Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, Arizona

September 9-19, 2000



o Mile 0 to Mile 20 Lee’s Ferry to "Arch Camp" near North Canyon

o Mile 20 to Mile 41 North Canyon to Buck Farm

o Mile 41 to Mile 52.5 Buck Farm to Nankoweap

o Mile 52.5 to Mile 74 Nankoweap to Upper Rattlesnake

o Mile 74 to Mile 93 Upper Rattlesnake to Salt Creek; the Upper Granite Gorge

o Mile 93 to Mile 124 Salt Creek to beach before Fossil Canyon

o Mile 124 to Mile 148 Fossil Rapid to Matkatamiba Rapid

o Mile 148 to Mile 166.5 Matkatamiba Rapid to National Canyon

o Mile 166.5 to Mile 202.5 National Canyon to an unnamed beach

o Mile 202.5 to Mile 226 Take-out at Diamond Creek


"Sit down. Hold on real tight, and have a nice day!"

JP, our river guide, repeated these sentences each time we approached rapids on the Colorado River, although he sometimes varied it by saying "Butts to the board" or "No one on the wienie tube." Reminding us to hold on, he always finished with "Have a nice day," with a drawled emphasis on nice. And we always did. All ten of our days on the river were "nice days."

Our Friends of Arizona Highways adventure started Saturday night at Marble Canyon Lodge, where we met Sarah Hatch, representing the outfitter, and Gary Ladd, our photography instructor. They described what to expect in the coming days and we asked a multitude of questions. There would be thirteen of us in our group, plus Gary and two river guides. With the exception of three, we could all be considered seniors.

The next morning we loaded our gear into the Hatch van and traveled the mile to Lee’s Ferry, where our motorized raft was waiting. Other groups were loading their rafts, but the confusion was minimal. We met our boatman, JP, and his wife, cook and swamper (assistant), Meg. Our tents, sleeping bags and other night gear, packed in dry sacks or duffel bags, was placed in the center of the raft on a waterproof tarp and wrapped with a second one. After climbing aboard, we used carabiners to clip our daybags to the ropes that were snugged over the pile of night gear. Cameras were packed in ammo boxes, special cases or dry sacks. Tripods were placed in a large communal duffel bag that was easily accessible. Although each tripod was fairly lightweight, the total weight of the bag required two people to handle it.

Before starting, we were shown how to adjust our life jackets and advised what to do if we should fall out (float with feet pointed downstream to fend off rocks). Climbing onto the raft required rinsing the sand off of one foot, stepping up on the linkage between the outer tube and the main raft, rinsing the other foot, and pulling oneself to the top of the deck. In spite of our care, we still carried onboard a lot of wet sand.

Our raft was thirty-five feet long by fifteen to sixteen feet wide. The boatman usually stood in a pit at the back, where the 30 HP Honda outboard motor was located. Meg sat in a chair on the rear of the right tube above the pit. She had excellent visibility from here and could communicate with us, while JP had more difficulty in hearing us over the engine sounds. In front of them was a rectangular area we called the "Tea Room." Water and lemonade jugs were located there, and four to six people could fit along the outer sides. Although the tube riders called this area the "Chicken Coop," it was convenient for those who preferred to stay somewhat dry. The "Wienie Tube" was a fat tube extending crosswise in front of the Tea Room and behind the pile of gear. The raft was hinged laterally at this point. One or two people could sit on each end of the Wienie Tube. It was a comfortable place to sit, and it provided a good view of the river to the front and both sides of the raft.

In front of the Wienie Tube and on each of the long sides of the pile of gear in the middle of the boat, running fore and aft, there was a long board covered with white vinyl. At least five people could sit on each board, facing outward and extending their legs in front of them, resting their feet on the torpedo-shaped tube that was fastened to the long outer edges of the boat. However, the people on the left board generally saw only the scenery on river left, and the people on the right board saw the scenery on the right. All of these people were likely to get wet as we passed through rapids, but those in the front would get especially wet as the water splashed up between the tubes. We wore rain gear on the days when we were going through a series of larger rapids, but generally the weather was warm enough that the cool splashes felt good (or were at least acceptable).

The boldest passengers straddled the outside torpedo-shaped tubes and rode through the rapids, each person holding tightly onto ropes which wrapped the tubes. This was definitely the wettest place to be but also the most stimulating. There was a lot of joking from those on the left side of our raft. Jim joined them part of the time, riding in the point position and catching the brunt of the waves. On a day when Jim wasn’t there, Gary referred to the three tube riders (Doug, Don F. and Don S.) as "The Three Stooges." Doug replied it was more like "The Three Musketeers."

