Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rafting the Colorado

We went rafting on the Colorado River through the western Grand Canyon. It was the only one-day rafting adventure to be found, and it was definitely an adventure. It's run by the Hualapai Nation, (said 'wal-a-pie') and almost all of us who went on the trip stayed at the Lodge, on the Hualapai Lands. The signs read "Hualipai Reservation" as we entered, but the pride and reverence with which Cole, our guide/raft captain, said "our lands" each and every time he spoke of his home made me realize his connection with his lands. It was never "the reservation" or anything less than "our lands."

But I digress. From the Lodge, we filled two school busses and rode about an hour down through a side canyon to the Colorado. It was only then that I realized that when the website cautioned that "the road" might be washed out in a rainstorm, they weren't kidding--because great portions of "the road" were actually the bottom of the (usually dry) creek bed which, when running, fed the Colorado. We had had a pretty good storm, and several times the Hualapai woman driving the bus stopped and eased her way through streams and over washes.

By about 10 a.m. we had reached the river. I had read that the microclimate of the depths of the Canyon was true desert, and this we found. It was oppressively hot; we were told 118 degrees F. The Hualipai men worked very hard in that heat to ready the boats, including carrying big outboard motors by hand from a truck to the rafts.
It was my first time rafting in rapids, and I have never claimed to be a "water" person. My goals were to (1) stay in the raft, (2) not get hurt. As we set out our guide added another goal: don't lose my hat (apparently it happens all the time.) The sun was beating down so hard I knew I'd never make it without my hat.
We started into the first rapid. It's a lot like riding a bouncy roller coaster while a giant throws full buckets of ice cold water right at you. Literally. We were in the back of the "U" seating, facing directly into the waves as they hit. I quickly figured out a routine as we went into each rapid: check hat, apply deathgrip to the edge of the seat, watch first wave launch into the air toward me, then tuck chin vigerously and scream at the top of my lungs as the bucket of water hits.
We stopped a few times for various reasons--which were the only times I could take pictures until very late in the trip when we were past the rapids. It was awesome to see the canyon walls rise straight up from the water at some places, while at other places there were soil deposits with grasses, shrubs and trees.

What was supposed to be 5 hours of rafting turned into 9 hours when we arrived at the helicopter pick-up site and learned that it was TOO HOT for the helicopter to fly! "Option B" was to continue rafting the Colorado until we arrived at Lake Meade, where the crew normally takes the rafts out. We arrived there at 7:30 p.m. and rode back two hours to the Lodge via bus.

The extra rafting time was unexpected but interesting; it contained several more rough rapids, but lots of flat water riding in the glaring sun. Most of the boat went for a swim in the Colorado to cool off--including my son--but I was pretty sure my sprained ankle would make getting back in a big problem, so I stayed aboard.

We were absolutely exhausted by the end of the day, but SO glad we went. It was an experience never to forget.


  1. That is so cool! I lived for years in New Mexico and never did make it to the Grand Canyon. You are lucky that you did that trip!

  2. I agree with your bottom line. It seems it was a one time experience.

  3. That looks AMAZING! So beautiful, and clearly quite a ride.

    Interesting what you say about your guide's reverence for the land as well. That's nice.


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