GRAND CANYON on the COLORADO RIVER
April - May 2005
I made a commitment to myself a few years ago to start seriously crossing things off the list. It's easy to add them, and there they sit, year after year. Then all of a sudden, you're old and cranky, and your body parts start to fail. So, I picked dates, hooked up with an organizer from Seattle who focuses on hiking the side canyons, and off we went. The professional outfitter was Hatch, and their crew of four who organized meals, hikes, and guided the three huge rafts were amazing, memorable people.
From the beginning at Lee's Ferry just below Glen Canyon Dam to the end in Lake Mead our trip was over 300 miles, in 12 days. The rafts had small outboard motors which were hugely helpful navigating thru the rapids, and allowing for movement downriver to the next hike. We camped on sand bars most nights, though two were spent on solid rock. Every day were hikes of varying length, ones for serious trekkers, more moderate ones, and hikes for being mostly lazy in the sun.
Among the most memorable events of the trip, on day one, we saw probably ten California Condors near the mouth of the Paria River. Later that day on a hike, I was at eye level with one, soaring up the canyon that I was traversing. It was one of the few times on the trip that I was alone. What a treat to see these magnificent birds thriving here. On one of the nights we camped on bedrock during a storm. Only found-rocks and our body weight kept our tents up. In the middle of the night there was an awful sound of rockfall right above our heads. I was sure that some of us would be squished, but no. And surely one of the finest places on earth is Havasu Creek, all of its 12 miles from the mouth up to the village of Supai. The amazing turquoise water and travertine deposits have to be seen to be believed. Every turn of the creek is another potential photograph.
This was the first time in my life of wilderness tripping to be part of a group. Among the things I had to give up was the ability to stop and set up the Hasselblad whenever I wanted. So, as the days progressed, it became obvious that I had to choose between big hikes among a constantly moving group, or more time to drift about in solitude making photographs. I got a little of both.
This is a perfect adventure for anyone with interest in the geologic history of the earth. One is allowed to see and touch rock that is 3 billion years old. There is one side creek that exposes the Great Discontinuity, where the sediments on top of the exposed schist are 1.5 billion years younger than the bedrock. One and a half billion years of missing geology !
The sheer immensity of the ditch is almost incomprehensible. The forces required to carve the Grand Canyon are difficult for my simple mind to wrap around. But it's clear then also that this planet has always been engaged in the processes of formation, destruction, putting a river here, an ocean there, filling same with ground up rock, burying, compressing, uplifting new mountain ranges, cutting them with rivers, washing them back out to sea, forming new sediments. Over and over, force it up, wash it away. You would think we would accept our presence here with a little more grace, a little more humility. A lot more respect.