If JP said "Butts to the board!" no one was allowed to ride the outside tubes or the Wienie Tube. The entire raft flexed, squeezing and stretching as it went through rough water. No matter where we were sitting, we were required to hold on in two places and to avoid crannies where our fingers could get pinched.

Occasionally one of us would stand to take a picture or to look at scenery on the other side of the boat, but we usually kept low so JP could see the river from his position in the back. Anyone wanting a drink would pass his or her mug to the Tea Room, where it would be filled and passed back. Some wanted half-and-half or plain water, while Don S. wanted a mixed drink: one-third lemonade, two-thirds water. Doug preferred "full-octane" lemonade. Another chore for those in the Tea Room was swatting flies. For some unknown reason, the number of flies increased dramatically during the last two days we were on the river. All of us had showered by splashing waves, so that couldn’t have been the problem! Perhaps it was related to the high waterflow the week before.

During our passage, Glen Canyon Dam regulated the flow of the Colorado River at 8,000 cubic feet per second, which is lower than the guides like but is acceptable. The previous week there had been a flow of 32,000 cfps, but 8,000 was going to be maintained for awhile. Sandbar studies were being conducted and perhaps fish can breed better at the lower rate. The beaches were renewed at the higher rate, and they seemed clean and unused until we arrived, except for the most popular campsites and attractions, which showed footprints but no trash. Many beaches also had steep banks, which were a challenge to climb. We frequently sank into the wet sand at the edge of the river, finding it difficult to extricate ourselves. Small beaches that we viewed along the river looked pristine and had lovely ripple patterns due to fluctuating water levels. It would be a shame to walk on them, yet they beckoned with the promise of exploring where others had not gone.

When we arrived at a campsite, Meg would tell us where "Mr. Pooey" would be set up. We would select our individual campsites, then form a line to pass the night gear and kitchen equipment to the beach. Meg and JP concocted delicious meals, feeding us steak, pork chops, chicken, fish and specialty dishes. One night Meg made a pineapple upside-down cake in the Dutch oven; another night JP made his rich chocolate cake. Every morning we had substantial breakfasts, including more bacon and eggs than any of us would have eaten at home. For lunch we had a choice of several fillings for sandwiches, with lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, cheese, red onions and pickles Meg was adamant that we wash our hands before eating anything, because she wanted to keep us all healthy.

Our weather was delightful. There had been a storm on the North Rim the day before we started, but we had sunny skies. Awakened at 5:30 AM when Meg called "Coffee," we were usually on the river at 7:30 AM. At first the canyon bottom was in shade, but sunny cliffs reflected on the water, enticing us to start taking pictures. Gradually the sun would reach down into the canyon. By mid-afternoon we were treasuring any shade that could be found as the river twisted and turned. The sun set at 7 PM, and we were usually in bed by 7:30 or 8. At night we were surprised by the amount of heat radiating from the rocks and sand. Our sleeping bags were too warm, but the light fleece blankets worked well. Some nights we avoided covering up until early in the morning. Although we slept in the open two nights, we usually put up our tent to make it easier to keep sand out of our gear and to avoid the red ants that crawled on some of the beaches. (We have since read that red ants are only out during daylight.) The full moon was brilliant, beautifully illuminating the cliffs. Darlene remembered that one of her father’s favorite songs was "Moonlight on the River Colorado," but she couldn’t remember the words. An Internet search later found the lyrics.

The primary purpose of this trip was to study photography with the guidance of Gary Ladd, a professional photographer we met several years ago through Elderhostel programs. We all gained from his excellent tutelage as we found scene after scene of beauty. Gary knew exactly where we should stop to find fluted rocks or to hike for spectacular views. He coordinated his knowledge with that of our river guides, and we often seemed to be at the right spot with the most desirable lighting. We were fortunate to find areas of solitude for our group, since there were other groups on the river. Our biggest problem was that we wanted to linger in each delightful place, but we had to continue our progress down the river.

