn't going to shut up until I put my money up!

    I was still worried about my back right up to the point of departure, and on into the second day. At that point, all five of my senses were on maximum overload, and my eyes were as big as saucers; with so much going on, I forgot all about my bad back. Don't get me wrong; I was cautious, through the entire course of the trip. I always staked out a seat near the flex point of the raft, where the up-and-down motion in the big rapids was least violent, and I flat out avoided some of the slippery hikes and other "off-raft" activities that might have gotten me in trouble. Ultimately, I sailed the whole length of that river without so much as a muscle spasm. Was I taking a chance? Of course, but it was no more dangerous for my back than a weekend spent trimming and raking in my garden at home. (Well, maybe not exactly like that, but you get my point).

    The trip took place just after I turned 63, a couple of years before I retired. My friend Rick was a year older than me, and I can remember wondering if we would be the oldest people in the group. Ha! We were actually among the youngest passengers on those rafts. The oldest members of the party were at least 75, and everyone involved had an absolute blast! Those folks were amazing, and quite an inspiration!

    Doing the trip on a motorized pontoon raft is obviously much easier on the passengers than doing it in a human-powered oar boat--much less in an oar boat that has to be constantly baled out in the rapids (like our crazy friend Mark). As long as you choose the right outfitter (and here's where I throw in another shameless plug for my friends at CRATE (Colorado River and Trail Expeditions), you are most definitely not too old, or too broken, to do a trip like this.

    I'll be winding up this report tomorrow, with the somewhat anticlimactic events of the last half-day. Then I'll toss in an abbreviated version of a little essay that I dashed off just after the trip ended, when I was still, quite literally, buzzing from the truly remarkable experience.

    Did rafting the Grand Canyon change my life? It probably sounds a bit trite when you strip it bare of all the hyperbole, but you know what? That experience really did change my life! It opened my eyes, expanded my horizons, and knocked down walls of self-imposed limitations and self-doubt. Coming when it did, near the cusp of my transition into a long-awaited retirement, this river trip was like a perfectly timed spark that reignited my sense of adventure, right when I needed it most.

    Seeing the Grand Canyon from the river is a unique experience; I always knew it would be amazing, and I was not disappointed. If you have any interest at all in doing something like this? Don't count yourself out prematurely!

    Rick
    Last edited by Rick Quinn; 05-13-2019 at 01:18 PM.

  4. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    336

    Default DAY 8: End of the River, end of the Road



    DAY 8! The last in an amazing series, among the most supremely exciting weeks of my entire life. We were up at dawn and broke camp very quickly, skipping our usual leisurely breakfast in favor of a quick snack. We still had thirty more miles of river, which we planned to cover non-stop, and at relatively high speed. Once we got to Pearce Ferry we’d be catching a chartered bus back to our hotel in Las Vegas, and some of us planned to fly out that night, so we were anxious to get started. Once the rafts were loaded we assembled for a group portrait, all of us gathered together in front of the boats with a gorgeous backdrop of river and steep cliffs, a wonderful memento of the trip.

    What followed was a thoroughly uneventful, thoroughly anti-climactic run down the last section of the river. What you might call a snooze.



    Water levels were down significantly from historic highs, so as we got closer to Lake Mead, walls of unstable sediment lined the riverbanks, undercut by the water as it flowed past, creating mini-avalanches of sandy silt.



    The geological process that created the canyon is an ongoing phenomenon, as evidenced by these thick layers of silt. The river carries enormous amounts of the stuff as it flows through the canyon, a powerful stream of abrasive particles, continuously wearing away all the rock in its path. I’ve mentioned the net bags filled with canned drinks that were suspended in the river below the rafts to keep them chilled? By the end of the trip they had all been literally sandblasted by the sediment in the swift current, to the point where you could scarcely tell a can of Blue Moon from a can of Bud Light! (Not that it mattered, since they were no longer cold!)



    We passed the area known as Grand Canyon West, on the Hualapai reservation, and we got a good look at the Grand Canyon Skywalk from underneath.


    From the river, the Skywalk is barely visible; it takes a sharp eye to see it at all.



    This is one of those occasions where a good telephoto lens comes in handy!

    It’s a glass bottomed walkway that juts out maybe fifty feet from the rim, giving visitors a fairly spectacular view straight down to the canyon below. That’s on the plus side. On the minus side, to get there, you have to take a three hour drive from Vegas, then 14 miles of dirt road to the concession area. There’s a fee to enter, and another fee to actually step out on the Skywalk. It’ll cost you close to eighty bucks for a two minute thrill, and they won’t let you take a camera out there (not even a phone camera). If you want a picture to commemorate your experience, their photographer will snap one for you, then he’ll charge you another thirty bucks for a print. The worst thing about it? This isn’t even the pretty part of the canyon! I can’t fault the Hualapai for trying to generate income. They’ve been pretty active in that regard, offering helicopter tours, rides in jet boats that travel up the river a ways and then back down again, giving tourists a Grand Canyon experience without the rigors of hiking or rafting through rapids. My only objection? It’s pretty dramatically overpriced for what you get, especially that crazy Skywalk, and since everything they offer is priced separately, you end up paying a small fortune.

