Rafting the Grand Canyon III

Field notes of a romantic geoscientist.

I used to love reading about old timey explorers and geologists, the field journals of archaeologists and other field scientists. I’m nosy, and I love the outdoors and adventure. As a kid, I dreamed of going on expeditions like the ones I read about, totally unaware of issues of race, gender, colonialism or anything else. That learning and unlearning would come later, and continues to this day. What has remained, however, is an appreciation for the descriptions and adventures of the people whose field notes and journals were published and available for me to read. The sense of wild adventure and romance that I felt while reading those journals is still a part of how I think about and approach science and the outdoors. I am also still very nosy.

Since this trip was not a research trip, but rather an education and pleasure trip, I decided to make my field notes more of a field journal. I hadn’t planned on sharing them, but am doing so in case you, like me, like to snoop on other people’s thoughts. And in hopes of sharing the amazement and inspiration I felt while floating through the canyon.

Note: Where there are sections covered over/grayed out it's because I removed passages that were either too personal for me to share openly or in which I was complaining about mostly harmless but deeply annoying individuals. Rest assured that no matter how wonderful the trip, there is always something to complain about. Especially as the trip wears on and patience wears thin. Especially if someone feels the need to assert their ignorance in conversation, or perpetuate problematic power dynamics. Which is also, unfortunately, standard. 

With further ado, the notes of a romantic geologist floating through the Grand Canyon!

Notes and Sketches, Day 1

Grand Canyon (Marble Canyon), 2 May 2019
North Canyon Day 1

“We left Las 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. The rapids have been amazing, perfectly spaced so that you’re almost dry before you’re plunged back into the meltwater cold.
At Badger’s Rapids, we were wet. At House Rock I was almost blown off the raft. A wall of water slams over you, so drenching you don’t even feel the cold. Like everything, thus far, the scale is unimaginable. It must be seen to be believed. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a sky so blue. In the deafening silence of the rapids, you can almost hear voices chatting, as if in another room.
The water moves so much so fast you see its might as it moves.
Ravens opened my backpack and pulled out my ziplock bagged dissertation reading. Probably a sign from the Universe.
[sketch is of the canyon walls and enormous size of conchoidal fractures in the cliff faces]

Grand Canyon, 3 May 2019
North Canyon (Marble Canyon portion)

Hike up North Canyon

Echelon veining: something with structure, you can see crystal growth. Orangey lines indicate crystal growth
(Note: I am clearly not a structural geologist, haha. But something I think is interesting is being able to use knowledge of language to understand what you’re seeing. In this case, ‘echelon’ is related to ladder in French and sounds like escalón or stairs in Spanish.)

Tempestite: (Note: don’t worry about what I wrote. It’ll only confuse you, haha. Just read the link)

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 little more than an hour it poured into camp.

We camped at Willy Taylor campsite. Named for Necktie Willy, who died of a heart attack in the rapids. His party wrapped him in a tarp and buried him on the island. is death went unreported for some time because when his party checked in at Phantom Ranch, they were told not to bury anyone in tarps because it had been made illegal.
“Necktie Willie” because on a previouis trip, he’d fallen out of the boat and was rescued by a lasso around his neck. His party drug him out after, towing him behind awhile—until they got to calmer waters.
Saw a shooting star!
from the handle of the Big Dipper, arc to Arcteris and speed on to S… something.
– I can’t quite make out or remember what I wrote there at the bottom. Tragically the mold took it. Womp.
[sketches are echelon veining, tempestites, and a cross section of a nautiloid we climbed up to see]

Grand Canyon, 4 May 2019
Marble Canyon into Grand Canyon Proper!
Lava Creek Camp

We left Willie Taylor and made our 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. Below them the unclassified dolomites (poor lonely dolomites) and the Muav Limestone. The Bright Angel shale was gray green and striped with a deep dusty eggplant reaching for maroon. The Tapeats below was knobbly in weathering profile, like a stack of pancakes or crackers.
We’re descending lower and lower, the Kaibab not visible and the Redwall to Tapeats forming all the cliffs. We camped at Lava Creek [?].

It has been a long day on the river, and I am feeling less than spectacular. Skipped the two-hour hikes to write and read for diss–which I am trying to put out of my mind.
Not sleeping well has me worn out and I doubt I’ve had enough water.
Bright sides: we played in the rapids in the Little Colorado, a 15 minutes walk from the confluence. The Little Colorado was blue, blue, Blue. The brightest turquoise with travertine depositing anywhere it was shallow enough to precipitate. The rapid were like a waterpark but slightly more terrifying–and wonderful. At the confluence itself, you could watch the water mix and avoid mixing. That bright almost chlorine blue and greener, murkier waters of the main stem.
[sketch is of the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers].
I’m back to thinking about being that slightly mysterious field scientist. She came home brown and smelling of juniper, like canyon itself…

Grand Canyon, 5 May 2019

We launched from lava Canyon and descended to the basement, all Vishnu Schist shot through with Zoroaster Granite. The folded, contorted beds, the patterns of schist country rock all caught in the intrusive deep fleshy pink. Before we left the upper sedientary sequence, the river took us through Furnace Flats, past the huge Unkar Delta and down to Phantom Ranch.
The terraces! The Pleistocene was rounded cobbles, the grading visible here and there, so perfect they were almost like stone lines. And the Holocene… never has a terrace looked so like the model. The levels of protohistoric, the mesquite delineating the last Holocene– the stabilized dunes perched perfectly at top. And a long stretch of rapids to complete the utterly idyllic landscape.
Everything, everywhere you look is amazing.