Gary shared his knowledge of geology, the human history of the area and some of his own adventures hiking and traveling through the canyon by dory and raft. JP also told us many stories about the people and events through the years. While some of his explanations about river features were unbelievable, that just added to the fun. It is too bad we didn’t record more of them, but one I remember is the Nixon Rock at Tuna Creek—"It is a little right of left and they don’t let enough water through the gate to cover it up." After we went through a technically difficult rapid, we complimented JP on avoiding all the rocks. He responded, "We might have touched a little—I had my eyes closed." He told us about the time that Powell caught a big fish, but it got away. Powell excitedly came back to tell the others, showing them, "It was this long!" We craned our necks to see how long JP was indicating, but he was only holding up one hand. Finally we realized why: Powell only had one arm.



We later marveled that our group of thirteen participants could adapt to the unusual life on the river, living together for ten days with little conflict and a great deal of pleasure. We enjoyed getting to know each other and shared the common bond of photography. Our equipment varied from point-and-shoot to high tech. One person used a digital camera and most had 35 mm SLR cameras. Gary used a 4x5 large format camera, often letting us examine the upside-down view on its ground glass screen.


Sunday, September 10, 2000

Mile 0 to Mile 20 Lee’s Ferry to "Arch Camp" near North Canyon

Formations at river level: Kaibab (Mile 1), Toroweap (Mile 2), Coconino sandstone (Mile 4), Hermit Shale (Mile 5), Supai Group (Mile 11)

Among the outstanding sights along the way, we observed the two Navajo Bridges, the first built in 1929 and the second in 1995. The designers of the second were careful to match the design of the first, so the twin bridges offer an example of man-made beauty. Badger Creek Rapid was our first large rapid on the river, complete with splashing water. Right after then we saw bighorn sheep along the bank, then the impressive slab of sandstone named Ten Mile Rock. After passing through Soap Creek Rapid at Mile 11.9, we looked for the Brown inscription, scratched into the rock to commemorate Frank M. Brown, who was drowned in the rapid on July 10, 1889 during an excursion to survey the canyon for a possible railroad.

Along the way we kept playing "leapfrog" with a crew who were doing computerized studies of the river bottom and sandbars. They had several boats and a surveyor who operated a total station on land, often perched high on a cliffside in the hot sun. There were rodmen below on the sandbars. Jim remembered seeing one of the scientists on television after the experimental big release from Glen Canyon Dam in 1997. Our river guides stopped to visit with some of the crew, and we exchanged greetings and waves throughout the next several days.

We passed through another large rapid at House Rock, Mile 17, then camped at Mile 20 on a sandy area called "Arch Camp." We selected the flat top of a high sandbar for our sleeping area. Others found flat spots back among the rocks. This camp provided our first introduction to the steep slopes on the sand at the edge of the river and to the heat radiating from the rock walls at night.

We photographed a dramatic sunlit wall Gary called "Block Rock," which cast lovely red reflections onto the evening river. After the moon came up, the cliffs showed nooks and crannies illuminated in the bright moonlight. A ringtail cat explored our campsite all night. Meg said she had to chase it off the raft, and other campers said it approached their sleeping bags. We chased it away from our sleeping area before we went to bed, but we were unaware of its later busy activity. We slept in the open on a high sandbar, with the wind blowing sand on us part of the night.


Monday September 11, 2000

Mile 20 to Mile 41 North Canyon to Buck Farm

Formations: Supai Group, Redwall Sandstone (Mile 23)

Up at 5:30 AM, we ate breakfast, packed and crossed the river to North Canyon, just slightly downriver from our camp. We were fortunate to be the only group there. After landing on a steep sandy beach, we hiked high on the canyon wall and peered down into a canyon bottom with pools and sculpted sandstone. Then we walked in the upper canyon, photographing mud cracks, reflective pools and datura blossoms. We turned back at a lovely pool at the base of a pourover, with a graceful curved cottonwood tree growing nearby. JP climbed the ledges and perched on the red sandstone reading a book. The illumination reflected from the sandstone gave a healthy glow to his complexion.

Back on the river, we passed through "The Roaring Twenties," which were many moderate rapids in succession. We stopped near a small cave with a sandy beach for lunch. At Mile 31 we viewed Vasey’s Paradise, a multi-ribboned falls emerging from the wall of the canyon, creating an oasis of poison ivy, redbud trees, willow and red monkeyflower. At Mile 33 we stopped to walk inside the huge Redwall Cavern, where the reflected sunlight illuminates the great arched ceiling. An active group was playing volleyball, while a solo flutist was playing Native American melodies.

