Life's little adventures, accompanied by a running watch

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ultimate Trip Report – Rafting in the Grand Canyon

I’m backkkk…..

I’d been counting down the months, then weeks, then days until our big vacation.   I can’t believe it’s already over, yet while we were there, it felt like we stepped off the world…..I guess we kind of did.

Scott and I spent more time in the air and on the water this past week than we spent actually on dry land.  We set our sights on the Grand Canyon for this vacation and we set out to do it in a pretty adventurous way.

On Sunday, we flew to Las Vegas.  Not a big fan of Vegas.  First the good points:  very interesting architecture, perfect weather (as long as you like to feel as if your head is in an oven), and lots of people watching to launch a thousand stories.  Now the nasty points:  everything else.  To be fair, we didn’t set aside time to watch shows and we aren’t gamblers.  However, we’ve grown accustomed (or maybe spoiled) to expect smoke-free restaurants and other public places.  Not so in Vegas.  And instead of the newspaper stands holding newspapers, they held endless supplies of sexually explicit magazines designed to complete someone’s trip.  Definitely not the theme of our trip.

On Monday morning, we were picked up by motorcoach by 6:15 am for transport to the North Las Vegas airport.  Here, we were weighed along with our bags and I couldn’t help wonder if the 2nd package of Delta cookies I devoured on the trip to Vegas might push me over the edge?  Fortunately, we all passed the weight test and began boarding our 10 person propeller plane where everyone gets a window AND an aisle seat.

As we took off and left the Vegas skyline behind, we really started to feel like our adventure was not going to disappoint.  We were able to see Lake Mead from above and, although we didn’t know to look for this, the pilot later told us there was the word “Elvis” carved out in the trees below.   I guess there was still a little bit of Vegas lingering.

We landed the prop plane in the middle of nowhere.  OK, it was actually a one runway airstrip called Whitmore International Airport.  There were no slot machines or restaurants as there had been at the Vegas airport.  And definitely no Cinnabon restaurants to grab a gooey treat.  A short shuttle ride up the hill brought us to the Bar Ten Ranch, where our helicopter awaited us.

I got to ride shotgun in the helicopter!!  What’s funny even to me is that I’ve got a pretty healthy fear of heights, yet loved this adventure of flying so far.  I was able to take some pretty amazing pictures as we hummed along towards our meeting point:   the raft.

After getting our bags situated and stowed in the waterproof bags Western River provided us, we headed right out.  We were finally on the Colorado River!!  We had 2 rafts, 4 guides, and 28 adventure seekers.  A little ways down the river, we pulled over so our lead guide Wiley could deliver the orientation.  A little bit about safety, a little bit about the importance of staying hydrated, and a LOT about how/when/where to go to the bathroom.

The bathroom rules were clear:  liquid had to hit liquid.  Meaning, pee in the river.  Sounds gross, but the current was so strong, anything going into the river is immediately diluted.  Everything else points you to the “outhouse”, which was a mobile toilet located inside a tent to provide privacy.   The reason for such stringent bathroom rules made perfect sense.  Afterall, the camp sites are used throughout the season that sees thousands of visitors and, with almost no rain to wash things away or break things down, these camp sites would quickly become disgusting and un-campable if campers just went in the woods.

With the bathroom rules committed to memory, we hit the river with a focus.  Find the rapids!  We hit many “ripples” and some rapids and realized the water was just as cold as the beaches in the Northeast.  Brrrr!   But with the hot sun, the splashes that numbed us were quickly replaced with burning sun that dried us within minutes. 

We stopped for lunch, which on day one consisted of make-your-own deli sandwiches, pringles chips, fruit, and cookies.  Our second day, lunch was a delicious blend of tuna salad with what seemed like endless veggies that made it one of the best I’ve ever had.  Add the never-ending supply of water and lemonade, and I was eating like a queen.

Each evening, we selected a campsite and set up camp.  While we went off to find the perfect spot and set up our cots (no need for tents!), our guides went to work at cooking dinner.  Again, we were pleasantly surprised at how much and how delicious the food was.  The first night consisted of pasta with sauce that included tons of veggies, onions, and hamburger, garden salad, garlic bread, fruit, and carrot cake.  Our second evening menu took on a surf and turf theme.  Steaks on the grill, rainbow trout, rice pilaf, potato salad, and don’t forget the shrimp cocktail appetizer!  Dessert included two cakes baked in the dutch oven.  One chocolate and one vanilla….both frosted.  I was in heaven.

The rafting got progressively more challenging, with a couple of rapids at around a rating of 7 (rapids are rated 1 – 10, with 10 being the greatest).  This whets our appetite for more of the higher rated rapids that come with the 7 day trip.   Even though we were on a more moderate part of the river, I got a pretty impressive bruise up and down my left shin and one or two of us teetered on the edge as if we were going overboard!  We needed both hands for the highest rapids, so not too many action packed pictures to reflect how violent the rapids were.  

Our guides were remarkably educated in geology, botany, Native American history…you name it.  Our two guides have been at this for 8 and 15 years, so I guess they’ve picked up a few things.   They brought a great sense of humor to our raft and really pulled our group together quickly.  It felt like we were fast friends within the first day. 

Anyone who has been to the Grand Canyon will attest that it’s indescribable.  We took almost 300 pictures and feel like we captured 1% of the beauty.  Since we were there at the full moon, we also got to enjoy the interesting lighting and shade the moon cast upon the canyon walls.  We saw mountain goats, some (including Scott) jumped from 30 foot rock “diving boards”, waded in the Travertine Grotto, climbed a waterfall, showered in the waterfall…..the list is endless of the wonderful things we got to see and do.  I said to Scott a number of times during our trip, “We are so lucky”.

Before we left the raft and transferred to the jet boat, we’d already decided we’d go back for the longer 7 day expedition.  Not just for the higher rated rapids, but for the beauty, the calmness, and the peace the Grand Canyon exudes.   I hoarded as much of that beauty, calmness, and peace that I could to take back home with me.  I just hope it lasts through my first day back at work


  1. what an AMAZING trip!! great recap!

    1. i've never been to Vegas, and feel fortunate for that fact. ick.
    2. i do not like small airplanes and may not have made it past that point in the trip.
    3. sleeping on a cot in the grand canyon with a full moon and showering in a waterfall must be two of the coolest things EVER!

    looks like the trip of a lifetime!!

  2. GREAT trip recap - awesome!!! So much fun :)