Rafting down a river is a fun adventure unto itself … to do it in the bottom of the Grand Canyon is an experience not rivaled by much of anything. And to do it with my dad as part of the expedition (who proclaimed many years ago that he “is not a camper”) made it priceless.
We went down the river with an company called Western River Outfitters, and they were absolutely great. They provided rafts and (amazing) guides as well as gear and food. As phenomenal as it was, it was still a bit agonizing for me not to be able to explore everything that called to me on my own timetable – though I’d probably still be there if that was the case. A person could spend lifetimes exploring it – I guess I’ll have to return (I always seem to say that about places like this – my bucket list only seems to grow as I attempt to cross things off it).
Temperatures were “warm” – which is to be expected when you’re in the desert in August. We actually all wet our beds to keep cool! Meaning I carried a bed sheet to the river and soaked it in the cold water (approx 55 deg F) to sleep on it to stay cool (it was still above 90 deg F one night as we were going to sleep after dark). Despite the intense heat and lack of rainfall, the riparian area along the river provides habitat for a lot of wildlife, for whom this place is literally an oasis. I was constantly searching for sign of the ringtail (a relative of the raccoon), which evidently can be found along the banks – unfortunately I never spotted one or any conclusive sign (though there were a few scats that looked like they could have been from a ringtail’s rear).
What was really noticeable to me were the variety of rocks that are exposed in the canyon. It is a geologist’s dream. Walking down a wash that fed into the main canyon on one of my little side excursions, I was aware of the large number of different rocks that were strewn around and mixed together, something I don’t often see. Usually the geology of a place is fairly uniform, or composed of a small constituent of rock types. Here, the river and erosion have teamed up to expose rocks that span two billion years. BILLION! There are some time gaps that are unaccounted for in this geological record, which are individually referred to as an “unconformity” – now a new nickname for me from my pops, after one of them called “the Great Unconformity.” Probably fits! Sounds like a magician of mediocre skill.
As the sides of the exposed cliffs erode away, pieces of the ages fall and co-mingle at the bottom. The oldest rock is called Vishnu Schist and it starts to become visible towards the bottom of the canyon – it is beautiful. To touch something that old and be in its presence is profound, especially while floating on a calm section of river in the silent heat of midday in the canyon. Just as when standing in an ancient forest of redwoods or giant sequoia trees, time seems to slow down and your perspective shifts. It’s bearing witness to immensity, it’s very definition in both time and space.
Just as we were about to rendezvous with a boat at Lake Meade at the conclusion of our rafting trip, we stopped for a quick “pee break” along the banks of the river. As I jumped off the raft, my eyes were immediately devouring the “spoor extravaganza” that was before me – it was literally a tracking workshop laid out in the muddy river silt bank! First, desert bighorn tracks. Then raven. And great-horned owl. And some other large raptor. Beaver. And more. I clicked away to capture some of them, but literally had to jump on board the raft as it cast off just minutes later. It was torturous to pull away from this canvas full of tracks! I did manage to catch a few of them on cam.
The canyon itself has an amazing history, both before and after people of European descent found it. (White) Man’s desire to explore and conquer as attempted within these canyon walls is recorded in stories that vary from comedic to chaotic (and deadly), and several groups of native people still call this place home. It’s truly grand in all aspects of the word.