We passed the Marble Canyon Dam site and were grateful that the dam was never built. At Buck Farm, Mile 41, we camped on a large sandy beach, with many small boulders at one end and towering cliffs providing excellent photographic opportunities. A short hike up the canyon revealed sinuous Muav ledges under the Redwall, with pink sand and boulders on the canyon floor.

The wind blew again during the early night, sifting in through the mesh windows in our tent. The moonlight was very bright.


Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Mile 41 to Mile 52.5 Buck Farm to Nankoweap

Formations: Redwall Sandstone, Muav Limestone (Mile 34), Bright Angel Shale (Mile 50)

The morning light on the rocks and cliffs at Buck Farm Canyon enticed our group to stay for a couple of hours. At the last minute we discovered a new beach to shoot from, but we needed to move on.

We pondered the remains of Bert Loper’s boat at Mile 41.5. Did the 80 year old Loper, an experienced boatman, deliberately die in the 24 1/2 Mile Rapid in 1949? We stopped for lunch at Mile 44.5 on a large sandbar with animal tracks and wind-rippled sand with a graceful curving edge on the river, framing colorful reflections on the water. Although we took many pictures, we learned that the right light can be fleeting, a phenomenon that repeated itself throughout our trip.

We arrived at Nankoweap in midafternoon, selected our campsites on the broad beach and hurried off to hike to the Anasazi granaries tucked under a ledge high above the river. The trail switchbacked up the red rock, providing stunning views of the river below. When we returned to the beach, Jim’s unzipped duffel bag had been rifled. A plastic bag of film lay on the sand; underwear and other clothing were scattered. Later we learned that ravens had done the deed. Our camp was the farthest down the beach, so no one had come to investigate when they saw the ravens flying about. No real harm was done, and the ravens were probably disappointed to find nothing to eat.

The setting sun shining on the opposite wall of the canyon created the appearance of liquid gold on the river. An owl hooted in the distance. There was no wind during the night, but Ed reported that mice scurried about his sleeping bag all night. Apparently two mice made their way aboard our raft during this night, if not before. Meg spied them as she was working with the gear, and occasionally others would see them in some of the crevices, but no one was able to catch them. Joy said that twice a mouse perched on her as we were going through rapids. It must have been difficult for them as we rocked and bucked our way through the rapids, with the gear and tubes flexing and mashing together.


Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Mile 52.5 to Mile 74 Nankoweap to Upper Rattlesnake

Formations: Bright Angel Shale, Tapeats Sandstone (Mile 59), Great Unconformity and Dox Formation (Mile 63)

Rising early, we were on the river at 7:30 AM, traveling past deeply shadowed walls. We went through Kwagunt Rapid, then stopped to take pictures with rocks in the foreground. Gary told us that previously the rocky area had been sandy, which is an example of the constant change in this Grand Canyon that seems so timeless. Our photo session came to an abrupt end as the sun reached us, demonstrating how quickly the light changes.

We anxiously waited to see if the Little Colorado would be running clear or muddy. Up to this point, the Colorado River had been clear. The Little Colorado was muddy, thick and brown. It was fascinating to see it mix with the clear water, but it was also a little sad to lose the clear water that looked so inviting.

The geology was particularly interesting as we observed the Great Unconfomity where layers of rock and millions of years are missing. The Butte Fault and others run through this area, and salt oozes out of the Tapeats Sandstone layers to form the Sacred Hopi Salt Mines. We saw thin soda straw formations as we drifted in the shade close to the left side of the river. A little farther down the river we looked high above us and observed Vishnu Temple, which Gary and some friends plan to climb next week. We were also able to see Angel’s Window at Cape Royale, but it was small in the distance. Looking through the Window from the North Rim, an observer would see Unkar Rapids. We tried to do this on our way home from the raft trip, but strong winds had stirred up so much dust that there was too much haze to see as far as the river.

We stopped for lunch on the left bank just before Tanner Rapid. Several of the men found a rattlesnake, which was coiled in a relaxed way, not rattling its tail. After lunch we crossed to the other side of the river and hiked across a hot sandy tamarisk desert to view some petroglyphs on the side of a hill. They were clearly incised on two boulders, but one was so congested that it appeared as if beginners were practicing. The other had spirals and angular lines. This rock had a U-shaped cavity on top, as if it were an easy chair or a throne, but any occupant would be facing a gully rather than the river.