    The river broadened as we approached Lake Mead, and at mile 278 we entered the lake itself. Pearce Ferry was right there, and we were all pretty quiet as the rafts pulled in to shore for the last time.



    The big trucks were there and waiting to haul the boats back to Lee’s Ferry by road, where they’d be cleaned up, serviced, and re-stocked to take another group of adventurers down the mighty Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. “Thrill of a lifetime” is a pretty strong statement, but it’s appropriate for this journey. There’s nothing else like it, so if what I’ve described in this trip report sounds exciting to you? Make your plans, and DO IT! Who knows? It might just change your life!

  5. #15
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,260

    Default Road has been improved -- It's about a two-hour drive from Las Vegas

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Quinn View Post
    On the minus side, to get there, you have to take a three hour drive from Vegas, then 14 miles of dirt road to the concession area.
    Updating this to circa 2018-2019. It's about ninety minutes to the entrance to the Skywalk and then about 14 miles on a very good paved road. So, even allowing for heavier traffic, it's still about two hours from Las Vegas.

    And it's expensive, but there's plenty to see in the area.

    Thanks for all of the photos and the memories shared from your trip.



    Mark

  6. #16
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    336

    Default

    Mark:

    Thanks for the update! My Skywalk information was accurate when I wrote it--but that was six years ago(!), so I really should have double-checked it.

    Rick

  7. #17
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    336

    Default Reflection on a River Trip

    The chartered bus arrived back in Las Vegas in the early afternoon, and I headed straight to the airport for my flight back to Phoenix. The next day, a Sunday, I got cleaned up, processed some of the photographs I'd taken, and got packed for a business trip, leaving bright and early the next morning.

    Monday night, I was in a hotel room at a conference center on the east coast, and I was supposed to be prepping for a presentation that I was scheduled to give the next day. All of the Area Managers had flown in from all over the country for a series of meetings. My role was to provide a detailed update on a forty million dollar software project that was going to have a huge impact on daily operations at tens of thousands of locations. So--there I was, sitting in that room, well past midnight; perusing my notes, unable to sleep, and all I could think about was the Grand Canyon. Instead of editing and fine-tuning my Powerpoint Presentation, I wrote an essay about my experience, while it was still so vividly fresh in my mind.

    The next day, I got up in front of that room full of big-wigs, and I fired up my laptop. The images that appeared on the screen behind me were not Powerpoint slides, and they had nothing to do with software. There were no timelines, no cost projections, no milestones, no test results. Instead? They got a slide show of pictures from my river trip, and I read them a slightly modified version of this:

    I’m a native of the Grand Canyon State, a born and bred aficionado of the desert southwest, and I had always thought that I knew our signature attraction pretty well. I’d done at least a little bit of hiking below the rim, mostly day trips, and never all the way to the bottom–because of the simple fact that the farther down you go, the tougher the climb back up, and I’ve always been more interested in having fun than in proving myself. I’ve hiked down to the beautiful blue-green waterfalls on Havasu Creek, I’ve seen the somewhat more exclusive views from the less-traveled North Rim, and I’ve experienced Canyon Country in winter, when clean white snow crowns the multi-hued rocks and cloaks the pines, and the only sound you hear is the keening of the wind.

    What I came to discover, in the course of my recent adventure, is that none of that stuff means spit when it comes to knowing the Grand Canyon. To really know the canyon, you have to get intimate with it, up close, in the depths, on that river. Only on the river can you really see, hear, feel, and taste the canyon. The colors and hues that shift through the day, the ebbing and flowing of the blue-black shadows, the impossibly bright sky, the lapping of the waves eating away the rocks, the crescendo of the rapids, the wind whistling through the labyrinthine corridors of stone, the heat, the cold, the wet, the dry, the fine sand that invades every crease and crevice until it permeates your very soul.

    To travel the whole length of the Grand Canyon, all 277 miles of it, takes a significant amount of planning. It’s not an undertaking for the unprepared, certainly not for the timid or the faint of heart, and it’s not something that you could ever do on a whim. Matter of fact, if you’re not already an experienced river-runner, or a totally fearless idiot savant, you have no business even contemplating the trip without first engaging the services of a river guide. The people who drive those boats down that river, be they oar boats, kayaks, dories, or motorized pontoon rafts, those people are a special breed. This is not a profession in the usual sense—it’s a calling, a passion, almost a religion. The best guides are all but omniscient in their knowledge of the canyon and its many joys and perils. They know what lies around every spectacular bend, and they can read the currents and eddies the way a stock trader reads minute fluctuations in the market, the ebb and the flow. They know where and when to pull in, where to go and where not to go, the history, the geology, and the location of the hidden treasures. Most important of all: they know those rapids like the backs of their hands.

