19 people, 16 days, 15 campsites, one mighty river coursing through one inimitable canyon: these are the numbers that come to mind when describing my trip down the Colorado River through the heart of the Grand Canyon.
Rafting down the Grand Canyon while the sun is out, the water is green, and those grandest of canyon walls are growing ever-larger is an experience that defies words. Of the 23,000 people who go down the Colorado River each year, only 6,000 travel through the Grand Canyon on private, non-motorized crafts. If you’re among those 6K, you’re incredibly lucky for many reasons, foremost of which is the way slow travel allows the canyon to reveal itself to you, one mile at a time.
Slow travel in the Grand Canyon is this: Searching for trout with a fly rod at dusk in the land of the humpback chub; jumping off of a 40-foot diving board of river-worn rock into the river that has worn it down; evenings spent talking with friends from the Grand Canyon sunset fades until the Milky Way emerges and serenades you overhead; playing a game of ultimate frisbee in the confines of Redwall Cavern before continuing down river; setting up camp on a sandy riverbank, opening up a cold beer (or four), playing lawn games, and reveling in the lack of cell service.
When you are rafting down the Grand Canyon, distance is measured in river miles and time is discussed in geologic terms. The further you go and the deeper you drift, the more you lose yourself to the enormity of the place. Scrambles up side canyons or to infamous vantage points such as the Nankoweap Granaries provide much needed perspective. Believed to have been built between 1000-1150 AD by the Anasazi Indians, the Nankoweap Granaries are located 700 feet above the Colorado River at river mile 53 and offer one of the most iconic views of the surrounding landscape.
For sixteen glorious days, this was my life. I’m not sure which I appreciated the most, the beauty of the natural landscape or the sheer simplicity of existence. Maybe it was the jolt of adrenaline that coursed through my veins while we made our way through such notorious rapids as Crystal and Lava Falls, or maybe it was the constant reminder of what it is to be so infinitesimally small, so insignificant in such a venerable place, but I felt humbled and awestruck, suspended in a state of childlike glee, throughout these two weeks.
On our final Grand Canyon sunset ebbed, we prepared to launch a night float to Pearce Ferry, which entailed tying six rafts together and floating the final 40+ miles in which the Colorado snakes through the canyon in the dark. Throughout the night in near pitch-black conditions, without the benefit of a moon to light the way, we bounced off of the canyon walls and bobbed over rapids all the while trying to sleep. This is what I love most about nature—its ability to bring friends together in the most spectacular of places, always succeeding in creating memories that endure and leaving indelible impressions on the soul that quietly say yes, your life is richer because you have experienced this.