We climbed to the Hilltop Ruins at Mile 71. Here the Anasazi had constructed a large rectangular edifice, perhaps 15x24 feet, with a grand view of the river to the northeast and east. Although they could not see far in the other direction, a steep cliff on that side might have been considered defensive. In fact, the purpose of the structure is unknown. Chunky red and tan rocks are interspersed with flat dark rocks to form thick walls about shoulder-height. There is no covering, and a doorway has been closed with rocks to keep people out of the interior. Another group of rafters arrived as we returned to the beach. They were river runners from the San Juan River; one couple was on their honeymoon.

Next we passed through the long Unkar Rapid, which has a steep cliff on river left. The Anasazi farmed on the plain above on the right side of the river, moving to the Walhalla area on the North Rim to farm in the summer.

Our camp on the right side of the river, Mile 73.8, was called Upper Rattlesnake. There was a sandbar for the kitchen area, with a lot of space on sand above for tents. Our tent was near the river with a view towards Coronado Butte, which we photographed in the light of the setting sun. As some of us sat on a rocky ledge at dinner, mice came creeping out to see what was happening.


Thursday, September 14, 2000

Mile 74 to Mile 93 Upper Rattlesnake to Salt Creek; the Upper Granite Gorge

Formations: Unkar Group (Mile 75), Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite (Mile 78)

We dressed in rainsuits for rapids. Hance, which can be seen from the south Rim, was our first big rapid of the day, rated at 10 on a scale from 1 to 10. Meg asked for silence as JP maneuvered into position. The proper approach is somewhat narrow and has exposed rocks. Like other river runners, JP often smoked a cigarette to help him with the tension of the big rapids. He concentrated, executed the right approach and slipped right through. Our confidence in his skill greatly increased. Later we learned that early in the trip he had hit a submerged rock, breaking off the protective skeg, so he completed the rest of the trip with a bare propeller. He avoided any damage to it, which attest to both skill and luck. He also had the security of a second outboard motor in reserve in case he needed it.

As we looked high on the canyon wall, JP pointed out Hance’s asbestos mine in the black Vishnu schist with reddish-pink Zoroaster granite below. Asbestos was not profitable, but it gave Hance a reason for being in the canyon he loved.

We entered an area of black fluted rock, composed of Vishnu Schist and gneiss. Flowing water and the sand it carries creates lovely fluted forms. While some surfaces are smooth, others have multiple shallow, curved indentations. Some of these flutes can have very sharp edges, as we found out when we were able to get closer. Powell called this area the Upper Granite Gorge, apparently mistaking the Vishnu rocks for granite. After passing through the large Sockdolager Rapid (Sockdolager means a "knockout punch"), we stopped at Mile 79.5 to take a picture of the dark canyon, looking back upstream where the successive ridges faded into shades of grey. The black rock glistened in the sunlight, while the greenish-brown Colorado slid restlessly between the gnarly walls.

In contrast to the water of the river, the sidestream called Clear Creek, Mile 84, is a clear, warm desert creek. We followed it through a canyon to a waterfall with two sprays. One pours down on a rock, which has been worn into a rounded cup formation. The water hitting this indentation is redirected sideways towards the other spray of water. To the viewer, the fall is fascinating with one regular fall of water and another shooting in perpendicularly from the right side.

We passed under the two bridges, black and silver, near Phantom Ranch at Mile 88. The bridges and portions of Bright Angel Trail that are visible stirred memories of past hikes and enticed those of us who had never been there.

After passing through Horn Creek Rapid, which is another large one, we stopped so photographers could climb on the rocky Vishnu for a picture. Meg offered hairwashes to those who were waiting on the raft. She used warm, clear water from a flat plastic shower bag that had been lying in the sun.

We camped at Salt Creek, surrounded by the dark Precambrian Vishnu Schist and pink Zoroaster Granite.


Friday, September 15, 2000

Mile 93 to Mile 124 Salt Creek to beach before Fossil Canyon

Formations: Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite

In the morning the full moon was setting as the sun turned the high buttes orange. Warned by JP that this would be another big rapid day, we considered whether rainsuits would be too warm. Those who started out with them soon decided that, in our fair weather, it didn’t matter if we got wet. JP said that Granite Rapid was a full 10. Hermit was listed as 8 at this water level, and Crystal was a 10. None of these large rapids were threatening to us as passengers on our large raft, but the low water and rocks made the rapids much more technical for the boatman. JP looked serious as he concentrated on each rapid, but he guided us through without mishap.