[little sketch in the corner is of the Holocene terraces/Unkar Delta]

-Remembered my vitamins, feel much better, tied a good bow knot after our ammo cans cam loose mid-rapid (a small one). More to say but out of lead and it’s dinner.
Towards the end of the night, after sharing a few nips of their tequila, Glade started playing guitar on the boat in the narrow little inlet. Those of us still up, Abdullah, some undergrads, and myself, moved from the circle of chairs above to where the two sides of the sand-covered debris flows/rock falls formed a natural amphitheater. Glad played several songs, some his own and a few others: Zepplin, and ‘Turn of the Century” whose band I can’t quite place. At one point I glanced up to see a shooting star streaking overhead. It was like that night in Las Negras: the sound of water, a dramatic sort of place, the music that went with it, and the dark, dark night. Magical is putting it mildly.

Grand Canyon, 7 May 2019
Cove Camp
[Note: I skipped writing on 6 May 2019, but these pages and text below reflect events of 6 May 2019]

I missed yesterday, the highlight of which were swimming at ‘The Patio’, a creek whose name I didn’t quite catch [Deer Creek]. The trek up felt grueling, mostly the scramble up the cliff before we reached the actual limestone–Tapeats?–sections. The narrows were narrow but not bac, and there were handprints, smaller than mine, marked on a joint face of the limestone along the narrows. White chalky dots, spray really, marked the outline. I wish I could remember the exact placing [sketch of handprints].
You climb up to more brilliant blue water running over smooth, wide, limestone steps and carved into pools and waterfalls with slender but well-established trees growing contentedly in the gravel ofthe main pool. [sketches of limestone weathered into steps, and a green philite layer within the limestone walls, which looked like the maximum flooding surface I saw in Spain years ago]. From the patio rock ledge, the water has carved a narrow path deep deep into the limestone, all buffsand and chalky banded blackgray.
Apparently the Southern Paiute believed the river led to the underworld. I can certainly understand why. The water was fresh and somehow not as cold as the river. Even before I heard of the Southern Paiute, the chill and weight of the water felt so good it was almost like healing.

We also put our hands on the Greatest Unconformity. The contact is sharp and undulating, with chunks of the Elves Chasm Gneiss chewed up in the Tapeats. [sketch is of the Great Unconformity].

Grand Canyon, 7 May 2019
Cove Camp

It’s raining and I’m in a tent writing under a flashlight. The river is raging through the rapids and it makes me wonder what the river was like before the dam. It had to have been like this all the time. Incredible. No wonder so many people drown.
Today was a slow day mostly on the boat. Beautiful regardless. The sun shone on the west wall, reflected on the east and glimmers gold and rock on the the surface of the water. No big big rapids today and everyone is tired. Myself included. I haven’t slept well since Las Vegas, and that was all too short.
Today was an easy hike to swim in Havasu Creek. As ever, the water was blue, blue, Blue, cold and swirling with life. I am certainly tired and was thinking last night that I am ready for home. But it will be sad to leave. It’s gone so quick, it feels. All the nights have blurred together and it’s as though time has ceased to exist. I have a feeling it will all feel like a dream once I am back in Lawrence and in my own bed.

*I saw the stupid striped alluvium! It’s not very plain on Cove Camp (terrace), but it’s here! As are the sed structure, the coppice dunes, and mesquite. My tent is sheltered by the dunes.
[sketch is a cross section of the striped alluvium, terrace, and dunes.]

————————————– End of Notes————————————–

It threatened rain and drizzled a little the night of 8 May 2019, so I didn’t get around to writing. By then everyone was tense and tired, and some people were sleeping in gear still wet from the rain the night before. We set up tents on 8 May, but the skies cleared and I got one more night of sleeping out under the stars in a company-provided sleeping bag and a flat sheet I dragged from Binghamton to Lawrence and down into the Grand Canyon.

The final morning in the Canyon was gray and wet and and everyone looked like fluffed up birds, just mad and wet with no escape from the rain. As much as that sounds like a crappy ending to this trip, it was actually pretty great.

Most trips end on sort of a drab note. Because you’re all tired and ready for a hot shower. And because it is hard to top the sheer awesomeness that you’ve experienced in the previous days. But that part, the frustration and physical exhaustion, the microagressions we can’t escape even in the depth of a great big hole in the ground… those all pale and fade away. Eventually you’re left with what feels like a dream you had one night, with an overwhelming sense of utterly beautiful this planet is and how lucky you are–regardless of anything else–to get to experience it.

Thanks for coming along with me.

Yours in LadyGeoscience,

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