    There are 100 or more named rapids in the Grand Csnyon, ranging from riffles that might or might not splash you on the knee to the roiling Class 10 monsters like Lava Falls and Crystal. Those big guys? You hear them before you see them. A low rumbling in the distance that builds to a roar. Then come the whitecaps on the water ahead, a visible stair-step drop in the level of the river, and then a quickening of the pace when the boatman commits at the point of no return.

    “Two-hander!” comes the call from the stern, and that’s all the preparation you’re gonna get. You find a rope, any rope, and you grab on with both hands for all you’re worth. The river boils like the North Sea in a gale, great, rolling green waves and troughs. The raft plummets sideways into a hole fifteen feet deep, the outboard motor shrieks, a monster wave towering ten feet above your head comes crashing down across the deck, pummeling the passengers like a gigantic liquid fist that takes your breath away, leaving you suspended, time stopped, frozen in mid-scream. The instant you’re clear, and gasping for breath, a second wave slaps you in the teeth, then comes a third, while the big raft kicks and bucks like a rodeo bull. Your companions hoot and holler from a rare combination of terror and exhilaration, because you simply can’t run the Hermit with your mouth closed, even though having it open means swallowing a gallon of river water and a half a pound of sand. One rapid follows another in an endless continuum, until the experience becomes—almost—routine.

    After a few days on the river you fall into a rhythm. The outside world fades in the distance, and you’re living in the here and now, intensely aware of everything that’s going on around you. You’re not comfortable. This is not a pleasure cruise. You’re hot, you’re wet, you’re thirsty, you’re filthy, you’re sunburned, you’re tired—and at the same time, you’re more completely alive than you’ve been in years, surrounded by beauty on every side.

    There comes a point when you’ve had enough, and you can hardly wait for it to end, so that you can get back to the familiar world of air conditioning and showers, flush toilets, and ice cold beer. And yet, at the same time, there’s a part of you that wishes it would never end, that your life could simply become this journey through magical landscapes of billion year old stone, where every day is unique, and every experience is new.

    The Grand Canyon will challenge you, the river will change you, in ways that are both subtle and profound. As for me, I felt reborn, and renewed. When I returned home afterward, drained and exhausted, I hit my bed, my own comfortable bed, and I laid there awake, eyes wide, for the longest time, with every cell in my body quivering. I imagined the limitless field of stars overhead, the magnificence of the Milky Way spanning the horizon like a river of light, and I imagined the Colorado, endlessly rumbling its way toward the sea, eating away at the ancient rocks, making a cosmic mockery of the works of man, washing away our most durable worries and cares–like so many grains of sand.


    My boss very nearly had a heart attack. Everybody else in the room stood up and cheered, my only standing ovation in a 35 year career.

    Go figure!

    Rick Quinn

  8. #18
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Australia
    Posts
    209

    Default Exhausted.

    WOWWW I am exhausted from doing this trip with you Rick. I read some bits over again to make sure i read it right. Must have been all that Colorado water hitting me in the face. I have a pretty good imagination hehe.
    Great report and photo's. Thanks for writing it as i wont ever be able to do the trip and it was very interesting to see what happens. Amazing that most guests/riders were getting up in age. Obviously you had a waterproof bag for camera gear. Did you have much other gear like a change of cloths or two?

    Keith

  9. #19
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    5,024

    Default

    I, too, was surprised at the ages of the passengers, Keith. I told my mom about this trip, since she and Dad went on one from the Hite Marina downstream, but that was about 23 years ago or so. She said that they'd had the same experience, being in their 60s and everyone else being their age or older. She surmised that it was a combination of two things: when you hit that age, you have more time (because you are retired) and you have the money (you are not paying for all the things that children require).

    I too was in awe of this trip. Loved reading it and always watched for "the next installment". Rick is a very descriptive writer and you feel like "you're there". Great job, Rick!


    Donna

  10. #20
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    336

    Default

    Thank you much, Keith and Donna! I'm glad you enjoyed riding along on my rafting adventure. And Donna, your Mom was right about those two things, about retired folk being more likely to have both the time and the money to sign on for a trip like this. It also helps to have a well developed spirit of adventure, because despite the pampering, you are OUT there on a trip like this.

    Keith, the rafting company provides a checklist of all the personal gear they recommend that you bring (including extra dry clothes, of course). All your stuff has to fit into a waterproof duffel, which has to be properly sealed after packing each morning. A few folks found out the hard way that they should have done a better job of it! And no matter how careful you try to be, by the end of the trip, everything you've brought along will be filthy, wet, and full of sand!

    Rummaging in my (electronic) files this morning, I found a picture that I'd completely forgotten about: me and my Dad on my very first visit to the Grand Canyon, in 1951! (Heck, that's borderline historic!)



    Rick

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