The next group of moderately large rapids are called "The Gems," including Agate, Sapphire, Turquoise, Ruby and Serpentine. Jim spent most of the day riding the tube, getting splashed and having a great time joking with his fellow riders.

We had a grand time rollicking in the falls at Shinumo Creek, which falls forcibly in two cascades. Elvin measured the water temperature at 73 degrees, in contrast to the 52 degrees of the river. We went behind the falls, swam or waded through them and sometimes stopped right under them. Jim discovered he could lean back into the fall, and the water would hold him up. We experienced carefree joy and exhilaration, a memory that will stay with us.


At Mile 113.5, Gary showed us a cone-shaped flute of gneiss, which is part of the Vishnu Group. Its convolutions and point reaching to the sky are awe-inspiring.

Somewhere on the river we managed to catch one of the mice and send it overboard. Some of us were distressed by this action. When we stopped for lunch near Elves Chasm, JP caught the other mouse and dispatched it to the beach, which was a more satisfactory outcome. This inspired Darlene’s "Hitchhiking" mouse story. At the same beach, Don F. was apparently grabbing his hat and somersaulted backwards off the tube he was sitting on. He landed in the water, but was able to stand up and climb back onboard, accompanied by a great deal of teasing.

Elves Chasm is a grotto with a tall, gentle waterfall, surrounded by maidenhair fern growing in the rock crevices. Meg took a swim in the inviting, cool pool.

Our camp at Mile 124, just before Fossil Rapid, was on a broad beach with a band of driftwood at the back and another shelf of sand above that. We used driftwood to make posts for hanging our gear.


Saturday, September 16, 2000

Mile 124 to Mile 148 Fossil Rapid to Matkatamiba Rapid

Formations: Due to the Kaibab Upheaval, the formations began

reappearing: Vishnu Schist, Tapeats Sandstone, Muav Limestone.

After passing through Fossil Rapid, we continued through other rapids of the Middle Granite Gorge. At Deubendorff Rapid we had what JP referred to as a "technical rock hit," which was simply brushing it as we passed through. Although we continued to see rocks just under the surface of the water, JP managed to miss them. We continued to be impressed by his skill.

We passed through the narrowest part of the river near Mile 135. The walls of Vishnu Schist descended directly into the water. As other formations began to reappear, we were never quite sure of what we were seeing. Gary probably tired of our questions, but he remained patient. He explained that the Kaibab Upheaval had raised the formations above river level and that we were now on the downward side of the upheaval. There is the question of whether the river cut down through the layers or the land raised up around the river or some combination of both.

Deer Creek Falls is the tallest falls at river level. Unfortunately, there were other groups there and it was difficult to take pictures.

It was exciting to watch JP maneuver into the narrow opening at Matkatamiba Canyon, Mile 148, also called Muav Gorge. Other rafts were there, adding to the difficulty. Matkatamiba Creek passes through a narrow slot of Muav Limestone ledges. We walked up the creek in the slot and ascended a low waterfall to an area called "The Patio," then returned by a trail on the ledges. There were many photographic opportunities, with curving lines in the rock and small cascades. Joy experienced the challenge faced by bighorn sheep. She took the wrong fork in the trail and ended up high on the cliff on ledges where the footing made her feel insecure. Later we watched bighorn sheep on similar ledges, which they handled with confidence.

As we left our mooring, we entered Matkatamiba Rapid. We pulled in on the right side of the river and made our camp alongside the rapid on three linked sandy beaches. The fluted rocks near the head of the rapid were lovely in the light of the setting sun. It was fascinating to watch the smooth water pouring over the lip of the rapid. The rapid made this the noisiest camp we have had, yet we slept well. The moonlight was brilliant, although the moon was no longer full.


Sunday, September 17, 2000

Mile 148 to Mile 166.5 Matkatamiba Rapid to National Canyon

Formations: Muav Limestone

We stopped at Sinyala Canyon to photograph fluted rocks, etched into unique grooves by water and sand. New rubble has covered many of the boulders Gary remembered, but we found enough for pictures. There was also an attractive scene of a small sand dune in front of an alcove with a hidden reflecting pool.

