Grand Canyon, days 1-2

The “main event” for our southwest vacation was a rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I’d done this trip before, with the same rafting company (Hatch River Expeditions), exactly twenty years ago. It’s such an awe-inspiring experience that I’ve longed for years to share it with Pam and the kids. [Photos]

Our lead boat rounds the Nankoweap peninsula.
Our lead boat (left of center, in the water) rounds the Nankoweap peninsula.

Hatch lodges its passengers at Cliff Dweller’s Lodge, right next to their operations center, for Saturday night. So the Hatch team met us all there on Sunday morning, issued us each a “pumpkin” – a large orange drybag containing a pillow, sheet, and sleeping bag – and we piled into vans for the short drive down to Lee’s Ferry. Historically the site of a ferry with a colorful past, it’s the starting point for all river expeditions into the Grand Canyon.  There we met our crew: JP, the lead boatman; Travis, second boatman; and Kristen, the swamper (whose normal gig is as a backcountry photographer for the National Park Service in the Grand Canyon; see her fine-art photos at

Just a few river miles upstream is the Glen Canyon Dam, which controls the flow of water through the Grand Canyon and thence into Lake Meade (formed by Hoover Dam). The water exits Glen Canyon Dam at its base, and is thus very clear and cold (about 46 degrees at Lee’s Ferry, warming to the upper 50s by the end of our trip).

Inside the Canyon, the weather was hot and dry and sunny; I’m sure the afternoon temperatures hovered around 100. That warmth was always welcome, however, because we got soaked by chilly water as we rode each rapid (40 rapids in just the first two days!) and then basked in the sunshine to warm up before the next rapid. It was an alternating series of hot sunshine followed by cold-water shock and then hypothermia while the dry canyon breeze whisked away the wetness and body heat. Not complaining, though – the rapids were awesome!

Each day for lunch we’d stop at a shady beach and set up tables and a luscious spread of make-your-own sandwiches.  At day’s end, we’d stand in line to shuttle all the drybags, cots, chairs, and kitchen equipment off the boats. While we set out our cots – tents were unnecessary in the dry heat and starry night skies – the staff prepared a delicious four-course dinner.  First night steak, second night grilled chicken and a fresh-cooked multi-layer chocolate birthday cake. Lots of time to relax in the folding camp chairs, drinking cold beers. (Remember that cold river water? each boat had a couple of mesh “drag bags” filled with the passengers’ daily selection of beer and soda.)

At our second camp, our boatman Travis led us on a brisk climb up to an ancient set of adobe structures tucked into the cliffside, built in AD 1100 by Native Americans as a secure site for storing grain between seasons. While we rested and enjoyed a spectacular view downriver, Travis read aloud some some inspiring environmental essays from Earth Speaks.

Check out the slideshow of my favorite photos.

Day 1: Lee’s Ferry (mile 0) to Lone Cedar (mile 23)

Day 2:  Lone Cedar (mile 23) to Nankoweap (mile 53)

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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