Rafting the Grand Canyon II: a Romance in Photos

Yesterday I promised a mostly photos post, and I swear I’m going to keep my promise. But first, a little context.

First of all, you should know that I am a romantic–in the sense of big sweeping vistas and time alone with your thoughts–, and definitely a bit of a nature mystic under all the scientific facts. It might also help to know that as a kid I read a lot about the first white people to explore landscapes and places beyond their own. I see the problems with that sort of thing now, but as a kid it only inspired me to dream about faraway places and experiences and the people I might encounter there.

Finally, there are tons of things the photo don’t capture. Because I just had my crappy little phone camera and it is definitely not waterproof. I considered hunting down other photos and videos, and I still might at some point in the future. But for now I just want to share what feel like photos I took in a dream. I tried to add some captions that might be helpful or at least amusing. Snarky commentary is typically my thing, but it’s hard to be snarky about a trip this utterly amazing.


Day 1 Highlights:
The first set of rapids, that gorgeous little sleeping spot, ravens got into my bag and stole my comps reading + someone else’s camera and medication bag. They are enormous and intelligent and in no way afraid of humans. Scary and amazing.

“We left Vegas at 5 [am], and put in at Lee’s Ferry. Six hours on the water took us down section from theKaibab to the Toroweap, the beautifully crossbedded Coconino and the deep maroon Hermit, into the 300 m of the Supai Group. […] At House Rock I was almost blown off the raft [in the rapids]. A wall of water slams over you, so drenching you don’t even feel the cold.”

Notes, Day 1

Day 2 Highlights: hiking up North Canyon, echelon veining, super neat nautiloids and the terrifying pull-yourself-up-a-spikey-outcrop-with-a-rope climb to see them, slept on the flat top of a dune at Willie Taylor (camp site) and woke just in time to see the sun rise filling the canyon, saw a shooting star.

“Camp was beautiful, if not very private. Slept out on the flat top of a dune and woke up in time to watch the sun begin to fill the canyon. It lit the wall down river little by little and in a little more than an house, poured into the camp.

Notes, Day 2

Day 3 Highlights: that sunrise filling the canyon, the waterpark-esque time in the Little Colorado, a night sky so gorgeous I hated to take my contacts out before I fell asleep.

We left Willie Taylor and made out way further down section, from the Supai Group to the Redwall Limestone. Little hints of the Temple Butte, full channel forms appearing high in the valley walls. […] The Little Colorado was blue, blue, blue. The brightest turquoise with travertine depositing anywhere it was shallow enough to precipitate.

Notes, Day 3

Day 4 Highlights: Descending into the basement–the contorted dark and pink of the Vishnu Schist and the Zoroaster Granite, Furnace Flats, the Unkar Delta–utterly idyllic and like a fairytale to imagine people living on it not too far in the distant past. The terraces, both Pleistocene and Holocene were utterly picture perfect though no one cared, except me. Glade, one of our (phenomenal) guides, playing guitar late into the night and sitting with those of who had not yet gone to bed.

“We launched from Lava Canyon and descended into the basement, all Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite. The folded, contorted bed, the patterns of schist country rock all caught in the intrusive deep fleshy pink. […] The terraces! The Pleistocene was rounded cobbles, the grading visible here and there […] And the Holocene… never has a terrace looked so like the model”.

Notes, Day 4

Day 5 Highlights: Swimming in Deer Creek at ‘The Patio’, the dizzying water-carved Narrows below it, two rockart handprints hidden along the path up the Narrows, putting my hand on the Greatest Unconformity

“The trek up [to the Patio] felt grueling, mostly the scramble up the cliff before we reached the actual limestone (Tapeats) sections. […] You climb up to the most brilliant blue water running over smooth limestone steps, and carved into pools and waterfalls with slender but well-established trees growing contentedly in the gravel of the main pool.”

Notes, Day 5
Cross section of a Holocene terrace at Cove Camp, end of Day 7. So pretty.

Day 6 Highlights: An easy hike and a swim in Havasu Creek, finally finding the alluvium I’d read about, sleeping sheltered in the dunes while it rained and the Colorado River raged through the night

“As ever the water was blue, blue, Blue, cold, and swirling with life.”

Notes, Day 6
Day 7, packing up in the morning

Day 7 Highlights: I stopped taking notes at this point, and we were all pretty tired. Rain the night before had kind of taken the metaphorical wind out of our sails. There was lots of boat time to make up for our hikes and poster talks. But it was still unendingly gorgeous.

The threat of more rain on Night 7 had everyone on edge and snappish, but in the end it only sprinkled and many of us (myself included) took the opportunity for one last night sleeping out under the stars (well, clouds, but still some stars… it’s the Grand Canyon after all).

Camp on our last morning (Day 8). It had threatened rain the night before, so we put up tents

Day 8 ‘Highlights’: Day 8 was gray and wet and everyone was pretty miserable. But, one of the undergrads, who had been tempting fate all week, finally fell into the river and had to be retrieved. Oh Carl.

We floated and motored the last little bit down to Lake Mead, where we met the speed boat that took us to the taking out point and where a bus took us back to Las Vegas. And then… it was over.

We had one finally showered and slightly sh*t-showy night in Vegas (not wild, just goofy because we were all so tired), and then flew out at varying times that night and the next day.

The view from my flight home

I tried to think of something poignant to say to wrap up this post. But it’s like trying to describe the purpose or feeling of a dream. So, for now at least, thanks for coming along on my little trip of dream rememberance.

Check back next week if you’re interested in snooping through my field journal!
And look for more travel and photo posts from me in the coming weeks


Yours in LadyGeoscience and technicolor dreams of the Grand Canyon,


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