The entry to Havasu Canyon was in the middle of a rapid. For safety, we wore our lifejackets ashore and clipped them onto the mooring line before ascending ledges to the trail that led upstream. The trail provided views of the turquoise water of Havasu Creek, caused by a high concentration of calcium carbonate, which precipitates to form travertine. Jim and I also explored above the first creek crossing. As we turned a bend, Jim saw a picturesque bighorn ram standing on a boulder midstream. He leaped ashore before Jim could get his camera out, then he climbed to the high ledge above us, posing momentarily before disappearing. Part of our group gathered for conversation at the first creek crossing, where Jim, Gary and I enjoyed a brief swim and a mini-waterfight.

Our next stop was on river left near Mile 164, just before Tuckup Canyon.

We photographed rocks, a hanging slot canyon with a reflecting pool below it and a peaceful scene of the river with cloud reflections and a pattern of late afternoon sunlight.

Our campsite at National Canyon was on a broad, almost level beach below towering cliffs. We decided not to put up the tent.


Monday, September 18, 2000

Mile 166.5 to Mile 202.5 National Canyon to an unnamed beach

Formations: Muav Limestone, Bright Angel Shale under talus, Tapeats Sandstone, Lava, and Schist

After breakfast we hiked up National Canyon. High cliffs of Redwall Sandstone towered over the walls of Muav Limestone ledges that enclosed us as we traveled over large rocks and areas of smooth sand. The ledges had little pockets where small rounded rocks were deposited, forming small vignettes of beauty. Climbing around a boulder choke, we came to an area where the stream spread out over bedrock. The hike ended at a large pool of water that reflected the surrounding ledges. Although she warned us it was time to return to the raft, Meg swam the pool and ascended a short sinuous slot to the canyon area above. Again we were reluctant to leave. We left many possible photographs behind.

We watched the changing geology as we continued down the river. Redwall cliffs towered above us, and we finally saw Toroweap up against the skyline. The dark volcanic neck called Vulcan’s Anvil appeared in the river at Mile 178. We knew Lava Falls Rapid was approaching.

Lava Falls has a formidable reputation. We pulled over to scout from a volcanic flow high on the right side of the river, where we had an exciting view of several oared rafts and kayaks going through the rapid. One raft was trapped in the eddy in front of the rock on the right side, but it was able to get free after several attempts. The waves were big, but not nearly as big as when the water is higher. Meg said it was much more exciting on their previous trip, when they had the 33,000 cfs flow. It was exciting enough for most of us, but JP made it look easy.

We stopped for lunch on a ledge below Lower Lava Falls. As we continued downriver, we saw lava dikes, flows and plugs, revealing that there was a great deal of volcanic activity in this area. There was more vegetation along the shore, mostly tamarisk and a grayish-green shrub. Cactus was prevalent on the slopes. We stopped once to photograph some columnar lava and barrel cactus, which made an interesting pattern. It was very warm in the afternoon, and the flies were obnoxious around the water and lemonade coolers. Meg got out her fly swatter, and Ed became a champion swatter.

We camped at Mile 202.5 at a steep beach with room for the kitchen and some tents on its flat top. Some of us camped on the next level in sandy spaces surrounded by bushes. Upon seeing red ants crawling around, we decided to put up the tent. However, it was so hot inside that we avoided covers most of the night. The black lava rocks radiated heat and there was no breeze.


Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Mile 202.5 to Mile 226 Take-out at Diamond Creek

Formations: Lava, Muav Sandstone in the Lower Granite Gorge

We motored and floated through more lava, then entered the Lower Granite Gorge with Muav Limestone. The morning sun often provided backlight for vivid green ocotillo against the skyline, and sometimes barrel cactus was silhouetted in front of more distant cliffs. We photographed many colorful reflections on the water. There were rapids and we saw the orange Pumpkin Spring at water level. Time passed quickly and we arrived at Diamond Creek at 10:30 AM.

Unloading was efficiently accomplished and we said goodbye to Meg and JP as we crammed into a van and pickup truck. We bounced and jounced over the rocks, through Diamond Creek, which was running in the road, and through layers of dust in the dry areas. Once we were strangers, but now we were a group who had shared a memorable experience. Although eager to see the results of our photographic efforts, we were sorry that our grand adventure had ended. The Colorado River winds through a truly grand canyon.


Perhaps one true gift of these canyons is that they become so deeply imprinted on the psyche that they can be invoked at will, bringing back their particular charge of serene energy whenever needed.

Ann Zwinger, Wind in the Rock, p. 157


Last Revision: 11/09/2000 21:04